Over the past twenty years, Russia and Europe have had two chances for rapprochement. And both were largely missed.
The first window of opportunity opened after the Russian revolution of 1991 and lasted until about the mid-1990s. Russia, which had thrown off communism, and its young elite enthusiastically hurried into the arms of the West and were even ready to integrate with it as a junior partner.
However, the West hesitated – and turned its back on Moscow. It politely treated Russia as a defeated nation, although Russians did not consider themselves to be defeated. NATO began to enlarge. Europe demonstrated its historical fatigue and loss of strategic vision, now obvious to all, and began to integrate into itself not Russia but only small countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Such short-sightedness could be excused only perhaps for Germany which carried a heavy burden of rebuilding the former German Democratic Republic.
The second chance emerged in the beginning of 2000s when Vladimir Putin made an attempt to bring Russia and the European Union closer together in real earnest – this time in a much stricter and realistic manner. Numerous dialogues began between the parties, which produced no results though, except for useful learning of each other. The main obstacle was the lack of a common strategic vision of objectives that the two parties should seek in their mutual relations. In addition, the Europeans nostalgically sought to maintain the leader-led pattern in their relations with Moscow, refusing to understand that the restoration of Russian statehood had dramatically changed the balance of power. At the same time, Russia persistently and arrogantly kept changing the rules of the game established in the 1990s, even revenging itself for the humiliations it had suffered.
As a result, the outgoing decade, just as the previous one, has been a time of missed opportunities for Russian-European relations. The parties declared their desire to establish partner relations but, in fact, have been bitter competitors and even rivals. Brussels sought to use Russia to prove its ability – although weakening – to act as a foreign-policy actor. Russia responded with retaliatory and preemptive diplomatic strikes. At a time, I used to keep count of these “victories” and “defeats.” Year and a half ago, I got sick and tired of it. By that time, the score was 12-5 “in favor of Russia.” Had anyone in Brussels engaged in such a stupid occupation, he might well have had a somewhat different result. But there is one thing I am sure of: the total score was nil to 17 for both parties. By scoring forgotten victories or suffering symbolic defeats, they both lost. Other parties lost, too. As Russia and the West competed for political points and influence in the area of their common neighborhood, namely in countries in the western part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, they not so much helped those countries develop as put spokes in each other’s wheels. Hence, there emerged political figures like Victor Yushchenko, who made first Russians and then other Europeans howl, or like Alexander Lukashenko, who made both Russia and the West howl in parallel but separately.
Yet, the main loss was different. While competing with each other within the framework of Russia-EU relations, or waging Russia-versus-NATO rearguard actions of the unfinished Cold War, both parts of Europe began to lose the geopolitical competition of the new world. In fact, they overlooked the rise of the new Asia and tectonic shifts in the world economy and politics.
Partnership for Modernization
The history of the last twenty years of Russia’s relations with the other Europe, now largely personified by the EU or NATO, is riddled with empty slogans or vain hopes. Let me recall just some of them. It all started with a “Common European House” advocated by Mikhail Gorbachev, or a “Europe Free and Whole” as seen by George H.W. Bush. Then followed Boris Yeltsin’s proposal that Russia join NATO, which remained unanswered. After that, Russia and the EU finally lost benchmarks for their joint development and any desire to look for them, and busied themselves for years with writing a document on “four spaces” for cooperation, still making one astonished at its shallowness.
Later, Russia simply gave up on the EU and officially focused its attention almost entirely on bilateral relations with European nations – simply for practical reasons.
Over the last year, both parties, sensing that their positions in the world are weakening, have begun to look for ways to resume their rapprochement. The idea of modernization, proclaimed by the Russian president, has become a convenient slogan. The Russia-EU summit in November 2009 declared a “Partnership for Modernization” initiative. At the latest summit, held on May 31-June 1, 2010, in Rostov-on-Don, “Partnership for Modernization” was the subject of the central statement.
The summit proceeded well, “in a friendly atmosphere” and, indeed, as a dialogue of equals. The EU has long abandoned attempts to lecture others, and Russia has given up its almost demonstrative contemptuous disdain.
But I have concerns about the placing of “Partnership for Modernization” into the center of the dialogue. It may well end up being another empty slogan distracting people from setting strategic tasks that are really important to both parts of Europe.
I have doubts for two reasons. Both are important, although they belong to different planes.
First, I believe that Russia’s ruling elite, with rare exceptions, and even the majority of the Russian population do not yet really want serious modernization that would require saying goodbye to rampant corruption and a relatively quiet life after years of hardships and chaos. At the same time, I cannot but rejoice that the Russian thinking class, the new intelligentsia, has begun to wake up and demand changes and an end to the stagnant and corrupt state capitalism that has been established in Russia.
From my particular vantage point there seems to be an urgent need to overcome this model of capitalism also because of the fast-growing non-competitiveness of Russia in the economy and the military-technical sphere. This means that we are bound to start to loose in foreign policy, as well. We have been deftly maneuvering in this field as yet, but the base for such a successive foreign policy is melting away.
Second, the two parties interpret “Partnership for Modernization” in their own – and different – ways. And I am afraid both are largely wrong.
