This article argues that the relationship between the EU and Russia is now one based on a pragmatic consideration of mutual needs. This is largely driven by issues arising from the enlargement of the EU. The relationship is, however, riven with fundamental contradictions which preclude the kind of full integration implied by the rhetoric of the “common spaces”. The article argues that although the relationship is characterised by areas of friction the pragmatic basis will actually lead to a closer and more realistic relationship than the formalistic “partnership” of the 1990s. In order to understand this, the article places the EU‐Russia relationship in the wider context of the revolutionary changes in Russian foreign policy under Vladimir Putin. It considers how and why Putin finally rejected the remnants of Cold War thinking which infected Russia‐Western relations under Yeltsin and adopted a policy of “pragmatic nationalism”. The key elements of the latter are clearly played out in the relationship with the EU. The article further argues that in spite of EU misgivings over Russian democracy Putin has been able to deliver Russia as a more reliable partner than Yeltsin ever did.