A Petersburg Tale of Three Summits
Three summit meetings are scheduled for this weekend in St. Petersburg , during the city's tri-centennial celebrations. The one attracting the most attention, of course, is the meeting between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin on Sunday, June 1. Yet also noteworthy is the Russia-EU summit that will occur the day before the Putin-Bush encounter at the Konstantinovsky Palace , as well as the gathering of CIS presidents assembling on an ocean liner near the "English Embankment."
Notwithstanding the limited American military presence in the former Soviet Union , Russia 's position as Eurasia 's metropolitan power has only been enhanced over the course of the last year. Russia has remained the leading political and economic power of the Eurasian plain, standing at the crossroads of the global economy between the developed industrial economies of the West and the Eurasian heartland. A prominent Russian economist, Leonid M. Grigoriev, estimates that some $10 billion in transfer payments have flowed out of Russia to the other republics of the former Soviet Union . Russia is the motor that drives the economies of Eurasia . Increasingly, the slogan, "To Europe --With Russia " is heard in many of the capitals of the former Soviet republics.
And Europe is making a place for Russia , following the advice of Winston Churchill, who remarked back in 1957, "In a true unity of Europe , Russia must have her part." Speaking in Moscow earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov noted that the EU-Russia summit is expected to lay further groundwork for the creation of a common economic, law enforcement and cultural space in Europe --a Europe that includes Russia . In fact, EU Commission President Romano Prodi expressed his optimism that a draft concept for the establishment of a "Common European Economic Space" between the EU and the Russian Federation would be finalized by November. Closer Russian-EU integration would begin in the energy sector; already, Greece 's Development Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos envisions a single energy market for southern Europe fueled by Russian oil and natural gas. Dmitry Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma's international affairs committee, is confident that visa-free travel between Russia and the EU will be in place by 2007. No one expects Russia to join the EU anytime soon; but the development of a substantive EU-Russia partnership lays the basis for a "Greater Europe" capable of playing a more independent role vis-à-vis the United States.
The Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis that so dominated the headlines for much of the first half of 2003 may indeed prove to be temporary and transient. Yet even the German conservatives who denounce Schroeder's reckless disregard of the longstanding alliance between Washington and Berlin still reiterate that Russia is now Germany 's "strategic partner" in Europe . By 2005, it is estimated that sixty-seven percent of all Russia 's exports will be absorbed by the EU; EU countries currently account for 62 percent of all foreign direct investment in Russia . Russian firms are embedding themselves into the economies of central and southeastern Europe . The close cooperation between Putin, Chirac and Schroeder in opposing the U.S.-led war in Iraq is clear proof that any Cold War-era divide between " Europe " and " Russia " is fast eroding.
This brings us to the third summit. Putin will meet with Bush at a time when Russia 's position as Eurasian hegemon and as the eastern anchor of the EU will have been reaffirmed. This does not mean that Russia will plan to be confrontational in discussions aimed at charting a common strategy for coping with the challenges posed by Iran and North Korea , but it does suggest that Russia will not accept American assessments at face value. Russia may be prepared to accept a role as a junior partner to the United States , but increasingly wants to do so on its own terms and feels that the revival of Russian power and influence warrants greater consideration of Russian interests by the United States .
It also calls into question the long-term viability of a strategy of depending on pro-American/anti-Russian regimes in "new Europe " and within the former Soviet Union to serve as a counterbalance to the "Eurozone" bloc and to Moscow .
In an insightful piece written for the May 17th issue of Polityka, Jacek Zakowski warned his Polish audience that serving as an American proxy in Europe might carry real risks for Polish national interests. He observed: "The more we support the United States … we might find it difficult to pursue Polish interests in Brussels once we join the European Union. Without loyal and strong allies we will find it difficult to fight Brussels bureaucrats making decisions which can cost us billions of euros. … If we stomp around on the continent with the grace of an elephant in love we might fortify the 'internal Europe' and perhaps even push it further toward the alliance with Russia which is being built above our heads …" Sooner or later, the other governments of "new Europe" are likely to begin to make similar calculations. An analogous process is underway in Eurasia .
Eurasian reintegration and Russian integration to Europe are processes that are underway regardless of whether the U.S. supports or opposes them--although the United States may be able to affect their pace and magnitude. What remains to be seen, however, is the extent to which Washington is prepared to see these developments as something positive for the maintenance of America 's own interests.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.