Official Russia interprets modernization primarily as technological modernization or, in plain language, as assistance to Russian corporations in their business projects.
Meanwhile, Russians are not ready yet to sacrifice even a little bit of their sovereignty, which was hard to gain and which provides unlimited opportunities for rampant thievery. Therefore they do not want to adopt European technical standards, arguing that they would otherwise surrender their sovereignty, even though the Russian president said that the construction of roads in Russia, for example, would be much cheaper if done by European standards.
In the EU, there are still hopes among clerks who prepare documents or some parliamentarians that Russia will revert to the role of a “junior partner,” which, unlike Central and Eastern Europe countries that were assigned the same role, no one is going to pay anything.
At the political level, Europe views modernization as Russia’s movement towards broader political freedoms and respect for human rights. However, it habitually sees only a side of the tip of the iceberg – namely, the killings of several human rights activists and journalists or crackdowns on opposition demonstrations rather than bureaucratic and police lawlessness vis-à-vis millions of people. Indeed, this is a very important problem. Yet in what concerns human rights the main problem for Russia is not police micro-repressions or unsolved murders of human rights activists but exactly violation of the rights of millions of ordinary people.
This difference in interpreting modernization, or simply the lack of understanding of its essence makes “Partnership for Modernization” doomed to become yet another empty slogan.
This does not mean that Russia and the EU should not seek rapprochement or that this rapprochement will not promote Russia’s modernization. The alienation between Russia and the EU in the last decade has largely weakened the party of Russian Europeans, which historically almost fully coincides with the party of modernizers. In addition, the feeling that “Europe cannot lay down the law for us” has been a major factor in barbarizing or “Africanizing” social life in Russia. After a brief period of reversal in the 1980s-1990s, Russia has continued to retreat from the “European” 19th century, the best in its history.
The “Partnership for Modernization” slogan, however positive it may be, will not reverse the alienation between the two parts of Europe. Most importantly, it not only is viewed differently but it also is not in line with the vital mutual interests of Russia and the European Union. In actual fact, the latter is not really interested in Russia’s modernization, while Russia can now get ever more technologies and capital from all over the world, including from the East – even if these technologies originated in U.S. or European laboratories.
The Main Interest
The main interest uniting non-Russian Europe and Russia is in the sphere of geopolitics and geo-economics. Thank God, Moscow and the capitals of old European powers – even though at the top level only – have come to understand this; hopefully, not too late.
I have already written many offensive words about my homeland in this article. Therefore I will now confine myself only to one observation, which is indisputable to me. As the tendency towards de-modernization in Russia inevitably persists for several more years, hopefully not for long, this country will not be able to play the role of an independent first-class player. And if it does not pool its efforts with Europe, it will inevitably drift towards the role of a raw-material and then a political appendage of China. In addition, degradation tendencies in society will increase, and the country may lose the status of a great sovereign power, regained with so much effort.
I sincerely admire the fantastic economic, civilizational and political successes of great China. If Russia fails to achieve anything better, well, it will have to become a younger, subordinate brother to the superpower of the future. But while this has not happened yet, I would like Russia to struggle for a better role. At the same time, it should speed up its economic rapprochement with the new rising Asia. We are shamefully lagging behind in the competition for its markets.
The geopolitical perspectives of Europe are even worse than Russia’s. The integration project, sadly for the EU and Russia, is at a deadlock. Carried away by the euphoria caused by its past achievements and multiplied by the victory over communism, the EU made a series of mistakes, for which it now has to pay. First, without federalizing the budgetary policy, that is, without establishing a single decision-making center, the EU admitted to the eurozone countries with an economic culture that was different from the one the indigenous Western Europeans had. Second, the EU enlarged itself too fast and without any preconditions for the new members, thus enlarging the club of lagging nations and complicating the adoption of common decisions still further. Then came the enlargement fatigue, which has deprived the EU of its most important foreign-policy lever: the offer of the prospect of entering the most comfortable and civilized community that mankind has ever created throughout its history. As a result, the political weight of the EU has sharply decreased in the eyes of such countries as Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, together with its foreign-policy capitalization in the world. Finally, it was a mistake to proclaim in the early 1990s the goal of working on a basis of a unified foreign policy. The EU now has a policy set at the lowest common denominator, which has largely tied the hands of great European nations and which has not increased the EU’s influence.
The situation for the EU has been aggravated by the return of the foreign policy of force and economic growth as a criterion of success in the world. Europe, except for Germany, East Central European and Nordic countries, is unwilling and unable to struggle for growth after decades of social welfare and no one wants to seek and to pay for military power.
The comeback of traditional geopolitics, of nation-states as the main players has exposed the historical fatigue of Europe. After the hardest 20th century, which broke the backs of almost all European powers, the Europeans simply do not want to sacrifice anything for goals of grand strategic policies and remain increasingly aloof from them.
The economic crisis and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty have highlighted all these problems, which many Europeans did not – and still do not – want to publicly acknowledge.
The Copenhagen Summit on climate change came as an embodiment of Europe’s inability to translate its aggregate economic and cultural weight into political influence. At the summit, the United States and new leaders simply did not invite the EU to join in the decision-making on the issue that the EU had declared among its top priorities.
Europe, which still has a great human, economic and cultural potential, is unable to use it to adequately protect its interests.
Now it has to admit its new weakness and old mistakes – and it has already begun to do that. I say this without any malicious joy but gladly, as it inspires hope that the EU may work out a more realistic policy, including with respect to Russia.
There is a growing realism in Russia as well. The crisis has quenched its oil-and-gas arrogance a bit; yet it has not made it feel vulnerable to the outside world or look for enemies. We are witnessing now a rare combination of confidence and the awareness of one’s weaknesses in Russia.
The new realism has already brought about a tangible foreign-policy achievement. Without conceding anything, we have finally fully admitted the crimes in Katyn and behaved in a truly generous manner towards Poland and its tragedy.
It remains to acknowledge that the entire Soviet Union was a huge Katyn for its peoples. But this is a subject for another article.
A Union of Europe
Over the past six months, many top-level European politicians and thinkers have begun to speak of the urgent need for rapprochement with Russia in order to avoid further marginalization in the world. I know about such changes in sentiments and have seen them myself.
This is why the “Partnership for Modernization” slogan causes my concern. I am afraid these sentiments will be wasted in idle talk.
The past experience has shown that without understandable mutual interest, without a mutually understood long-term strategic co-development goal, there will be no radical rapprochement between the parties. Both parts of Europe will not be able then to reverse their mutual tendency of losing the positions of first-class players of the new world, capable of effectively defending their interests and values, even though often different.
Many of these values now differ as never before. But in the field of international governance, especially in the management of the global economy, they are close or even identical. I hope political values will come closer together as well, from both sides: Russia cannot afford “new barbarism,” while the other Europe cannot afford post-European, post-historical values. These could be developed in a much more favorable environment, which no longer exists.
If Europe does not unite, it will be the U.S. and China that will call the tune in the future world, and the brilliant half-millennium of Europe will be over. Perhaps, this would not be a great tragedy, but such a bipolar world, with a large number of new competing players, would be highly unstable. A “triangle” between the U.S., China and a truly united Europe would make it much more stable.
This is why I write and say, again and again, that Russia and the EU must set a long-term goal of creating a Union of Europe, which would also include other countries without a clear-cut orientation, such as Turkey, Ukraine or Kazakhstan.
This Union could be based on a brief Treaty – a declaration on the establishment of the Union, which all European countries could join as they become ready for it. It is a union that the parties must seek to establish, not a dull bureaucratic and strategic partnership. These efforts will be difficult and may fail, but they are worth it.
In legal terms, a Union of Europe could be formalized in a major Treaty mentioned above, another four treaties on four major areas for cooperation and co-development and, probably, a large number of smaller, “sectoral” agreements.
The first of the major treaties may concern the creation of a common strategic space and provide for close coordination of the parties’ foreign policies. The soft power of the EU would thus be combined with the hard power and strategic might of Russia. Some people may argue that the EU cannot be a partner in this field. But we are interested in the growth of its influence, as a weak Europe weakens Russia.
This treaty could help solve the problem of Europe’s military-political division, surviving since the Cold War times and making the Cold War unfinished.
It is gratifying that this idea has already begun to be translated into practical politics. At the latest Russian-German summit in June, Angela Merkel proposed to Dmitry Medvedev to initiate almost monthly meetings between the foreign ministers of Russia and the EU for foreign policy coordination. The Russian president supported the idea.
Another key treaty may concern energy and establish a single energy complex in Europe, with common rules and equal access for the corporations of all countries to extraction and transportation systems (what the EU wants) and, of course, to energy distribution (what Russia wants). Such a single complex could play the same role in the history of Greater Europe as was played by the European Coal and Steel Community, from which the European Economic Community and the European Union emerged.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed this idea more than a decade ago.
The third treaty could establish a common economic and technological space in Europe, with clear and uniform rules and a free movement of capital, goods and people. In the long run, it may provide for the establishment of a customs union. This was said and written by many people, yet the relevance of this idea is growing as the World Trade Organization has been weakening the general regime and as the world economy has been steadily splitting into regional blocs. In fact, what is proposed is the creation of a common economic and energy market of Greater Europe, which would be competitive with the old and new giants.
And finally – and perhaps most important – is the establishment of a single human, cultural and educational space that would provide for a visa-free movement of people, large-scale exchanges of students, and the creation of a single labor market in the long term. This goal, if proclaimed officially, would require movement towards similar political institutions and equal respect for human rights. The EU’s experience shows that there will be no unification of cultures but their mutual penetration. Perhaps, Russians will have to show more tolerance towards gay parades. On the other hand, opportunities for our swinishness will narrow, too.
I am ready to elaborate on this idea, and I will gladly do that among a growing number of colleagues and associates.
Although a project like the establishment of a Union of Europe is obviously idealistic and super-difficult, I think this idea is imperative and even realistic. I am a Russian European and I believe in the great European values – rationality and reason.
In the world of the future, Russia and the EU are doomed to degradation and weakening if they act separately. This is irrational and unreasonable.