- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

The German-Russian courtship had to have its limits, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder set the boundaries in his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week. The German leader made clear in the first annual "Petersburg dialogue" that if Russia wants into the European Club, it will need to repay its debts, honor press freedoms and use its security forces for the stability of Europe.
The German-Russian meetings follow strong overtures from Russia towards the European Union, with which Mr. Putin is hoping to build a stronger partnership to balance out American influence. This is not a new Russian dream; it will be recalled that Michael Gorbachev spoke of the "common European home" and that Boris Yeltsin harbored similar ambitions. Germany, of course, has had its own policy towards the east since Chancellor Willy Brandt, sometimes very much to the chagrin of American administrations.
Mr. Schroeder, fortunately, has shown himself to be quite level-headed in his dealings with Mr. Putin, as has Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer. While Mr. Schroeder agreed to make their Petersburg tryst an annual one the answer to that question was not one of unbounded enthusiasm. "Russia needs media that can freely perform their job of keeping tabs on those in power," Mr. Schroeder told reporters.
He came at a sensitive time for Russian press freedoms, as NTV, the countrys only independent television network, was in a power struggle with a state-backed agency called Gasprom. Journalists there say the Kremlin is trying to take away their station and over 10,000 people protested the takeover last Saturday. Mr. Putin pleaded innocent, and passed the buck to the courts.
Without blatantly saying he was unimpressed, Mr. Schroeder made "civil society," based on democratic rights, like freedom of the press, the focus of his talks. But Russias accountability to Europe and the West was not to end there. The German leader made clear that Russias treatment of post-Soviet republics or other Central European allies who are attempting to receive membership in NATO and the European Union will also be scrutinized if Russia wants good standing with the West. This it desperately needs, as it has $14 billion in annual debt payments.
If Mr. Putin had counted on Mr. Schroeders differences with the Bush administration over a national missile defense system (NMD) to be a mark in his favor, he was mistaken. Mr. Schroeder did not commit himself to giving Russia a part in the American missile defense plan, which would include regional protection of U.S. allies.
For the sake of a continued strong transatlantic relationship and a unified Europe, Mr. Schroeder is wise to hold to Russia accountable to strict financial, security and human rights standards before he bestows favors. In return for Germany leaning on the Paris Club to help erase billions in Russian debt, Russia has brought little to the table but a string of human rights abuses and a desire to play upon the Germans fear of national missile defense. Mr. Putin may have dreams of a new romance, but he has not yet shown himself to be ready for a European partnership.


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