February 18, 2003


Russia finds itself between old Europe and new America (DMITRI TRENIN, Bangkok Post)
President Vladimir Putin's hints that Russia may change its position on Iraq are a key sign that Moscow is emerging from its post-Soviet hubris and is increasingly capable of seeing where its true interests lie. But hints do not make a policy.

Since the start of the Iraq crisis, Russia has let France lead the charge within the United Nations Security Council against American "unilateralism''. President Putin also has refrained from joining German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's public opposition to any military action against Baghdad.

Mr Putin shrewdly sees the difference in the way Americans perceive France and Germany, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other. The lingering empathy for France and Germany born of the Cold War alliance stands in stark contrast to the American foreign policy community's wariness towards post-Soviet Russia. If Mr Putin thoughtlessly joined the Franco-German chorus of doubters, he would squander much of the goodwill and reputation for reliability that he has painstakingly accumulated.

The difference between Paris/Berlin and Moscow, however, is deeper. France is not merely interested in Iraqi oil, nor is Germany's chancellor simply taking notice of opinion polls (on his own government's performance, not just Iraq). For both France and Germany, the Iraq issue is a crucible for forging an autonomous foreign/security policy for the European Union.

That is a serious goal, but it is also a challenge to America, and Mr Putin knows it. Washington identifies it as such, and has welcomed the help of "new Europe'' (which includes large chunks of the "old'' communist eastern Europe) in tilting the balance on the continent back in America's favour.

At this remarkable point in Europe's history, some in Russia may be tempted to revive the old policy of fueling transatlantic divisions. It is a defunct and anachronistic policy, but one that is nonetheless remembered fondly by many in Russia's foreign policy elite. Others may view siding with France and Germany as a means for Russia to "join Europe'' on more equal terms than what is now on offer. Both views are delusions.

It's nonsense that Old Europe represents any kind of threat to America. The real danger is that it poses a threat to New Europe. It may be their inevitable destiny, but it would be a shame to see the nations of Eastern Europe go directly from totalitarian communism to the authoritarian bureaucracy of the EU without at least trying to see if they can function as American-style liberal democratic capitalist republics.

You can almost feel sympathy for Mr. Putin though. Russia has spent centuries dithering over whether it's part of Europe or of Asia and now it's faced with a third option: part of the American-led West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 18, 2003 8:38 PM

There's another aspect to this, too: America, or at least a significant - the conservative? - faction (speaking of post-WWII here) is sympathetic to Europe, but does not respect it; Russia is respected but not liked.

Sympathy is easy to gain and easy to squander; respect is harder to come by.

Posted by: mike earl at February 18, 2003 9:59 PM

Russia's her old manipulative self. If the US thinks it has an understanding with that country, it truly is naive.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 19, 2003 1:39 AM

The interesting question is France (and to a lesser extent Germany) and its relations with Russia.

Historically, France has often sought to use Russia to balance Germany (World War I, and some of the pre-WWII maneuverings come to mind).

Does Chirac think he has an understanding w/ Putin? Might his "dissing" of Eastern Europe be a signal to Russia that the latter could reclaim its empire, if it joins Paris in screwing the Americans?

Conversely, the Germans have long disliked the Russians (the East Germans used to muse that they were the EFFECTIVE socialists, in contrast w/ their Soviet patrons). Can a Franco-German alignment long stand, if the Russians enter the mix?

Which leaves aside the question, of course, of how Moscow views Paris and Berlin. Yes, Putin undoubtedly sees that Russia is treated/viewed differently from Germany and France. But is that difference enough? What investments, what tech transfers, what pot sweeteners is Russia angling for?

Shades of 1815!

Posted by: Dean at February 19, 2003 3:19 AM

The new NATO: protecting Eastern Europe from Russia on the one side; and France-Germany on the other?

On the other hand, perhaps Germany will eventually "waking up" (Schroeder seems to be dangling rather precariously). And Chirac and his shenanigans can't last forever. (Or can they?)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 19, 2003 4:12 AM

I can't see Schoeder lasting another election.

Stoiber will be leading Germany sooner or later.

Pity the only opposition to Chirac is Le Pen.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at February 19, 2003 4:53 AM

What might happen if (as evidence of malfeasance mounts) enraged Parisians start manning the barricades?

(I suppose I could dream on....)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 19, 2003 5:24 AM

The one thing that will eventually unite Paris, Munich and Moscow is their desire not to be criticized when they ruthlessly repress, or worse, their Muslim populations over the next few decades.

Posted by: oj at February 19, 2003 8:10 AM
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