Europe and Russia: The Troubled Path
Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
The Kremlin considers Europe less dangerous than USA. Although Russia, contested by Europe, claims to a European state, it is also a part of Asia and hence very much in Asia-Pacific region. For global status and economic and military ties, Russia has been keen to be with EU. Russo-Europe relations are represented in many forums, most important are EU, NATO and OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Earlier, Russia had better relationship with EU than NATO which fought fiercely against. Today, Moscow relationships with both are badly strained.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, its triumphant enemy, NATO, and the European Union both swept across Europe, taking in a dozen new members in a great arc through former-Communist territory. But at the same time, EU states boosted trade ties with Russia in a bid to make cooperation more attractive than confrontation. And the combination of explosive EU and NATO expansion with a hungry drive for new business ties with Russia means that the two sides are, paradoxically, both allies and rivals in Europe.
Seventeen years on from the Cold War, Europe and Russia were again on a collision course last year. The 2008 war between Georgia and Russia that erupted in the next 10 days sent shock waves through Europe. With Russian president Dmitry Medvedev's decision to recognize the independence of Georgia's two rebel regions- day 111 of his tenure - relations hit a historical turning-point, rather breaking point. Russia’s decision is viewed in West as "outside the law" and raises fears it could take similar measures against Ukraine and Moldova and others. Medvedev’s biting rhetoric raised the spectre of a new Cold War. The image of Medvedev as a liberal has been terminally devalued in the eyes of Europe. Both sides are keen not to push one another so far that their pragmatic alliance in places such as Afghanistan falls apart. USA tries to bring them together for its terror reasons in Islamic world.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned in 2007 that US plans to install a missile defence shield over Eastern Europe left Russia with no option but to target European cities with Russian nuclear missiles, thus sparking a new arms race. Russia has been increasingly alarmed over US plans to install a missile defence shield over Eastern Europe, which Washington insists is aimed to counter a possible missile strike by Iran. Russia considers the shield targeting Russian territories. If the US nuclear potential extends across the European territory and threatens Russia, we will be obliged to take countermeasures''. This system of missile defence on one side and the absence of this system, on the other, increased the possibility of unleashing a nuclear conflict. Putin had earlier warned that Moscow might suspend its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty if talks with NATO countries on its implementation showed no progress. NATO members have been demanding that Russia first withdraw from Soviet-era bases in Georgia and Moldova as per earlier agreements before ratifying a fresh agreement. Admitting that this would start a new arms race, he said that Russia was not responsible for starting it.
During Russo-Georgian brief war, the OSCE failed in August 2008 to green-light a military monitoring mission to Georgia, indicating that Russia does not want observers to be deployed immediately. Representatives of the organisation’s 56 member countries met in Vienna Monday to discuss the Finnish proposal for sending additional observers to the crisis region for a minimum of six months. While Russia wants to settle all modalities ahead of the mission, the OSCE chairmanship is pushing for a rapid deployment, with details to be decided in parallel.
Fake threat perceptions are responsible for all terror wars today, above all, the ones in Islamic world. West insists any European security architecture has to be based on values and we do not have shared values with Russia at the moment. In 1992 under Yeltsin that was great, and west could really see that everybody was basically moving in the same direction. That is not the case any more. Western strategists are too much over-concerned that the Obama administration is not as engaged in Europe as the Bush administration was. Obama basically see Eastern Europe as a Bush administration project.
President Medvedev has proposed the idea of a new security architecture in Europe, which already has the OSCE.It is absolutely clear that the Russians nowadays - like the Soviet Union before - want to get America out of Europe. And this new security architecture. West thinks Russia has no credibility at the OSCE at this moment. It systematically blocks OSCE budgets; it's trying to stop the OSCE as an election monitoring body. Medvedev security architecture is a plan to set up a kind of condominium in Europe between Russia and the big European countries.
One of the dreadful consequences of the war in Georgia was that it showed how divided the EU and NATO are in their dealings with Russia. The EU imposed very light sanctions and then dropped them; NATO went back to business-as-usual quite quickly. Otherwise, NATO used to have a united policy towards Russia on every conceivable issue where there might be a real conflict.
Europe is still divided even withut Russia inside. The Germans and the Southern European countries probably go one way and some of the North European countries go another. So, there is a real division. Russia, on the other, has political prisoners and control of media is still almost total. The security services are still out of control, and constitutional supervision - the rule of law - is still not working. So I think the position of Russia has not improved at all.
Western rogue states and their Eastern fanatic allies, like India, China and Israel have been searching for energy resources and arms customers in Islamic world causing all terror wars and terrorisms. Controlled essentially by USA and UK, World War-II paved the way for Soviet occupation of the Eastern bloc and soon afterward the Cold War. Poland quickly became a hub for Russia’s nuclear warheads aimed at the West as well as the dividing line between the Soviet bloc and the NATO countries — sandwiched in for decades as a potential target. Poland is now a member of the European Union and a NATO ally, yet still somehow reluctant to leave the Russian sphere.
The main front of a new cold war is about finance and energy. A continued use of energy as a weapon by Russia and a continued use of Russian money in Western policies. the real gas crisis is actually a shortage; because Russia's gas reserves and gas industry have been run extremely badly. Gazprom is an exceptionally wasteful, corrupt and incompetent company. Russia is very dependent on gas in Turkmenistan and it seems that there is not as much gas in Turkmenistan as world thought. Europe is keen to get hold of Iranian gas, to get hold perhaps of Iraqi gas, and all these other gas sources in the Middle East and South-West Asia. And for that, it is particularly important that they get Nabucco built, but there are some serious efforts now going into building Nabucco.
