Connectivity is about the creation of physical
infrastructure links, the accompanying harmonization of regulations, and the socio-cultural linkages
that emerge in the process. In terms of infrastructure development and harmonization of the
accompanying regulation, connectivity covers transport (via land, air and sea), energy networks, as
well as digital networks, which are becoming increasingly important. In a nutshell, connectivity
encompasses both hard and soft aspects that together define the ability to engage in the trade of
goods and services.
Connectivity has moved to the forefront of the discussion over the last
five years in a rapidly changing world that is marked by economic growth shifting to Asia (60% of
GDP growth is now coming from there). There is a more fractured global picture as a result, with
more and more economic centres competing against each other and trying to set new norms.
trade remains strong; up until now, the EU has been Russia's largest trade partner. Despite these
strong economic ties, connectivity is gaining importance in EU-Russia relations. This is due to two
factors. On the one hand, the EU is an established "regulatory power" and sees itself as a
frontrunner in the process of establishing new rules and standards, including connectivity-related
issues, such as transport and digital networks; while on the other, Russia is part of the Eurasian
Economic Union, which is defining its own standards and regulations. The two sides are not able to
work on the harmonization of standards because they disagree about the right approach: The Eurasian
Economic Union claims that political-level contacts with the EU are necessary to underpin the
technical work on common standards. The EU would be ready to start the technical work immediately,
but has excluded political level contact until a solution to the Ukraine crisis has been found.
these disagreements, there are a number of overarching interests that would justify closer
cooperation on connectivity between Russia and the EU in selected areas. Such an interest was
formulated in the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in
2016, when all participating states, including every member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the
European Union, recognized connectivity as being a contributor to economic cooperation,
good-neighbourly relations, and trust. They underlined the positive effect of harmonizing,
simplifying and streamlining norms and procedures that are related to trade and transport, and
pledged to pursue a dialogue about regional and sub-regional economic cooperation.
The most successful example is the EU internal
market with its free flow of people, goods, services and capital.
Different connectivity projects
There are, however, several strategic movements
and projects in Eurasia that are based on the connectivity concept. The most successful example is
the EU internal market with its free flow of people, goods, services and capital. The EU High
Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission,
Federica Mogherini, and EU Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, presented the EU's vision for a
new and comprehensive strategy to improve connectivity between Europe and Asia in September 2018.
China realizes its idea of connectivity through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which
is backed by the US$40 billion Silk Road Fund and the US$100 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment
Bank (AIIB). This aims to link China and Europe through Central and Western Asia. It will also
connect China with South and Southeast Asian countries. This mega initiative includes many small
infrastructural connectivity projects between Asia and Europe.
Russia is developing its own
connectivity project: the Eurasian Economic Union with a common tax area, common markets for goods
and energy, common rules for business and social activities, as well as common rules and
The Russian integration and connectivity project unfolds against a specific
historical background. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Council for Mutual Economic
Assistance (CMEA) in 1991, Russians have seen the disintegration of shared transportation and energy
infrastructure systems in both Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This process continues even today in
the disintegration of energy grids and Russia's attempts to avoid and replace certain energy transit
routes through the Baltic States, Ukraine, and the Balkans. This impacts negatively on attitudes
towards connectivity, not only in Russia but also in neighbouring countries, and undermines mutual
trust. Nonetheless, Russia wishes to participate in the creation of a broader Eurasian economic
space by using its infrastructure development advantage, its resources and high quality of labour,
as well as the commitment to regional security and sustainable development it has announced.
«oth the EU and Russia have subscribed to promoting connectivity in the OSCE framework. It
is important to note, however, that their approaches to connectivity do differ significantly.
Russia, like the other post-Soviet states, mainly associates connectivity with the development of
transport infrastructures, while the EU applies a broad definition that is in line with the OSCE
approach. There are also important political obstacles to this cooperation. Russia is very concerned
about ensuring its sovereignty and national security, and this limits the areas in which it is ready
to cooperate, including connectivity. Mutual sanctions have proved another major impediment since
2014. Moreover, Russia has been taking steps to ensure its self-sufficiency, renationalize the
economy and strengthen protectionism in reaction to the Western sanctions. These differences need to
be taken into account when EU-Russia cooperation on connectivity is discussed.
Transport connectivity is one of the fields where
the EU and Russia have an obvious interest in closer cooperation
Areas for selective cooperation
connectivity is one of the fields where the EU and Russia have an obvious interest in closer
However, problems abound. The often referred to difference between railway gauges is not the main
impediment regarding transport between Europe and Asia, though. Different standards and regulatory
regimes for rail transport create a patchwork that is slowing down the overland shipment of goods
and increasing its costs. Moreover, rail and road infrastructure in the EU and Eurasian Economic
Union are in great need of investment. A dialogue on transport connectivity could unblock some of
Energy: Up until today, EU-Russia and Eurasian energy
cooperation has been mainly focused on the various gas pipeline projects. However, rapid
technological change will quickly alter both the priorities and the role of the state, including in
the context of energy connectivity projects.
Sustainable development goals and the problems
of climate change require new "connectivity style" initiatives in the area of energy.
is developing several projects that are related to electricity interconnections in Eurasia.
President Putin initiated the Asia Energy Ring (AER) project in 2017 at the Vladivostok APEC Summit.
China's President Xi Jinping launched the Global Energy Interconnection (GEI) project at the United
Nations General Assembly in September 2015, which aims to "meet global energy demands while
promoting the development of green and alternative solutions".
The project is designed to promote the worldwide interconnection of power grids by 2050 in order to
optimize the use of electricity coming from every power plant on the planet by employing
supercritical UHV (ultra-high voltage) lines for fast, long-distance power transmission, as well as
smart grids to boost end-use efficiency. GEI could be the backbone of a decarbonized world economy
thanks to the full exploitation of renewables and clean technologies. UHV grid continuity, coupled
with the increased storage capacity provided by hydro, solar and wind energy, will enable the
quicker distribution of power from renewables, even when it is generated in remote areas or if local
supply exceeds local demand (as in the case of Italy and Germany). In other words, energy from
renewables in Tibet, the Sahara Desert, the North Sea, southern Pakistan, South Africa or Brazil can
gradually replace the energy provided by fossil fuels – a switch known as 'clean replacement' that
is already underway in Europe and China. Russia and the EU should explore all the possibilities to
jointly shape and promote these processes.
Education: Connectivity and
technological change both require new formats to provide transnational capacity building and
high-quality education. Digitalization offers significant possibilities for the development of
online classes, seminars and conferences involving leading universities and research institutions
from the EU, Russia and other countries. Multilateral formats and the exchange of students for
educational modules in different countries could provide an additional "connectivity environment"
for people-to-people contacts.
Vladimir Likhachev participated in the 9th EUREN
meeting on "Digital transformation and connectivity: prospects for economic interaction between the
EU and Russia in times of sanctions" on 28 February/1 March in Moscow. This paper is based on his
presentation. Its content is the sole responsibility of the author and does not represent the
position of individual EUREN members or EUREN as a group.