Rethinking Security in “Greater Europe”
No. 3 2009 July/September
Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
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The proposal to build a new European security architecture,
which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev put forward in Berlin in
June 2008 and which he followed up in November in Evian, was
Moscow’s first attempt in 20 years to formulate a coherent
foreign-policy vision.

In this sense, Mikhail Gorbachev could be described as a
precursor of Medvedev. Gorbachev’s “new political thinking,” most
vividly expressed in his speech at a UN General Assembly session in
December 1988, was a comprehensive world development concept, based
on the rejection of a Marxist class approach and on the recognition
of global challenges. From the point of view of the Soviet
leadership, this concept created an ideological and political basis
for making the end of the Cold War into a “joint venture” of the
two superpowers. This would have helped to avoid a win-lose
situation, which is always fraught with psychological

The breakup of the Soviet system, which was caused by internal
reasons, prevented Gorbachev’s plans from materializing. However,
subsequent developments showed that the use of the win-lose logic
in ideological confrontation, which prevailed after 1991, had a
fairly negative impact on the policies of both the “winners” and
the “losers.”

Since then, the Kremlin has made no effort to produce a
foreign-policy conceptual document. After the collapse of the
Soviet Union, a viewpoint prevailed in Russia for some time that it
did not need to rethink global and regional realities
independently, as this country was joining the community of
prospering democracies and, therefore, would share their visions.
This na?ve view changed very soon, but Russia’s foreign policy
became plainly reactive. Russia simply responded to external
challenges, with more or less success.

Of course, the idea of a European Security Treaty is less
ambitious than what Gorbachev proposed. But from the perspective of
maintaining global stability, the formation of a stable system of
relations in the Northern Hemisphere (which is the goal of the
idea’s authors) is of crucial importance. Although the economic and
political role of the world’s South and East is growing, the course
of global developments still depends on the West at large (Russia


Medvedev’s initiative reveals a desire to refute the widespread
view that Russia’s foreign policy of the transition years is like a
swaying pendulum. In an interview with Reuters, which the Russian
president gave also in June last year, he spoke about the foreign
policy line which the Russian Federation “has painstakingly
developed over these last two decades. Adjustments might be made
here and there, but the essence of our foreign policy remains
unchanged.” In other words, circumstances and conditions may
change, but Russia’s basic views of the world order remain

It was not accidental that in his Berlin speech Dmitry Medvedev
referred to previous eras. His words about “the integrity of the
entire Euro-Atlantic space – from Vancouver to Vladivostok”
reanimated the ideas of Mikhail Gorbachev’s times, while his
proposal to “draft and sign a legally binding treaty on European
security” – a kind of a “new edition of the Helsinki Final Act” –
was a transformation of proposals of the 1990s. In those years, in
a bid to prevent NATO’s enlargement, Russian diplomacy pressed for
giving more powers to the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe. Moreover, the president directly referred to that
initiative: “An organization such as the OSCE could, it would seem,
embody European civilization’s newfound unity, but it is prevented
from doing so, prevented from becoming a full-fledged general
regional organization.”

Of course, there were also practical reasons for the emergence
of the idea of a European Security Treaty after the new president
came to power. Vladimir Putin’s presidency ended at a very low
level of trust and mutual understanding between Russia and key
Western powers. For various reasons – both objective and subjective
– the former formats had exhausted their potential. The system of
interaction institutions, which shaped in the 1990s, did not
develop but, on the contrary, degraded.

The lack of a common conceptual basis and of a shared system of
views prevented the implementation of cooperation projects, some of
which were of a breakthrough nature. For example, the almost
revolutionary idea of Putin about the integration of Russia and the
European Union through the exchange of strategic, above all energy,
assets produced the opposite result – strong alienation instead of
rapprochement. Profound economic interaction in “Greater Europe”
proved impossible in the absence of a system of military-political
security that would embrace all the parties and that would enjoy
their trust.

