Canada’s Eurasia Strategy Should Include Deeper Partnership with the EU
Following the onset of the Ukraine conflict in 2014, Russia accelerated its previously declared “pivot to the east” and began to outline a vision of an integrated “Greater Eurasia”. This roughly coincided with China’s launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, which similarly aims to increase trade and connectivity across the Eurasian supercontinent. Although both these projects are somewhat lacking in conceptual detail, they point toward the possibility that the core of the Eurasian landmass is returning to the centre of global affairs after five centuries of Western naval supremacy. Accordingly, the European Union recently announced an Asian connectivity strategy of its own.
As the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere and on the high seas, Washington’s global strategy has usually centred efforts to preserve its pre-eminent status by playing powers in the Eastern Hemisphere off against one another. A smart Canadian geo-strategy is one that can profit from Washington’s offshore balancing while simultaneously accruing the benefits of Eurasian integration. In other words, Canada should use its relationship with the United States to maximize its leverage toward Eurasia, and vice versa, thus strengthening its position in the contest over the future shape of international order. A key part of this strategy involves deepening strategic ties with the EU.
As the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere and on the high seas, Washington’s global strategy has usually centred efforts to preserve its pre-eminent status by playing powers in the Eastern Hemisphere off against one another. A smart Canadian geo-strategy is one that can profit from Washington’s offshore balancing while simultaneously accruing the benefits of Eurasian integration.
At the core of today’s fledgling Eurasian order lies a Sino-Russian relationship that rests on mixed foundations. Russia and China have been nudged together in part due to their shared scepticism of Western interventionism and democracy promotion. Moscow’s strategic partnership with Beijing has served as a power multiplier for the Kremlin on a plethora of military and diplomatic issues. However, Russia is also keen to maintain its status as an independent great power and not become too dependent on China, which explains its desire to seek investment or deepen ties with other leading Asian states such as India, Japan and Vietnam. This leaves Sino-Russian relations stranded in an intermediate position – mutual suspicion is decreasing, but the relationship remains short of a full-fledged alliance.
Although its deepening partnership with China stands to remake some of the foundations of the contemporary international order, Russia’s eastward pivot could act – to a certain extent – as a stabilizing force in global politics following a quarter-century of American unipolarity. However, if Russia-West relations remain confrontational beyond the medium term, there is a danger that Moscow will drift more definitively into Beijing’s orbit, creating a world of rigid alliances and/or a permanent security dilemma at the eastern edge of the European continent.
Relations between Washington and Moscow are likely to remain confrontational for the foreseeable future, with mutual recriminations likely to feature in both countries’ domestic politics as they go through their respective electoral cycles in 2024. This means that the weight of slowly repairing Russia-West ties will rest largely on the shoulders of the European Union. This, in turn, represents an opportunity for Canada to diversify its international partnerships, increase its independence on the world stage, enhance the security of its borders, and contribute to international stability.
Following Vladimir Zelensky’s ascent to the presidency – which many have interpreted as a repudiation of Ukrainian ethnolinguistic nationalism – dialogue has resumed between Moscow and Kyiv. Although a complete resolution to the Donbas conflict remains out of sight, freezing the conflict has now become a possibility, clearing a pathway for Ukraine to realize many of its Westernizing aspirations. This process and its aftermath would inevitably strengthen the EU’s international weight, capabilities and independence.
If, as indicated in my previous Geo-Blog, Canada can be thought of as having four international “borders” this century, then this would strengthen the EU’s capacity to act as a buffer on Canada’s eastern border. (This contrasts with the current situation, in which the United States and Russia affront each other directly and Europe acts largely as Washington’s junior partner.) Furthermore, a strengthened European Union would represent a counterbalance to the United States within the Western political community and thus an important guarantor of Canada’s foreign policy independence. Ottawa should thus support any European efforts to reach a settlement in Ukraine and endorse the EU’s aspiration to increase its global term-setting ability. But looking further ahead, Canada should also deepen its recently signed Strategic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.
One key initiative for Ottawa on this front would involve an attempt to forge a trilateral coalition with Brussels and New Delhi on the question of Eurasian connectivity. Canada already has experience in creating such strategic groupings, having done so earlier in the Trudeau government with the EU and China on environmental issues. The goal would be to constrain and shape Beijing’s connectivity agenda without resorting to full containment or opposing its legitimate desire to assume a greater international profile. Russia could eventually be included in this coalition without it compromising on its strategic partnership with China, for example by way of a dialogue that aims to bridge the gap between the Moscow-backed Eurasian Economic Union and the European Single Market.
Washington is largely absent from the Eurasian landmass, where the EU, Russia, China and others are now jostling for influence. This represents an opportunity for Canada to gain an advantage over its neighbour to the south, in selective partnership with actors across Eurasia.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the United States has become increasingly focused on efforts to contain China, whether through imposing tariffs, criticizing forced technology transfers, rallying countries against Huawei’s 5G network, or claiming the mantra of freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. As such, Washington is largely absent from the Eurasian landmass, where the EU, Russia, China and others are now jostling for influence. This represents an opportunity for Canada to gain an advantage over its neighbour to the south, in selective partnership with actors across Eurasia. Deeper strategic ties with the EU are a core part of this strategy, but this requires Ottawa to internalize that its relationship with Brussels should be designed not only to advance a values-based agenda but also to enhance Canada’s admittedly low term-setting ability in international affairs.