When evaluating the role of various Western organizations in current Western policies towards Eastern Europe, one should keep in mind that the 28 NATO and 27 EU member countries have 21 countries in common. These numbers alone indicate that the differences between the policies of both organizations are of a tactical rather than strategic nature. Even more important than the quantitative indicator is the qualitative side of this commonality - i.e. the values community that exists between both organizations, and their member states. While such EU countries as Austria or Sweden are not NATO members, they share most of their basic values and have close relations with NATO's USA and Canada that are not EU members. The only partial exclusion to this rule is Turkey which is, as a long-term NATO member, not (yet) fully part of the Western values community.
However, even Turkey has now been an official candidate for EU membership, for several years. It may one day enter the Union, and would then more or less fully take part in the Western values community.
When Russia or other countries that are neither NATO nor EU members deal with both organizations, they are thus largely engaged with the same "camp." When politicians or diplomats of non-Western countries meet with official representatives of crucial member states of both organizations, these are, of course, often one and the same people. Against this background, Ukraine's and Georgia's simultaneous status as participants of the EU's Eastern Partnership program, on the one side, and potential future candidates for NATO membership, on the other, constitutes hardly a contradiction.
On the contrary, the two countries' parallel rapprochements with both major Western organizations complement each other. The frequent talk, in Russia, about an alleged militarization of Ukraine and Georgia is premature, to say the least. While these countries' continuing cooperation with NATO may bring them closer to military standards of the Atlantic alliance, even a substantial upgrade of their defense capabilities would constitute neither an actual nor a potential threat to Russia. The Russian Federation will even after the implementation of START III remain a nuclear superpower.
True, NATO and its members have been engaged in various out-of-area campaigns, in the past. Yet, they have mostly done so reluctantly, and been mainly concerned with getting out of, rather than into, the various international conflict zones. NATO is a reactive rather than active organization.
Equally, NATO is not courting countries to apply for membership, and to enter it. New members mean new responsibilities and, sometimes, novel problems for the organization and her old members. It is Georgia's and Ukraine's political elite's constantly and vocally voiced interest in NATO membership for their countries that has driven the Alliance to promise them an accession option for the future, at the 2008 Bukarest summit.
In any way, Ukraine has now explicitly announced its intention to keep, for the time being, its current non-bloc status.
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In view of Russia's own efforts to build closer relationships with many Western countries as well as the West's major organizations, her anxiety about the "near abroad's" further inclusion into Western structures looks illogical. A hypothetical NATO and EU membership of, for instance, Ukraine would -- in case, it ever happens -- constitute a powerful impulse for the deepening of Russian-Western cooperation. The resulting strengthening of ties between Russia and the West would be a step forward for the whole of Europe, and is, not the least, in the interest of the Russian people. It would seem that Moscow should be more worried about instability at Russia's southern flank rather than concerned with developments across her Western borders.
Neither EU nor NATO expansion constitute a security problem. On the contrary, these processes will make Russia's Western borders more secure. It may even be that, in the future, Russia will need the West as an international ally more than vice versa.
In view of the above, it is regrettable that Russia has negatively reacted to both, in indication in 2004 to participate in the European Neighborhood Policy, as well as a February 2009 offer to play some role within the Eastern Partnership. Recently, Moscow has been viewing this EU initiative more and more critically. What Russia should instead do is to find ways to increase her cooperation with both, the EU and NATO. While Russia is a large and powerful country, the challenges that she will be facing during the next decades with regard to sustaining her socio-economic system, energizing her domestic development and re-framing her external relations will be enormous. Russia will need both NATO and the EU -- in addition to their member countries -- as partners in adequately meeting these challenges.
That Russia is not more closely involved in the Eastern Partnership initiative is largely her own fault. The EU and, not the least, some of its most important member countries, such as Germany, France and Italy, are strongly interested in substantive deepening and widening of European cooperation with Russia. If Russia is ready to become "more European" with regard to both, her internal and foreign policies, the entire West will be most happy to upgrade Russian-Western cooperation (if necessary, against Central-East European resistance). For that, however, Russia will need to put more efforts into becoming part of the Western values community, especially as regards genuine political pluralism and substantive rule of law, in her domestic affairs. Currently, Russia is faking a multiparty system, and has, de facto, installed again a one-party state. Vladimir Putin's earlier announced "dictatorship of the law" has remained unimplemented, or, at least, not been realized in the way, it had been once hoped for.
Without changes in her domestic life, Russia will only superficially participate in the European integration process. Instead, her authoritarian regime will continue to be in need of confrontation with the West and, in particular, with the United States, in order to legitimize its continuing existence and the lack of popular control of the government. The idea that Moscow can have a confrontational relationship with Washington while simultaneously develop friendly ties with Berlin, Paris or Rome has for too long been an idle dream of the Russian political and intellectual elite. Instead, the Kremlin needs to develop equally close relationships with "both Brussels" -- the NATO Headquarters and EU institutions, in the Belgian capital. To do that in a sustainable way, Russia, quite simply, needs to become a law-based democracy. Oddly, she has the necessary institution already in place.
The "only" thing that needs to be done is to implement what Russia's own constitutional provisions, her relevant laws, and her ratified international treaties have been explicitly prescribing, for years by now. While it may need considerable political will to push through such a new political reform, the actually necessary adaptation of Russia's current legislation won't need to be fundamental.
The EU's engagement in Eastern Europe remains one-sided, in as far as the Eastern Partnership program does not include the largest East European country. That is, however, largely a result of Moscow's own failure to respond adequately to the EU's various offers for deepening relations.
Another source of Russia's increasing isolation in Eastern Europe, is her sometimes preposterous behavior on the European political scene. While many Russian politicians and diplomats still think in terms of traditional power politics, European and, to some degree, world politics have become increasingly "post-national" and "post-geopolitical." There is a new spirit taking hold which means that older categories of raw power, not to mention rankings according to cultural or historical "greatness," are not as prevalent as they used to be.
Small countries can exert influence on international politics, if they use available institutions smartly. Even non-governmental organizations may play a certain role in international diplomacy, if they manage to develop a high reputation and sufficient political prowess.
European politics especially has become more egalitarian, cooperative and communication-oriented. Russian leaders need to adapt to this new context, and become less fixated on the doubtlessly special territorial, military or cultural greatness of their country. They need to learn to communicate cooperatively, and to develop trustful relationships not only with selected major leaders of the Western world, but also with representatives of lesser powers as well as relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations -- not the least in the successor states of the former Czarist/Soviet empire.
In the EU's Eastern neighborhood, the Union's engagement should be seen as a chance rather than challenge for the Russian Federation. Presumably, both the EU and Russia have an interested in a stable, dynamic and democratic Eastern Europe. Every step that the current EaP countries do in the direction of the West can be seen as being indirectly also a move towards more intense interactions between Moscow and Brussels. Simply, the closer the EU comes to Russia the more common interests there will emerge, and the more solid the relations between both sides will become.
Ideally, Russia may itself become part of the European Neighborhood Policy. In a best-case scenario, there would emerge an upgraded Eastern Partnership in which Moscow could develop a new relationship to both, Brussels and its former colonies. Such a pan-European integration process could provide a framework within which the former European republics of the Soviet Union could develop a new relationship of trust and cooperation, among themselves.