Thursday, July 17, 2008

Despite speculations in European Union capitals about a bright new dawn in Europe-Russia relations following the installation of President Dmitri Medvedev, dark clouds have already gathered. Europe faces an intensified challenge to its integrity, effectiveness and alliances from a Moscow buoyed by its oil wealth and fortified by claims that U.S. leadership is on the decline.

During a recent visit to Berlin, Mr. Medvedev proposed creation of a pan-European security pact that would sideline NATO and undermine U.S. influence in Europe. Mr. Medvedev asserted that “Atlanticism as a sole historical principle has already had its day. NATO has failed to give new purpose to its existence.”

In reality, it is not Atlanticism that is effectively over but the post-Cold War era as the West and Russia are embroiled in a new strategic confrontation. Russia is reasserting its global reach by opposing further expansion of the Euro-Atlantic zone and reversing the United States‘ global role. The Kremlin believes the U.S. has passed its zenith as a global power and Pax Americana is crumbling. This provides an invaluable opportunity for a resurgent Russia to extend its interests in nearby regions, particularly throughout the wider Europe.

Russia’s European ambitions were formulated during Vladimir Putin’s presidency and will be consolidated under Mr. Medvedev. They revolve around expanding the “Eurasian” zone in which Russia is the dominant political player. “Eurasianism” involves two interconnected strategies: transforming Europe into an appendage of the Russian sphere of influence and debilitating Atlanticism by undercutting Europe’s connections with the United States.

Moscow deploys a range of tools to weaken and disarm the West, including divisive diplomacy, political subversion, informational warfare and institutional manipulation. A primary weapon is energy entrapment, whereby Russia pursues a monopolistic position as Europe’s energy supplier and converts energy dependence into increasing intergovernmental influence.

The EU occupies a pivotal position in Russia’s strategy as it can either strengthen or weaken the Kremlin’s approach. A unified EU foreign policy synchronized with Washington that undercuts Russia’s aspirations is viewed as a source of threat that needs to be neutralized.

For instance, the EU’s democratization agenda is seen as a pernicious ploy to undercut Russia’s policy of maintaining pliable governments in neighboring post-Soviet states. Additionally, EU standards for government accountability, business transparency, market competition and environmental protection endanger Russia’s economic penetration, which is primarily based on opaque business practices and personal connections.

However, EU institutions or specific member states can also buttress Russia’s long-range strategy. This is evident where EU capitals such as Berlin, Paris and Rome have convinced themselves that “common interests” will lead to interdependence but fail to question the policy objectives disguised behind Russia’s offer of “strategic partnerships.” The absence of a common and realistic EU strategy toward Russia will have several negative consequences.

c First, it will allow Moscow to fracture the EU by bilateralizing or nationalizing relations with member states by providing diplomatic and economic incentives to some capitals and exerting pressure on others. Moscow offers lucrative contracts to German and French business while imposing embargoes and energy blackmail on Poland, the Baltic States and other states that criticize its policies.

c Second, it will increase disputes within the EU concerning the approach of individual states toward Russia. This will undermine the development of common positions on a broader range of foreign and security policies such as NATO deployments and the role of the United States. The Lisbon treaty, badly damaged by the recent Irish vote, will be buried alongside the EU constitution.

c Third, it will restrict further EU and NATO enlargement eastward as a result of an accommodationist approach toward Moscow. This can unsettle the reformist prospects of aspirant states in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, including Ukraine and Georgia.

c And fourth, the EU’s internal divisions and acquiescence toward Moscow will harm relations with the United States. They could disable the pursuit of a common Western strategy when a new American president will be reaching out to reinvigorate the Alliance.

The most effective and concerted long-range strategy toward Russia necessitates a combination of “practical engagement” with “strategic assertiveness.” “Practical engagement” concentrates on the pursuit of cooperative relations where Western and Russian interests can coincide, as in countering international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

“Strategic assertiveness,” as an essential complementary approach, must focus on vital long-range Western security interests where Russia’s negative policies need to be effectively countered by the EU and NATO working in tandem to strengthen trans-Atlanticism.

As a primary principle, the Allies must not compromise core interests by forging agreements with Russia that sacrifice one Western security priority to gain Moscow’s support in another security area. For instance, NATO enlargement eastward must not be traded for Russia’s promised assistance in dealing with Iran and North Korea. This not only undermines Europe’s commitment to expand the zone of security and democracy but also allows Russia to implement its Eurasian agenda.

Janusz Bugajski is director of the New European Democracies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. His forthcoming CSIS monograph is entitled “Expanding Eurasia: Russia’s European Ambitions” to be released in the fall of 2008.

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