Notes for the talk “On the bilateral relations in the international political landscape” at the “The Future of Russia-EU Relations: What Opportunities for the European and Italian Economies?” conference.
Bologna, April 20, 2007
I will not be able to cover all issues, where Russia and the EU interact in the international landscape.
1.1. However, I will state my main theses. The rapid change of the international system, the growth of importance of the new challenges to security, coupled with the relative long term decline of the ability of both – Russia and the EU – to influence the international political landscape and the very wide congruence of interests call for a very deep and close interaction and cooperation on the international arena.
1.2. However, this potential is not used fully due to several factors:
1.2.1. the “middle age” crisis of the EU;
1.2.2. phobias of the so-called “new Europeans” as well as some Russians and “old Europeans”;
1.2.3. inability of both sides to formulate long term interests and strategies vis-à-vis each other;
1.2.4. different stages of political development. Russia is living through a political counterrevolution and resurrection of the nation state and traditional values — religion, faith, individualism, creed, etc. Europe is successfully trying to overcome state nationalism and to create a new post-European political culture, overcoming reliance on force in home and foreign policy, on rejection of individualism in favor of a more collectivistic and humane approach. It seems to be leaving behind adherence to the traditional Christian values;
1.2.5. different vectors of the development of their respective foreign policy weights. Russia’s influence is probably temporarily skyrocketing from the limbo of the 1990s, thus bringing about new arrogance. European influence is plummeting, creating a sensation of weakness and vulnerability.
1.3. Due to these and some other factors both sides are unable to formulate and implement policies which are long term and based on their first rate interests. At the same time the issues of the secondary order dominate the interaction, hampering the strategic interaction.
As a result we now see (hopefully temporarily) prevalence of the divisive issues on the agenda. I will enumerate some of the first order interests that unite:
2.1. Prevention of proliferation of WMD. There are nuances of interests, but in principle they concur. Here we largely, though not always, effectively cooperate. The public debate, though, is tinted by mutual recriminations about alleged duplicity of Russia vis-à-vis Iran and suspicions on the Russian side that the West wants to make it a battlefield in the fight against proliferators, Islam in general.
2.2. There is a deep common interest in avoiding, defusing or confronting the rise of Islamic extremism, popularly called “the clash of civilizations”, in helping the larger ME to modernize. We do relatively little alone or together to deal with this first order challenge.
2.3. We cooperate quite extensively bilaterally in the fight against terrorism. This threat to our societies is bound to increase after the U.S. flight from Iraq or/and attack on Iran. There is a necessity to deepen cooperation on these matters as well as on managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The common policy (together with the U.S.) could only be helped if and when Europe is to deploy sufficient forces to back up its goal to create a common defense and security policy.
2.4. Managing the USA and other major players on the international arena has always been a major item of the hidden agenda of Soviet/Russian-European relations and a first rate interest. After the end of the CW this task came closer to the surface due to the withering of the ideological hostility and the growth of unilateral tendencies in the USFP especially during the early Iraqi crisis. The task of managing the USA was never formulated but it is still important.
2.4.1. due to the change of administration and final defeat in Iraq the US unilateralism is bound to diminish, but will not fade away. There will be comebacks in spite of the obvious counterproductivity of the approach. It undermines effective multilateralism, but is ineffective. In the 1990s it allowed proliferation of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan. In 2003 it brought about the gross miscalculation in Iraq;
2.4.2. to make thing more complex, it looks as if Washington is turning away from its support of the EU integration, especially of its foreign policy and defense aspects. It increasingly seems that somebody in the US wants to remilitarize European politics, along the lines of ill-fated INF crises of the late CW years, and to redivide Europe. It is hard otherwise to explain the weird efforts to deploy elements of ABM in Central Europe. There are people in my own country, who too willingly reacted to this provocation, probably seeking to bring back the military factor to European politics;
2.4.3. we are all interested not to allow this;
2.4.4. it is not a call for anti-American policies, nor an effort to drive wedges. The US is indispensable. The question is how to help more modernistic and responsible groups of the American elites. The world would be a far more dangerous place without the US leadership. But an ineffectual unilateral US leadership is counterproductive. American leadership could be only effective in the framework of effective multilateralism. The latter should be provided by Russia and the EU among others.
2.5. There is a need to forge a common strategy towards the new giants – India, China – to integrate them into the international system, with as few disruptions as possible.
2.6. There is an issue of strategic importance, which has a potential capability to unite, but due to a combination of factors at this juncture is politically divisive – energy. It is an international issue played in a bilateral fashion. The energy factor will play a decisive role in the Russian-EU relationship for several years to come. Then its influence will gradually diminish.
2.6.1.there is a genuine difference of interests. Russia is largely a supplier, the EU is largely a consumer;
2.6.2.this division could have been partially overcome if the two sides would have agreed on a common strategy. Russia would have been offered ownership and thus partial control over European downstream; Europeans would have been in exchange offered partial ownership and control of Russian upstream. That was the essence of Putin’s offer. So far for different reasons, including outside influence, the offer has been rejected by the EU, but not by the all countries of the EU;
2.6.3.instead Russia got accusations of energy imperialism, of being an unreliable supplier (as if Europe has more reliable outside suppliers), of inability to develop its own resources (though Russia does not need to sell more gas and oil), threatened by “energy NATO”, common European energy policy, or liberalization of the natural gas market. From outside it looks like a formation of a consumer cartel;
2.6.4.as a nationalist Russian I could have rubbed my hands. Russia could participate in the creation of a gas cartel, redirect part of its supplies East and South, and diversify its exports routes. Actually in a rough rivalry game Russia is destined to win. But this victory will strategically turn out to be a defeat for Europe, West and East, including Russia proper. European strategic positions could only be weakened by this rivalry;
2.6.5.Russia needs reliable long term consumers. Europe needs a reliable long term supplier. By offering an exchange of downstream and upstream assets Putin offered a bargain, which Europe or the EU should have grabbed. I believe it is still on the table, though due to the initial partial rejection, the conditions would be worse for EU countries. The bargain, if agreed upon, could have formed a pan-European energy alliance.
