The COVID pandemic, along with its economic and political implications, is boosting protectionist arguments across the world, including in Europe. The economic downturn will soon enlarge the room for maneuver of Eurosceptic forces in quite a few EU countries. With the consequences of Brexit coming up next year, when the transition period ends, the EU will have to brace itself for turbulence. For the Russian political system, an appeal to rely on the country's ability to survive rather than international cooperation is natural, but this does not promise any positive economic or political miracles in the years to come.
As a result, Russia and the EU, taken as a whole, will have ever fewer substantial topics to discuss. In terms of hard security, a number of EU members are in line with the US, seeing Russia as an adversary. Progress in resolving the conflict in and around Ukraine could change the mood, but the window of opportunity in this respect has been closing fast recently. The interconnections between international and domestic security will most probably block any restoration of the EU-Russia visa dialogue, which, rationally speaking, would be the most meaningful step to take. The EU, which is currently failing to ratify its long-awaited free trade agreement with MERCOSUR because of the protectionist currents at work, will not have an eye on any advanced form of cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union. One could hope for potential bilateral cooperation, but the difficult fate of North Stream 2 shows that even bilateral cooperation with EU countries would prove troublesome for Russia, as these countries rely on US security guarantees, while US-Russia relations will most probably deteriorate further.
In these circumstances, the EU and Russia could maintain or restart, without any high expectations, the dialogue between certain Russian ministries and the European Commission, as well as the ministries of the member states. This could aim to foster mutual understanding, which does not imply agreement, on topics like digitalization, trade procedures and the future of global multilateral institutions, such as WTO and WHO.