Mr. Andrej GRACHEV

Paris Correspondent of 'The New Times', Moscow
Former Spokesman of Mikhail Gorbachev

TOWARDS A NEW EU-RUSSIA SECURITY RELATIONSHIP?

ANOTHER CHANCE FOR A UNITED EUROPE

Paris, 12 April 2002


Lecture in the International Seminar for Experts "The Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union", organised by the Cicero Foundation in the series Great Debates in Paris on 11-12 April 2002.

Introduction

Before we try to assess the new reality, and especially the perspective of the EU-Russia security relationship in the present international context, it may be useful to briefly recall what had been at various stages the old Russian and Soviet-European security relationship in the recent past. In the past few months we have become accustomed to invoking the September 11th events as a crucial turning point, as a kind of a watershed, in the evolution of the international situation. We have almost seemed to have forgotten that - although we have not yet completely recovered from the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York - for a much longer period we have lived with the ruins of an even more symbolic construction: the Berlin Wall. When it came down the whole established international order collapsed, together with the ways that world affairs were handled and a - relative - stability assured..

The situation that came to replace it was a far cry from the rosy hopes of George Bush (father) and Mikhail Gorbachev who, with justified enthusiasm, buried the Cold War in Malta in 1989. They could not imagine that ten years later their children (this refers at least to Bush, Jr.) would be forced to enter a new world war - this time against terrorism. One may be tempted to ask one of those damned Russian questions: "Who is to be blamed?" An easy answer would be: no one, since history is usually unpredictable. A more responsible answer would be: at least partly those in the East and in the West who missed the chance that was offered to them ten years ago to try to build a new security system that could resist and give an answer to the new global risks. Maybe, today it is time to learn some lessons from our common experience: At least with regard to Europe.


During the summit in Malta Gorbachev announced to President Bush that his project of the common "European home" was not meant to decouple US security interests from Western Europe or to chase the Americans from the continent as has been the concealed, and even declared, goal of Soviet diplomacy in the Gromyko years. Several months later, US State secretary Jim Baker was the first who formulated the perspective of a "Euro-Atlantic security system" covering the space between Vancouver and Vladivostok. It was also Baker, who declared the Cold War as formally ended after the Soviet representative in the Security Council voted, together with his Western colleagues, in favour of the use of military sanctions against Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait, which at that time appeared to be an act of international terrorism comparable with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center eleven years later.

The Paris Charter of the New Europe: A Missed Opportunity?

For Europe a political way to celebrate the end of the Cold War, and the division it brought with it, was the signing in November 1990 in Paris of a Paris Charter of the New Europe. This document was meant to replace the text and the logic of the Helsinki Final Act, which, after all, was the code of Cold War management. I just want to remind you that in the Paris Charter matters related to security subjects were quite elaborately addressed. It announced the creation of a European Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, of a Permanent Secretariat and of a Conflict Prevention Center. Among other projects, the idea of the creation of a European Security Council had been formulated by Hans Dietrich Genscher, who was German foreign minister at that time.

Yet this kind of an all-European security superstructure was never realized. The schematic vision of a gradual rapprochement of the two parts of Europe, a process that would be controlled by the governments, turned out to be an illusion. History geared into a higher speed with the unification of Germany, the "velvet revolutions" in eastern Europe, the voluntary euthanasia of the Warsaw Pact, followed by the political suicide of the communist regime in Moscow. All this led to the collapse of these political projects. Among them was also the idea of a European Confederation of French President François Mitterrand, which was based on his belief in the possibility of marrying the two integration processes - one in the West with the announced creation of the European Union, the other in the East in the shape of a reformed Comecon.

