Bridging the Divide How Should the EU Reach Out to Russia?

By Alexander Rahr

Part 2: Participating in a Security Dialogue


In the 1990s Russia accepted the terms laid down by the West in the initial Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Struggling economically, it regarded the European Union as a source of stability. Today Moscow has other priorities. Instead of settling for a junior partnership with the West, it demands equality in its relations with the European Union. President Medvedev has called for a new security dialogue with all of Europe, one that aims to create an "umbrella organization" encompassing all existing European institutions. Russia is eager to make "eternal peace" with NATO and the European Union, but it wants to incorporate the two organizations into an expanded alliance in which Russia and the West act in concert to stabilize the European continent.

Whereas the United States, the states of Central Europe, and a number of Western European states reject such a security dialogue, the French president signaled to Medvedev that he was willing to talk. Nevertheless, the Czech Republic, which has just assumed the Council presidency, appears to be distancing itself from Sarkozy. As the new Council president, Prague intends to improve relations between the West and the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. It also wants to make these states an ambitious offer of affiliation with the European Union. Given the way the new eastern partnerships are structured, they can be interpreted as an attempt by the European Union to squeeze Russia out of its old turf in the west and south. If Commonwealth of Independent States members accept the broadened offer of partnership with the European Union, they can count on generous support from the West for the democratic transformation and integration processes.

The eastern partnerships also contain a new EU energy security package for all neighboring states that are dependent on Russian energy. This amounts to an open show of solidarity with the countries that feel threatened by an "imperialist" Russia. In contrast to the French, the Czechs might once again lean toward a policy of containment vis-à-vis Moscow. This would "punish" Russia for its annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Following the Czechs, the rotating presidency will fall to the Swedes in 2009 and to the Poles in 2011. Stockholm has signaled its support of the Central European position on Russia. The Ostpolitik of the Central Europeans, which differs from the traditional Russia-centered policy of the French and Germans, could place new obstacles in the way of good relations with the Kremlin.

10 Concrete Points for Cooperation

In response to Medvedev's desire for dialogue, the European Union should move beyond a revamped Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and seek new forms of cooperation with Russia in the following fields-whereby cooperation with the United States is possible in some cases:

  • Conceptual development of a joint missile defense system to provide equal protection for America, Europe, and Russia against potential attacks by rogue states. Also: joint space research to prevent an arms buildup in space;

  • Renewal of the Western energy alliance with Russia with the dual goal of ensuring long-term security for Russian energy deliveries to the West and providing Russia with Western technologies for the long overdue modernization of its energy complex; there should be an establishment of gas consortia between Western and Russian energy groups to prevent pipeline wars in Eurasia;

  • Close cooperation between the European Union and Russia on reforming international organizations such as the United Nations, the G-8, and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe; possibly also new global "partnerships for peace" such as the NATO-Shanghai Organization for Cooperation;

  • Development of an EU-Russian plan for modernizing Siberia as a practical tool for achieving the objectives of the energy alliance. This plan will not only promote economic cooperation, but also codify the strategic value of Russian resources for Europe's future prosperity;

  • Rebuilding trust among the states participating in the nonproliferation regime for weapons of mass destruction. The formulation of a joint global "security doctrine" could bring Russia, the United States, and the European Union into a long-term alliance against international terrorism;

  • Creation of a functioning new mechanism between the European Union and Russia that is not dependent on the consensus of all 27 member states. The old German-French-Russia troika causes too much ill ease among the states of Central Europe. Based on the proposal by Eckart von Klaeden of Germany's Christian Democrats, the European Union should form a core group of European states and give them responsibility for EU-Russia policy;

  • Joint measures in climate and environmental protection. Russia, the European Union, and the United States should consider the possibility of an "ecological alliance" that would allow the European Union and Russia to meet joint challenges and develop shared options for action within the framework of the Kyoto process;

  • Further expansion of joint projects between the European Union and Russia, including free trade zones, the dismantling of visa barriers, academic exchanges, and European-Russian peacekeeping missions in the post-Soviet region, Africa, etc.;

  • The US-EU-UN-Russian quartet, which emerged in negotiations in the Middle East, could be used in other conflict regions such as Iran and Afghanistan. Over the past few years, Russia has gained new political clout from its efforts to intensify economic ties with countries in the Arab region, and it could use its new power to help promote Western interests;

  • Joint programs to fight poverty in developing countries. The international energy, food, and financial crises will not only change the global economic order but are also likely to result in mass migration and resource wars. Russia can provide aid for emergency programs and thus underscore its growing responsibility for the international economy.

Russia has been hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis and, as a consequence, seems to be reorienting its foreign policy toward the West. The Kremlin has officially backed away from its initial plan to install an anti-missile defense system in the Kalingrad region. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Putin pled for greater cooperation between Russia and the other leading industrial nations in addressing the economic crisis. It could well be that Russia will now lack the resources for ambitious military and industrial projects. Thus, for Moscow, a strategic partnership between the United States and the European Union is not only pragmatic; it is also in Russia's national interests.

Alexander Rahr is director of the Russia/Eurasia Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

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