In the military strategic sphere, no joint efforts were made to absorb the shock of the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. NATO is unable to reach internal consensus about engaging in substantive dialogue with Russian military officials, even as chances for the extension of the New START Treaty grow increasingly slim.
Earlier this year, there was hope that a serious conversation on European security might take place in Moscow during the seventy-fifth anniversary of Victory Day. But those hopes were dashed when commemorative events were postponed because of the pandemic.
Additional economic problems between Russia and the EU are looming. The collapse of oil prices has demolished the core of Russian exports to Europe, while the decline in real incomes combined with the ruble's devaluation has done the same to European exports to Russia. Some European leaders such as Macron insist that Europe needs to advocate for a rethink of Moscow's budding partnership with China. Yet, if anything, the current crisis appears to be pushing Moscow and Beijing closer together, especially in the energy and economic spheres. In addition, the Trump administration is reportedly threatening another wave of U.S. sanctions against the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a move which would deepen divisions inside the EU and between Washington and Berlin.
Have new opportunities for EU-Russian cooperation appeared since the start of the epidemic? Russia could use the model of its cooperation with Italy to help other EU members, but not everyone in Europe considers that model effective. Moscow and Brussels could coordinate their anti-pandemic programs in neighboring regions — from Central Asia and the Western Balkans to the Middle East and North Africa — but both sides have very limited capabilities for such work under the current conditions.
Then there is the traditional agenda, which includes diverse subjects such as maintaining EU-Eurasian Economic Union dialogue, strengthening the OSCE, developing 5G technology, trying to preserve the Iranian nuclear deal, and cooperating on environmental issues. A fundamental reset of bilateral relations within this framework, however, seems unlikely.
Yet even these relatively modest opportunities shouldn't be ignored. Many experts predict that the coronavirus pandemic will sharply accelerate the ongoing restructuring of international relations, which may eventually lead to U.S.-China bipolarity. Neither Russia nor the EU is interested in the creation of a rigid global bipolar system that would hamstring freedom of maneuver on the world stage for both sides. Maintaining and developing cooperation between Moscow and Brussels could be one mechanism for inhibiting that negative trend.