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  European and Russian relations: illusions and reality

Boris Tumanov
2010 06 21

During nearly twenty years of existence of the post-soviet Russia, Europe‘s attitude toward the country has changed significantly. Initially, Europe tried to recover after the geopolitical shock caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, later - to get rid of the illusions concerning the triumph of democracy in Russia; and during the tenth decade of the last century - to get accustomed to the neo-imperial ambitions of Russia. But Europe hasn’t stopped developing economic cooperation with Moscow by gradually accepting Russia‘s reality and rejecting the measures which were to make Russia pursue the principles of democracy.

Europe reconciled (though at the cost of the war in South Ossetia) with the Georgia‘s failure to join NATO and with Ukraine‘s refusal to seek membership in the Alliance. In principle, that was a silent recognition of Russia‘s claims to be the single sovereign of the post-soviet space. By the way, during the above period Europe considered that these were the problems of the United States rather than Europe’s ambitions of foreign policy.  Finally this attitude trapped Europe into its own pitfall of pragmatism. But Europe hardly understands that.

Today Europe believes that cancellation of the visa regime with Russia is possible in the near future.  European countries expressed their will to take part in the modernization process initiated by D.Medvedev, although they are not very much concerned on whether this is to do exceptionally with the economic modernization or with general modernization of the Russian society. This is because modernization restrictions by economic processes alone allow Europe to effectively expand its involvement in Russia‘s economy, and, most importantly, to be content with the illusion of progress in the relationship with Russia.

However, the economic modernization would hardly be achieved because of the prevailing corruption and legal lawlessness recognized even by Russia’s president D.Medvedev. An obvious illustration of this contradiction is a story of the Swedish concern IKEA. Its leaders in principle refuse to bribe Russian officials. While speaking with the Swedish Prime Minister in March, president D.Medvedev suggested the EU to take over the experience of IKEA‘s struggle against bribery and urged Brussels to prepare a „code of credit“ stipulating the refusal of European companies operating in the Russian market to dance to the tune of bribetakers.

The response of the EU clerks was purely mercantile: if Russia agrees with the American and Chinese companies concerning the same „code of credit“, than it is acceptable for us. If not, there is no need to demonstrate principles because our competitors can take the advantage of this.

But nobody took into account that D.Medvedev‘s proposal was in principle an open recognition that Russian authorities are not able to manage corruption or at least to reduce its extent. This means that Europeans refused to critically evaluate the reality of the Russian internal policy and that they are about to develop relations with Russia depending on the peacefulness of its behavior with the West.

Europe must understand that the nature of national authorities and public relations hasn’t changed in Russia since the soviet regime times. The Europeans also realize that current public processes in Russia might explode any time and that this could change Moscow‘s behavior in the international stage; self-isolation which has nearly happened 1,5-2 years ago, is also possible.

Nevertheless, Europe is inclined to push the above perspective out of the limits of its foreign policy.  But for that it has to pay; and the payment is the unconscious distrust of Moscow, which naturally paralyzes a possibility of a real (not bureaucratic) reconciliation between Europe and Russia.

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