European Affairs

In 1979, Soviet armed forces invaded Afghanistan, but that intervention – nominally at the invitation of the authorities in Kabul – ultimately proved abortive. This time in August 2008 Russian forces crossed the borders of another country, its neighbor Georgia, into South Ossetia, a region within Georgia’s internationally recognized borders. Although described as retaliation for Georgia’s military adventure in South Ossetia and an effort to help people there who have obtained Russian passports, Moscow’s use of force sends a chill down the spine of all of Russia’s neighbors, in particular Ukraine and those seeking closer ties with the West – plus the Caspian’s “stans” caught between Europe’s desire for their oil and gas and Russian objections to see it flow westward via pipelines running outside Russian territory and control.

Now that Russia has demonstrated a new readiness to “throw its weight around” in its immediate neighborhood, there is an obvious risk of a new confrontation with the West, the like of which has not been known since the cold war-era. The European Union, under the leadership of French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel, brokered the cease fire between Russia and Georgia. Now it must worry about Russia’s capacity to act as a reliable partner not only vis-à-vis the EU but in the NATO-Russia Council and in other in-ternational and European bodies. The EU held off on sanctions, for now, in their decisions at a special summit on the Georgian conflict at the start of September. But leaders warned that the talks about the new partnership and cooperation agreement are now suspended until Russia withdraws its troops from Georgia to the positions before the Russian incursion. The Georgian crisis highlights Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. Georgia is a crucial link, geographically, in Europe’s efforts to diversify the incoming routes of its oil and gas supplies. Should Russia seek control over Georgia, it would pose a threat for Europe.

In any attempt to seek the basis for a renewed partnership with Russia, Europe must remain firm on some key principles – for instance, not allowing Moscow any veto rights over its relations with other countries. A final-status agreement for South Ossetia and Abkhazia can only come from negotiations conducted without a fait accompli and a threat to use force. The EU would be well positioned to mediate a final status agreement between the parties involved in the conflict. It would be a clear and reassuring signal if Russia accepted the presence of a strong EU peacekeeping role in Georgia’s conflicts with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Instead, Russia’s move to recognize the independence from Georgia of South Ossetia and Abkhazia seems to amount to a policy of annexation by Russia.

The current tensions in the Caucasus can derail the EU-Russian partnership negotiations that were set to resume, and they could open up new dividing lines in Europe for a long time to come. On the other hand, both Russia and the West need each other for political and economic reasons. The issues of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, energy, climate protection, nuclear arms control and non proliferation are examples of a commonality of interests. And it should come as no surprise to Moscow that Europe and the United States will stand firm on Georgia’s and Ukraine’s eventual NATO membership and also on missile defense – as Poland quickly confirmed. These steps to contain Russia should not stand in the way of reconciliation, if Russia cooperates. Taking history as a guide one should remember that a year after Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 in order to prevent the “Prague spring” revolt from spreading to the Soviet Union, the American and the Soviet governments, in the interest of nuclear arms control and stability, sat down to negotiate a SALT Agreement.

Going forward in Europe, a new partnership agreement between Russia and the EU has long-term implications, and it is likely to take years to sort out Europe’s increasingly complex relationship with the new Russia. Failure to forge a new partnership agreement to replace the 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which entered into force in 1997 and ran out in 2007 can not be excluded. Even before the current crisis in the Caucasus, there were tensions between Russia and the EU over oil and gas and also about the EU’s “neighborhood policy” that has caused concerns in Moscow.

Recent Russian history is bound to make the path to a new partnership thorny. Russia’s consolidation as a state after the collapse of the Soviet Union was not the result of a natural and harmonious development in Russian society. In a convulsive transformation, Russia went from empire and central authority to a sudden and chaotic dissolution of authority. The country became a democracy without stable democratic institutions. Amid widespread disappointment due to the harsh consequences of the transformation from state control in all aspects of life, a near-spontaneous version of political “pluralism” arose in ways that grew out of control as Yeltsin’s reforms – based on Western models of democracy and market economy – failed and led to poverty and chaos instead of the expected blessings. It was easy to convince the Russian people that the West was not Russia’s hope but its bane, and the re-establishment of political authority became a necessary priority.

It should not have come as a surprise when Putin came to power in 2000, that Russia adopted a distinctly authoritarian form of capitalism. He was not the Western- oriented trading partner that the EU had hoped for. During his tenure, Russia’s main sources of wealth and power – oil and gas – were put under strict government control, and Putin abolished political pluralism and destroyed federalism on the basis of his doctrine of “sovereign democracy.” Any aspirations for a multiparty system were nipped in the bud, and political parties had only one chance of achieving electoral success: to support the policy decisions of the Kremlin. The media lost their independence: freedom of the press was reduced to the function of providing the appearance of democratic legitimacy.

