Cooperation with Russia is essential in a multipolar world order

By George N. Tzogopoulos Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/11 21:23:39

The ties between the West - the US and the EU - and Russia is one of the most important relationships in world affairs.

For a period of approximately 15 years after the end of the Cold War, Russia was seen as a country attempting to stabilize itself and create a new role for itself in the international arena. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin consolidated his power - either as the president or the prime minister - though, Russia started to be regarded as a "dangerous" rising power. The Ukraine crisis was perhaps the point at which the Cold War order was reinstated in the eyes of Western analysts. 

According to the dominant Western discourse, Russia is almost synonymous with a destabilizing power. Apart from its foreign policies, for example in Syria and in Ukraine, there are also other Russian tactics which have come under scrutiny. The first is its assumed attempt to embark on intelligence activities against the West. And the second is its alleged effort to bring about the EU's disintegration by supporting far-right parties.

In regards to the first issue, it is constantly on the agenda because the US intelligence community has accused Moscow of ordering an "influence campaign" aimed at damaging the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's presidential run. US President Donald Trump, who is theoretically supporting a rapprochement with Putin, has been put under pressure by the establishment to carefully shape his foreign policy. The resignation of former US national security adviser Michael T. Flynn is a typical example of existing constraints in the US.

Drawing on the American case, some European scholars are also suspecting Russian influence on politics and elections in Europe. As they say, target countries include Germany, France, Czech Republic, Greece and the UK. The specific terminology they use is "Russian disinformation" focusing on deliberate interests instead of "misinformation" which only implies a mistake.

Continuing with the second aspect, this came recently to the forefront after Putin received the leader of France's Front National Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin. Although he said that his country has no plans to meddle in the upcoming French election, this has not appeased fears in Europe. Contacts between Russia and European far-right parties, and in some cases, giving financial support to, for instance, Le Pen's political party, have alarmed Brussels for years.

In particular, the European far right sees in Putin the model of a powerful, conservative strongman who defends traditional values and opposes the decadent West.

As most far-right parties also are eurosceptic and anti-American, they view a close relationship with Russia as an important foothold, which can help them disassociate their countries from Euro-Atlantic institutions. For its part, Russia believes that by establishing friendly ties with far-right parties in Europe, it can expand its geopolitical influence on the Old Continent.

All this leaves the West and Russia in two opposing camps. Their conflicting interests and perceptions allow no room for mutual cooperation. Rather, it intensifies the ongoing "blame game" between the two sides. Nevertheless, in spite of this "blame game," the re-emergence of Russian power at the international level cannot be denied. Both the US and the EU are gradually adapting to the new reality, although they do not welcome it.

As far as the US is concerned, Trump's next step is unpredictable because his approach toward Russia is not straightforward. By contrast, the EU has found it useful in recent years to blame others for its own problems and this tendency is not expected to change anytime soon. Some member states remain pro-Russian and advocate for a "selective engagement" with Moscow and a lift of sanction but the general European position remains tough and highly influenced by Washington, at least during the Obama years.

The US and the EU cannot be blamed for monitoring Russian policies and disagreeing with them. Nonetheless, the insistence that Russia itself is the problem and not part of the solution, is myopic. In today's multipolar world, the collaboration with Russia can yield positive results as it happened, for example, during the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

Also, the terror attack in Saint Petersburg along with the ones which hit European countries in recent months show that the two sides are facing with common threats they must work together to eliminate. It is understandable that Cold War mentalities still exist but it is not understandable why they should impact future developments.

The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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