Joachim Krause / Alexander Rahr / Andrew Kuchins: "Russia and the West"

Nov 11, 2014

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev voiced his concern about the current state of relations between Russia and the West. He blamed the Western Alliance for the current crisis, complaining that the West had destroyed Russia’s confidence in its political intentions by enlarging NATO and the EU, by intervening in Yugoslavia and in the Kosovo, by the US withdrawal from the ABM-Treaty and by NATO actions in Iraq, Syria and Libya. He stated: “The events of the recent months are the consequence of a short-sighted policy, which has attempted to create facts and which didn’t pay due respect fort the interests of the other side (i.e. Russia).” Gorbachev’s statement creates the impression that no one did really care about Russian interests during the past 25 years. In fact, it rather shows the growing insularity of Russian political thinking and the inability of its political elite to give up 19th century geostrategic thinking. Concern for Russian interests has always been there in Western capitals, in NATO and within the EU since the early 1990s. 

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Russia and the West

The core of the problem, however, has always been that Russia’s political leaders were defining their interests in a way that it was hardly possible to find common ground. If, for instance, the West had taken fully into account the stated Russian interests, the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia as well as in the Kosovo would still rage on or would have led to the mass expatriation of millions of Bosnians, Croats and Albanians. At the core of the Russian definition of its own interest is the notion of its salient geo-strategic role (equal to the US), which boils down to Russia requesting prevalence over the security interests of its neighbouring states and to a veto on anything that NATO does. This insistence on the pre-eminence of Russia’s security interests over the security interests of its neighbours has been the main driving factor for NATO`s enlargement. Gorbachev’s speech also creates the impression that no one had really cared about this. This is not true: there were repeated attempts by leading Western politicians to sort out differences and to find common ground with Russia in the past, among them President Obama’s pledge to press the “re-set button” in the relations between Russia and the West. 

For years, discussions between representatives from Russia and Western governments over a paper proposed by former President Medvedev in 2008 didn’t lead to anything. But also non-governmental institutions tried to contribute to the debate. In 2009, the Aspen European Strategy Forum, an expert panel brought together by the Aspen Institute Germany, did publish a report with the title “Russia and the West: How to restart a constructive relationship”. The main authors were Professor Joachim Krause from the ISPK, Alexander Rahr from the German Council on Foreign Affairs (DGAP) and Andrew Kuchins from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, D.C. The director of the Aspen Institute, Charles King Mallory IV, and his deputy, Dr. Benjamin Schreer also took part at the work of the group and contributed to the final paper. In preparing this report, the authors did organize meetings and did interviews with experts, journalists and governmental officials from Russia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the US. On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, this report was presented at an international conference held at the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday, November 5th, 2009 by Prof. Mr. Giuliano Amato, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Italy. The document was then discussed by a number of high-level international participants, among them then Russian Ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin. The report tried to define common ground and pointed to the problems. It its concluding remarks, which are still valid, it stated: “It is doubtful whether the metaphor of pushing the ‘reset’ button is very helpful. So far, most of the debate is taking place in the West; it rests on the assumption that one has to be ready to reconsider past policies in a self-critical way. While this kind of debate has been launched in Washington as well as in European capitals, no comparable debate is taking place in Moscow. In Russia the debate still focuses on geo-political approaches to policymaking, on failures the West is responsible for and on the need of others to take Russian security interests seriously.“ 

The full text of the report can be downloaded here.

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