After the implosion of the Soviet Union, the West was joined in the next few years by a growing number of East and Central European nations. It defined its own schedule of strategic expansion in eastern direction. As a result, the hypothetical integration of East and West of the continent was substituted by a simple change of the borders of NATO and the EU. Eltsin's Russia, having lost the weight of being a threat, and having not acquired the value of a reliable partner, was left outside the new European border. The ambiguous and symbolic CIS that united most of the former Soviet republics failed to play the role of a solid strategic partner for the integrated Western structures. Russia itself, for quite a while, turned to a chaotic foreign policy, hesitating between an almost total identification with the West and a hostility that reminded one of the years of the Cold War. An enlarged Europe and a post-communist Russia politically and strategically began to evolve into very different directions, thereby increasing the danger of eventual collisions and crises, provoked by misunderstanding and renewed distrust. Attempts to bridge the widening gap by some face-saving formulas like the Russia-NATO Founding Act, signed in Paris in 1997, played just a decorative function, since they did not envisage any kind of implementation mechanism and could not survive the first reality test at the time of the Kosovo crisis.

The Kosovo Crisis

Having rediscovered on this occasion a consolidated Western bloc that largely neglected Russia's position, the Russian political and military elite reacted in an almost old-time Soviet manner. Despite the hastily found political compromise with the West, the national defence doctrine was readapted to the newly discovered threat from the West. The syndrome of the potential "enemy encirclement", spreading from the Baltic coast to the Trans Caucasian republics was widely exploited by the military planners. Among the concrete manifestations of this well calculated, although partly paranoiac presentation of a new edition of East-West confrontation, we can cite the incorporation into the Russian strategic defence doctrine of the clause that restored the possibility of the first use of nuclear weapons (formally abandoned by the Soviet Union) and vaguely announced plans to enhance the status of tactical nuclear weapons.

Among the unfortunate aspects of the Russia-NATO confrontation over Kosovo was the fact that, according to the perception of Russian politicians, the specific identity of Europe as an independent political player, once again, just like at the time of Gromyko, was replaced by a simplified vision of the monolithic West gathered under the banners of Atlantic solidarity. It was not by chance that at that moment renewed versions of an imaginary anti-Western "strategic triangle", composed of Russia, China and India, came to the surface like a sea serpent.

A New Opportunity

I invoked this quite recent past, because I think it is useful in order to better judge the significance of the change in Russian strategic behaviour that seems to be taking place under our eyes, and that could present the second opportunity in a decade for building a solid Euro-Atlantic security community. For the time being, it would be wise to limit ourselves to the analysis of possibilities, accompanied with the evident risks, but, at the same time, both may justify additional practical interest for the consideration of this subject today.

The reasons for the unexpectedly radical turn of Vladimir Putin's foreign policy in the direction of the West (after a rather hesitant and ambiguous start) should be detected much more in his internal choice of the way of Russia's modernization through Europeanisation than in a just emotional or moral shock produced by the events of September 11. It is true that his spectacular decision to "go West" (recalling his former profession I could be tempted to use the term "defection") was largely facilitated by the terrorist attacks of Bin Laden who, in case he had not existed, should have been invented. After all, it was largely because of him that on the next day after the attacks on the WTC, the West, and George Bush Jr. personally, had the really threatening enemy, Russia, as a useful, and probably, necessary strategic partner.

And it was Putin's readiness to accept the status of the junior partner in the US-led world antiterrorist coalition and to clearly renounce the nostalgic superpower ambitions of some of his supporters at home- that created premises for a fruitful development of strategic partnership with another junior partner of the USA - Europe. No one should suspect the Russian president of making a disinterested offer to the West. Besides his evident expectations to obtain Western assistance for his project of economic and social reform, especially at the stage when it may face first real problems, Putin expected to be rewarded on both political and strategic ground - ranging from the American assistance in neutralization of the fundamentalist threat to the Central Asian pro-Moscow regimes that constitute Russia's soft belly and going to the legitimisation of Putin's brutal way of pacification of the Chechen separatists. Yet taking into account the importance of the anti-Western lobby that controlled a part of the Russian political and military elite, as well as the ambiguity of the US response of the Russian partnership offer, such a choice presented for him a major political risk.