Reviewing the Yeltsin years, the pattern of EU-Russian ties is clear. The EU placed respect for human rights and democracy at the center of the relationship, and Russia seemed to be on her way to Europe and to joining the Euro- Atlantic institutions. The EU saw itself as the best model for Russia’s future. An ambitious institutional framework was set up, but in reality these complex institutional arrangements between Yeltsin’s Russia and the EU did little to prevent the relationship from deteriorating seriously. Russia was never truly happy with the norms and standards the EU prescribed, and there was always a sense of resentment stemming from the lack of input Russia was able to provide to a partnership with the EU. The geopolitical and democratic revolution that many in the West had hoped for, by including Russia in the family of Western democracies and Euro-Atlantic institutions, never took place.

In particular, the diverging views of Russia and Europe on Chechnya threatened to undermine the positive relationship Yeltsin had forged with the West. What changed the Western view of the issue of Chechnya was September 11. Putin succeeded in convincing Western leaders that Chechnya’s war of independence was part of the new challenge of global terrorism orchestrated by the same radical Islamic forces that sought to destroy the West. Although there are still lingering doubts about the Islamic origin of some of the brutal terrorist attacks in Moscow, Putin used the hostage crisis at the Beslan school, which resulted in the deaths of 330 people, half of them children, as an opportunity to drastically change the vertical power structure in Russia. The tragedy served as an occasion to eliminate the autonomy of the regions: henceforth Moscow started to appoint governors instead of seeing regional leadership selected through elections. After the Beslan tragedy, Western public opinion began to accept Putin’s arguments. His offer to support the West in the war on terror was considered to be genuine in spite of the radical transformation of the Russian political landscape in the name of the war on terror. Putin’s counter-terrorism went beyond the need to restore basic government functions that had been crippled during the Yeltsin years of domestic chaos. Russia’s short-lived move toward democracy was not the only change. Russia, thanks to rapidly increasing oil and gas prices, also reappeared as a power seeking to influence political events beyond her own borders. An example of the Russian willingness to intervene in the “near abroad” was the 2004 electoral campaign in Ukraine for the succession to a longtime pro-Russian leader, Leonid Kuchma, who came to power in 1991. Putin did not hesitate to try to make sure that the successor would be the “Russian candidate” – in this case, Victor Janukowytsch. The candidate of the democratic opposition, Viktor Juschtschenko, was a pro-European reformer who electrified the Ukrainian public with his openly pro- Western positions. With the help of dirty tricks, massive propaganda and fraud – and even violence such as a poison attack on Juschtschenko – the “Russian candidate” won. But with the assistance of numerous European and Western organizations, the democratic opposition in Ukraine was able to force Janukowytsch into a second round over Christmas 2004 in which Juschtschenko won in what is now known as the “Orange Revolution.” It was a bitter defeat for Putin and his attempt to influence the political process in the “near abroad.” But at the same time, anti-Western sentiments in Russia increased.

What also aggravated the relationship between Russia and the EU was the fact that the EU, too, changed dramatically in size and in outlook. The EU in 2004 was quite different from the organization it was when the partnership agreement was concluded with Russia a decade earlier. Now an organization with 27 members, many of whom were former members of the Warsaw Pact and COMECON, the EU-27 became much more critical in its outlook towards Russia than the EU-15 had been. Little is left of the 1999 “Common Strategy of the European Union for Russia,” which tried to help a struggling Russia financially through economic cooperation as well as through direct assistance for democratic institution-building, all under the overarching theme of establishing a “strategic partnership” with Russia.

Although a partnership on stability continues to be the EU objective, it is much, much more difficult to achieve today – perhaps even to imagine for some time to come. Russia is not dependent on Western aid. Its new leaders feel insulted by Western lectures on human rights and democracy. Under Putin, the gap has widened drastically between the EU’s rule-of-law approach and Russia’s reviving great power ambitions.

Today, the EU appears particularly weak in countering Russian security challenges – over missile defenses, over progress in establishing qualified independence for Kosovo and in resisting Russian attempts to shut out the EU from Central Asia, an area where Europe is trying to promote political and economic reforms and build new energy partnerships. These Russian pressures put serious limitations on the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The EU cannot accept Russian claims to determine the extent of Europe’s engagement in Central Asia or anywhere else.