Ironically, Poland and others in the East weren’t as affected by the gas outages as Western Europe was. As a result, much of Western Europe is now looking forward to a new pipeline planned to run underneath the Baltic Sea that would give Russia a direct supply line to the west, bypassing current routes through Eastern Europe. Conversely, this has many in Central and Eastern Europe worried that Moscow will use the new pipeline to drive a wedge between them and their western neighbors, politically dividing EU members that have vowed to act collectively to protect one another’s security.
Eastern Europe, formerly under the control of the Kremlin, has raised eye brows over the ongoing US-Russia realignment process. Obama’s restructured missile program has reopened painful Cold War memories in Poland and Czech, when Eastern Europe was used as a pawn in the Washington-Moscow power struggle. Not surprisingly, the Russians — who saw the previous shield as an unwarranted provocation on their border — welcomed the news. While Moscow is still studying the Obama proposal, suddenly, what was once Bush’s controversy quickly became Obama’s — though this time the criticism came from two stalwart American allies instead of from Moscow. The original Bush plan was derided as unnecessarily antagonistic to Russia and ineffective in combating a threat that didn’t yet exist, given Iran’s lack of long-range missile capabilities.
Europe thinks the tough anti-Western rhetoric deepened Western wariness about Russia's intentions during Vladimir Putin's eight-year presidency. Russia relies on Europe for more than half of the hard currency it makes from trade and investment - but as the mid-August war in Georgia showed, it has now decided that if it has to risk a war to keep its influence over its former vassals. The soft war in Georgia as the first step in a new Cold War. The old Cold War was a military confrontation, this one is much more of a confrontation of values; the Kremlin style of authoritarian credit capitalism against the Western system. Another war in Georgia; this is by far the most likely. a war between Russia and Ukraine is likely, especially in the context of the expiry of the lease on the naval base harbouring Russia's Black Sea fleet in 2017. Crimea is a real problem; there are specific kinds of Russians in Crimea, who are quite anti-Ukraine and quite pro-Kremlin.There is the danger of mischief-making and provocation in Crimea. But the aim of the Russian pressure on Ukraine has been to consolidate Ukrainian identity and even the Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine show no desire of wanting any kind of unification with Russia.
US President Obama scrapped Bush’s controversial missile defense shield in favor of a land- and sea-based system that focuses more on blocking Iran’s ability to fire short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The media loudly shout: “The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back. Betrayal!” Late last month, Obama sought to quell some of the anger, sending Vice President Joe Biden on a three-nation tour to Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland. They call into question the security and diplomatic commitments the United States has made to Poland and the Czech Republic, and has the potential to undermine perceived American leadership in Eastern Europe. Yet, the Eastern Europe for its own reasons have lost confidence in the US leadership as well as security guarantees laid out by the sacred Article 5 of the NATO Charter.
In recent weeks, there has been little room for joking as the Obama administration has had to deal with the fallout of shelving an agreement the Bush administration inked last year to put 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. The awkward timing of the announcement, on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, didn’t exactly help ease those worries, nor did the fact that the region is also in the midst of celebrating the 20th anniversary of revolutions in 1989 that freed Central and Eastern Europe from the shackles of Soviet communism.
Europeans complain, Russia continues to make people nervous throughout Central and Eastern Europe after its war last summer with Georgia and its subsequent flouting of a European Union-negotiated agreement to remove troops from the Georgian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow also succeeded in sidelining Ukraine and Georgia’s bids for NATO membership. Russia has also been pushing to regain influence in Ukraine ahead of that country’s presidential elections. And after the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute left Europe out in the cold last winter, Europeans again feel vulnerable to the newly resurgent Russian bear.
It is a fact, neither USA nor Europe trusts Russia and they do not take any Kremlin rhetoric at its face value. Russia made several attempts to collaborate with Europe on aerospace and high tech projects, but Europe was non-responsive. Instead, Russia is now successfully cooperating in these areas with India and Israel. The vector of Russian interest seems to be switching from Europe and the USA to Asia, possible to push them to concede the needed concessions to Moscow. A Chinese political analyst welcomed Russia's Asian ambitions. Meanwhile, Iran, China and Russia think the war could be Washington's attempt to reduce their influence in Central Asia to zero.
Corruption is one of the shared values. Not only Rusisa, but Central Asia and China are corruption ridden nations. It is very important for all former communist regimes, Russia including, not to go down the route of corruption, authoritarianism, bad governance, etc. Many see a bit of 'Putinism' appearing in all sorts of countries. The Central European countries have to keep the Atlantic alliance going, because they are the Atlanticist countries in the region. Europe tries to give Ukraine a European perspective, continue to help Georgia, look after Moldova, which everybody forgets, engage Belarus as much as we can and hope that they can move a bit more in our direction.
Maybe Cold war can never end. The Cold War maybe over for now. However, a new phase of the same, as former Russian president B. Yeltsin had put it, an era of Hot Peace has set in. A high-octane blend of cooperation and confrontation means the current ties between them are volatile and unpredictable even for near future. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev who resigned as the Soviet Union's last president when the Cold War superpower disintegrated in 1991 said that Europe still misunderstands Russia nearly two decades after the Soviet collapse, and he dismissed as nonsense portrayals of his country as an aggressive force. Gorbachev claims Russia does not want military conflict but suggested it should be treated as an equal. But the Europe as well as USA confirms that they don’t share any common values to treat Russia an equal partner even in terror activities.
Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Specialist on State Terrorism
Independent Columnist in International Affairs, Research Scholar (JNU) & the only Indian to have gone through entire India, a fraud and terror nation in South Asia.