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#11 - JRL 7224
Moscow Times
June 16, 2003
Russia's Search for a Partner
By Katinka Barysch and Laza Kekic
Katinka Barysch, chief economist of the Centre for European Reform, and Laza Kekic, director for Eastern Europe at the Economist Intelligence Unit, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.

The good atmospherics at the recent U.S.-Russia summit seemed to confirm that President George W. Bush is behaving in accord with the divide-and-conquer tactics enunciated by his national security adviser: Russia is to be "forgiven" its transgressions over Iraq, while Germany and France are to be, respectively, ignored and punished. And President Vladimir Putin, uncertain of his options, was more than willing to respond.

Yet the contrast between the outward demonstration of goodwill and the reality of deep disagreement on a range of issues is a stark one. Contentious issues include: the future of the international order; the U.S. pre-emptive strike doctrine; how to deal with nuclear proliferation; the U.S. presence in Central Asia; Iran; and problems in economic relations. Moreover, the genuine personal chemistry between presidents cannot offset the fact that Iraq has left a deep and enduring mark.

For more than a year after Sept. 11, 2001, Putin pursued a strong U.S.-centric strategy with the clear and ambitious aim of building a partnership or even alliance with the world's remaining superpower. This seemed to serve Russia's economic, geopolitical and security goals. Moreover, the United States was far less focused on Russia's internal affairs, including Chechnya, than the bothersome Europeans.

The only problem for Moscow was that the United States showed little interest. It pocketed the gains, and in return patted Russia on the back, while proceeding to abrogate the ABM Treaty, ensconce itself in the former Soviet south and expand NATO to Russia's doorstep. Bush's respectful manner toward Russia has never meant giving way on matters of substance.

The record of U.S. unresponsiveness apart, Iraq helps explain why Russia's post-Sept. 11 strategy is now dead and unlikely to be revived. It is easy to forget that in no other major country was opposition to the war by the government and public alike as vehement as in Russia. And the influence of those in Moscow who continue to press for a pro-U.S. line is limited. All this, of course, does not mean pursuing confrontation with the United States, which Russia could scarcely afford. But keeping relations on an even keel is a far cry from partnership and alliance.

Russia, in fact, now finds itself without a foreign policy strategy. Putin has wisely resisted any temptation to play off America against "old" Europe. But he may be beginning to realize that stronger ties with the EU would make Russia a weightier partner for the United States.

EU-Russian relations have improved significantly since Putin replaced blustering with pragmatism in Russian foreign policy -- but they lack strategic vision. As a result, bilateral relations are regularly hijacked by seemingly technical issues, such as transit rights for Kaliningrad residents, grain exports or trade quotas for nuclear fuel. Instead of addressing these problems, the EU offers lofty long-term goals, such as integrating Russia into its internal market. EU declarations regularly pay lip-service to Russia's importance as a strategic partner, yet the EU's recent document on neighborhood policy treats Russia just like any other nonmember country.

This is regrettable. The two sides' mutual interests far outweigh their differences. Both Russia and the EU support the UN and the multilateral approach to international policymaking. Both have a strong interest in stability in the CIS and a wider Europe. They also need each other in economic terms. Russia does more than half of its foreign trade with the EU, and the EU relies on Russia for one-fifth of its energy needs. European companies are the biggest foreign investors in Russia. Moreover, interdependence will only grow once the 10 new members join the EU in 2004.

Unlike Russia's dealings with the United States, its relations with the EU are all substance, no style. The two sides' notions of foreign policy do not tally. Russia takes a traditional approach to questions of national sovereignty and maintains an old-fashioned distinction between high politics (geo-strategic issues) and low politics, such as economics or cross-border cooperation. The EU, a complex entity with some sovereign powers and a heavy focus on economic integration, does not fit the bill.

Since many of the obstacles to better EU-Russian relations are procedural or institutional, they may be rather easy to overcome. For example, Russia needs to set up a government department for European cooperation. The EU needs to bundle its various dealings with Russia into something resembling a long-term strategy. It should consider NATO's example and set up an EU-Russia council.

With a little more vision, the EU may yet turn out to be the strategic partner that Russia has been looking for.

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