Russia, Europe, and New Challenges
No. 1 2003 January/March
Sergei A. Karaganov

Professor Emeritus
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Academic Supervisor;
Council on Foreign and Defense Policy
Honorary Chairman of the Presidium


SPIN RSCI: 6020-9539
ORCID: 0000-0003-1473-6249
ResearcherID: K-6426-2015
Scopus AuthorID: 26025142400


Email: [email protected]
Address: Office 103, 17, Bldg.1 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 119017, Russia

The events of September 11th did not radically change the world:
before then the world was already in the midst of a deep and rapid
transformation. However, the tragedy that took place on that day
delivered a devastating blow to our outdated and inadequate view of
the world, and forced us to reconsider many concepts that had
seemed axiomatic and politically correct.

The relationship between Russia and the European Union (EU), the
Western and Eastern parts of Europe, is one such concept. We must
re-evaluate this relationship in an unorthodox way. This is
necessary primarily because the environment that has helped form
the relations between Europe and Russia have been going through a
drastic and inexorable change. In addition, those institutions and
policies, which have provided the framework for such relations to
develop and function, are themselves in a state of flux and
possibly even crisis. Finally, the changes currently underway in
Russia, together with the process of rapprochement between Russia
and the EU, have created new opportunities as well as new

Hazards Of The Political Environment

The dynamics of globalization, combined with the collapse of
those rigid structures that once regulated international relations
throughout the Cold War, have precipitated a long-lasting
destabilization in international relations.

The increasing transparency of information has made the
North-South conflict, long a cause of concern to the international
community, all the more acute. Even if the rich countries suddenly
heeded the advice of many European nations and sharply increased
their aid to the poor regions, the situation would prove,
nevertheless, very difficult to rectify. Our television screens
would continue to show that the gap in the living standards between
the ‘viewers’ and the ‘viewed’ remains just as great, or even

It may prove to be just as impossible to overcome the most
dangerous side of the North-South conflict, which is the growing
chasm between the currently successful Western cultures and the
once advanced, but presently backward, Islamic civilization. The
widening of this gap has fanned radicalism and boosted anti-Western
sentiment in many Islamic societies.

The international community’s decades-long sponsorship of
national liberation movements and support of the nations’ right to
self-determination and moves toward full independence has led to a
sharp rise in the number of failing or defunct states whose
governments are unable to provide their citizens and economies with
the appropriate framework for existence. These states have thus
become hotbeds of instability and terrorism.

Nuclear proliferation, not to mention an actual nuclear arms
race, has started up again for real. In the process, one of the
most potentially unstable southern states – Pakistan – has acquired
nuclear weapons. Scores of other nations are amassing the expertise
and technology that will allow them to produce their own nuclear
bombs or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). More than a
hundred states now possess sufficient stocks of fissionable
materials, which could allow them to build so-called ‘dirty bombs.’
The growing instability amongst these nations and the perception of
their social and military inferiority combine to increase the
demand for WMD.

This is the background for a new wave of terrorism. This is a
tremendously threatening prospect because it is now possible that
terrorists will be able to get their hands on ever-more powerful
weapons, including WMD.

What we are facing now is the growing threat of a deeper and
broader instability, a threat that is spreading from the Middle
East, as well as from Central and South Asia, into the neighboring
regions and throughout the rest of the world. A sense of
international security, which appeared to dominate immediately
following the end of the Cold War, has quickly disintegrated. This
situation has resulted in military power re-establishing its
traditional role in global politics, with security issues back at
the top of the agenda of international relations. Such a
development has far-reaching consequences for the EU, which usually
prefers to implement ‘soft tools of power’ — the economy, finances,
socially responsible state structures, human rights and so on.

It is important to stress that international security has not
been universally undermined. The military and political
confrontation in Europe has been defeated on a practical level,
although it is still alive in many people’s minds. The issue of
European security as it existed in the past is no longer of great
concern. However, there do remain small pockets of instability in
the former Yugoslavia, as well as lesser ‘micro issues’ in some
European and Europe-contiguous states of the former Soviet

Thus, the threat to Europe’s – and to some degree Russia’s –
security no longer derives from within Europe; rather, the source
of this security threat increasingly lies beyond the boundaries of
the continent.

