I have co-written a couple of pieces for the Moscow Times (http://www.moscowtimes.ru/indexes/01.html) with my friend Alexandros Petersen (whose title has oscilated somewhat). Unfortunately, they charge to see them, so they are reproduced below. Both were also re-treaded in the St Petersburg Times. The most recent was written at around the time of the G8 Summit and chided Russia for fixating on the U.S. when their main issue should be their relations with the EU, and the older one instead examines the EU’s growing role in Eurasia, specifically Central Asia – a pet fixation of mine.
Bypassing Europe is a Mistake
June 6, 2007
By Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen
This week’s Group of Eight summit is one that is likely to be a triumph of process over substance. The reasons for this are many and multifaceted, but at their core lie two fundamental problems.
The first is that it is hard to imagine a serious discussion about global issues when so much of the globe is clearly absent.
The second is that there seems to be a growing divergence in worldviews among some of the members. More specifically, Russia and the West appear increasingly to have what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called, in reference to the question of Kosovo’s status, “diametrically opposed” perspectives on global affairs.
The problem related to the missing important global players is a fundamental G8 issue that must be addressed in some detail and with a general re-evaluation of the organization’s purpose in the world. The second issue, however, is one that the G8 is ill-suited to fix, as it is primarily a fundamental question at the heart of the current Russian-Western relationship. Hopefully, the summit will serve to highlight how serious this problem at the center of international diplomacy is, and to start generating ideas on how to move beyond this increasingly acrimonious conversation.
While U.S. President George W. Bush’s invitation to President Vladimir Putin to spend some time after the summit at his family home in Kennebunkport is a welcome gesture with a clearly positive significance, it has also become clear that the key interlocutor with Russia in international affairs should be the European Union.
There are numerous reasons for this. It is in part due to the symbiotic energy and trade relationship between them. Europe depends on Russian energy in the same way that Russia depends on Europe as a source for investment and capital. Beyond this, Europe and Russia share a continent and a considerable common security space.
Until now, unfortunately, it seems as though these facts have been broadly disconnected from the debates on Russian-EU relations, something that has helped feed the current stalemate. For Europe, an inability to present a common front in negotiations has impeded progress. For Russia, the tendency to treat international affairs as a zero-sum game and to present itself as the global “anti-America” has caused the problems.
Unfortunately, one effect of the bilateral Russia-U.S. meeting is that it will reinforce this sense in Moscow, and further undermine the crucial centrality of Europe in the conversation. It is Europe, and not the United States with which Russia has a significant security and energy relationship, but Russian rumbling about troubling issues tends to imply that it is the dark hand of the United States that is pulling the strings behind the events.
Europeans seem often to be considered here as playing the roles of puppets in a larger game between Russia and the United States. It is a complete return to the Cold War paradigm.
This is not to suggest that the United States does not have a role to play, and thus far its behavior and refusal to respond in the face of particularly inflammatory rhetoric from Russia has been exemplary. The time has come, however, for Europe to assume a more robust common posture, founded upon an acknowledgement of the common security space that Russia and the EU occupy.
This involves first getting together to understand why Russia sees the positions on Kosovo’s status as diametrically opposite. Every effort must be made to engage Moscow on an issue it considers so fundamental.
Europe must present its case clearly, pointing out that Serbia’s geographical position on the continent makes it a priority issue. Efforts must be made to emphasize that Kosovar independence is not some sort of global precedent, and more work must be done to bring the Serbs and the EU together more broadly. The gradual elevation of a European nation within Europe to the role of pariah state is something that the EU cannot countenance.
Next, the EU must establish red lines on Georgia and Ukraine. Legitimate Russian concerns have to be borne in mind, but the EU’s mildly nebulous policy on both, including a lack of clarity on either EU or NATO membership, is counterproductive. While hasty decisions will not help, some direction might aid in focusing European efforts so that they can be made in a manner that will allow Russia to come to the table.
Finally, Central Asia must remain a point of European focus and interest beyond German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s push while she holds the rotating EU presidency. This is not only for realpolitik reasons of energy and transnational threats, but also to underscore the EU’s desire to engage in helping the region develop. Russian involvement in the region may be bolstered by strong and long-standing connections, but there is also an unfortunate historical element to these ties that cannot be ignored. If Europe continues to reinforce the fact that it is not looking to promote regime change in the region and emphasizes that it is not trying to displace Russian power in the region (something Brussels can hopefully accomplish by leveraging its close connection to Moscow), then the two might find that their interests do not clash in Central Asia. Europe could actually prove a useful ally in helping nurture a long-lasting stability in this Russian border region.
For years, official rhetoric out of Moscow has characterized Russia as a part of Europe, yet its stance has increasingly become one of direct opposition to the West. Putin’s threat to target EU countries in response to U.S. plans to establish missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland is only the latest flashpoint demonstrating that this week’s G8 summit is a good time to try to halt this escalating rhetoric. The EU can engender a rethink about the current course of policy by emphasizing its symbiotic relationship with Russia, while clearly setting down Europe’s critical interests with regard to Kosovo and Serbia, the union’s newest members and neighbors, and Central Asia.