While the degree and the scale of a possible new strategic cooperation between the USA and Russia are supposed to be defined during the future Putin-Bush summit in Moscow next May, and will largely depend on the set of priorities of the US administration, the Western Europeans have an even more compelling interest than the Americans in developing an organic strategic cooperation with Russia. As the European Union becomes more integrated internally and expands eastward, it has to better define itself as strategic player. Bordering Russia on the East and Islamic world on the South it has all the reasons in the present conditions to associate Russia with its own security concerns. Besides, in a different sense from the USA, both for the traditionally multinational Russia, as well as for the increasingly multicultural Western European societies, such concerns have appeared to relate to a possible conflict of civilizations, and have represented as much as internal political challenge as an external threat.

All that explains why Russia quite logically became one of the main targets of the new Common Foreign and Security policy - CFSP - as defined first in the Maastricht, and then Amsterdam Treaties, on European Union. Already, because of their geographic location and similarity of their security concerns, Russia and the EU often discover the proximity of their political positions- be they the questions of the fight against the spread of weapons of mass destruction, of that of elevating the role of UN, or environment concerns or the approach to the situation in the Middle East. Another favourable factor is the fact that the perspective of EU's enlargement to the East, including into the territory of the Baltic States, quite differently from the NATO enlargement, was never challenged by Russia and certainly never qualified as a "historic error".

For the new Russian leadership, and namely for Vladimir Putin, wider association with Europe is as much the choice of a most appropriate partner in post-Cold War geopolitics as of a project of the development model. As most likely a strategic option, Russia's choice is dictated first by a certain economic reality and the mutual economic complementarities of the two parts of the continent. The most recent, and maybe, the most ambitious on the list of Putin's suggestions, is the project of EU-Russia energetic strategic partnership formulated jointly by Putin and Prodi in the autumn of last year. It suggests the increased supply to Europe of Russian oil and gas (to which could be also added the nuclear produced electricity) in exchange for western European investments. These could go into the modernization of these industries and distrubution networks, as well as in the security systems that guarantee Russia, but also the rest of Europe, against the possibility of a new Chernobyl. In the present political situation in the Middle East, this project could in fact become an important step in the direction of the diversification of sources of Europe's energy supply.

Besides the general geo-strategical factors that explain the closeness of the approaches of Russia and the EU to a number of fundamental political problems, Putin is being pushed towards the West by the fire behind his back- internal problems at home. One of them is the threatening nature of the terrorism. The Russian government claims it has discovered this danger well before the 11th of September in the form of Chechen separatist and extremist movements. The brutal way in which Moscow has tried to resolve the Chechen problem is certainly counterproductive. Yet if the Putin government continues to insist that Chechnya remains an internal Russian problem, it becomes more and more evident that Russia will not be able to settle this problem only by military force and eventually without international assistance in some form.

The European way of "soft interference" that introduced the international monitoring of the situation there, namely through the mission of European Council Parliamentary Assembly, just as the OSCE mission's presence, may eventually turn to be acceptable for the Russian side. On the contrary, the arrival of the American advisers to Georgia, even if it had been explained by the Georgian government's intention to increase efficiency in the fight against the possible terrorist infiltration to Georgia from Chechnya, provoked an allergic Russian reaction.

Another important geo-strategical factor that explains Russia's increased interest in strategic cooperation with Europe is the growing economic and demographic pressure of Chinese populations against Russia's vast and poorly populated Far Eastern regions. Sure enough, Europe can hardly be of help for Russia in this situation, yet in the eventual perspective when Russia might find itself in the grip of probable strategic confrontation between the USA, on the one side, and China, on the other, instead of choosing to play a role a junior partner to one of the sides, a logical Russian choice would be to tie itself to Europe in a scheme in which it can claim the role of an equal partner. This kind of new strategic set-up, in case it meets with favourable European response, could definitely confirm the passing of Russia to the Western side of its own internal divide and the abandonment of its age-long Eurasian temptation.