There are issues that divide due to the lack of strategic direction of policies of both sides, residual distrust, sometimes by almost farcical competition of wills, but largely due to the lack of understanding the necessity of a common energy strategy.
3.1. The main area of such competition is the so called our common neighborhood. We farcically competed over the 2004 Ukrainian elections and now over Ukraine’s chaotic policies. We have chosen to support different teams of local plutocrats. One was believed to be pro-Russian and antidemocratic, another democratic and pro-European.
We clashed over the rather awkward, but completely common sense imposition by Russia of market prices on gas supplied to Ukraine.
3.2. When Russia at last decided to do away with stupid oil and gas subsidies to the Belorussian regime, Moscow was criticized for aiming at an anschluss. And the last dictator of Europe got sympathy in some European quarters and even some largely politicized visits of European dignitaries.
3.2.1. after that, inter alia, almost everybody in Russia came to a conclusion that the country would be cursed whatever it does. The moral weight of European criticism even on relevant issues was nullified.
3.3. We perform a shadow competition game in Central Asia, where Europe is almost totally in the dark, does not and could not have any tangible influence: Russia has very limited influence there and a better knowledge of the situation, but does not know what to do.
3.4. It is relatively clear that Russia wants to play an important or even dominant role in some (very few) countries of the FSU, while Europe wants to play an influential role there or flex mussels on that terrain to prove that CFSP exists and works. But the differences are superficial.
3.4.1. they are either grossly overemphasized due to the general political climate or played up by certain European and non-European forces in their own political interests. Russia and the EU have an important common interest in this area – keeping it secure, stable, developing and safe for the transit of energy.
3.5. The problem of the so called unrecognized states or as some prefer to call them — frozen conflicts – is a divisive one, but it is of such a tiny importance that one wonders why so much time and efforts is spent on debating it.
3.5.1. the issue of Kosovo is clearly the key. Almost one third of the EU nations do not want to support the ill-fated Ahtisaari plan. Russia has her own reasons to bloc granting almost full independence to Kosovo. A cause celebre would be created, provoking a stampede towards independence by several unrecognized states on the former Soviet territory. Also, Moscow is not ready to push these de-facto states back into former Soviet republics (now largely failed states), to which they once belonged. All of these unrecognized states were victims of genocidal aggression, which are so common for all new independent states, be that in Africa, Asia or Europe.
3.5.2. Russia paid dearly for imposing peace and stopping fratricide and bloodshed and is not willing to unfreeze these conflicts. Some of the unrecognized states will gain their statehood like Macedonia or Montenegro did. Others could possibly choose to join their former mother Soviet republics. (Transdnestria might be the case, if Moldova is taken under the auspices of the EU and its independence from Rumania is effectively guaranteed).
3.5.3. Unfortunately there is no rule or law according to which these territories could be granted or denied independence. Everything should be decided in a practical ad hoc manner.
3.5.4. I do not see this issue as deeply divisive between Russia and the EU, though it appears to be so in the media and in statements of legislatures — be that the EP or the Russian one. If the EU chooses this issue to become the showcase of the European common foreign policy, Russia will take the challenge and most likely win. But it will be a pyrrhic victory. All the sides will lose. Moscow will lose less than Brussels, but that does not matter. It is much better to depoliticize the issue rather than to elevate it to a level of competition of wills.
How all other issues of cooperation in the international political landscape could be dealt with in the future Russia-EU agreement?
4.1. These issues should probably become the core of the treaty. They are of the highest priority and also are characterized by great concurrence of interests. The importance of close cooperative interaction on the out-of-area problems is also paramount due to:
4.1.1. the EU is almost bound to lose influence on many hard power issues on the international arena even further in the coming 5-10 years;
4.1.2. Russia in spite of its current surge, economic growth and international influence is likely to confront many geopolitical challenges, which it couldn’t possibly deal with effectively alone;
4.2. Most likely the new Russian-EU agreement will not be forthcoming in the coming couple of years.
4.2.1. both sides are not in a hurry. The PCA could be prolonged for several years. In the contemporary political atmosphere and due to the inability of both sides to formulate long-terms interests vis-à-vis each other, there will be inevitably a tendency to bargain tough, to create crisscrossing linkages. If the sides are in a hurry this tendency could create more tensions and hamper the relation even more;
4.2.2. even if the treaty was ready, it is likely that in the current political atmosphere during the ratification process it will be either defeated or saddled with amendments unpalatable for either one of the sides or both;
4.2.3. so there is no need to hurry. The years to come could be used for deepening understanding, for furthering dialogue, for overcoming the current limbo on the European side or counterrevolution — on the Russian side.
4.3. And then, in several years, the treaty could be renamed from the treaty on strategic partnership — a largely senseless, though comfortable notion — into a treaty on the strategic alliance, which could become – along with the UN, with a reformed NATO, with a new structure of common security for the larger ME – one of the major pillars of the future international political and security order.
A Russia-EU strategic alliance, including issues of energy, is not on the charts or politically correct now. But it is so obviously mutually and internationally beneficial that it should be placed on the table.