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Russia: Analysts Ponder Integration Into Euro-Atlantic Community

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Analysts from Russia, the United States, and Europe held a two-day seminar in Brussels earlier this week (14-15 January) to look at the future of Russia's relations with the West. They discussed the motives behind Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent rapprochement with the United States and the European Union, and explored ways the West might compensate.

Brussels, 16 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's unprecedented willingness to seek closer ties with the West has left European and American officials wondering what to make of Moscow's apparent change of heart and how to respond.

President Vladimir Putin has suggested in recent months that Russia is prepared to radically reassess its relationship with Cold War archenemy NATO, and appears to accept the possibility the organization may soon expand into the Baltics. Putin has also offered the European Union opportunities for closer security and political cooperation. And contrary to expectations, Moscow barely reacted when the United States announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- long a source of contention between the two countries.

Russia's changing relationship with the West was the subject of a two-day seminar held earlier this week in Brussels. Participants at the seminar, organized by the Center for European Policy Studies, seemed to agree that the shift in Russian attitudes has finally made the Cold War a thing of the past. There was some debate, however, over whether the shift is sustainable.

Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow, calls Russia's sudden willingness to establish closer ties with the West the result of strategic calculations aimed at modernizing Russia. This strategy, he says, has led Putin to "let go" of the Cold War and seek integration.

Putin, Trenin adds, wants to be seen as one of the great modernizers in Russian history.

"What Putin did was to start bringing his foreign and security policy into harmony with [a] 'Russia project' at home. I would submit [that] nothing is more important to Mr. Putin than to relaunch the Russian economy. He may not be known in the future as a great democratizer of Russia. In the order of his priorities, that is certainly not the highest [priority]. But he wants to be known, I think, as the guy who relaunched the Russian economy -- restructured it."

To achieve this, says Trenin, Putin has made a rational decision to "move the United States out of the way" and plead "no contest" in the Cold War, in order to close that chapter of history and enable Russia to freely embrace the new global economy. Trenin says this does not mean Putin should be seen as "pro-American," despite his apparent tolerance of NATO expansion and Washington's scrapping of the ABM Treaty.

According to Trenin, the focal point in integrating Russia into the broad Euro-Atlantic political and economic structures is the European Union. Integration into Europe will be a long-term project but one which will not lead to Russia's membership in the European Union, at least not in the foreseeable future. But it should result in a close economic, security, and political partnership.

Again, says Trenin, this ambition should be viewed as a domestic initiative, a result of Putin's drive to radically modernize Russia.

"When one talks about Russia's integration with Europe, I think one has to make it very clear -- above all in Russia -- that what we're talking about is not a foreign policy proposition. Russia's entry into Europe will not be the result of a deal made in Moscow and Brussels. It will be 95, 97, 98 percent made at home. It's the extent of Russia's 'Europeanization,' the depth and breadth of Russia's economic transformation, social restructuring, political [and] legal evolution that will turn Russia eventually -- and I believe it will -- into a European country."

Trenin says Putin's modernization drive is supported by the fact that both the elites and the wider public in Russia are beginning to give up the illusion that there is a uniquely "Russian way" to develop.

In Trenin's view, Putin's line is domestically sustainable and "sufficiently protected against adverse international political conditions," and the West should reward it by granting Russia closer institutional links.

Trenin's belief in the sustainability of Putin's reforms is shared by Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian and Russian Studies at Georgetown University in the U.S. But Stent notes misgivings that still exist in certain Russian military and policy circles. She says a lot will depend on how the West compensates Russia for concessions made by Putin.

"There are a number of ways in which the U.S. hopes to encourage Russia's greater integration -- if you like, globally, but also into Euro-Atlantic structures -- and some of these are on the economic side. The United States is now pushing for accelerated WTO [World Trade Organization] membership for Russia -- something that the EU has also endorsed. We're finally getting rid of Cold War legislation, the Jackson-Vanik amendment that tied most-favored-nation status for Russia to emigration policies. The United States is encouraging its business community to become more involved, to invest more in Russia, but obviously that's a longer-term process."

Stent says core security relations between the United States and Russia, especially arms control, remain a "more complicated issue." The U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was followed by an "in principle" agreement with Russia on cutbacks of nuclear warheads, but now disagreement has erupted over numbers.

Stent indicates it is in the global interests of the U.S. that both NATO and the EU forge closer links with Russia. She says avoiding regional divisions is a major U.S. concern.

"The one area where there is concern as one looks to the future, and this includes the EU and NATO, is the possible effect of the dual enlargements on the wider Europe: Russia, but some of the other countries in the post-Soviet space -- this is a term I know some people don't like, but for want of a better word -- and also in Southeastern Europe. I think the concern in general is that these dual enlargements not create new divisions within Europe [between] the prosperous 'have' countries -- the ones who are in, [who are] full members of these institutions -- and the ones who are not, who have associate membership, who have different forms of association with both institutions."

Stent says the United States would "probably welcome" Russia's involvement in the EU's nascent defense project, although there is considerable skepticism in Washington over whether the EU is willing to commit the necessary resources to make a success of the undertaking.

Dmitri Trenin echoed Stent's comments, saying both the EU and NATO should set up concrete institutional structures to allow for practical cooperation with Russia. He says the twice-yearly EU-Russia summits should become a permanent EU-Russia Council, overseeing the implementation of joint decisions with special emphasis on "soft security."

He says special emphasis should be given to cooperation in the EU's "eastern neighborhood." The EU and Russia could also embark on joint peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. However, says Trenin, Chechnya would remain off-limits for foreign military involvement, although the EU could still perform a useful role promoting economic and social rehabilitation there.

With regard to NATO, Trenin suggests the alliance should become the main forum of European-Russian security relations. He says that far from withering away, the recent British proposal to involve Russia in NATO could give the alliance a special role in enlarging the "zone of stable peace in Europe."

The only European representative at the Brussels seminar, Stephan de Spiegeleire, a researcher with RAND Europe, is the most skeptical about forging permanent institutional links with Russia. He says many governments in Europe are not convinced the new Russian policy is sustainable and fear a backlash if the Russian public finds Western concessions disappointing. This, de Spiegeleire says, could lead to a reversal in Russian security thinking, bringing with it recriminations that would "probably be even more virulent than in previous episodes like German reunification or the first round of NATO enlargement."

De Spiegeleire says existing mechanisms of cooperation have not been used to their full potential, and the EU should stick to its policy of slow, organic integration. Arguing against "conjunctural" impulses to change this long-term strategy, he says the EU's low-level engagement reaches "into the fiber of the Russian society and polity in a way that no other external actor could currently come close to."