Hegemony, Power and Resistance: a critical analysis of power and security relations in the EU-Russia-shared neighbourhood triangle

PhD thesis


Research Areas

Publication Details

Author list: Dias, V.
Publisher: Universidade de Coimbra
Place: Coimbra
Publication year: 2016
Languages: English-Great Britain (EN-GB)


The end of the Cold War incited meaningful changes on power and security
dynamics across the broader European space. To the West, the European
Union (EU) was propelled to develop a foreign policy dimension enabling
it to uphold a stronger role in regional affairs. To the East, the
Russian Federation emerged as the most relevant actor in the former
Soviet space with undisputable regional ambitions and interests. In
between, the newly independent states struggled to undertake internal
reforms and define foreign policy strategies aiming at taking the utmost
advantage of their geopolitical location.

Since the EU’s Eastern enlargement, the EU and Russia share a common
neighbourhood. The fact that the Union is extending its power towards
Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence has further impacted on
dynamics of power and security produced by and reflected on the
interplay between identities, interests and discursive practices in this
area. Both EU and Russian foreign policies are based on the
understanding that security starts outside their borders, and thus
countries in the shared neighbourhood emerge as linchpins to their
regional strategies. As a result, a number of struggles for power over
the region have unfolded, gradually conferring an antagonistic tone to
EU- Russia relations. This has been a cornerstone cause of tension for
their common neighbours, which find themselves torn between the economic
attractiveness of the EU’s agenda and a cooperative relation with
Russia in order to manage their manifold dependences on Moscow.

Reflections on the configuration of power and security relations in
post-Cold War Europe have been multiple and diverse. However, it remains
absent from the debate a comprehensive understanding of the complex
interactions in the EU-Russia-shared neighbourhood triangle looking at
all intervenients from an equitable basis of analysis. It is precisely
this lacuna that we aim to fill. To do so, the research follows from two
assumptions. First, the EU and Russia are political entities with
hegemonic regional ambitions, whose survival and security depend on
asymmetrical relations with neighbouring countries. Second, Brussels and
Moscow share a common sphere of influence over which their identities,
interests and discursive practices collide – the shared neighbourhood.
Despite this dispute over a common area of interests, it would be an
overstatement to label the EU and Russia as enemies as they cooperate on
a very significant number of issues. This tension between cooperation
and competition opens important avenues for the countries in the shared
neighbourhood to evade powerful manoeuvres by these actors and to
influence their hegemonic regional endeavours – ergo underscoring the
meaningful role of agency in shaping structures of power.

That brings us to the dual purpose of this research: 1) understand why
countries in the shared neighbourhood have agency in the context of
confrontation and dispute for influence between the EU and Russia; 2)
critically analyse how this agency works in practical terms and whether
it influences the constitution of EU and Russian identities, interests
and discursive practices. Our initial contention is that countries in
the shared neighbourhood are not merely passive reactors to their
contextual environment. Instead, they actively resist EU and Russian
structural power aiming at dominating them by using their key
geopolitical and geostrategic relevance. In doing so, these countries
stress the mutually constitutive nature of relations in the
EU-Russia-shared neighbourhood triangle.

Critical constructivism – methodologically complemented by Ernesto
Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s approach to discourse analysis – provides
this research with the framework of analysis to delve into this topic.
According to this framework, power implies a relation for it comes
across as an imposition of a worldview over another, thus producing
shared meanings which in turn constitute the identities, interests and
discursive practice of the involved agents. In this reading, power tends
towards hegemony and domination, though it is never absolute and agents
may resist attempts at controlling their behaviour. Hegemony, agency
and resistance are thus mutually implicated and resistance itself can be
interpreted as an instance of power.

Overall, the research focuses on instances of hegemony by the EU and
Russia, as well as on instances of agency and resistance by Ukraine,
Moldova and Belarus – the last stronghold between West and East. The
purpose is to deconstruct the manifold dynamics operating in and arising
from this triangle in order to produce an independent and critical
understanding on how power and security dynamics arise from the mutual
constitution of the involved actors, ergo providing an interpretation
focusing on hegemony, agency and resistance, something that remains
absent from the literature on the topic.


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Last updated on 2019-10-08 at 00:30