This is why there emerged a need for an updated “track” for
dialogue, which would mark a new chapter in Russia’s approach but
which, at the same time, would preserve the continuity of the
previous policy.

The idea of a European Security Treaty is interesting, above
all, as the quintessence of the foreign-policy experience
accumulated by Moscow over the 20 years of sweeping changes in
Europe and the rest of the world.

After the collapse of the Communist system, the issue of
building a “Europe without dividing lines” was put on the
international agenda. Until the mid-1990s, the answer to the
question of how this could be achieved remained open. The scale of
the geopolitical shift on a vast space that embraced the whole of
Europe and much of Eurasia proved too large. However, in 1994-1996,
the leading Euro-Atlantic states formulated their own views on the
nature of future changes. They began to expand institutions of the
Western political system, above all NATO and the European Union,
and to gradually extend the scope of their responsibility to
adjacent territories.

The issue of limits for the expansion was not raised then; yet
there was an inner understanding of where Europe ends. Lord Ralf
Dahrendorf in his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe
(1990) gave a very clear definition of that: “Europe is not just a
geographical or even cultural concept, but one of acute political
significance. This arises at least in part from the fact that small
and medium-sized countries try to determine their destiny together.
A superpower has no place in their midst, even if it is not an
economic and perhaps no longer a political giant. The capacity to
kill the whole of mankind several times over puts the Soviet Union
in different company from Germany and Italy, Poland and
Czechoslovakia, and even the nuclear powers Britain and

“If there is a common European house or home to aim for, it is
therefore not Gorbachev’s but one to the West of his and his
successors’ crumbling empire. […] Europe ends at the Soviet border,
wherever that may be,” Dahrendorf pointed out.

The Soviet border disappeared a year-plus after the publication
of this book, but the qualities which Dahrendorf thought stood in
the way of the Soviet Union’s integration into Europe have been
inherited by the Russian Federation.  Admittedly, the depth of
the changes that took place in Russia came as a surprise to many;
most importantly, during the first few years after the Soviet
Union’s breakup, Russia quite unexpectedly and consistently
expressed, in quite plain terms, its desire to become part of
united Europe. Nevertheless, the Partnership and Cooperation
Agreement, which Russia and the European Union signed in June 1994,
marked the choice of a different model – namely, a course not
towards EU membership for Russia (even as a long-term goal) but
towards coexistence based on rules and norms established by the
European Union.

Russia’s relations with NATO were built according to a similar
model, although, for understandable reasons, they have always been
more emotionally colored. Moscow opposed the expansion of the
alliance even in those years when Russian foreign policy was
largely pro-Western. The signing of the Russia-NATO Founding Act in
1997 was viewed as a compromise: a new quality of ties between
Russia and the alliance in exchange for its expansion to the East.
NATO’s war against Yugoslavia in the winter and spring of 1999 made
Russia change its view of the alliance, but not in the way this had
been planned. Moscow began to view NATO as a real source of threat,
which predetermined the further evolution of relations between the

As a result, by the mid-2000s, after the large-scale enlargement
of NATO and the EU, there emerged prerequisites for a new division
of Europe along the same line that Lord Dahrendorf wrote about.
However, the line was not fixed due to the emergence of a new
Zwischeneuropa between the Russian Federation and the European
Union/NATO. These countries, of which Ukraine is the main and
strategically the most important one, have become objects of keen
geopolitical competition. This competition is driven by a
combination of several factors.

First, Russia has never found a niche for
itself in the new European system after the end of the Cold War.
Therefore, the preservation of prerequisites for the creation of a
system of its own acquires major significance for Russia.

Second, NATO has been experiencing an identity
crisis after the end of the ideological confrontation, and its
attempts to go beyond its Euro-Atlantic area of responsibility will
most likely fail. Therefore, the alliance is persistently seeking
to consolidate its role as a universal European security system,
which provides for its maximum enlargement. Without that, NATO’s
meaning and purpose would be unclear.

