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Russia: West 'Shouldn't Surrender Its Values' In Relations

Do European leaders like Angela Merkel (left) need to be firmer with Vladimir Putin's Russia? (epa) July 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The recent breakdown in relations between Moscow and London over tit-for-tat extradition requests has shone a spotlight on bigger cracks in the relationship between Russia and the West -- over democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

While some analysts view the differences as an inevitable part of Russia's fabric, others, like "Financial Times" columnist Philip Stephens, believe the West can have a political and economic relationship with Russia while still strongly standing up for its core values. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten asked Stephens to explain.

RFE/RL: What would your recipe be for Europe's ties to Russia? Some analysts recommend a "realpolitick" approach -- that Russia and Europe are increasingly on divergent paths, they don't share many of the same ideals, but we should deal with Russia how we deal with China: we're not best friends but we can pursue common economic interests. Is that how you would deal with Russia? Or would you advocate another approach?

Philip Stephens: I think quite clearly we have to deal with Russia. We have many interlocking interests -- both security and economic. We rely on Russia for lots of our energy in Europe, for example, and clearly we have joint interests in our security issues such as Iran's ambitions for perhaps a nuclear weapon and the fight against terrorism.

But to say that one has to deal with Russia shouldn't be to appease Russia. I think Europe's relationship, and indeed the West's relationship with Russia, should be one that is robust. It shouldn't be provocative. We should be careful about Russian sensibilities, particularly on security issues. But we shouldn't allow Russia to impose a veto, for example, on the deployment of American missile defense in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, or on a final resolution of the position of Kosovo. So we should be cooperative with Russia, we should avoid provocation, but we shouldn't allow Russia to impose its foreign policy on us.

RFE/RL: You have called for a response from Europe as a whole that is coherent and tough, but what form could that response take, given that Europe is so dependent on Russian energy?

I think Europe has been its own worst enemy in recent years in its dealings with Russia. It's been divided and incoherent. I think some European governments have lived with the delusion, I would say, that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin's Russia was still on the path to pluralist government, to democracy. And that Russia still wanted, as [former President] Boris Yeltsin signaled in the 1990s, to be part of the West. So I think that's been one problem.

I think the other problem has been that governments have thought that by striking bilateral agreements they would do better in terms of securing their own gas supplies and in some case, oil supplies. I think what's required now is a recognition by European governments that, in terms of their own interests as far as energy is concerned, they'll only get a reasonable deal with Russia if they act cooperatively. Putin, I think has been very adept at dividing and ruling and, if you like, establishing Russian power in the European energy market in a way that's actually disproportionate to its supplies.

So Europe needs, on the one hand, to have a single energy policy towards Russia, and on the other hand, on matters of security, such as Kosovo, it also needs to have a single common policy, and not allow Russia to drive wedges between different governments.

RFE/RL: How strongly should the West pursue the democracy agenda in Russia, or should it decouple that from economic relations?

Stephens: I think it can be decoupled as it was during the Cold War. I think during the Cold War Western governments always made the case for human rights in the then-Soviet bloc, but dealt with the Soviet Union economically. I think the West shouldn't surrender its values, as it were, but clearly we can't impose democracy on Russia, so Western governments should continue to uphold and stand for the values of democracy, freedom, the rule of law and make that very clear in the relationship with Russia. But it can be a "twin-track" relationship, as it were.

RFE/RL: Well, sometimes it could be tough -- a government could be accused of hypocrisy. Do you still go ahead and do mega-business deals with a regime that it shutting down the press, that is creating new dissidents, that is not respectful of some basic democratic rights?

Stephens: Well, I think the West will always have to live with this kind of contradiction. I think the same could be said of China -- you know, [it's] not a regime that shares a lot of Western values. But the question always is, one, do we try and lock them out of the world or do we try and bring them in? And I think history says bringing engagement is a better way of getting reform. And two, you know, I think one could be idealistic but you have to add a touch of realism.

There are mutual interests between the West and Russia. It does matter that Russia shares our concern, for example, about international terrorism or the spread of nonconventional weapons. So I think one has to work with Russia, but I don't think one has to surrender one's values in doing so. And I think you have to stand up for those values even as you engage with countries like Russia, economically and politically.

RFE/RL: In the case of the row between Russia and Britain -- where Moscow has refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, London's prime suspect in Aleksandr Litvinenko's murder -- don't the Russians have a case here, in that they've asked for the extradition of Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev, and Britain has refused? Moscow is only doing the same: refusing to extradite one of its own citizens to Britain, which they say would run counter to their constitution.

Stephens: I think the Russian government would have a point if it had shown any inclination whatsoever to cooperate with the British prosecuting authorities, and I think we should remember here, it's not the British government that's asked for the extradition but the British prosecuting authorities. And I think that the message that Russia has sent back has been one of supreme indifference to the evidence amassed in London. So I think if the Russians come back and said, 'Look, we are treating this seriously, yes we will look at this evidence very carefully,' the question of whether Mr. Lugovoi could have been extradited might have been one that could have been tackled cooperatively.

But the British government's view is that, from the outset, the Russian authorities showed no interest whatsoever in whether this person had been engaged in a crime -- not only the murder of a British citizen, but bringing into Britain highly radioactive material which could have threatened a large number of other people.

RFE/RL: Lastly, you have written that Boris Yeltsin understood that the West is Russia's natural ally. What do you say to Russians who see the period under Yeltsin as a period of free-for-all robber capitalism, with lots of corruption, and people's quality of life -- and the basic certainties in life -- was turned upside down? And now they appreciate the stability and growing prosperity that Putin has brought. So in a sense, Yeltsin made "democracy" a dirty word. What do you tell them?

Stephens: There were lots of things wrong with the Yeltsin era, not least the economic free-for-all, the transfer of state assets at knockdown prices to a small number of oligarchs, and the chaos that ensued for many ordinary Russians. But to say that was a period of disruption and disturbance in Russian life is not to discredit democracy and freedom and the rule of law. Those principles stand, and even if, in the short term, authoritarian rule restores order to Russia, in the long term, the country's prosperity, its place in the world, will depend on it spreading and sharing the freedoms of other countries around the world. So, I would say, don't blame democracy for the chaos of the Yeltsin era and don't think authoritarianism, and an approach to foreign policy that seeks enemies rather than friends, will be salvation for Russia.

Boris Nemtsov At RFE/RL

Boris Nemtsov At RFE/RL

Boris Nemtsov speaking to an RFE/RL event in Prague on June 11 (RFE/RL)

'SOFT DICTATORSHIP.' Former Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, a member of the Political Council of the Union of Rightist Forces party, told an RFE/RL gathering that Russia is facing a watershed moment with its 2008 presidential election.


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