Russia, Georgia, What is Europe's Policy?

This is one of the interventions on the Russian-Georgia conflict and what it means for Europe and the democratic world.

This article appeared in the Independent, London 20 August 2008

The mood has darkened across the whole of Europe

After eight years of division within Europe on geo-political strategy, is the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, building a new sense of purpose in Europe and between the EU and the US? After the unhappy era of George W Bush diplomacy which led to greater divisions within Europe and between Europe and the USA than in past decades, is Mr Putin the new wizard who can unite Europe and reforge a 21st century Atlantacism?
Far from being a chess match in which the Russian grandmaster knocks a pawn off the board, all of Europe is looking hard at what the Putin doctrine means and it does not like what it sees. In the first days after the Russian land, sea and air invasion of a UN soveriegn President Sarkozy was patting himself on the back after his high-speed shuttle between Moscow and Tbilisi, while Berlin believed its decision to block Georgia's access to Nato was the correct policy.
Today the mood has darkened. Mr Sarkozy now says Russia must withdraw completely from all of Georgia. Mrs Merkel says Georgia can join Nato. Poland rushes to sign a deal with America on missile defence. Ukraine now moves to the frontline as Kiev looks west to Nato and the EU in Brussels for support, rather than north to Moscow for orders. Even Belarus says it want to build relations with the EU and with America.
Putin apologists in the West like to blame America and the Bush-Cheney years for worsening relations with Russia. Yet Senator Obama will not allow himself to be outflanked with accusations of being soft on the Kremlin. Putin has given the American arms industry and Democratic as well as Republican neo-cons a perfect opening to launch a new Cold War.
The Kremlin wants to drive a wedge between its neighbours and other European states, and between America and Europe. And in its version of Euroscepticism, Moscow wants to disaggregate EU member states into competing nations that reject EU unity.
How should Europe respond? Europe needs its own doctrine to deal with a Russia which rejects the European Union’s norms of rule-of-law, freedom of expression and a state accountable to justice and independent political parties. It is not a remake of the Cold War. Russia is reverting to a 19th century nationalism at a time when Europe and the world needs post-national institutions like the EU to allow proud nations to cooperate and grow together in place of the zero sum politics of the Kremlin.
Today we need a containment and co-operation policy with Russia. Russia is weaker than Putin's rhetoric implies. It has an unhealthy shrinking population the size of Bangladesh and a GDP per capita lower than Equatorial Guinea. To be sure, Europe needs Russian oil and gas and Russia needs European investment under FDI. So co-operation aimed at drawing Russia closer to European norms of an open market economy should remain policy.
But on the political front, it is time to admit that efforts since the early 1990s to be friendly to Russia have failed. Far from the West seeking to humiliate Russia, the doors of every western institution have been opened to Moscow. Her generals sit as observers at Nato meetings. Russians have been made welcome at the Council of Europe.
Russia is European by culture and it is in Europe that the bulk of Russians live. It took many patient years of containment before Sovietism expired. Sadly, Russia has refused the chance to become a full, open, partner of Europe on the basis of democracy, rule of law and respect for European norms and values. A new policy based on as much containment as necessary and as much co-operation as possible is needed.
Conservative neo-con language is as useless as those who find excuses for Putin's doctrine of anti-West aggression. Russia has insisted on asserting national interests and defied international institutions and rules. Europe should fashion a containment-cooperation policy that offer Russia full partnership but on modern European terms not the 19th century nationalist politics Putin practises. If not, the sabre-rattlers in both Moscow and Washington will resume their old game.