Beyond these general political considerations, the actual security agenda for Russia and the European Union, which remains quite modest, may well be enhanced. The fact, that until now, the EU's direct engagement and contacts in the purely military field with Russia have been limited, has various explanations. The first factor is more political - it represents the legacy of the cold war times when Europe's Big Brother and Protector- the USA - had reasons to be suspicious with regard to Soviet claims for a domination over the continent. The second factor is the fact that, for a foreseeable future, NATO will remain the unquestionable Western institution mandated to look after the security interests of the members of the North-Atlantic community. The sphere of competence of the EU in these matters remains undetermined and vague, and quite naturally in this context, the EU did not have much to propose to Russia without provoking fears that it may interfere into the mandatory territory of North Atlantic Alliance.

At present both of these limitations, if they have not yet completely dissipated, are obviously dying away. On the political level, and particularly after September 11th, neither the US nor its European allies possess reasons to suspect today's Russia of being capable to consider, and still less realize, any plans of establishing its domination over Europe (including that part of it that had formerly constituted the Soviet zone of influence). What is more important is that the new situation in Europe provides possibilities when both levels of Russia's security cooperation with the West - within the hopefully revised NATO-Russia common framework: and with the EU - may well acquire a complementary nature, instead of a potentially conflicting character. In fact, at the present stage, one could envisage a sort of division of labour between the US-led NATO- structure that would concentrate more on military tasks- with the EU focused more on non-military and political issues, which, at the same time, play an essential role for the common security.

I am not going to comment here on the separate set of Russia-NATO relations that, despite important progress since the time of Kosovo crises, remain problematic. Let us limit ourselves to the potential of the specific EU-Russian relations on the questions of security.

The two evident subjects of priority are peace keeping operations and countering the new terrorism. One area of potential cooperation is the Balkans. The situation there may evolve into a case involving long-term European responsibility, particularly in the perspective of the probable American disengagement from this region, because of new US security concerns. Hopefully, with the decreased risk of real combat actions, common peace keeping programs engaged by the EU and Russia may well become the tests for the on-the-ground cooperation between the two. There is also a clear possibility for closer Russian-European cooperation during operations in areas where, for some reasons, NATO or US participation might be problematic. Moldova and the Caucasus could be cited as examples. (The fact that the OSCE is already, at least politically present, on CIS territory may well serve as a bridge leading to a more visible European engagement in mediation efforts and peacekeeping operations).

The Kaliningrad case that implies for its resolution the necessary involvement not only of at least four countries- Russia, Byelorussia, Lithuania and Poland- but also the EU political influence - could provide a formidable example of conflict preventing security cooperation instead of conflict management. It is certainly this type and climate of relationship that can better guarantee that Kaliningrad - instead of remaining just a military base, or worse, degenerating into the potential Dazing corridor - would preferably obtain the status of one of the European anchors of the huge Russian continent-state.

A similar approach could be applied to the elaboration of common Russian-European programs in such non-military security related cases as monitoring the situation of minorities and forced migrants in Europe, nuclear waste disposal, chemical disarmament, as well as the common fight against corruption, organized crime and money laundering.

From the Russian national perspective, intensive cooperation with the West on a regular institutional basis could contribute to the preparation of the major overhaul of the Russian military system and the preparation for a genuine military reform. Another area facing the need for the drastic restructuring is the Russian defence industry. Allowing Russian producers to cooperate and compete with the other European nations in modernizing the Soviet-era military equipment still held by former members of the Warsaw pact could be mutually beneficial.

Such cooperation should not be regarded exclusively as another way of just assisting Russia in enhancing its military-industrial capacity and, for this reason, profitable only to Moscow. After all, if not just the unsurpassed "Kalashnikov," but the superior technological achievements of the former second world superpower, starting with its transport and fighter planes and going up to space carriers and satellites, could serve the emerging strategic potential of the future united Europe - instead of being disseminated in a non-controlled way across the world. Closer Russian-European defence ties may increase Europe's chances to evolve to the posture of a real factor of influence on the world scene. The second chance for the building of a solid Euro Atlantic security system, so necessary in the troubled world of today, will then not be lost.