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Russia West Had Good Year

Relations between the US and Russia have picked

Moscow (UPI) Jan 05, 2006
Those who think stronger Russia-West partnership is crucial for international stability should be pleased with the results of the outgoing year. Though it began with mutual criticism, misunderstanding and tensions, it is ending quite well.

This positive result was unthinkable several months ago, when Moscow and the West collided head-on over the interpretation of events in the former Soviet republics.

The United States and the European Union praised the wave of color revolutions there as the triumph of Western-type democracy over outdated corrupt regimes. But Moscow detected elements of unconstitutional seizure of power with the aim of property redistribution in these events.

Russia was surprised that the leaders of those events sought Western approval rather than the support of their own people. The Kremlin denounced the attempts at enforcing democracy in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova. This can damage the quality of life and stability there, Moscow warned.

But the West dismissed this warning as plain jealousy of a country that was losing its "imperial" monopoly of the post-Soviet space. Numerous Russia haters in Washington and Brussels used the situation to resume criticism of Moscow's alleged departure from democracy. The fits of tension in Russia-West relations in the first six months of 2005 threatened to push the world back into the Cold War era.

Fortunately, this did not happen, largely due to the leaders of Russia, the United States and the European Union, who disregarded these "hawkish" sentiments and set a clear dividing line between fundamental common interests -- business cooperation and efforts against terrorism and nuclear proliferation -- and passing hardships of competition and simple differences between democratic cultures.

Their stand was soon buttressed by the devaluation of "color" ideals in the post-Soviet republics. The forces that have been brought to power by color revolutions have become openly authoritarian, persecuting the opposition and the critically minded media. As a result, the public in these countries and the West have become disillusioned in the selflessness and democratic nature of color revolutions.

Russia tried to formulate the rules of the game in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), hoping to make it a scene of fair competition and possibly a zone of mutual respect and partnership.

Moscow has indicated that it does not question the right of other countries and power centers to help the CIS countries strengthen their security, integrate into the global economy and in general walk the globalization path. Honest ompetition and a battle of ideas are good, but trying to push Russia out of its traditional zone of interests is something else. The Kremlin is also against pressurizing young countries into making a choice atthe prompting of a "superior foreign reason."

Washington and Brussels seem to have accepted Russia's balanced stand. As a result, the outgoing year was not marked by a slump in relations predicted by Russia haters. In fact, it saw a breakthrough in Russia's relations with the West and primarily the EU.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently compared the agendas of three Russia-EU summits, one in February 1999 and two in 2005. The differences are glaring. In 1999, Russia was a poor and passive object of the EU policy, while in 2005 Brussels and Moscow discussed as equal partners a broad range of bilateral and international issues that had not been touched upon before.

Russia sends to the EU countries 55 percent of its exports, and the EU is a willing recipient of Russian energy resources. A relevant example is the recent Russo-German agreement on the construction of the North European Gas Pipeline.

Trade and economic ties constitute only one of the four common spaces that unite Moscow and Brussels. They have made significant progress in the other three spaces: internal and external security, and culture. Many important agreements came into force and a number of joint institutions and commissions were set up in 2005. But this is not the crux of the matter.

It is important that Russia-EU relations have changed this year. The driver-rider formula was replaced with a structure in which Moscow can uphold its interests as an equal partner, sometimes very firmly.

A telling example is the ministerial conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Ljubljana, where Russia firmly demanded an immediate reform of the organization. Moscow is dissatisfied with its lop-sided policies: the OSCE spotlights the humanitarian basket and neglects the economic and military-political aspects, including the war on terror. The organization is rapidly turning into an instrument servicing the interests of a narrow group of countries, and sometimes its individual members.

Russia is not happy with this, and the EU cannot ignore its opinion any more. Russia's standing is changing at a time when united Europe is burdened with internal problems and disputes. The failure of the constitutional referendums in France and the Netherlands has given rise to a belief held by a group of Russian politicians who claim that Europe has ceased to be a stabilizing force and Russia should redirect its energies to other power centers.

The Kremlin does not accept this logic. "I reject this view and think that Russia-EU foreign policy interaction has great potential," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said in the State Duma (lower house of parliament).

Some skeptics may say to this that Russia clearly prefers integration with Asia to the detriment of relations with the West. They may recall President Vladimir Putin's participation in the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Malaysia and the new status of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which incorporates Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

This is not Kremlin's betrayal of Europe or America but a crucial element of Russia's new foreign policy, which has become multi-directional. In the era of globalization, the country's interests cannot be forced into the limited boundaries of one region. The outgoing year showed that other countries pursue such multi-vector policy too.

The critics of Moscow's alleged U-turn from the West to Asia cannot explain the progress in Russia-U.S. strategic partnership in 2005. Hurricane Katrina has eroded the ideological foundations of America's self-reliance. The world's only superpower proved helpless against the battering of Mother Nature. Perhaps these events have prompted the U.S. administration to listen more attentively to the collective opinion of the world community and respect the traditional interests of other countries, including Russia.

Russia's partner dialog with the West is bringing the sides' philosophies closer together. A recent example of a common concept is the G8 Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA), one of the keystone projects of 2005.

Next year Russia will hold the rotating presidency of the G8 and we can expect it to put energy security and assistance to the former Soviet countries on the G8 agenda.

There is no measuring unit for Russia-West cooperation. However, the survey published by the respected AT Kearney international consulting company shortly before Christmas shows its dynamic progress. Russia has become one of the world's six most investment attractive countries. With $90.6 billion of attracted foreign capital, it has moved five rungs up from the 11th place since the beginning of the year.

Sincere advocates of stronger Russia-West partnership can celebrate the New Year to Frank Sinatra's famous song, "It was a very good year..."

Source: United Press International

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