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«Europe and Russia: the Great Game Resumed»  
 
 
It has been a difficult few months for the European Union. The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty on June 13 was the latest display of disunity. As the US withdraws we are now seeing a trend where Russia is emerging as the single most divisive factor in EU politics. From the recognition of Kosovo to energy supply, frozen conflicts, partnership agreements and candidates for enlargement the lesson has been: Russia may not be able to offer the same positive rewards as the EU, but it is growing increasingly apt at spoiling.
 
Much has been written on Russia's new assertiveness in foreign policy, based on few but crucial instruments of power: natural resources and nuclear capabilities. Russia remains a status quo power internationally, but is a born-again rising power regionally. Russia greatly benefits from favourable international and domestic conditions to press on its advantage in the «near abroad». With energy prices at record highs and considerable freedom of manoeuvre domestically, Moscow is able to pursue classic high politics in its sphere of influence. Yet assertiveness should not be equated with hostility in this case: Russia plays a game of divide and rule without going to extremes.
 
Europe presents much the opposite picture. Internally fragmented and pressured by rising commodity prices Europe is finding difficult to influence Russia at the international level. To achieve leverage, it needs the essential support of the United States and other great powers in the world. But Europe is too heterogeneous to present a united position to Moscow on regional issues. Where and when it matters most, Europe remains divided. Worse, over the last couple of years the European big powers have been willing to accommodate Russia's pressuring tactics, engaging in a sort of perverse beauty contest for the privilege of forging special bilateral ties with Moscow. European big powers are not "European" when they deal with Russia, they are nation states.
 
This creeping return of great power politics to Europe has significant impact on small and medium sized states' sense of security. Countries such as Estonia and Lithuania have suffered greatly in the past over the lack of European unity and solidarity when it mattered most. America's gradual but unrelenting withdrawal, sparks real fears of yet again falling under the shadow of Moscow. These states naturally look to Europe for support. Yet their concerns are not «Europeanized«, they are not acknowledged by the EU. The EU avoids divisive topics. If the EU fails to address the legitimate concerns of members, these states are bound to seek other arrangements. This will, in turn, progressively reduce the scope of EU foreign policies. Such a renationalisation brings the unwelcome prospect of a return of history to Europe.
 
So what must be done? One, it is time to end the fruitless debate over "civilian" vs. "military" power that the Brussels establishment seems to enjoy. The EU need to have both carrot and stick. Whether Europe likes it or not, Moscow's diplomacy is not conducive to a «civilian» approach that the Commission is keen to develop. Vis-à-vis a traditional power such as Russia, the EU cannot hope to remain a «post-modern» actor very long. The game is the game. The international system is determined by the power of states which the EU does not control. As the international system increasingly becomes multipolar, power politics will likely grow stronger.
 
Two, there is a need to differentiate between global and regional interests when dealing with Moscow. The United States has an approach based on the first while Europe has crucial stakes in the second. Precisely because the US is no longer a European power. Washington regards its relations with Moscow at a global power level. Moscow's assets in the Iranian proliferation issue are far more important than its squabbles with Estonia. For Europe, it is the other way around: Here it is Moscow's actions in its neighbourhood that is of vital importance. This does not mean that transatlantic interests regarding Russia are necessarily divergent, but they are strategically different. Global interests are systemic - they are negotiated for the benefit of the international system itself; regional interests are linear, -they are articulated for the pursuit of national gains. This increases the need for transatlantic coordination of Russia policies.
 
Three, as a rule of thumb, the strategic interest of the weakest of the European club should become the benchmark of the European approach, not those least concerned. It means in practice that the European big power directorate, the "EU-6" must look after the interest of those who have concerns over Russia, such as the Baltic States. That is what European solidarity means strategically. If Europe wants to avoid fragmentation in its relationship with Moscow, the benchmark of its common denominator must meet the concerns of Estonia rather than the complacency of Austria. This would represent a great leap towards an actual European Union; but without such a leap Europe may see its integrative efforts undone by a new great game.

Jean-Yves Haine is senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and a visiting Professor at the University of Toronto. Asle Toje is a visiting fellow at the EU ISS and the author of the book America, the EU and Strategic Culture, renegotiating the transatlantic bargain (Routledge, 2008).
 
 
  Daily Telegraph 12 June, 2008