Russia is now a divisive issue inside the EU, where member countries have fundamental differences on how to deal with a more assertive Russia. There is no consensus on how to deal with Russia’s gas and oil giant, Gazprom, and cope with Europe’s energy needs. The EU is the most important market for Russian gas and oil exports, so it is not inaccurate to claim that the energy relationship be-tween Russia and the EU is a “mutual dependency.” But Russia’s position as a supplier with growing strength outweighs Europe’s as the privileged recipient with growing dependence and few alternatives on the horizon. Three difficulties stand in the way of strengthening Europe’s position in this energy relationship. First, prospects for a diversification of Europe’s energy supplies, through additional pipelines linking Central Asia with the European energy market, are still uncertain. Second, market opportunities for Russia in Asia and North America will increase as Liquefied Natural Gas Technology (LNG) becomes available, providing Russia with much more flexibility and reducing the importance of a European market. Last, Russia’s growing domestic energy needs will put pressure on its export capabilities.

In these circumstances, consensus is hard to reach. As Mark Leonard and Nicu Popescu of the European Council on Foreign Relations recently pointed out in a paper on EU-Russia relations, the EU reveals five different views and groups in EU approaches to Russia:

  • Trojan Horses (Cyprus and Greece) who often defend Russia in the EU
  • Strategic Partners (France, Germany, Italy and Spain) who sometimes undermine common EU policies because of their “special relationship” with Russia
  • Friendly Pragmatists (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia) who prioritize business goals over political goals when it comes to dealing with Russia
  • Frosty Pragmatists (Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom) who prioritize business goals but are not afraid to speak out against Russia on political issues such as human rights and
  • New Cold Warriors (Lithuania and Poland) who have a hostile relationship with Russia and are willing to work against an EU-Russia partnership.

Moreover, any partnership could run into obstacles on the Russian side. Moscow’s determination to remain a Eurasian power, with strong Asian ties independent of Europe’s own relationship with Asia, could limit its willingness to seek a close partnership with the EU. One new trend in Russia’s self-definition is the “Eurasian Way” advocated in the writings of geopolitical thinker Alexander Dugin, which can be seen in tandem with the Russian-backed Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO) involving Asian nations. It has been touted in Russian media as an alternative to Westernization and a counterweight to the U.S. and any NATO enlargement. Russia would not be opposed to turning the SCO into a military bloc. A difficulty for the SCO is that Russia and China do not have identical interests in supporting it, and both countries vie for the natural gas and oil resources of Central Asia.

The issue of the proposed Energy Charter is an example of the disparity between Russian and European views. Under present conditions, Russia is the main source of Europe’s energy because it can import cheap oil and gas from Central Asian countries and then pass it along, selling it to EU countries at much higher prices. Europe needs supply security and wants to open the Russian pipeline-system to third parties to diversify Europe’s oil and gas supplies. If Rus-sia signs the Transit Protocol of the Energy Charter, Europe will gain direct access to the oil and gas resources of Central Asia and the Caspian region, and Russia would lose the “rent” it is getting from its transit monopoly. Meanwhile Russia wants to invest in European downstream operations to get a foothold in European oil-and-gas distribution systems. So Russia tries to have it both ways.

It will be difficult to create sufficient symmetry to satisfy both Russian and European interests. Russia’s understanding of a “strategic partnership” with Europe has always been dominated by economic interests. Its key economic interest is to keep Europe as its main modernization partner. Europe’s economic strength in manufactured goods, tools and machinery and Russia’s riches in oil, gas and other raw materials complement each other so, in theory, there are optimal conditions for a stable partnership in accordance with Russia’s economic interests.

But Europe’s concerns go beyond economic interests. Security is the most important concern, particularly for countries that suffered under Soviet/ Russian domination. The energy-dependence of the Baltic states and several other former Warsaw Pact members adds to European security concerns. So Central and Eastern Europe require a firm anchoring in the West and as little exposure as possible to potential Russian energy pressure. Russia has not shied away from using its energy power for political purposes. Following the pro- Western “Orange Revolution,” Russia dramatically increased gas prices to Ukraine, blaming the increase on market conditions. In reality, it was clearly a political response by Moscow to help the Kremlin’s candidate in Ukraine’s electoral battle. Europe’s concept of a “strategic partnership” with Russia is not based on interests alone. Rather, the EU wants to forge a long-term relationship with a common agenda, common values and a high degree of institutionalized political, economic, civil society and cultural contacts. The current framework of the EU for the new contractual relationship with Russia is based on the concept of “Four Common Spaces”: the Economy; Freedom, Security and Justice; External Security; and Research, Education and Culture.

