Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 104

Some 150 years ago Russian Tsar Nicolas I, who was considered one of the Old Continent’s most powerful rulers, contemptuously called the Ottoman Turkish Empire the “sick man of Europe.” Had the arrogant autocrat been able to see contemporary developments, he would have been tremendously amazed. Last week witnessed Turkey and Russia moving in opposite directions vis-a-vis Europe. Ankara finally got a positive decision from the European Commission, which cautiously recommended the bloc to start accession talks with the predominantly Muslim nation. Meanwhile, relations between Moscow and European institutions continue to deteriorate, and some pundits are even urging Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe.

The bulk of EU thinkers and policymakers have long perceived “Europe” as being essentially a political process of building and expanding the European Union. So far, there is no “other” Europe, they contend. This political process is generally understood as being an open-ended one — any country that shares the Union’s main principles and values can become a member. This thinking formed the basis of the EU’s relations with the post-communist world, including Russia. It was expected that through the process of “Europeanization” (that is, by introducing relevant norms and institutions) Russia would be slowly moving towards Europe, a long trajectory that might eventually result in Russia’s integration into the EU.

Today, there appears to be a consensus among European and Russian analysts that the concept of Russia’s Europeanization has failed. Unlike the Central European states, Russia has proved utterly reluctant to have its social transformation guided and monitored from Brussels. As a result, Russia’s post-communist development took a specific and clearly un-European course. Now, both the Putin administration and the EU leadership have to admit, experts argue, that the present-day Russia and the European Union represent two absolutely different politico-economic systems.

The Beslan debacle and the political moves the Kremlin took in its aftermath dramatically revealed the alarming trends that have been developing for several years but that no one was eager to analyze in detail. It has suddenly become clear, one prominent Russian commentator notes, “Despite all the official declarations, Moscow and Brussels are guided by a different logic of behavior and by different value systems; they pursue absolutely different goals and build different socio-political models.”

This view, which is obviously shared by the overwhelming majority of European politicians, prompts both sides to make a policy shift. The EU appears to increasingly regard Russia as a country that “cannot be integrated in principle” and that will remain forever a natural partner or competitor beyond the easternmost limits of the European space. Such a reassessment means, some Russian political strategists predict, that the EU will act more aggressively in the western parts of the CIS, seeking to limit Moscow’s influence in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. “In the immediate future, the EU will likely pursue policies aimed at undermining Russia’s integrationist projects in the western parts of the CIS,” argued a commentary in the influential foreign policy journal Rossiya v globalnoi politike.

This forecast proved to be quite prescient. According to a recent statement by the incoming EU external relations commissioner, the Kremlin is backsliding on democracy and the European Union must take Moscow to task while bringing other former Soviet republics closer to the West. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Austria’s European Commissioner, told a confirmation hearing in the European Parliament on October 5 that the EU should promote its European Neighborhood Policy, designed to boost ties with states that became its neighbors after its eastward enlargement in May. “I will do everything in my powers to keep Ukraine on our side at least,” she said, adding it would be more difficult to work with Belarus. Ferrero-Waldner vowed to hold tough talks with Russia while keeping dialogue alive.

In a separate development, Moscow was unhappy with the recent decisions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which refused to recognize the validity of the August 29 presidential election in Chechnya and approved a Georgian proposal to include Russian-Georgian relations on the agenda of the current PACE session. The head of Russia’s PACE delegation and State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, said Russia “opposes using the PACE podium as a place for settling accounts.” Even some liberal commentators appear to have been displeased. Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center told Novye izvestiya, “It is not PACE’s role to be an arbiter in the post-Soviet space,” adding, “Within PACE, the discussion of Russian-Georgian relations represents an element of provocation.”

Other Russian analysts have stronger opinions on the issue. “I don’t know what on earth we’re doing in the Council of Europe, this anteroom of the EU,” says Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation think tank. Only those who aspire to join the EU are interested in the Council of Europe, Nikonov notes. He argues that since Russia is not going to become an EU member, it would be a good idea to leave the Council of Europe and “save lots of time, money, and nerves.”

As Russia and Europe look for a new modus operandi, at least one thing is clear. With the gulf between Moscow and Brussels broadening, the chances of Turkey’s and even Ukraine’s European integration will grow. As some analysts suggest, historically, Euro-Atlantic integration has developed faster when the West had both the center of gravity and a significant “other” to balance.

(Rossiya v globalnoi politike, March/April 2004; Gazeta.ru, September 23; Reuters, October 5; Novye izvestiya, October 6; Politcom.ru, October 6; RIA-Novosti, October 7).