Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#17 - JRL 7245
June 30, 2003
EU Does Not Want Russia Walking on Its 'European Lawn'

Alexander Rahr is a specialist in international affairs and head of the Russia/CIS research department of the German Foreign Policy Association. He is also the author of Vladimir Putin. A German in the Kremlin, the first biography of Vladimir Putin to appear in the West, as well as many other publications in the German and Russian press. Mr Rahr spoke to a Rosbalt correspondent about the situation in Europe and Russian-German relations.

You last came to Saint Petersburg to attend the Petersburg Dialogue, which went practically unnoticed by the Russian media. Did the German media take any notice of this event?

No, there was no reaction but the German media does not take any notice of the Konigswinter Conference between Germany and Great Britain either. It's sad but true. Journalists expect sensations but in fact the discussion topics at the Petersburg Dialogue are rather run-of-the-mill. The first two Petersburg Dialogue conferences were more interesting for the media because everyone was talking about the takeover of NTV and many disgruntled journalists took part. At the most recent Petersburg Dialogue in Saint Petersburg everything was calm, the war in Iraq had finished, everyone had calmed down and for this reason both the Russian and German media hardly reacted to the conference.

On the other hand, it means that there are no political problems between Russia and Germany that cannot be solved. We must aim for greater mutual understanding by resolving economic problems together, by greater cultural integration, by providing opportunities for representatives of civil society to come together and discuss different issues. However, I do believe that we need to rejuvenate the Petersburg Dialogue by bringing in younger people who will be able to understand each other and build better relations for the future.

Could the recent tercentenary of Saint Petersburg, which was attended by so many leaders, have any serious political impact on Russia's relations with Europe?

It was a great festival and it was a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the significance of Saint Petersburg as a window, a gate or even a colossal bridge between Russia and Europe. The fact that so many heads of state came to Saint Petersburg shows they realise the importance of being friends with Russia. In this respect I believe the G-8 summit in 2006 may be of tremendous importance as I am sure it will be held in Saint Petersburg. By that time I believe Russia will be a fully-fledged member of the future world government, the G-8 that is, although by that time it may be the G-9.

How much do you think Russian-German relations depend on the two leaders?

I think the two leaders play a very important role. If the leaders were different then the two countries' bilateral relations would be different too. Remember what an important role Konrad Adenauer played in German history. Thanks to his charisma, his knowledge of history and his non-participation in the Hitler regime he managed to rectify relations with the Western allies and also travel to Russia to bring back all the prisoners of war. People like Gorbachev are not born every day either. Germany and Russia were also lucky that Helmut Kohl was the German leader in the early nineties, a person with a world vision and not simply a pragmatic one.

If Putin did not know German and was not so well-disposed towards Germany and German culture and politics I am sure that Putin and Schroeder would not be as close as they are. Actually, when Schroeder came to power he said that he would have nothing to do with Russia until it paid back all its debts but Putin spoke to him, brought him around and let him know about the current state of affairs in Russia. I believe their alliance is important for the development of both countries.

What if Schroeder loses the next election? Some experts say that Angela Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, will be a candidate for the chancellorship.

If Schroeder does not remain in office and Mrs Merkel comes to power then something will certainly change in her first few months of office. There will be a change of focus in the direction of the US and she has already said so much herself. She may turn her back on Russia as she believes the US is 10 times more important than Russia especially as Schroeder has fallen out with the US leadership. In order to avoid complete isolation he has turned to Putin and Russia so that at least Germany's eastern foreign policy makes some kind of progress.

Another politician of the future is Prime Minister of the State of Hesse Roland Koch, who was unexpectedly received by US President George Bush recently and is expected to visit Russia in August this year. Bush does not receive Schroeder or Fischer but he welcomed the promising young conservative Koch to show who he will be backing in the next election. Koch will want to meet certain politicians when he visits Russia and it might be unwise for Russian leaders to let this opportunity pass.

On the other hand, there are certain conditions which eventually force all politicians to return to so-called realpolitik. We all remember how George W Bush came to power claiming that he would not include Russia in his foreign policy saying that Russia aspires to be a part of the world order but in actual fact has nothing other than a few nuclear weapons. After September 11, however, he soon changed his mind.

The same could happen if power changes hands in Germany. If the next leader realizes that Russia could play a stabilising role in a future Europe and that an alliance with Russia is in the interests of Germany, then German-Russian relations will continue to prosper the same way that they have under Kohl and Schroeder.

Would bilateral relations continue in the same vein or would it be necessary to start all over again?