Weakened Institutions

The latest developments have rather painfully demonstrated that
those institutions, which are supposed to enhance European
security, are actually dysfunctional or inadequate. This is yet
another reason why a new approach to relations between Europe and
Russia is urgently necessary.

While NATO has achieved most of its strategic goals, and in the
process become one of the most successful military alliances in
history, it is nevertheless becoming weak and outdated. In the
early 1990s, this alliance missed a historical opportunity to
reform itself and thus create the basis for a global assurance of
security against new, yet unknown threats. It was still in a
position to rise to the challenge when it faced the choice whether
“to get out of the zone of responsibility or die.” It failed to
make that choice as well. Instead, it adopted a new motto: “enlarge
or die” and introduced a package of cosmetic reforms. As a result,
NATO has been slowly decaying, a deterioration that became
especially noticeable before the second round of NATO expansion.
Now NATO leaders are setting new goals for the alliance that should
help it fight against the new threats. Russia is prepared to back
their efforts within the framework of “NATO at 20” (Council of 20).
However, doubts about NATO’s future relevancy as an effective
partner have persisted: What if the alliance’s change of heart came
too late?

In addition, as the defense capability gap between the United
States and Europe increases, Europe’s influence in the North
Atlantic Alliance diminishes.

While NATO is weakening and the EU’s foreign and security
policies are apparently stagnating, the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been slowly withering away as
well. As was the situation with NATO, this organization fulfilled
its key missions during the Cold War and the period immediately
following it. Even more than NATO, the OSCE suffered from reckless
expansion by admitting all of the ex-Soviet republics as members,
including those that, almost by definition, were unable to meet its
basic principles, such as human rights and democratic freedoms.
Moreover, the OSCE suffered because it feared that it was turning
into a real competitor of NATO; neither the organization itself,
nor its mandate was adjusted to match the altered political

Nevertheless, weak as it may be, the OSCE still creates a lot of
confusion by competing with the Council of Europe – a considerably
more efficient, and defined international body – since they both
operate largely within the same area.

Russia was wrong to hope that the OSCE would take the lead in
the European security system, thus protecting Russia’s political
interests. The failure of the OSCE to assume the leadership
position has created yet another institutional problem for Russia’s
ongoing interaction with the other European states.

The European Union’s Policies Stumble Ahead

The EU’s security and foreign policy is developing with great
difficulty and is failing to meet the pressing needs of the
fast-paced international environment. This does not apply to that
part of foreign policy which deals with protecting and promoting
common economic interests of the EU members. Here, the successes
speak for themselves. However, this aspect of foreign policy is
losing significance in a world where security concerns are becoming
the predominant issue. One cannot help but acknowledge the EU’s
progress in formulating and implementing a common foreign policy –
be it the opening of common diplomatic missions, creating the
position of an “EU foreign minister,” or intensifying efforts to
conduct joint policy in defense procurement and military research.
Likewise, it is impossible to overlook its drawbacks, primarily its
immense red tape and sluggishness, with its decision-making process
based on the lowest common denominator. The EU’s mundane foreign
policy generates practically no new ideas; should any ever be
formulated, they are invariably torpedoed by the EU member states
or drowned in EU bureaucracy. Far too often, uninspiring EU foreign
policy crushes national proposals which show considerable promise.
What has become of Joschka Fischer’s bold initiatives, or of
Jacques Chirac’s interesting proposal to create an internal
security alliance between the EU and Russia?

It would be advantageous for Russia to work side by side with a
European Union that acts as a more powerful and efficient partner
in foreign and security policy areas. Most of our views and
interests are similar. Despite our rather friendly current
relations with the U.S., nobody in Russia is interested in
Washington becoming a unilateral power, or in the weakening of
Europe’s usually positive impact on the U.S. policy.

Russian leadership, especially with Vladimir Putin at its helm,
has come to a rapprochement with the EU primarily where foreign and
security policies are concerned. Europeans have ceased to complain
that Russia prefers exclusive bilateral relations and “fails to pay
attention” to the EU, or bases its foreign policy toward the West
primarily around its relationship with the U.S.

