Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Is It Bear Season Yet?

While the focus of the world is upon the woes of the credit crunch, other significant stories are slipping by under the radar. One of these reported in The Economist caught our attention – a discussion of the cooling of relations between Europe and Russia (see article). It would appear that the Russian tactic of asserting itself through bilateral disputes has now reached such a critical mass that Russia risks provoking a reaction from a concerted Europe. In response to this, there is evidence reported in The Times that Russia might be a little more conciliatory if the nations of the EU were to offer a conciliatory approach (see article).

For those with an interest in future geopolitics, these two stories have certain significance. On the part of the EU, it would be unusual for the nations of the EU to act together jointly on a single policy. We call the two views within the EU the Atlanticist (to follow the lead of the US, to act as a weak confederation in matters of foreign policy) and the Federalist (to act jointly in matters of foreign policy, not necessarily following the lead of the US).

If it is true that a new consensus is growing between France and Germany towards Russia that leans towards the Federalist view of the world, then that might imply the pendulum has started to swing away from the Atlanticist view of further enlargement of the EU. In practical terms, this would be a good piece of news for Turkey, which has significance in Europe as a Black Sea bulwark against a resurgent Russia, and which has a geopolitical significance in terms of the Federalist agenda, but not necessarily in terms of the Atlanticist agenda. It would also suggest that relations between Europe and the US, which have been thawing in recent months, might start to grow cooler again.

It also highlights an interesting conundrum for the Russian Government. If the EU does distance itself from Washington, as President Putin called for, then it is quite likely that a more assertive EU in Federalist colours will emerge. This may not be to the advantage of Russia, as The Economist article suggests. After all, the EU does have two vetoes on the UN Security Council in the hands of the UK and France, which may be used to counter Russian interests in the Balkans. If, on the other hand Russia wants a more compliant EU, then the result may be a more Atlanticist perspective on the world, where the US offers a lead in European affairs.

We shall continue to monitor the developments in this relationship because it could be quite significant in the near future. Much of US policy in the Middle East presumes a disengaged Russia. However, with a proximate border with Iran across the Caspian Sea, it is difficult to see how US policy towards Iran could escape comment from Moscow. So far, Russian diplomacy has not been a feature in the war in Iraq. We wonder if this might be a feature in the near future.

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