Raffaello Pantucci is a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and Alexandros Petersen is deputy director of operations at the Henry Jackson Society at the University of Cambridge.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier appears to be serious about carrying out his nation’s plans to reorient European foreign policy toward Central Asia. This recalibration is a welcome shift from Germany, which under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder tended toward almost pusillanimous relations with Russia, to the detriment of other former Soviet states. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new Ostpolitik will continue to remain balanced carefully against national energy interests, but it seems that she is capitalizing on the fact that Germany holds the rotating presidencies of both the Group of Eight and the European Union to try to focus European (and world) attention on Russia’s other, often unseen flank in Central Asia and the Black Sea region.
The factors behind this adjustment are not only woolly issues of governance but hard political and economic realities, something that is reflected in an early draft of the action plan that the German presidency has prepared for Europe in Central Asia. While there is a concentration on energy issues, it is carefully blended with attention to issues like poverty eradication, the introduction of accounting standards and infrastructure investment.
It is the presence of energy as an issue, however, that is one of the critical defining factors in this reinvigorated European interest, and that offers some assurance that this may be a genuine approach. While there are no easy solutions to Europe’s dependency on energy (or that of the West in general), there are two fundamental things Europe can be do to re-craft the status quo: diversify and find alternative routes.
The‑first of these is increasingly a given for European governments and is feeding current complex political debates around the globe. The second, however, is often not rigorously addressed within the European Union.
Currently, the EU is reliant for almost half of its energy resources (a figure it has estimated will increase to 70 percent by 2030) on two unreliable routes from Russia, through Belarus and Ukraine. While it is looking at opening new routes, such as the Odessa-Brody pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Poland or the Nord Stream pipeline running directly from Russia into Germany along the bottom of the Baltic Sea, it has seemingly ignored the potential importance in diversifying its sources of supply by not looking toward concentrating more on Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Among European states, Germany stands out as particularly well-placed to drive this issue forward, both as a result of close ties with Russia, Europe’s main energy supplier, and the fact that it is the only member state with embassies in all the Black Sea and Central Asian countries. Merkel reflected her particular interest in her first speech to the European Parliament, declaring that she hoped “especially to develop a neighborhood policy for the Black Sea region and Central Asia.”
The current draft proposals — which will be formally concluded and published by the EU at a summit June 20 — offered by her presidency seem to be the beginnings of a fulfillment of this promise. But a number of issues mandate closer attention.
While it appears that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has opened the door to possible EU involvement in Abkhazia, greater European engagement in the region’s frozen conflicts is something that is both a moral obligation, and a part of a wider strategy to block porous borders that currently facilitate the trafficking of arms, drugs and humans to Europe. Afghanistan’s poppies only become Europe’s heroin problem after passing through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Furthermore, as Steinmeier has suggested, the EU must support the so-far successful effort by Central Asian countries to contain Islamist extremism and help temper some possibly draconian responses. Plus, a more assertive and effective role for the EU in its neighborhood would give its common foreign and security policy a much-needed shot of international legitimacy.
The countries of the Black Sea and Central Asia have sent clear signals that they are interested in engagement and partnership with the EU. Moldova has consistently pleaded for an EU role in resolving the crisis over the self-proclaimed Transdnestr republic. The leaders of the region’s key energy suppliers, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, have long conducted clear, multivectored foreign policies that would welcome a deeper EU partnership.
While engagement with the region is based on issues of clear national interest to member states — and the EU may in fact want to keep relations well below anything approaching the membership level to which Georgia aspires — the EU can play a unique role in offering a distinctly new model of engagement in the region that will break away from the somewhat discredited U.S. “democracy agenda,” sidestep historical concerns over NATO’s military implications, and keep these states within the Western sphere of influence.
So far, it appears that the EU’s German-driven plan for Central Asia is moving in a positive direction. An emphasis on energy, mixed with infrastructure investment, some basic poverty alleviation and a drive to increase the European Union’s physical profile in the region is a sensible approach. Attention must, however, be paid to assure that these promises are carried through and that relations stay on this positive note. The alternative, illustrated by EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, is that they “slip back to other partners” and the EU loses an opportunity to build institutions and economic and security partners.
In order to ensure that this agenda stays focused, the EU should push the following concrete, proactive policy issues. First, it should throw its full diplomatic support behind the development of trans-Caspian oil and gas pipelines, to connect resources from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and potentially Uzbekistan with the current alternative pipelines from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean. Second, the EU is well placed to steward a formal process of mediation for the frozen conflicts in Moldova and Georgia (both have already asked for EU intervention and support). Third, while the broad strokes of diplomatic expansion in the region are an excellent sign, the German presidency should continue its efforts to enshrine the EU’s economic and political links with the region’s rising power, Kazakhstan.
It remains to be seen what is in the German presidency’s final draft report on Central Asia, but the positive signs are all in place. Of the international players in Europe and Asia, the EU is best placed to contribute to stability, good governance and mutual understanding among these countries that, although not all neighbors, are still in the neighborhood. The EU finds before it a historic opportunity to present a middle way for the countries of the Black Sea and Central Asia, while at the same time protecting its vital economic and security interests.
Raffaello Pantucci is a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Alexandros Petersen is London vice president of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.