Saturday, June 09, 2007

Grand Illusion: Europe wakes up to a rogue Russia

By Ferik F.
Balkan Update
Cartoon from The Economist.

The recent summit in Samara, Russia between EU leaders and Putin, by all accounts, didn’t achieve anything meaningful. There was no agreement in any of the points of contentions the parties were supposed to discuss: Human Rights, Kosovo and the American plan to set up rocket interceptors in Poland. By all traditional measures the summit was
a miserable failure and a useless one. Or was it?

Yes the summit was a failure in the traditional sense, but it actually served a very good purpose: it helped the European leaders to finally realize that Russia is not a democracy and there is no point in accommodating her anymore. Judging by their public comments, European leader were really ticked off. Chancellor Merkel of Germany publicly chided Russia for the deficit of democracy and lack of independent media, something no other major European leader has done while in Russian soil. European Commission President Jose Barroso warned Russia that if it has a problem with one member of EU (alluding to Poland and Estonia) it has a problem with all. These are unusually candid and pretty tough remarks by European standards of diplomacy.

This same disagreement was also apparent during the G8 summit in Germany. Russia continued with her belligerent attitude towards anything proposed by the EU and US, including the status of Kosovo and the rocked shield. Putin even threaten to point his nuclear warheads towards Europe if US goes ahead with the plan to install the defense shield in Easter Europe. The question is how did we get here?

Grand illusion

There is no black and white answer here, but most experts agree that Europe had this coming. For the last 17 years Europe has been living under an illusion that Russia is going through a normal democratic transition like other Eastern European countries. The E.U has bended backwards many times trying to accommodate her eastern neighbor in the vain hope that it will eventually become a “normal” democratic country. Left leaning governments have never missed a chance to show “understanding” for their former enemy no matter the offence. Even American diplomats until recently have been giving Russia a pass over its horrific human right abuses that compare unfavorably to those committed by Saddam Hussein.

Time to confront the bully

After what happen in Samara and Germany, the question one has to ask is this: will Europe and US finally face the reality and confront the increasingly rouge Russia, or will they continue to hope against hope that Russia can be reasoned with? Only time will tell, but there is reason for optimism. All indications are that the new leaders of Germany and France are far less sympathetic towards Russia then their predecessors. Tony Blair of England never really had a good vibe about Putin, but it is hard to say how his successor, Gordon Brown, feels about this subject. Additionally, all the Eastern European countries that joined the EU a few years back are openly hostile to their eastern neighbor. The President of Poland recently said that it is none of Russia’s business what Poland does on her territory (again referring to missile shield). Finally, the US has indicated that despite harsh rhetoric from Putin it will continue with the missile shield and it will do everything to push for Kosovo’s independence.

Myth vs. Reality

Since it so “easy” to confront Russia, why is the West still reluctant to do so? The answer again lies in illusions that Russia is still a force to be reckoned with when in fact it is not. Some in Europe argue that they should cuddle Russia because it has a strangle hold over the continent because it supplies it with the majority of its gas and oil. The plain reality is that Russia can ill afford to stop selling gas to Europe. The economic reality of Russia indicates that she is heavily reliant on gas/oil sales to Europe to generate the majority of government revenues. There simply isn’t another readily available customer to buy the Russian natural resources. The hard truth is that Europe has much more leverage against Russia then they realize.

What about United States? Why are they reluctant to confront this rouge regime? It mainly has to do with Iran and spread of dangerous weapons. U.S, unlike Europe, has realized that Russia is a rouge nation and it wants to keep her “in the system” rather then out. This is a rational decision, but the reality has shown that Russia “in the system” may not be that different from the Russia “out of system”. The Putin regime has continued supplying Iran with conventional and nuclear material despite claims to the contrary. Additionally, Putin has constantly threatened the small neighbors precisely because they are pro U.S and Europe (Estonia, Ukraine and Poland). The hard truth is that giving in to Russian demands has not produced any positive results for the US. Why not then call Russia’s bluff (it is a bluff, that’s all- they can do nothing about it) and go ahead with the missile shield and independence of Kosovo? There is really nothing to be lost here.

Paper tiger with no influence

The little secret that everybody knows is that Russia has virtually no influence anywhere in Europe with the exception of Serbia (which in context of things is really irrelevant). All the Eastern European nation are openly hostile to Russia and are more then willing to side with the US if it decides to confront Russia. The western European countries are still living in illusion, but they are starting to wake up to the fact that there is nothing to be gained by cuddling Russia. Europe and U.S need to call Russia’s bluff and confront it head on. Go ahead, build the missile shield, recognize the Independence of Kosovo and confront the Putin regime about the horrific human rights record. Russia has no means to do anything significant. Let her direct the “missiles” towards Europe. Rest assured she will not dare fire any rockets towards Europe because she is indeed a paper tiger. Russia needs to be told that she does not have any moral or other right to have a say in European affairs, and that includes Kosovo. Will Europe have the guts to confront the bully or will they continue to live in illusion that that they can reason with the likes of Putin? Only time will tell.

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