Nevertheless, the EU remains a complicated and inefficient
partner. Its regular contacts with Russia have yielded few results.
Moreover, such contacts have become all too often a mere formality.
However, there has been a change, and from the last two-and-a-half
years of more frequent contacts, the two parties have come to
understand each other better, have begun getting used to this new
form of communication. Yet, the list of mutual achievements is
still far too short if we discount the recent solution to the
Kaliningrad issue, which exhausted an enormous amount of time and
effort, without, I believe, arriving at a satisfactory

Russian Policy Out Of Focus

Finally, the EU has still failed to define its new strategy
toward Russia. During the 1990s, the EU had other priorities: it
needed to adjust to the changed status of its neighbors and
integrate its immediate periphery – the Central and Eastern
European states and the Baltics. Russia was a lesser priority,
although Europe still approached the country in a friendly, if
superficial, way. Now, Russia has moved up the priority ladder.

European policy toward Russia seemed to be undergoing a
transformation at the turn of the millennium. After successfully
completing the integration of the Central and East European
countries into Europe, the representatives at the Cologne Summit
(1999) announced that the EU’s strategy would focus on achieving a
rapprochement with Russia. There followed a number of ambitious
formulations, such as “The Prodi Plan,” which was aimed at
integrating the energy policy of Russia and the EU, or the creation
of a “common economic space” between the two parties. Indeed, the
dialog between Russia and the EU has intensified. However, dialog
seems to be where the EU has usually drawn the line. It has enacted
a restrictive policy on Russia’s exports and has been a key factor
in blocking Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO),
despite numerous supportive arguments in favor of Russia’s
membership by the German, French, U.K. and Italian governments.

Moreover, Russia has to meet requirements for entry into the
WTO, which are even more stringent than those imposed on China. The
EU had long refused to recognize Russia as an established market
economy, which seems to have been an obvious mistake. The EU held
stubbornly to their decision, despite the fact that in a number of
ways Russia has a more liberal and capitalist system than most EU
countries. (Indeed, many believe its capitalism has gone wild.) The
EU’s agricultural policy and its almost universally regulated
energy prices, provide good examples of state intervention in the
functioning of the market in some EU economies. The EU finally
acknowledged Russia as a state with a market economy, by the way,
only after the U.S. accorded such status to Russia.

Moreover, the EU’s enlargement and a further expansion of the
Schengen Treaty are discouraging Russian citizens from their travel
plans, while making it harder for them to maintain their personal
contacts in Europe. Meanwhile, there are a few known cases when
travel visas to the EU were not denied to major criminal figures or
representatives of Chechen separatists and well-known

I could continue with the list of institutional problems and
difficulties standing in the way of efficient cooperation and
rapprochement between the EU and Russia. However, one particular
issue is paramount: In which direction will the EU grow?
Furthermore, how will this alliance progress once 25 or more states
join the club?

Moscow Must Act

Whatever have been the failings of Europe, a considerable part
of the problem in the EU-Russian relationship should be placed at
Russia’s doorstep. The most obvious failing is Russia’s economic
backwardness. The country’s level of corruption and criminality,
the frequently illegal intervention by the state in economic
activity and the sorry state of its court system cannot but baffle
and infuriate the Europeans. (After all, the majority of
democratic, liberal or rationally thinking Russian citizens feel
the same way.) Furthermore, the level of political culture in this
country is also rather low. Taken as a whole, these deficiencies
certainly help create considerable structural problems that hinder
EU-Russian rapprochement and integration.

While Russia has made the decision to build up its strategic
relations with the EU, it still has failed to create the framework
necessary to ensure that the executive and legislative branches of
power follow this course. Russia still has no special agencies or
institutions either in the government or in the parliament that
could monitor the progress of such rapprochement, produce necessary
initiatives or guarantee their implementation. A paradox is
steadily growing: while bureaucratic red tape is hampering the EU’s
policy toward Russian rapprochement, Russia’s policy toward the EU
suffers from too little administrative capacity, as well as through
the general weakness of the Russian state. Moreover, although the
state is becoming stronger under Vladimir Putin, neither the pace
of its modernization nor its defense and foreign policy live up to
the needs of the country.

Despite government claims that rapprochement with the EU is a
major priority, one strongly endorsed by the general public
(opinion polls show that over 50 percent of the respondents would
like to see Russia as a member of the EU), as well as by many in
Russia’s business community, the Russian elites want to go a step
further. They believe – and this writer supports their opinion –
that to modernize and organize its economy and society, Russia must
set itself a long-term goal of aiming beyond mere association with
the EU. Russia must acquire full integration into the EU.

