Whose Legitimacy? The EU and Russia in Contest for the Eastern Neighbourhood

Gergana Noutcheva

The impact of external actors on political change in the European neighbourhood has mostly been examined through the prism of elite empowerment through externally offered incentives. The legitimacy of external policies has received less scrutiny, both with regard to liberal powers promoting democracy and illiberal powers preventing democracy. In the Eastern neighbourhood, the EU has been viewed as a prime supporter of democratisation whereas Russia has mostly been seen as a spoiler of democratisation, if not an outright supporter of authoritarian rule. Interestingly, both actors have made alternative claims to legitimate action with the EU supporting liberal democracy and Russia presenting its own system of governance based on social conservatism, preservation of family values, traditional societies and cultural diversity as an alternative to the Western model. This paper investigates the conflicting notions of legitimate governance that underpin the ideological contest between the EU and Russia in the Eastern neighbourhood. It examines the external legitimisation of domestic actors, policies and practices as an alternative to the coercive and incentive-based mechanisms that dominate the literature and traces the receptiveness of these alternative discourses and models in societies of the Eastern neighbourhood.

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