It's in the interests of both the west and Russia to seek a grand bargain on the issues that divide themby Charles Grant / November 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
“The Soviet Union was easier to deal with than Russia is today,” says a senior French diplomat. “Sometimes the Soviets were difficult, but you knew they were being obstructive in order to achieve an objective. Now Russia seeks to block the west systematically on every subject, apparently without a purpose.”
Relations between Russia and the west are at their prickliest since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Russia is blocking a UN security council resolution that would authorise independence for Kosovo under EU tutelage. It is thwarting US and EU efforts to impose more UN sanctions on Iran. It says that if the US proceeds with plans to install missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, it will target missiles on European cities. It has blockaded Georgia. Its ban on imports of Polish meat has led the EU to walk away from talks on a “partnership and co-operation agreement.” And so on.
Yet there may be method behind Russia’s obduracy. Some influential figures in Washington, including Henry Kissinger, think Russia may be seeking a “grand bargain.” President Putin dropped hints that he might be open to such a bargain when he met think tankers (myself included) in Sochi in September. “If our partners want us to do something, they must be specific,” he said. “If they want us to resolve Kosovo, let’s talk Kosovo. If they are worried about nuclear programmes in Iran, let’s talk about Iran, rather than talking about democracy in Russia.” He has a point: the US has tended to make wide-ranging demands of Russia without prioritising them.
The EU has a central role to play in any set of bargains between the west and Russia. Its trade and investment links are much more extensive than those of the US. Moscow’s antagonistic behaviour has gone some way to help forge a common EU approach on Russia (though not yet on energy). Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel have been more critical of Putin than their predecessors, while all EU governments issued statements of solidarity with Britain over the Litvinenko affair.
What should the EU’s common approach amount to? Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign minister, summed up the mood at a recent gathering of EU ministers: “Faced with the reality [of the new Russia], we must be realist.” This realism should focus on interests rather than values, since…