Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Moscow wants all-European union

Dmitry Kosyrev, Political Analyst, RIA Novosti, Moscow

An East European season in Russian diplomacy: Such a definition applies not only to when Rumania's President Ion Iliescu arrived in Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visited Slovakia and Hungary shortly before. It marks the end of the "lost decade" in relations between Moscow and former "Warsaw Pact brothers". And the beginning of a new diplomatic era in eastern Europe as a whole.

With President Iliescu Moscow will sign a treaty of friendly relations and cooperation, which has taken almost 10 years to prepare. The document was controversial in Rumania: Scores of articles harangued the need to do away with the Soviet-era legacy, to join Europe, forget about the eastern neighbor for ever, etc. But Rumania is now again a friendly country absorbing investments of Russian oil companies.

In Slovakia, Ivanov spoke of trading conditions once that country enters the EU (which will take several more agreements), and also of many other things, including supplies of Russian- language literature as part payment for the Russian debt.

Russia is contributing to the construction of international laser and cyclotron centers in Bratislava, their military technical cooperation has been revived, and Russia has moved to the fourth place in the Slovak Republic's foreign trade (in 2002, it was worth US$2.29 billion).

In Hungary, the situation is the same, if not better. It all began with a meeting between Vladimir Putin in May 2002 with Peter Medgyessy, who had shortly before come to lead a new Hungarian government. There have been three such meetings over this short period of time -- not such a frequent occurrence in foreign politics. Result: A host of inter-governmental agreements concluded, all earlier problems removed, growing bilateral trade ($2.73 billion in 2002), and joint investment projects under way.

As regards Poland, it is enough to recall the meeting between President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Vladimir Putin aboard a Russian fighting ship during Russia's Baltic fleet exercises and a joint news conference in Kaliningrad several days ago. In trade and other economic activities there are also breakthroughs. As far as Bulgaria is concerned, it is worthwhile recalling the Russian president's ascent of Shipka last spring. The atmosphere is changed in the Czech Republic as well, with a leading role here played by a considerable growth in Russian tourism, despite newly introduced visas. Gone is the era of hunting for "Moscow witches" and "KGB agents", out came politicians who carved their careers by fighting the specter of "socialist colonialism". A lot has changed in Moscow, too, and European diplomacy nowadays is altogether different. For East European countries the overriding national idea that kept many governments afloat in the 1990s was "to leave Moscow for Brussels" (that is, to join the EU and NATO). But in Brussels they again met with Moscow, yet now as an influential EU partner and a member of the Russia-NATO Council.

It is clear that Russia's rapprochement with Western Europe has greatly accelerated integration into CIS. Also obvious is the fact that Moscow's forceful Asia policy, and its special relationships with China and India have proved a factor that speeded up contacts with Europe and vice versa.

The aim of Moscow's European policy is to form a Europe without dividing lines, without "East" and "West"; a common space for people, ideas and capital to move freely in. This, it emerged, did not necessarily required joining NATO or the EU -- one could simply conclude an appropriate agreement with them.

This new European policy of course abounds in reefs. And above all in deep divisions, which became apparent during the Iraqi crisis, between the "old" Europeans and the U.S., and Washington's attempts to split up Europe by banking on the "new" Europeans. Moscow is coming out against such a split. Russia's relations with Eastern Europe must in fact be aligned anew. Starting with such concrete moves which, by major reckoning, include treaties like the Russian-Rumanian one. And economic and humanitarian programs, which will not only benefit Russia and Rumania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria, but will also make their effective contribution to the strengthening of our common European home.