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#6 - JRL 7216
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
meeting report

On June 3, 2003, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a seminar by Alexander Rahr entitled, "German-Russian Relations in Light of the Iraq Crisis and Prospects for Russia-EU Security Partnership." Head of Russian and CIS Studies at the Krber-Foundation and member of the Research Institute of the German Council on Foreign Relations, Rahr is also the author of Vladimir Putin: The German in the Kremlin (2000). The seminar was moderated by Andrew Kuchins, Director of the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment.

Rahr opened the meeting by stating that the twenty-first century began with a "big bang" on September 11, 2001. He contends, however, that another shock which followed in February 2003-the alignment of Russia, France, and Germany against the U.S.-led war in Iraq-shook the international order nearly as much as the terror attacks. The first real attempt to create a counterweight to U.S. power in Europe, the formation of the Russian-Franco-German troika exposed deep-seated problems in U.S.-European relations and the growing divide between "New Europe" and "Old Europe." The involvement of France and Germany in the anti-war axis endowed it with credibility and impact; had Moscow led the effort against the war, its efforts would have been dismissed.

Not all in the Russian political and security communities welcomed Putin's opposition to the war, however. Rahr argued that the divisions in the Russian elite that resulted from the war were more serious than those formed in response to the Kosovo crisis in 1999. Fissures appeared in the Kremlin itself when top officials-and de facto advisors like oligarchs Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Vladimir Potanin-urged Putin to continue his rapprochement with the U.S. Nevertheless, Putin stood in solidarity with Germany and France throughout the war, and even tried to use the crisis to improve Russia's international profile. He attempted to rein in Ukraine, for example, naming Leonid Kuchma the president of the CIS. Likewise, he pressured Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to abandon the American-led anti-terror alliance by expanding Russia's military presence in those two countries.

Yet for all the changes induced by Russia's and "Old Europe's" reactions to the Iraq crisis, what is most astonishing is how quickly the anti-war alliance disintegrated once the war ended. Rahr believes that the alliance's decision to oppose the war was predicated on faulty intelligence: the Iraqi army proved much weaker than expected, the U.S. did not become bogged down in urban warfare, and the war did not destabilize the entire Middle East as expected. As early as April 4, Putin backed away from his earlier anti-war position, stating at an appearance in Tambov that the America should be lauded as a promoter of stability in the international system. Igor Ivanov subsequently halted his denunciations of U.S. foreign policy. During the St. Petersburg dialogue, the series of German-Russian meetings that took place April 10-12, Putin went so far as to praise the U.S. for ousting Saddam Hussein.

The formation and disintegration of the tripartite anti-war alliance produced mixed results. In the wake of the Iraq war, U.S. relations with "New Europe" and Russia have improved, while its relations with Western Europe have remained contentious; the Iraq crisis has emboldened NATO but weakened the European security infrastructure. The aspirations of Germany and France to direct the EU have been foiled, leading some to speculate that a Polish-British alliance on the institution's peripheries may play a critical role in the EU in the years ahead. Russia finds itself more isolated from the EU than before the war, and Rahr believes it is unlikely that the recent St. Petersburg summit will reverse this trend. Even Putin's maneuvering within the CIS has proven a failure; the decision of states like Ukraine to support the U.S. in Iraq prevented Putin's dream of CIS integration from becoming a reality. In the end, then, the U.S. emerged as the chief beneficiary of the war in Iraq, discrediting the anti-war stance of the troika while undermining pan-European institutions.

Nevertheless, the war has also created unprecedented opportunities for Russian-German cooperation. In spite of the rapid disintegration of the two countries' anti-war alliance, their current relations are the best that they have been in a century, if not longer. Bush is not the only leader who shares a special bond with Putin; the Russian president is also close to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Having taken a stance critical of Russia in the 1998 campaign, Schroeder reversed his position once Putin, who sees Germany as Russia's main strategic partner, became president. Indeed, Schroeder now enjoys better relations with Putin than with Bush or Blair-an unprecedented relationship for the leaders of Russia and Germany. The two countries also have deepened their economic ties over the past several years, particularly in the service industry and gas sectors: business with Germany comprises 15% of Russia's overall trade volume, and Germany is the top foreign investor in Russia, with $8.1 billion in commitments this year. Russia has even taken enormous strides in repaying its debts to Germany-to which it owes 30% of its foreign debt-paying $20 billion to the London and Paris clubs in 2002. Germany, in turn, sees itself as the engine driving the integration of Russia into Europe. Russian-German cooperation has already yielded discussions on the creation of a common Russian-European economic space and energy policy. Issues to be considered in the years ahead will likely include the initiation of a dialogue on security and defense issues.

Despite recent improvements in German-Russian relations, Rahr believes that Russia's integration into Europe is far from assured. Disputes over visa requirements for residents of Kaliningrad, which overshadowed Russian-EU relations for all of 2002, likely will resurface in the future. The Iraq war challenged Russia's "open door" policy toward Europe; some constituencies in Moscow are nervous about the close relations of Poland and Ukraine with the U.S. Meanwhile, Germany, the chief proponent of Russia-Europe integration, is preoccupied with its own domestic economic problems and the fallout from its opposition to the war. Rahr also is concerned that slowly, Russia is being driven out of Europe. Excluded from recent summits on NATO and EU expansion, Russia withdrew peacekeepers from Kosovo and distanced itself from efforts to develop common European defense mechanisms. Anxious about his popularity in an election year, Putin may seek to capitalize on widespread anti-western sentiment in Russia.

