Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Future of Russia-EU Relations?

So the path is clear for the negotiation of a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Russia and the European Union. How these talks turn out will be quite interesting as a test of the following:

1) Europe's ability to formulate and sustain a common position as the EU-27 when dealing with Russia;
2) Russia's ability to pursue its own strategy of accommodation and integration with Europe on its own terms;
3) The ability of "New Europe" to sustain its own Russia-skeptical approach and to argue for the EU to adopt positions closer in line with American skepticism about Russia

France, which is taking over the EU presidency, wants an agreement ready by the end of 2008.

Moscow seems to want a broad quid pro quo arrangement that would culminate in free access of Russian goods to the European market and visa-free travel in the EU for its citizens. The EU major powers want not only guarantees of stable energy supplies from Russia but free access for European firms to Russia's energy sector. Some compromise would seem to be in order.

Various EU countries have other issues--such as linking a PCA to ratification of the energy charter, greater Russian cooperation on solving frozen conflicts in Moldova and Georgia, etc. Moscow argues that the PCA should deal with the large issues while separate EU-Russia agreements could be talked about for other ones. But some EU countries worry that they would lose leverage, because Russia could start talks but never see them through to the conclusion.

On the other hand, what happens if Russia were to make some new breakthrough proposals? What would be the reaction if, say, when he is in Germany, Medvedev outlines the parameters of a settlement for Georgia: full reintegration of all separatist regions, full recognition of the country's territorial integrity, combined with the neutralization of Georgia--no foreign forces, Russian or anyone else's, on its territory, and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan declared as neutral states separating Russia, NATO (Turkey), and Iran? I think that such an offer would get dramatically different reactions in Europe--and certainly not be welcomed in the U.S.--but then it could shift the debate over Georgia from "Russia and the West" to an intra-Western debate. Certainly Putin tried to stoke such feelings during his visit to France.

Russia's government is unlikely to make such a proposal. They have learned, from Gorbachev's experience, that such proposals have only a temporary, tactical value, and do nothing more than suspend US hostility as long as the unilateral concessions continue. Once the Russian government stops the unilateral concessions, Baltic/Georgian/Ukrainian/US hostility to Russia will be renewed, and from improved positions, while those governments taking a more favorable view of Russia will allow themselves to be out-argued by the Russophobes.
But, anonymous 3:01, Russia is good at making proposals it knows won't be accepted or won't pass (which is why they always support adding India to the Security Council). Why not make a tentative offer that could end up fostering divisions in the West?
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