Vienna, November 6 – Igor Yurgens and Sergey Karaganov, two of Moscow’s most influential foreign policy commentators, argue that Russia and the European Union must find a way over the next decade or so to join forces lest they be overwhelmed by the still great power of the United States and the rising power of China.
In an article in today’s “Rossiiskaya gazeta” that summarizes a study they will release early next year, Yurgens, who heads the Institute of Contemporary Development, and Karaganov, who leads the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, argue that Russia and Europe have no other good choice but to cooperate (www.rg.ru/2008/11/06/russia-europe.html).
If the two act on their own or compete, the two argue, neither “will be able” to develop as “a first class center of force of the future world order” and will instead become “the objects of the policy of external forces,” in this case, the United States and China. Given that neither wants that, Yurgens and Karaganov say, they must find a way to unite.
They argue that Russia and Europe are united by “a common culture, history and religious roots,” with Europe being “one of the main sources of Russian civilization an identity and of Russian social and cultural modernization” and Russia being both a source of oil and gas and a geopolitical support.
Unfortunately, Yurgens and Karaganov continue, relations now are “at a dead end,” with the officially proclaimed goal of “a strategic partnership” apparently out of reach in large measure because neither side has a clear understanding of the nature, problems and importance of the other.
For the majority of the Russian elite in particular, “the role and place of the European Union in the complex modernization of the Russian economy and society and the strengthening of Russia on the paths of contemporary development remain unclear.” Indeed, they suggest, Russian elites “do not know what [they] want from the European Union.
And such a lack of understanding has been compounded by the continuation of “confrontational tendencies in Russian-American relations and the return of a military dimension in European policy,” a development that leaves little room for a consideration of the broader commonalities of interest between Russia and the European Union.
But despite that, Russia in the final analysis is interested in the growth of the status of the European Union as an actor in international relations and the sphere of security and conversely is not interested in the conduction of the decade-long decline of the international political influence of the European Union.”
Another reason for problems in the Russian-European relationship, the two say, is that Brussels wants to go forward on the basis of a detailed accord, one that addresses all the key and many secondary issues, while Moscow believes that the best way is to agree to a short statement of principles that will allow cooperation to expand.
And yet a third problem element consists of the activities of what Yurgens and Karaganov call “the anti-Russian group in the European Union and the forces standing behind them,” code language for recent EU entrants like Poland and the Baltic countries in the first case and for the United States and NATO in the latter.
Given these problems in the relationship, the two call for “a pause” in efforts to reach any agreement, a period of time in which the two sides can think about how to proceed. And then they urge that the two come together first to form “an energy union,” then a strategic partnership on foreign policy questions, and finally, some decades out, an economic union.
These arrangements, Yurgens and Karaganov suggest, will serve as additional elements “of the future European architecture” rather than a replacement for any of the existing organizations, a position that is clearly intended to win over those who fear it might undermine their standing or weaken their power.
At one level, of course, the Yurgens-Karaganov argument is little more than a restatement of Moscow efforts going back to Soviet times to detach Western Europe from the United States, undermine NATO, and, by using its leverage as the supplier of oil and gas to EU countries, play an increasingly important role in European policy on the world stage.
But there are three aspects of their presentation, which will likely be amplified in the larger publication they promise, that merit attention, given the influence these two analysts have had in the past on the thinking of officials in the Russian foreign ministry and in the upper reaches of the Kremlin itself.
First, the two argue that China and not just the United States represents the external threat that Europe and Russia must combine to oppose, a recognition of the shifting geo-economic and geopolitical order but also an admission that in the current environment European concerns about the US may not be sufficient to drive Brussels into the arms of Moscow.
Second, unlike in the past and in contrast to some statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the two analysts do not expect great progress on the relationship in the immediate future. Instead, they suggest there will be a long, slow slog forward, with only partial accords on offer in the next few years.
And third – and this may be the most significant remark they make in this article – the two call for a pause in efforts to achieve even that, an indication that not everyone in Moscow is on board with the Kremlin’s current efforts to wrap an agreement with the EU now, given that the Russian side might have to give up more now than it may in the future.