Sunday, February 26, 2006

Where is Russia Heading?

In any discussion on the efforts to build a common European foreign and security policy, the failure to agree on a common stand towards Russia is always pointed out. Rightly so, by the way.

In itself this is hardly surprising. Relations to Russia often goes to the hearth of the historical policies of the different nations. And the geostrategic position of Poland and Portugal are undoubtedly different.

But Europe does not seem to be alone.

The linked article describes some of the policy debates on Russia now evidently taking place in Washington. It is described in rather simplistic terms as a debate between the Putin-lovers and the democracy-lovers.

I believe there is agreement on the need to engage Russia constructively on major global issues, the most important of which at the moment is the Iranian nuclear ambitions, but where those of North Korea don't follow much behind. And Russia has as clear an interest in these issues as has the United States. Cooperation has accordingly been good.

On other issues the situation is somewhat more ambivalent.

After initially supporting the US after 9/11, including in getting access to military facilities in Central Asia, Russia is now discreetly supporting efforts to evict the US from these. It's role in Ukraine and Belarus is hardly of the nature that it earns much applause. And on an issue like Kosovo it is keeping its cards close to its chest.

Of concern has to be the direction of the internal development of the country.

The political system is increasingly - although not totally - authoritarian. The rule of the law is often the rule of the Kremlin. And in the economy the money-grabbing ambitions of the present holders of power is all to evident.

But Russia remains a large and complex place, and there are also trends and forces that are less negative.

Any constructive policy by the United States or the European Union must be to encourage these.

It's an important policy debate taking place in Washington.

I expect more of a similar debate in the councils of the European Union as well. Posted by Picasa