Russia needs a strong Europe


MOSCOW (Nikolai Kaveshnikov for RIA Novosti) - The future of the European Constitution is becoming increasingly gloomy after the referendum in the Netherlands.

The Dutch refused to support the dreams and ambitions of politicians and chances for a repeat voting are minimal.

There can be a new round of long and difficult talks, where a document better suiting the interests of Europe will be hammered out. The ratification crisis threatens to lead to the EU's stagnation. But what does this mean for Russia?

Tactically, Russia can get benefit from this situation. The failure of the constitution will weaken the standing of the new members of the European Union, whose political elite still nurtures certain anti-Russian sentiments. The results of the referendums showed the unwillingness of the "old-timers" to finance the dynamically developing eastern European economies and questionable geopolitical projects.

In this situation, Russia will retain room for maneuver between the foreign policy interests of different EU states and a chance for more intensive relations with European majors, which traditionally respect Russian interests more than the Brussels officials do.

The negative results of the referendums will seriously complicate EU enlargement plans. Bulgaria and Romania will join the union in 2007 as planned. But talks with Turkey, which were to begin in autumn, will now last for a very long time. And Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries will certainly not be invited to the EU.

Only idealistic pro-Western politicians hoped that the gate to the club of Western democracies, stability and prosperity would be flung open if they demonstrated the political will and dissociated themselves from Russia. But today even they will have to admit that, however attractive the EU membership may be, they will have to maintain good relations with Russia in the foreseeable future.

The collapse of illusions is always painful but useful. Maybe tomorrow these politicians will see that integration into Europe and the maintenance of intensive economic and partner political relations with Russia are not contradictory but complementary elements.

The European Union is a highly attractive club. But Russia should spotlight the practical advantages it can and does offer to Ukraine, Moldova and other neighbors. It is the main market for their commodities and the main source of investment by the companies that have grown used to risks and know the situation on the local markets. Russia is also a place where the citizens of these countries find jobs and earn their income. The EU cannot offer any of the above advantages even in the future, though some eastern European politicians make huge promises on behalf of the EU.

On the other hand, Russia should review its relations with the former Soviet republics. They have become fully independent states, which have a common historical and cultural past with Russia and in which Russia has certain national interests. Hence, Russia's policy with regard to them should be friendly, respectful, pragmatic and, when necessary, tough.

For example, the Kremlin should think about the expediency of sponsoring the local elite by selling energy cheaply. Maybe the money should be spent directly on the people of Georgia and Ukraine, on cultural and educational projects. This may turn the former Soviet republics from a zone of concealed Russia-EU rivalry into a zone of cooperation.

But strategically the failure of the European Constitution will not benefit Russia. Problems in the home of your closest neighbor and partner is not a reason for gloating, particularly given that Russia needs a strong Europe whose political influence would be comparable to its economic weight. It needs a Europe that would contribute, as a pole in the multipolar world, to the stabilization of the system of global relations and to the struggle against growing security threats. European weakness will provoke a growth of tension around it. Russia, which considers itself an ally and a part of the European civilization, does not want to become the frontier of a besieged fortress.

Only a strong Europe pursuing a proactive and consistent foreign policy can make a contribution to the strategic partnership of the U.S., Europe and Russia. This contribution should be a balance of influence, when the strengthening of the partner is seen not as a threat to its hegemony but as the growth of the potential necessary for accomplishing common objectives directly proceeding from the coincidence of basic interests. With such a balance of influence, contradictions between partners are not used as a pretext to put pressure but as a cause for purposeful and constructive dialogue.

Hopefully, the current crisis will not provoke apathy but will stimulate discussions about the future of the European Union, which would change to suit the aspirations of its citizens better. And maybe such discussions will clarify its future relations with Russia and prompt ways of turning the choice of Russia as a civilization into a clear foreign policy strategy and political declarations into practical partnership.

Nikolai Kaveshnikov is a researcher at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

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