Rahr argued that there is no easy response to these emerging problems. He suggested that one possible solution (which Putin has already begun to pursue) might be the liberalization of the EU's visa policy for Russians. He also suggested that Russia should continue to embrace European values, strengthening its democratic institutions, pursuing economic reforms, and building a strong rule of law system. For its part, the EU should work with the U.S. to develop a proper role for Russia in regional conflicts. Ultimately, though, Rahr believes that the EU should be self-critical and consider why it lacks a consistent Russian policy. The primary stumbling block on the road to Russian integration with Europe is Europe's conviction that it will be better off without Russia, and its presumption that in any case, Russia would never cede the sovereignty necessary to complete the integrative process.

Andrew Kuchins opened the question and answer period by asking Rahr to speculate about the future of the tripartite alliance. Rahr responded that though the Russia-France-Germany axis had a huge impact on the unfolding of the Iraq crisis, it seems to have broken apart for now. This does not mean, however, that it will not be reconstituted in the future. Should the U.S. attempt to take military action against Iran, for example, he expects that the troika will reemerge. If the three countries once again become the most vocal opponents of U.S. foreign policy, however, Rahr hopes that they will soften their rhetoric and engage the U.S. in a dialogue rather than merely denouncing it. He believes that fear of and irritation at the Bush administration's policy contributed to the formation of the alliance, but he also believes that personal factors-namely, Chirac and Schroeder's indignation at being ignored by the U.S.-contributed to the transatlantic rift.

A meeting attendee pointed out that Rahr has spent considerable time with Putin, and asked him to reflect on the Russian president's vision, leadership, and character. Rahr argued that Putin's pro-German orientation is evident in both his foreign policy and personal inclinations. Commentators usually make reference to Putin's posting in Germany as a KGB officer to explain his warmness towards Germans and Germany, but Rahr believes that his experience working with German firms in St. Petersburg as Sobchak's deputy had an equal-if not greater-impact on his attitude. Putin's Germanophilism has often clashed with the viewpoints of many Kremlin insiders, who tend to favor a foreign policy friendly to American and British interests, and Rahr believes that this conflict will continue into Putin's second administration. He also pointed out that the aura of mystery that surrounded the early days of Putin's administration has not yet dissipated. Having advanced an ambitious agenda of reform in the first years of his presidency, Putin has hesitated recently, delaying banking reform and the restructuring of Gazprom until 2004 or 2005. It is not yet clear how best to explain this backtracking: perhaps Putin has simply lost his enthusiasm for reform, perhaps his agenda has been blocked by bureaucratic resistance, or perhaps he really is a pawn of the oligarchs.

One participant argued that Rahr's analysis underestimates the role of NATO in the integration process, which is likely to prove more important than that of the EU. Another contended that it ignored major foreign policy issues unrelated to Europe, including Russia's relations with Central Asia, Georgia, and Japan. Rahr responded that there is no real rift between NATO and the EU. Furthermore, he does not believe that the US would object to the development of a common EU defense policy, because such an agreement would permit Europe to better defend itself against small, regional threats. In response to the second question, Rahr asserted that Russia seeks economic cooperation-not integration-with Asia. Rather, Russia's relations with the EU will be the primary determinant of its international role over the coming decades.

Discussion then turned to the reasons why the EU has not yet embraced Russia. One meeting participant pointed out that Russians' worst fears that they are doomed to irrelevance in the eyes of Europe seem to have been realized. Rahr concurred with this diagnosis of the problem, but added that Europe needs Russia as much as Russia needs Europe. He agreed with one participant's argument that Russia's values are different from Europe's values and that its relations to the EU are often based on an outdated, "great powers" approach. Still, Rahr believes that Putin has made great progress in promoting stability, and he argued that both Russia and the EU could use this achievement to build the foundations for a common European security policy. Rahr believes that young Russians are committed to democracy and approve of the west, and that this generation will lead Russia toward democracy. Today, the chief danger to European security is not that European and Russian values will grow further apart, but that when applied to Russia, Brussels' "strategy of new neighborship"-a vouchsafe for countries deemed unsuited for EU membership in the next 25 years-will permanently exclude Russia from Europe.

In conclusion, Rahr argued that the very idea of Europe has been shaken in the fallout from the war with Iraq. "Old Europe's" fears of regional instability may lead it to form another anti-U.S. coalition should the Bush administration become involved in military disputes elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet at the same time, the current state of flux makes positive changes possible. Rahr believes that the EU should change the focus of its relations with Russia from economics to security and integration. This would provide the framework for a common European defense policy, which would make "New Europe," "Old Europe," and Russia safer. Indeed, the processes of integration should be expanded even beyond the European landmass, engaging key economic and strategic partners like Mexico and Japan.

Summary prepared by Faith Hillis, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment.

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