Almost everyone would like to be a “part of Europe.” However, to
give up many old and newly acquired habits, to work hard at
reducing the gap between the EU and Russia in bringing Russia’s
laws, regulations and standards to the EU level are measures that
remain less than universally popular.

Moreover, there are enough powerful interest groups, including
some in the business community, who care little about achieving
fast-track rapprochement with the EU, or membership in the WTO, or
even general partnership with the West. While fearing competition,
they would also like to keep their business operations in a “gray
area” of opaqueness for as long as possible.

Old And New Hurdles

There presently exists a paradoxical situation in which Russia
is beginning to drift more toward its traditional position of
“America first,” despite its declared course for “Europe first.”
There are many problems that are leading to this: Russia’s
structural problems in bridging the gap with the EU, institutional
hurdles on both sides, plus the doubts among the political and
business elites over the desirability and efficiency of
rapprochement and mutual integration. It is not so much the growing
power – in absolute and relative terms – of the United States that
is causing such a drift. Despite all the disagreements between
Russia and the U.S., despite the great distrust that Moscow has of
Washington, more so than of any other European capital, even
despite the U.S. tendency toward unilateralism, Washington is seen
as a much more efficient and transparent partner than Brussels.
Moreover, the Bush administration has formulated a clear position
on developing a partnership with Russia. The EU’s position, beyond
its rhetoric, is a whole lot more unclear.

Yet another considerable historical and cultural factor affects
the relationship between Russia and EU countries. The development
enjoyed by most European states abruptly ended for the Russian
Empire in 1917, causing Russia to lose approximately 70 years of
progressive ideas. Russia has discovered that it has fallen below
the others by at least one rung on the ladder of political and
cultural progress. Despite the huge leap it has made over the past
decade, from the point of view of the socio-political culture and
its elite, Russia is still stuck in the historical period that
other more fortunate European states experienced 40, 60 or even 100
years ago. Also, because the Soviet Union fell apart so recently,
Russia as a nation is still undergoing its formation process.

Moreover, Russia exists in a different geopolitical reality, as
it finds itself lodged simultaneously, as it were, on the cusp of
two socio-political fractures. On the one hand, it is positioned
somewhere between the rich and the poor nations of the world. On
the other hand, it is caught between an Islam that is currently
losing a cultural-historical battle, and Western society, which
appears to be winning so far. This gives Russia the advantage of
being in a better position than most other nations to recognize new
challenges, and more importantly, the imperative to cope with them
in a decisive manner. It should not be surprising that following
September 11th, voices in Moscow could be heard claiming with a
somewhat justifiable arrogance that it was not a case of Russia
joining the West in its fight against terrorism, but vice versa.
This is not an argument in favor of the exceedingly drastic,
occasionally cruel, and often ineffective methods being employed to
combat terrorism and separatism in Chechnya.

If Russia, by operating on a different geopolitical and
historical plane, is better equipped to cope with the latest
“recurrence of history,” with its instability and bloody conflicts
as well as new challenges to international security, the rest of
Europe is having a problem accepting such a new reality.

Western Europe has no desire to leave the belle epoque which it
has experienced in the past three decades. Its almost non-stop
economic growth has taken place within a highly stable and
increasingly more secure international environment. The likelihood
of a major conflict, despite some alarmist rhetoric, has
undoubtedly diminished. Challenges from the non-European areas of
the world were safe to conceal themselves behind the back of the
United States. The full demise of the East-West confrontation
following the events of 1989-91 made the “belle epoque” all the
more splendid. Celebrating the end of the Cold War distracted
people from paying attention to sobering forecasts that the world
could once again become a dangerous place – and potentially even
more dangerous than before. Europe was happy to forget its
difficult history for a while; it started working on its own new
political culture or “politically correct culture,” which banned,
among other things, the death penalty – even for acts of mass
terror. Europe also revised its security policy by replacing the
right to use military force with such “soft methods” as political
dialog and economic aid. To some extent, the U.S. followed the same
route, while backing the European agenda through its growing
military might.

However, this passive trend was at odds with reality. One has
only to recall a string of cruel wars in Africa in the 1990s with
their millions of victims, the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia, from
which the world failed to conclude a lesson. It even preferred to
ignore the proliferation of nuclear weapons – escapist or
well-meaning politicians and governments have managed to close
their eyes to all of these foreboding signs. Some European
countries are only now beginning to do something about the growing
threat, such as the U.K., Spain, Greece, or Italy – all those
states which border on instability-prone regions. Looking back upon
this trend helps to understand why the West failed to appreciate
Russia’s activities to combat the threat of separatism, terrorism
and Islamist extremism that Chechnya has generated.