And third, the European Union has never become
a strong and unified actor on the world stage, and its economic and
demographic might and soft power potential are in stark contrast to
its geopolitical influence. Problems with the formation of a
pan-European political identity are the main obstacle. This has
become obvious against the backdrop of an ever-increasing number of
external challenges, to which the EU has to find responses. The EU
foreign policy is still reduced to its traditional model – that is,
gradual extension of the EU legal and legislative frameworks to
adjacent territories, and the creation of a “predictability belt”
along the EU borders. As neighboring countries adapt to the
European model, the EU’s further enlargement would be a logical

However, the EU will need a long time yet to “digest” the
previous enlargements. In addition, both the EU and NATO have
exhausted their potential for “light” expansion. Both organizations
have entered an area of open rivalry, where they will inevitably
meet with opposition from Russia.

All these factors are creating a zone of imbalance and tension
in Europe. The situation is aggravated by the fact that not a
single country in the former Soviet Union, including Russia, can
say for certain that its borders are historically justified,
natural and, therefore, inviolable. In the early 1990s, everyone
was relieved to see a relatively peaceful and quiet disintegration
of the Soviet Union. Yet it is too early to think that challenges
brought about by the breakup of the giant empire, which had for
centuries structured a vast space in Western and Central Eurasia,
have been overcome.

In addition to the weakness of many of the states that have
emerged in place of the former Soviet Union (and not all of them
can be described as finally viable), there is a problem of divided
nations, of which Russians are the largest one.

On the one hand, this factor impedes nation-building in states
with large Russian diasporas.

On the other hand, it stimulates pro-unification sentiments in
Russia and, consequently, tempts Moscow to use irredentism in its
foreign policy.

The Russian leadership has largely been refraining from taking
an irredentist approach and is aware of the dangers it poses.
However, the country and society are going through a period of
painful formation of a new national identity, in which
nationalistic factors inevitably play a role. In these conditions,
the Russian leaders themselves would be interested in backing their
non-revanchist policy with a major international agreement that
would help to channel the public mood into a less destructive

I would agree with those who say that the idea of a European
Security Treaty, especially the way it was presented at the World
Policy Forum in Evian, is actually a repetition of the ideas
contained in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. This cannot be
described as a forte of this proposal. Anyone familiar with the
basics of diplomacy knows that an attempt to re-establish
principles that were already adopted some time in the past does not
strengthen but weakens them. Yet the Kremlin’s logic is

The last decade was marked by a deepening conflict between
international rules, which no one seems to have called in question
yet, and the principles that countries were guided by in their
practices. After the end of the Cold War, institutions –
organizations and legal norms – almost did not change. Yet, even
though formally still in force, they became deformed. Many
fundamental notions, such as sovereignty, territorial integrity or
criteria for the use of force, were eroded.

There emerged new concepts (for example, humanitarian
intervention or the “responsibility to protect”) which served as
political instruments but which were not provided for by classical
international law. The party that took the initiative after the
Cold War began to revise the practice of international relations,
but the majority of countries in the world opposed such an
approach. Therefore, a formal change of the rules of the game was
impossible, and the gap between the letter and the spirit grew.

This gap between legal norms and real politics has produced a
situation where principles have to be legitimized anew. The Old
World has changed beyond recognition over the last few decades. And
all the three baskets that served as the foundation for the
Helsinki Accords – the military-political, economic and
humanitarian baskets – now need to be filled with new content –
especially as the present set of challenges faced by Europe is very
much the same that it faced in those years.

First, the matter at issue is
military-political balance and confidence in the field of security.
Russia’s attempt in 2007 to discuss the issue of the CFE Treaty
within the frameworks of the OSCE failed: its partners did not want
to do that, because the organization in fact has long lost this
aspect of its activities.

Another pressing problem, mentioned above, is borders. Since the
signing of the Helsinki Final Act, which reiterated their
inviolability, the European map has been repeatedly redrawn.

Second, the economy of Greater Europe also
needs to be rethought. The experience of recent years has
demonstrated that the European political and economic climate is a
complex phenomenon, and it is impossible to separate economic
cooperation (especially in the energy field) from the situation in
the security field. The economy is being politicized by all the
parties, which reflects the general low level of trust in the
world. The economic crisis has only exacerbated all inner problems
that have piled up in Greater Europe.

And finally third, there are things to discuss with regard to
the humanitarian basket, as well. The protection of democracy and
human rights is an outstanding achievement of the pan-European
process. And it would be only good if many of the parties to the
OSCE, including Russia, reiterated their adherence to these
principles. But the democratic idea should be protected not only
against authoritarian encroachments but also against attempts to
make it instrumental in the name of geopolitical purposes. And this
is exactly what happened in the process of the “democracy


What are the chances that the idea of a European Security Treaty
will materialize?

Since Dmitry Medvedev came out with this idea, two major crises
have taken place in Europe – the war in the Caucasus in August and
the gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine in January. These
developments served as one more proof of the dysfunction of
existing institutions in both the military-political field and in
the sphere of energy security. For example, the OSCE simply fell
out of the context of the Georgian war, while Ukraine’s membership
in the Energy Charter Treaty did not help to solve the problem of
gas transit to Europe.

These events have had a dual effect on discussions about a
European Security Treaty.

On the one hand, as the awareness of the problems has increased,
interest in Russia’s proposals has grown as well, and Moscow has
begun to make efforts (albeit obviously insufficient yet) in order
to fill them with concrete content.

On the other hand, the general atmosphere of the discussion is
not conducive to achieving the desired results. The quantity of
mutual complaints that piled up over the last few years has
transformed into quality. As a result, there is a kind of
“presumption of guilt” in Russian-Western relations now – each
party has a negative view of whatever the other party does. As the
United States and the European Union see no need to revise the
rules of the game in the security sphere, it is necessary to expand
the space of dialogue, so as to shift the focus from the revision
of the present system to a search for responses to new challenges.
This approach can be facilitated by the change of administration in
the United States, which has already resulted in a marked change in
Washington’s priorities.

There are spheres where Russia can certainly ensure an “added
value” in the security field. Serious threats are piling up and
becoming increasingly dangerous in Central Eurasia, and it is not
accidental that the U.S. administration is shifting its attention
more and more to that region. Unlike Europe, where the issue of a
collective security system and ways to settle regional conflicts
has always been on the agenda (albeit with mixed success), there
has been no such approach in South, East or Central Asia. The
danger of crises in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran has gone far
beyond regional frameworks, and averting this danger requires
institutional interaction among great powers – especially as the
security of Europe and Eurasia is closely intertwined for many
reasons. These include energy problems, drug trafficking, the
growth of fundamentalist sentiments and, in the longer term,
possible border conflicts over resources (for example, water wars
in Central Asia).

In this context, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has proposed holding
in 2010 an official meeting of the heads of five international
organizations (the OSCE, the Collective Security Treaty
Organization, NATO, the EU and the Commonwealth of Independent
States) that operate in the Euro-Atlantic region. The organizations
would “discuss their security strategies and work out coordinated
approaches with the aim of forming an indivisible security space in
the region.” It is not quite clear why the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization (SCO) was not mentioned in this context. It seems that
this organization, which includes China, has particularly good
chances to become the most influential force. In addition, the SCO
offers the only chance to cause Beijing, which avoids any
commitments, to assume its share of responsibility for stability in
the region.

Russia’s desire to transform the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization into
viable regional structures should be viewed not through the prism
of rivalry with NATO and the United States but as a contribution to
the creation of an effective toolkit on the vast space “from
Vancouver to Vladivostok” which Dmitry Medvedev mentioned in his
Berlin speech. Actually, Russia proposes not revising the results
of the Cold War but rethinking the notion of “European security” in
order to bring it into line with the realities of the 21st