When war erupted in August between Russia and Georgia, it was the
European Union (EU) president who achieved a cease-fire agreement.
Was this just a lucky break for the EU, or a sign of Europe's
The answer is one that Europe needs to take full advantage of:
Nicolas Sarkozy achieved the cease-fire not because the EU has more
military divisions than Stalin's heirs. His personal energy and
France's weight may have helped, but Europe's real clout is its pull
on Russia and its people.
As the tone of Russian President Dimitry Medvedev's state-of-the-
union address indicated this week, big challenges remain. On top of
strong language for Washington, Russia has military predominance on
Georgia's doorstep and no Western counterweight is in sight.
Moscow's recognition of the "independence" of the Georgian
separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - despite
international condemnation - seems intended to signal that Moscow
will not retreat.
Europe, not America is now best able to get Moscow to behave.
Europe is a neighbor and huge market for Russian energy and
minerals. The EU accounted for just over half of Russia's foreign
trade in 2007. Russians see Europe as appealing - a rich and stable
region where the state plays a large role and citizens enjoy
generous social benefits. And Russian elites have long aspired to
Underlining Europe's pull, President Medvedev recently called the
EU a "strategic partner" and waxed that Europe and Russia were
"united by history, by common borders, and most important, I hope,
we are united by the vision of a new greater Europe."
In the wake of the Georgian war, however, Europeans have reason
to harbor increased doubt that Russia is a strategic partner. Moscow
is going out of its way to signal that Ukraine is the next target.
Russian leaders have publicly vilified President Yushchenko,
challenged the logic of Crimea's status in Ukraine, and insisted on
retaining the Russian naval base at Sevastopol after the lease
expires in 2017.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin even alleged that Ukraine
had dispatched soldiers to fight alongside Georgian troops in the
August war. Just as incredulously, this week Medvedev charged that
the war was "among other things, the result of the arrogant course
of the US administration." It is unlikely that rants such as these
are what Europe expects of a partner.
Still, the EU has notable advantages over the US and NATO in
influencing Russia to behave more responsibly. Distant from Russia,
the US is a military rival and not a major economic partner. Many
Russians are suspicious of the US and NATO.
The EU should develop more traction with Russia so as to
capitalize fully on its advantage. …