Looking at the Mirror: EU & Russia
|Friday, 22. August 2008 1 comment(s)||
Programme Director - The EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia research programme
The recent Russian-Georgian conflict tells us a lot about the West and Europe more specifically. Countries do not act in a vacuum. They use the space of maneuver that is available. In this sense, it is not the growing strength of Russia that matters when analyzing the challenge it is posing, but the weakness of Europe in addressing it. I would like to point out three fundamental elements of this weakness.
First, Europe lost the sense of striving for goals in its eastern policy. It is failing to state clearly what kind of relationship it wants to have with Russia. Is it a relationship of integration or is it one with of the energy appendage? Is Europe building common spaces or walls on the border, against Russia’s citizens and investments? Can Europe agree to be Russia’s partner regardless of the character of its internal developments? No reply. But as the saying goes, when you don’t know where you are going, you will probably not get there.
There also is no clarity regarding the policy towards other eastern neighbors. While various nicely-phrased but inter-blocking initiatives like Black Sea Synergy and Eastern Partnership were mushrooming, the only conclusion that could be drawn was that their true purpose was to deny Ukraine and Georgia something they really wanted – full Euro-Atlantic integration. The “Double Rejection” – as opposed to “Double Enlargement” – still seems to be the likely blueprint, after certain key European states at the Bucharest NATO summit pushed through the decision to so far refuse those countries’ accession even to the NATO Membership Action Plan. Didn't it look like an invitation to Russia to offer its vision of the geopolitical boundaries in the region?
Second, the borders of what is morally acceptable as regards Russia have been blurred. Today’s Russia does not come to the West with a big stick. It comes instead with big money, and not everyone can resist the temptation. On the one hand, this should not be necessarily problematic. Economic interdependence is a fact of life, Russia has an open and globalized economy, and the interest in the market opportunities in Russia is enormous. So why not? On the other hand, it’s probably not totally unproblematic, as otherwise the politicians accepting certain proposals would not feel the need to explain them. Moreover, and most importantly, what is in the public domain regarding morally acceptable or unacceptable behaviour is not even the top of the iceberg.
Third, after this particular case, the West has lost normative purity . If bombing Grozny is unacceptable, then bombing Tskhinvali is equally unacceptable. If bombing Belgrade to eventually help the Kosovo Albanians to go independent is right, then bombing Tbilisi to help the Southern Ossetians to secede is legitimate as well. If it’s possible to talk to Serbs and explain that their European future depends on the acceptance of the loss of Kosovo, why not to tell the same to Georgians? When the law is not universally applied, appealing to it is futile.
This is not to indulge the sides for the massive loss of human lives and destruction caused. However, without addressing these issues openly and transparently, Europe will never have a workable Russia strategy.
Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors