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17.04.2007. Russia holding out for a better deal with the EU

When analyzing the Berlin Declaration on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the European Union, the majority of commentators looked for its shortcoming.

I don't want to join this chorus of naysayers, although I will say I was unhappy that the declaration sacrificed any reference to Europe's Christian origins for the sake of political correctness. After all, Europe's culture and history are primarily rooted in Christianity, which has not prevented it from absorbing many of the best features of neighboring cultures and civilizations. The Europeans, it's true, have sometimes been at war with their neighbors, but Christians have fought each other with the same zeal.

It is also a pity that to please the majority of EU citizens, tired as they are of expansion, the declaration has omitted any mention of Turkey's potential membership. The EU has promised Turkey that it will have the opportunity to join, and this hope has been crucial to Turkey's modernization. Not mentioning Europe's Christian roots in exchange for omitting any reference to Turkey's potential entry is the worst sort of compromise.

Most of all I was disappointed by something that escaped the attention of many observers, notably, that the declaration did not describe the European project's new goal — a united Europe. I know that some outstanding European co-authors of the declaration had offered far-reaching and inspiring ideas, but the Germans, who assumed responsibility for the final version, had to limit the text to a statement of achievements. Berlin should not be blamed for that. Europe is going through what may be its worst identity crisis in the past 50 years. The Europeans simply do not know what to do about their union, Turkey or Russia. Transatlantic relations are undergoing a change. While sharing European values and social policy, the United States is losing its enthusiasm for the integration project. In many respects, the Americans started the whole process, but now they are increasingly seeing Europe as a rival.

That said, I admire the EU's stunning success. In 50 years, Europe has overcome its centuries-long history of suicidal wars and murderous ideologies. We Russians should be grateful to other Europeans that the only threat posed by the West is a «mild challenge» from a humane society that is sometimes tedious but never uncomfortable — probably the greatest achievement in human history.

There is no doubt that in five to seven years the EU will overcome its crisis, even if it has to give up some excessive and unrealistic goals, such as building a quasi-federation with common foreign and defense policies. European leaders believe that it makes sense to take a step backward after several steps forward, but they cannot officially say so for fear of losing support for the project as a whole. The EU will «digest» its new members, including their perplexing domestic and foreign policies, as it has done more than once in the past.

In any event, it is clear that in the next few years Europe will remain an attractive, though uneasy and not very capable or reliable partner for its neighbors, especially Russia.

Right now, Brussels does not have a long-term Russian policy, but Moscow does not know what it wants from the EU, either. In general, a rapidly changing world, Russia's transition to democracy and the market and Europe's growing pains are making long-term planning a difficult task.

For the time being, though our relations look good on the surface, we are still rivals. We have different views on energy. Instead of promoting a common energy policy, as suggested by Russia and many other European countries (for instance, the plan set forth by Romano Prodi when he was president of the European Commission), the West is focusing on rivalry-motivated political rhetoric. It is accusing Russia of being an unreliable supplier (as if there were anyone more reliable), and keeps talking about bypassing it with new pipelines, although in practice energy cooperation between the two has been going quite smoothly.

We are being told to give up our monopoly on export pipelines, as if we were masochists. When Russia insists on charging reasonable prices for its oil and gas, the West rushes to support unreliable and even unpleasant countries that stand in the way of Russian energy transit. For many years, Brussels has been trying to deprive Russia of a natural benefit — payment for air transit over its vast territory. Meanwhile, the difference between European and Russian political cultures, though determined by history, is described as a «gap in values.»

This list of contradictions is far from being complete. There are many issues on which we think the same or agree to some extent, but progress along this road is slow, and contradictions still prevail.

Under the circumstances, Russia and the EU may find it difficult to replace the obsolete Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation (APC), signed in 1994. It expires in 2007 but may be prolonged by default.

A year or two ago, I was among those who proposed that the two sides should reach a new agreement before the old one expired, thinking that the talks would rouse Russia-EU relations from their current stagnation. Today an analysis of the positions of both sides, primarily Brussels», leads to pessimistic and even alarming conclusions about the new agreement's future. In a situation where the two do not know what they want from each other, and where rivalry prevails, talks, especially if they are mishandled, may lead to new problems.

The European Commission is a much more seasoned bureaucracy than Russia, and it will try to coordinate everything with everyone. It already wants a comprehensive agreement. This may lead to a repetition of the ill-starred disarmament talks. Europe's conduct, a desire to lump all issues together and to save bargaining chips was one of the motive forces behind the arms race, and extended it for several years after the end of the Cold War. Even if Russia comes to terms with the heads of the leading EU countries and European officials are told to conduct talks without attaching a lot of strings, some of the new EU members or their American manipulators will still do their best to impose unreasonable conditions.

Even if an agreement is drafted, the same new members are bound to block its ratification. Given the current alignment of political forces, it is impossible to imagine a situation where Polish or Baltic MPs would resist the temptation to add some conditions or amendments unacceptable to Russia. As a result, the negotiations will fail and result in mutual accusations — a worse result even than having no agreement at all or extending the old one. In the current atmosphere, even a simple agreement consisting of a single phrase — «Russia and the EU shall continue their close and neighborly cooperation» — would not be ratified without deal-breaking amendments.

I am not against the talks. They should go forward, but with eyes wide open and without any deadlines. Brussels is already enthusiastically propagating the notion that Russia should conclude the agreement before Vladimir Putin's term expires. We are already being pressed for time without a reason. This comes as deja vu after trying to complete talks on entering the WTO in 2003, 2004, 2007 and so forth. Progress was achieved only when we said that we would enter the WTO when we were ready.

We should not forget the experience of what is probably the worst treaty since the disgraceful Brest-Litovsk truce — the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. The Russian negotiators were rushed by then President Boris Yeltsin for no sensible reason, so they signed an act that de facto sealed NATO's enlargement. The entry of the Baltic nations, Ukraine and Georgia became a matter of time. This is why we are having problems now.

Let the talks with the EU last for five years, if need be. We will gain more experience in cooperation. Russia will become even stronger if it does not fall into the abyss of a self-destructive policy.

Maybe we will understand that for all the appeal of trade and cooperation with Asia, life is too difficult without an alliance with Europe. The EU will start overcoming its current crisis; the new Europeans will become normal Europeans; Brussels and other EU capitals will realize that without a close alliance with Russia, the EU will not be able to confront new challenges. By that time, the two sides may be ready to conclude an agreement and upgrade their strategic partnership to a strategic alliance.

Sergei Karaganov is dean of the Department of World Economics and World Politics at the Higher School of Economics.

// RIA Novosti