Berlin's Russia Challenge

Berlin's Russia Challenge

Mini Teaser: The EU’s policy incoherence toward Russia compromises Europe’s energy security.

by Author(s): Angela Stent

RUSSIA HAS found an innovative way to ring in the New Year with its European partners: threatening to cut off energy supplies. At the beginning of 2006, it was gas exports through Ukraine; in January 2007, it was oil supplies through Belarus. Although President Lukashenko backed down and oil again flowed to Europe, the actions of pipeline monopoly Transneft-and President Putin's failure to inform Germany about the impending cutoff-presented German Chancellor Angela Merkel with an unwelcome start to Germany's EU presidency. The Russians insisted that they were only moving to world prices and a subsequent meeting in Sochi produced assurances from Russia that it would reduce its dependence on transit countries to guarantee security of supplies and admonitions from Merkel for better energy communication "in order to avoid tensions, misunderstandings and disappointments"; but tensions were still palpable.

Merkel's challenge is to persuade her European colleagues to engage the Kremlin, while minimizing potential energy disruptions from a Russia quarreling with its neighbors. On the one hand, Germany and its partners are increasingly focused on diversifying their energy imports and shifting away from Russia. On the other hand, Germany and Russia are building a new undersea pipeline that will increase Germany's dependence on Russian gas. Beyond this, older and newer members of the EU view Russia in fundamentally different ways. While Brussels and Berlin debate how to deal with their large and increasingly self-confident, energy-rich neighbor, there is no consensus within the EU about how other post-Soviet republics should factor into Russia policy. Meanwhile, the U.S.-Russian relationship has become more fractious over the past year.

The View From Brussels

EU-RUSSIAN relations remain beset by contradictions, disappointed expectations and mutual suspicions. To begin with, Europeans themselves are divided on how to approach Russia. After the fall of communism, Germany, France, the uk and Italy believed Russia would eventually integrate with Europe as it modernized-even if it did not join the EU. Poland and the Baltic states, unlike their EU counterparts, continue to believe that Russia is not a European country, Russia does not want to join the West, and Brussels should not pander to it. Indeed, Russia has become a divisive issue for the 27 EU members.

Europe pursues a largely defensive policy that aims to prevent post-Soviet problems from spilling into the EU. Europe's chief concerns with Russia focus on "soft" security issues: infectious diseases, organized crime, trafficking in drugs and people, and preventing nuclear material smuggling. Brussels has a variety of institutional mechanisms for dealing with Russia: a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that expires at the end of this year, a Common Strategy for Russia, Road Maps for four "common spaces"-internal politics, foreign policy, economics and education and culture-and a host of other technical agreements. But there is a consensus that these mechanisms have failed to create a productive and comfortable relationship with Russia.

Despite considerable disagreement, EU members recognize that, given Europe's dependence on Russian energy (30 percent of oil imports and 44 percent of natural gas imports come from Russia, and these numbers run as high as 90 percent for the new members), it behooves Europe to engage Russia on as many issues as possible. The Ukrainian and Belarusian cutoffs have concerned Europe about Russia's use of energy as a blunt political and economic instrument-"hard soft power" as some call it. However, Russia's actions have convinced EU members not to alienate the Kremlin.

Europeans are also divided over how to balance encouraging greater transparency, political competition and democracy in Russia against the need for Russia's cooperation. The debate over "values versus interests" is most noticeable between the European Parliament, which has been highly critical of domestic developments under Putin, and the Commission and Council, which take a more cautious public stance. Nevertheless, two year-end evaluations by prominent European officials sounded the same critical note. Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, in his capacity as outgoing EU president, announced: "I am not sure that Russia is heading in the right direction", while Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, outgoing chair of the osce, described Russia as a "non-modern state" that had blurred the boundaries between "the regime and state property-between management and ownership of assets."

Nonetheless, the EU has no coherent Russia policy, so states pursue their own interests. The one time the EU did act in concert-during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine-Poland's President Kwasniewski and Lithuania's President Adamkus persuaded a reluctant Javier Solana (the EU's foreign policy chief) to join in negotiations to resolve a standoff between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych. During those weeks EU policy, well-coordinated with U.S. policy, was successful, suggesting that the system can work in crises. But since then, individual EU members have continued to pursue their bilateral interests with Russia, particularly in the energy field.

The View From Moscow

KREMLIN ASSESSMENTS of the EU range from dismissive to critical. I was with President Putin when, echoing Henry Kissinger's lament, he made the following comment: "It is difficult for us to entertain a dialogue with the EU if it has no precise, clear structures and while Europe is still in the process of taking shape." As a result, Putin prefers bilateral relations to dealing with what many Russians view as an amorphous, over-bureaucratized structure in Brussels. He has focused on nurturing close ties with the "big three" states-Germany, France and the uk (though with Britain, political asylum for Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev, along with the Litvinenko poisoning, have strained relations).

The Kremlin has refused to ratify the European Energy Charter it originally signed, which would permit European energy companies to partner in Russian energy infrastructure projects, including pipelines. Putin has rejected European criticism of Russian domestic politics, saying, "When speaking of common values, we should also respect the historical diversity of European civilization. It would be useless and wrong to try to force artificial ‘standards' on each other."

EU enlargement to former communist countries and to the Baltic states has further soured Russia's view of Brussels. The Kremlin believes that the colored revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine were engineered by the United States with help from the EU. It has accused Western ngos of fomenting "regime change" in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)-and then used the accusation to justify introducing legislation restricting foreign NGOs' activities. In this regard, Ukraine's Orange Revolution was a particularly galling reminder of the new realities in Europe. Russia dislikes the EU's European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), designed to encourage closer contacts between the EU and the states of the western Newly Independent States (NIS) and South Caucasus. It views the EU as a rival and believes the EU should not influence domestic developments in Eurasia. And when the EU criticizes Russia for raising energy prices, Russia accuses the organization of hypocrisy, claiming that the hikes are based on market principles the West endorses.

The eternal question of whether Russia really belongs to Europe complicates the EU-Russia relationship. Putin has said "Russia is a natural member of the ‘European family' in spirit, history and culture", though he has made it clear that Russia does not seek to join the EU. But Russians have become disillusioned with Europe's lecturing of them and remain divided over whether to join Europe or pursue a Eurasian path. Despite this mutual ambivalence, and though Russia is a challenging partner, the EU as a whole remains committed to encouraging the Kremlin to become more European. The alternative is a more obstructionist Russia isolated from the West.

The Moscow-Berlin Vector

TODAY, GERMANY is Russia's major Western interlocutor. The centrality of the German-Russian relationship has been a defining feature of European politics since Chancellor Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik in 1969, and there has been remarkable continuity in German Ostpolitik since then, regardless of which party or coalition of parties held power.

When he was chancellor, Gerhard Schröder developed close personal ties to Vladimir Putin, the "German in the Kremlin", and pushed for Germany's central role as the "motor" of the European Union's Russia policy. He described Putin as a "flawless democrat" and, after he ceded the chancellorship to Merkel, became chairman of the supervisory board of the consortium that will build the Northern European Gas Pipeline (negp). The negp-a project Schröder negotiated before he left office-will transport gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

This arrangement has aroused considerable controversy. Poland charges that, in bypassing countries between Germany and Russia, the pipeline will enable Moscow to use energy leverage more directly against its former communist allies. Indeed, the Polish Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski went so far as to describe the negp as a 21st-century version of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Sweden raises concerns about the longer-term ecological consequences. Other European countries question the propriety of an ex-chancellor's profiting from a deal he closed shortly before resigning.

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