The Risks of Selective Europeanization: Russia and Eastern Europe

By Braun, Aurel | International Journal, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

The Risks of Selective Europeanization: Russia and Eastern Europe


Braun, Aurel, International Journal


A LITTLE MORE THAN TEN YEARS AFTER the fall of the Berlin Wall, two intertwined processes are unfolding east of the Oder River: the de-Europeanization of Russia and the re-Europeanization of eastern Europe.(1) The first is more the result of inattention, insensitivity, or, at worst, negligence rather than clear calculation. The second has been conducted with considerable fanfare and has raised great expectations in eastern Europe and caused considerable trepidation in Russia. Both processes and the interaction between them are likely to have profound security implications for the region and for long-term international stability.

THE DE-EUROPEANIZATION OF RUSSIA

Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union not only occupied a bi-continental geographic space but also had a strong political interest in both Europe and Asia. The bulk of the population and industry and much of the cultural focus were in Europe, although Russia had diverged from European political developments. The collapse of communism has created a historic opportunity for Russia not only to democratize and build markets but also to create a strong new democratic European identity without neglecting its Asian connections. That European identity would be an important component both in fostering democratic development and in bringing Russia into a security architecture that would ensure stability from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Three factors, however, threaten the creation and the retention of such an identity: Western attitudes and policies toward Russia; east European fears and insensitivities; and nationalistic, anti-democratic forces within Russia.

Despite Western proclamations on the importance of Russia to international security and concern over political and economic stability in that vast state, Western attention to Russia has been rather sporadic and mostly crisis-oriented. The West has tended to focus on immediate political, economic, or military crises rather than on long-term processes. Western responses have often involved no more than band-aid measures. Ill-conceived loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have more often been used as political rewards and economic placebos than as components of a clear economic recovery programme. Poorly prepared summits, whether at the presidential or foreign minister level, have at best temporarily assuaged Russian anger rather than addressed long-term security issues. The June 2000 summit in Moscow between President Bill Clinton of the United States and President Vladimir Putin of Russia falls into this category. Despite agreements to build a Russian-American centre to detect missile launches and for each side to dispose of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, despite the statement that both countries would try to enhance the viability and effectiveness of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the future, 'taking into account any changes in the international security environment,' the substantive results of the summit were disappointing. Not only were there no significant improvements in Russian-American relations, but, barely a week later, during a crucial visit to Germany, Putin reiterated Russia's strong opposition to changing the ABM treaty and its refusal to accept the deployment of an American national defence system, and declared that he saw no actual or potential nuclear threat from 'rogue states' in the Middle East or Asia.

All too often Western policy has been merely reactive. Two Western actions, however, have been particularly damaging to Russian democratic transition and long-term security in the region: the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the bombing of Yugoslavia over the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians. True, the West appears to have gained Russia's grudging acquiescence in both cases. And there seems to be an impression in many Western capitals, particularly Washington, that these matters have at least been transcended, if not fully resolved. …

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