This long list of problems hampering the EU and Russia on their
way toward rapprochement, such as the weaknesses and failures of
their policies, do not need to be reasons for despair. First, one
can over-exaggerate problems and difficulties. I sincerely hope
this is the case, but at the same time it would be wrong to hide
the facts. Secondly, it is obvious that both Russian and EU
policies toward the rest of Europe and the world are inadequate,
albeit in a different way. It is, however, important to understand
where the roots of these problems lie, determine where interests
clash, and then start acting decisively to confront the new
realities. This is something that both parties have avoided doing
throughout the past decade.

It is obvious to me that Russia, despite its growing interests
in a dynamically developing Asia and its stronger relationship with
the U.S., has a historically important stake in the strengthening
of the EU’s role in global politics and the global economy. Russia
needs to achieve the maximum possible rapprochement with the Union,
naturally and on mutually beneficial conditions. The challenges
that have come to replace confrontation have put Russia’s
interaction with the EU and the U.S. in a strikingly new context.
In its past years of confrontation or competition with the West,
Russia was often anxious to see active disagreements between the
transatlantic partners. Now that the new threats have become
mutual, Moscow is concerned that its de-facto allies in combating
terrorism, the instability in Asia and WMD proliferation remain as
united and efficient as possible. As a result, Russia’s politicians
and intellectuals are beginning to worry about the deepening of the
cultural, ideological, and political disparities between the U.S.
and Western Europe.

Moreover, as unthinkable as this would have been in the recent
past, there are calls in Russia today for the country to start
working toward overcoming such contradictions, and to assume the
role as “an integrator” in the transatlantic relationship.

At the same time, Russia’s interest in achieving rapprochement
with the EU is also predicated on an increase in the efficiency of
the EU’s foreign policy, which could counterbalance that of the
U.S. and help prevent

a victory by hegemonic and biased interest groups there – a
victory which would be dangerous for all the parties involved.
Finally, Russia’s desire to have the best possible access to
Europe’s financial, research and educational resources in order to
modernize itself is understandable, too.

It is clear that the EU leadership and elites have to decide
whether they will benefit from a strategic rapprochement and
integration with Russia. It is obvious to me that the EU, by
maintaining an arms-length relationship with Russia, is seriously
weakening its own international standing, especially while
international security and geopolitics are regaining priority
status. It would be hardly possible for the EU to take the lead in
global economic competition without comprehensive cooperation with
Russia in at least some areas, such as in the aerospace or energy
industries, for example.

New Context

At the same time, it is quite probable that the globalization of
economic and information flows, together with the global challenges
presented by the new global threats, have created a new context for
the interaction between the EU and Russia. The number of important
issues that can be resolved bilaterally is diminishing, while
multilateral decisions are becoming necessary for an ever growing
number of problems. We need to urgently review and re-examine our
long legacy of institutions and the ways we are dealing with
conflict situations. An increase of ‘parallelism’ and competition
between such institutions is becoming ever more counterproductive.
These institutions need to be restructured and reformed, or
possibly even replaced by new ones altogether. It is quite
possible, however, that the creation of new organizations would be
the more productive approach, considering how difficult it is to
overcome bureaucratic inertia. We urgently need, for example, a new
security alliance based on the G-8, with the subsequent inclusion
of China, India and other responsible and influential states.

It is also necessary to place the dialog between the EU and
Russia into a new format, moving from general declarations to the
discussion of concrete issues. One way to do this might be by
creating an EU-Russian security council (within the framework of a
broader security alliance) that would coordinate policies on, for
example, WMD, terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, illegal
business activities and illegal migration.

The lists are long. The key issue, however, is to understand
that a basically new situation makes it imperative for Europeans
across the continent to radically review their previous policies
and accelerate their search for adequate ways to deal with the new
realities. Searching together is certain to be more effective.

Yet, each side has to make its own choices and decisions. If
Russia claims it needs a close alliance with the EU, it must create
structures that will cope with this task. And if the EU leaders
have decided to make Russia its priority partner, then it is high
time their decisions were turned into reality.