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Vek, October 18, 2002

Europe's March to the East Moscow faces the prospect of choosing a new strategic direction

by Valery Liubin

We have not seen much coherent commentary in Russia on a decision made by the European Union in early October to accept ten new members in 2004 (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, and Cyprus). However, this move is much more important and fraught with more significant consequences than the news about NATO eastward expansion which once caused Russia to dig in its heels. All attention is being focused on one side-effect alone - resolving the Kaliningrad dilemma and the tug-of-war between Brussels and Moscow - although it is quite clear which side will be forced to make the greater concessions when finding a compromise.

Not only do the residents of the Kaliningrad region face difficulties; so do all Russian citizens, who face the prospect of a new "curtain". Russian politicians are reluctant to provide an honest answer to an uncomfortable question: why did our former fellow-travellers in the socialist camp - Lithuania (remember who is responsible for its added territory), Latvia, and Estonia – (which lived in the same state as Russia for many years and regained with Russia's support the statehood they had barely attained in the 1920s and 1930s, but still couldn't shake off their inferiority complex) turn away from the Russian Federation, and look to the West?

EU expansion is prompting Russia to re-evaluate its strategic priorities and decide whether it ought to remain the centre of gravity for the CIS and try to consolidate the CIS under its aegis (while Ukraine, Georgia and others now look to the US and prosperous parts of Europe in their foreign policy agendas); or continue the process of Westernization which began in the 1990s and make steps to join organizations in the West alongside its neighbours, or even before them. Russia's leaders are in no hurry to plot out corresponding scenarios. They have forgotten about the Asian (India and China) direction of foreign policy, which was used to intimidate the West in the late 1990s; they are more concerned about domestic difficulties. And the Western nations are in no hurry to needlessly alter the close-fitting garments of their main blocs to fit an equally large partner; by inertia they continue to view Russia as simply a weakened USSR. Were it not for the aces up Russia's sleeve - its former military might, its huge territory with promising natural resources and a Soviet legacy for shaping the climate in international affairs - the West wouldn't consider Russia , any more than it considers Ukraine or other CIS nations.

These days, even the United States, whose dollar had no competition for years, is enviously eyeing the growing might of the united Europe, with its plans to expand its territory to the south and east. Especially since most EU nations successfully introduced the euro, their new currency. But the risks of expansion have not been fully calculated - not only by the US and Russia, but by Brussels itself. When it is no longer a matter of 15 nations, but 25, the question arises: who will pay for the unbearable burden of such a vast enerprise? The old members of the EU, which have spent decades bringing their economies and legal systems closer together, aren't so prosperous at home that they can set aside part of their budget spending to replenish the coffers of Brussels. They wouldn't mind making the new members pay their own way. And the candidate nations are keeping quiet about the need to sustain some substantial costs before they derive distant benefits.

The forthcoming expansion is already leading to tension within the EU. Its economically weaker members do have something to protest about. They are more agriculturally-oriented nations, which are afraid that subsidies from Brussels will be redistributed. Poland, the largest candidate nation, is causing the most concern. Its traditionally substantial agricultural sector cannot withstand competition. The other nine new members do not differ that much from Polandin this respect, and the outlook for them - apart from Cyprus and Malta, perhaps - could turn out to be similar to East Germany: unemployment, young people moving away, and no prospects for older citizens. Marked differences of opinion within the EU cannot be smoothed over, no matter how many commissions are set up along the lines of the one chaired by Giscard d'Estaing, working on a constitution for the European Union.

Let us return to the international consequences of the upcoming EU expansion: former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, an experienced politician, recently answered a question about the prospects for EU-Russia relations in line with the views of the Western European establishment - he said the eastern limits of EU expansion were the borders with Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia; he did not respond to a remark as to whether the rapidly-expanding EU might run therisk of repeating the fate of the Soviet Union. Of course, since September 11 and the changes it caused in Russia's foreign policy, the situation has altered significantly. These foreign policy changes are most supported by the middle class in Russia, according to a recently-released study of how Russians view Europe and Germany.

In Russia today, attitudes have changed about NATO and the EEC, which had previously been detested by the Soviet leadership. There is a widespread drive to develop partnership relations. The question is how many more shake-ups like September 11 will be required for everyone to realize that mutual long-term interests require more than the admission ofsmaller nations to those organizations? They might have to admit Russia - and the advantages of granting Russia membership would undoubtedly far outweigh the disadvantages that are carefully calculated in the Brussels headquarters of both organizations.

See also:
Russia-EU Relations

Vek, October 18, 2002

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