That depends. Yeltsin had quite different plans to Putin. I don't believe Yeltsin had any real foreign policy whatsoever and he seemed unsure of his own ideology, now taking a liberal-radical stance and now trying to protect Russia's superpower status. One minute he was threatening to use nuclear weapons in view of the war in Kosovo and the next he was traveling to the West to beg money, accepting the humiliating role that Russia then played with the international banks. Yeltsin had no clear policy towards the EU either. People just hoped that trade relations with Europe would improve sooner or later.

Things are different now. Russia is no longer on its knees, the country is increasingly stable and it is time for Russia to establish its true place in Europe. For this reason Putin has outlined some practical steps towards greater integration. It is no secret that Putin seeks greater integration and he is dragging the political elite in this direction. Although the former Yeltsin elite is still skeptical about the EU: the formation of a common economic zone; the intensification of collaboration in the energy sector; cooperative space research; joint military projects; the scrapping of visa regulations, which seems so unrealistic today, the fact that these issues are being discussed at all proves that an important step has already been taken in the right direction.

Since September 11, 2001, a common defensive policy has become the greatest issue in Russia-EU relations. The practical approach of Putin has therefore brought Russia a lot closer to the West. Russia is even beginning to compete with the EU (who would have expected this 3 years ago?) as the US' most important strategic partner in the fight against terrorism. I think the US has a different opinion about Russia now as well: Russia could be more useful than the EU in the struggle with Arab terrorists and international terrorism and could be more help in providing stability in the Middle East.

Does the EU need Russia?

It's sad to say and nobody admits it openly but the EU does not need Russia today. The EU's first priority is to create its little 'empire', gather together those smaller countries which are to form the union, improve the union's defense capabilities both with NATO and separately and unfortunately there is no place for Russia in this new European political landscape. If there was a place for Russia then things would be different. However, you can not get rid of Russia. It is the largest country in Europe and for this reason Europe is trying to push Russia aside in a friendly and none the less aggressive way so that it does not walk on the 'European' lawn.

According to a recent survey published by Rosbalt though, many Europeans believe it would be better to accept Russia into the EU than Turkey...

I think peoples' attitudes to Russia and Turkey are similar. Although Russians look no different to other Europeans, Slavic women are clearly more attractive than French, German or English women and the tourism industry attracts people to Russia. However, Europeans are afraid of crime in Russia, the lack of democracy and announcements by certain politicians such as 'we will become a superpower, there is no other way for us and there never will be because sooner or later we will be the strongest and you will be afraid of us.' Of course it sounds rather primitive but this is the image that a simple German has of Russia. In terms of Turkey, perhaps there is a certain prejudice but it would be wrong to overestimate this.

Have there been any changes in German policy to the Islamic world both in and outside of Germany since the war in Iraq and in view of the ever-increasing tension between the West and the Islamic world?

In my opinion the biggest difference between the US and Europe today is their views on Islamic terrorism, Islamic values and Islam as a whole. In my opinion the US now regard Islamic fundamentalism as a world threat similar to that of communism during Soviet times. This is clear if you observe closely the statements of Bush and his team. So Europe is afraid that under the pretext of fighting world terrorism the US will try to increase its power in order to become an economic force in the Arab world.

Many European politicians believe this could lead to even more terrorist acts by Islamic fundamentalists who will not put up with such a situation. At the moment Europe is taking a calmer and more friendly approach towards Islam. Europeans believe they have more foresight in this area and that European values will be proved right in the end.

Is there any definite strategy for Europe to achieve that goal?

That is an important question but at present nobody has seriously tried to answer it or if they have then only in a limited way such as: should we allow Turkish relatives of guest workers to enter Germany? It now appears that funds are being collected in mosques with the aim of creating an Islamic army to fight against the West and Western values. It is a frightening idea. At the same time the community here is based on humanism and those living since the Second World War believe that human rights are the greatest priority. For this reason the first reaction to Islam was: 'Maybe it's not them and we don't understand them? Maybe we should do more to make them feel at home?' Therefore a dialogue has begun with the Islamic world at different levels in order to make Islamic minorities more welcome, convince them not to turn to fundamentalism and integrate them into Europe, which will be extremely different from the present-day Europe in twenty years from now.

Many people believe there is no other way around the problem. The Islamic population of European capitals is continuing to grow and there is an increasing number of people from Turkey, Pakistan and other countries who are now working in European parliaments. In order to avert any dangerous confrontations it is essential that all Western institutions open their doors to all moderate Muslims in the hope that they might become 'Western' themselves and take up positions as lawyers and members of parliament instead of just dustmen and street cleaners.

Interviewed by Darya Osinskaya, Rosbalt News Agency
Translated by Nick Chesters

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