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25.02.2004. The perils of pressuring Russia

Two European Union bodies recently issued similar documents calling for a revision of the EU's policy toward Russia. One of them contained recommendations prepared by the European Parliament's committee on foreign affairs for the European Council. The other was prepared by the European Commission. 
 
The documents coincide in their analyses and recommendations. Both put special emphasis on the deterioration of political freedom and democracy in Russia, on the situation in Chechnya and on human rights. Though they acknowledge progress on the economy, they question whether it is stable. 
 
They list a series of other criticisms: Russia's balking at ratifying the Kyoto Protocol or the European Energy Charter; Russia's unwillingness to fix final borders with Estonia and Latvia until they guarantee the rights of ethnic minorities; Russia's reluctance to automatically extend the 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to the 10 new members of the European Union. The documents also contain an ultimatum for Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgia and the Transdniester in Moldova.

The documents further demand that Russia phase out its first-generation nuclear reactors as a precondition for potential cooperation in power engineering. The EU is urged to cut aid to Russia and channel these funds for technical renovation of the common borders in order to strengthen them. 
 
Some of the criticism is reasonable. In particular, the Russian practice of levying valued-added tax on technical and humanitarian aid is a challenge to common sense. 
 
On the whole, however, the documents are written in a harsh and sometimes provocative tone and call for a tougher EU policy toward Russia. I did not find in the documents even the slightest reciprocal steps that would take Russia's interests into consideration — not as the EU sees them, but as Russia sees them. 
 
My first reaction — and I am one of the most pro-European members of Russia's political and intellectual class — was surprise and a desire to give a scornful response to the arrogant tone of the documents. I recalled a line from Alexander Blok, perhaps the most pro-European of Russian poets: «In front of pretty Europe/ We will spread out! We'll turn to you/ With our Asian muzzles.» 
 
I was amazed by the coincidence of the EU demands to pressure and distance Russia with the longing of Russian isolationists to shut the country off from the world and to build «Juche capitalism» in one country. As in cold war times, the worst elements of the elites are playing into each other's hands. 
 
But we have to try to understand the position of fellow Europeans and what is behind documents that almost proclaim a new strategy of pseudo-deterrence. 
 
It is fairly obvious that many in Europe, as in our country, are disturbed by the recent tendencies in Russian policies — the shift toward a de facto one-party system, the selective application of the law, the calls to re-examine privatization, the reduction in the freedom of expression, especially in the electronic media. True, these people ignore the fact that Russia is just emerging from a difficult revolution. 
 
A gap in values cannot be ignored, however. If Russia develops in a normal way, it will partly overcome such a gap, but probably not completely. After all, a united Europe is now passing to a post-European system of values, abandoning rationalism and the readiness to question everything in favor of a stifling new political correctness and like-mindedness; renouncing individualism in favor of compromise and collectivism, and economic liberalism in favor of socialism (fortunately, not Soviet-style socialism). 
 
Considering its history and geographical location, Russia should not give up its longing to accept traditional European values. But when someone demands that we immediately accept the values that contemporary Europe has worked out over the last few decades, when it was developing in greenhouse conditions under the shelter of the United States, this is either thoughtlessness or dangerous hypocrisy. 
 
That does not mean that most thinking, responsible Russians are not worried about their country's tendencies. Where the country is headed is an open question. Perhaps Russia's Western neighbors know that it is doomed and believe that they can write it off and isolate themselves from the potentially wounded giant. 
 
On the other hand, the documents may be an expression of a kind of «revolt on the knees,» similar to the shameful propensity of some Russian policymakers to vent feeling of powerlessness and humiliation on small former Soviet countries. 
 
The building of a common EU foreign and defense policy has obviously reached an impasse, as the United States consistently and unceremoniously highlights. Perhaps it is to prove the viability of its unviable policies that the EU wants to suppress Russia. 
 
I fully understand Europeans» hostility to Moscow's harsh and ineffective methods in suppressing separatism and terrorism in Chechnya. But Russia, to become a credible state and not to disintegrate, cannot get out of Chechnya yet. I believe that Russia must seek ways of settling the Chechen situation as energetically as possible, perhaps through intermediaries. But when the European Union makes Chechnya the central issue in its dialogue with Russia, I regard that as hypocrisy or as an attempt to gather trump cards for bargaining. Then any desire to involve Europeans vanishes. 
 
I don't want to believe that Europe is returning to the worst of its «traditional values.» It has already been accused of reviving anti-Semitism. Is Russophobia also coming back? Or are EU legislators and officials simply driving a hard bargain? If the latter is the case, however, the EU ultimatum makes concessions and compromise hard to achieve, if not impossible. 
 
Having outlasted the cold war, I wouldn't wish to begin a farcical one, especially one that would divert resources from the solution of real problems and cause opportunities to be missed, with heavy losses on both sides. I hope that common sense and rationalism will prevail, that we will understand that many of the Europeans» concerns and fears are real and justified, and that our Western neighbors will understand that ultimatums not only create a humorous impression but can have unpleasant consequences for all. 
 
To recall another line from Alexander Blok, I believe that «sharp Gallic sense and gloomy Teutonic genius,» so respected by Russians, will triumph and not be defeated by the new political correctness.

// International Herald Tribune