Future negotiations will reveal serious if not even unbridgeable differences between Russia and the EU, but if both sides realize that they need each other in the interest of a common future in the Euro-Atlantic framework a working relationship might still be possible. On June 5, 2008 in Berlin, in his first major public address abroad since becoming President, Dmitry Medvedev spoke about today’s opportunity “to build up genuine cooperation between Russia, the European Union and North America as three branches of European civilization.” This message of future commonality follows the path set out by President Bush and President Putin on April 6, 2008 at the Russian President’s Black Sea resort in Sochi. Following the NATO summit in Bucharest, they signed a bilateral “Strategic Framework Declaration” in an effort to move the U.S.-Russian relationship “from one of strategic competition to [one of] strategic partnership.” In spite of major differences between the two sides over missile defense and possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, the U.S. and Russia agreed on a wideranging agenda that included dialogue on controversial issues and charted new areas for future cooperation on defense technology. It remains to be seen how much of these intentions will be imple-mented now in the wake of the Russian actions in Georgia.

But the principle remains: the EU, too, should not shy away from a dialogue on controversial issues. The hard question is whether there will be common ground on key issues such as the Energy Charter, energy security, human rights and democracy, cooperation in a final settlement for South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as “frozen conflicts” like Chechnya, Nagorno Karabakh and Transnistria. The EU must also insist on the rights and the freedom for cultural and civil society institutions to operate in Russia without government interference.

In fact, looking back, it is clear that conditions have been deteriorating on all these issues. A key shortcoming of the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 1977 was its lack of a workable “enforcement mechanism” to activate when developments on the ground contradicted the mutuallyagreed principles. When Russia curtailed the freedom of Western-style civil-society institutions operating on its soil, the EU was not adamant or even very vocal in demanding enforcement of agreed principles. In future, if the EU wants to be serious about its rule-of-law approach, it must strengthen enforcement instruments in the contractual relationship with Russia. Even then, it is doubtful that Russia would put its own domestic order up for discussion with the EU.

This leaves little room for a deep strategic partnership with Russia, but the EU is not powerless. Trade policy and market-access rules give the EU significant leverage. Russia’s interest in Europe as a modernization partner is bound to create mutual incentives for a contractual relationship. The EU is Russia’s most important trading partner: EU trade with Russia doubled between 2000 and 2006. More than 50 percent of Russia’s exports, consisting mainly of energy and raw materials, go to EU countries. Europe’s exports to Russia are predominantly machinery, manufactured goods, automobiles and high-tech products. Of course, even trade interests cannot build a strategic partnership agreement with Russia alone as long as some EU member states perceive Russia as a security threat.

In his speech in Berlin President Medvedev declared that he is committed to the rule of law in Russia’s future. He is also interested in a new European security system. He believes that, as a historical principle, “Atlanticism has had its day.” Instead he favors a “unity between the whole Euro-Atlantic areas from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” achieved through a legally binding “treaty on European security in which the organizations currently working in the Euro- Atlantic area would become parties.” If implemented, this vision would enable Medvedev to achieve his goal of avoiding the embrace of the West. And there is the obvious risk that, with such a framework, the West would loose its cohesion. So this proposal is not an appropriate way to improve Europe’s security: over-arching security architecture cannot be the first step. Instead, it is urgent to address and solve acute conflict situations such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia and prevent the use of force in the future. Russian cooperation in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans is also a prerequisite for partnership. There are areas for security cooperation and confidence- building – for example, a new bid to ratify the long-fought CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) agreement that could reduce these forces and help restore trust. Russia could remove its pending threat to re-introduce intermediate nuclear forces to put renewed pres-sure on Europe. Low-level security measures – such as cross-border cooperation – could be a useful field of cooperation between the EU and Russia: At their Khanty-Mansiysk meeting, the EU and Russia signed an agreement to cooperate on cross-border programs to promote economic and social development, assist regions in environmental protection programs and support cross-border ‘people to people’ contacts. This lowlevel cooperation points in the right strategic direction and could be further developed.

From a general diplomatic perspective, Russia prefers to deal with individual European countries bilaterally instead of through EU institutions. The reason is obvious: bilateralism allows Russia to play European states against one another, weakening the EU. This puts the EU in a difficult position between its ambitions as a unified international player and the aspirations of its members, particularly those members who would not like to see their “special relations” with Russia diluted. So bilateralism will continue to play an important role in Russia-European relations, and it would be a mistake to try to oppose it. Foreign policy is an area reserved for intergovernmental decision- making, and so member states have the right to deal with Russia bilaterally. If practiced responsibly, bilateralism can advance the European cause in the EURussia relationship.

Dr. Dieter Dettke is a senior non-resident Fellow of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University. He previously served as the U.S. Representative and Executive Director of the Washington Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. He is the author of a forthcoming book titled Germany Says ‘No’: The Iraq War and the Future of German Foreign and Security Policy.

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 9, Issue number 3 in the Fall of 2008.