Russia’s so-called resurgence is more of a conundrum than an established fact. Domestic social indicators in Russia show a decline in population, low life expectancy and high drug abuse. The quality of current military and industrial infrastructure is not good.
However the financial indicators tell a different story. The price of oil is high, Russia has a constant budget surplus and economic growth that stands at about 7%. The situation really is mixed: Russia is socially decaying, financially thriving, politically and domestically regressing, but diplomatically asserting herself.
There are two schools of thought on how to manage Russia’s “resurgence”. One is interdependence and the other is containment. There is a third option being practiced by the US that one might call “benign neglect.” The school of containment has been exacerbated by Polish and Baltic membership in the European Union, who do not see Russians as liberators of Central and Eastern Europe but as former occupiers. Containment is gaining ground in Europe, though I believe it is neither a reasonable nor desirable policy.
The school of interdependence says: Yes, we want Russia as a strategic partner, but she must demonstrate a commitment to common values, must consolidate her democracy and must engage in Europe’s culture of cooperation. This is a position that I think is reasonable and advisable.
We need Russia to solve our problems: the Middle East conflict, Iran, Kosovo, North Korea.
Preconditions for a solution to the Russian conundrum
First, Russia must come to terms with her past and accept that she lost the Cold War.
Second, while Russia must come to terms with her past, the United States must come to terms with its present, acknowledging that there is no such thing as a unipolar world. Both Russia and the United States must ask themselves whether traditional “Realpolitik” is still the proper means of interaction. The neighboring states of both countries are turning away from these big powerful nations, whereas the EU is overwhelmed by countries willing to join the community.
Of course not everything is perfect with the EU and it would be naïve to believe that a post-modern, EU-type diplomacy for the rest of the world would solve all problems. But the concepts of cooperation and respecting each other’s interests—including geographic interests—should be universal. Democracies should work together. The US, the EU, India, Brazil—if Russia develops in a positive way, suddenly China is the odd man out. Global actors certainly have enough common challenges— terrorism, migration, non-proliferation, and diseases—to provide a degree of unity.
A real resurgence of Russia would be a good thing. A strong democratic Russia would be most welcome as a strategic partner. A Potemkin resurgence, however, is much more difficult. Built on oil and authoritarianism, it would be too shaky to really last.
The European Union should strive for realistic interdependence, continue promoting democracy inside Russia and work with her to face outside challenges. The United States should allay fears that she acts primarily to achieve dominance and should move to a more integrationist view of the twenty-first century world. This will not provide a quick solution. But I believe that it is the most reasonable path for the foreseeable future.
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff is a German member of the European Parliament for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. He is a founding member of the German Turkish Alliance and a founding member of the Atlantic Initiative.
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