Prepared for the IISS/CEPS European Security Forum, Brussels, January 14, 2002

American views on Russian security policy and EU-Russian relations

by Angela Stent, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University

Global versus regional interests: The United States, Europe and Russia

American and European views of Russia's security policy reflect a basic asymmetry: the United States evaluates Russian policy in the context of its global interests and perspectives, whereas EU countries focus on the security implications of Russia's actions for Europe. While America and Europe share a fundamental commitment to integrating Russia into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, their interpretations of Russia's overall interests and actions occasionally differ because the United States views Russia's policies through a global, as opposed to a regional prism. Moreover, on some issues, such as relations with Iran or the role of the United Nations, the EU's perspectives are closer to those of Russia than to those of America. Similarly, Russian policies toward the United States and toward the EU are based on different calculations: a decade after the collapse of the USSR, Russia continues to seek recognition from the United States as an equal global partner, whereas its goals toward the EU are more regionally focused. Although the Soviet penchant for seeking to exploit differences between the United States and its European partners has largely disappeared since communism collapsed, the current Russian government is not averse to making common cause with European countries on security issues over which much of Europe disagrees with the United States – most notably, the ABM treaty.

American views of Russian security policy fluctuated considerably during the first post-Soviet decade. The Clinton administration embarked on its Russia policy convinced that Russia's domestic developments were the key to determining its foreign policy. It found a responsive partner in Andrei Kozyrev, the first post-communist foreign minister, who encouraged U.S. involvement in Russia's domestic transition and vocally espoused a pro-western policy. By the time Kozyrev was replaced by Yevgenii Primakov in 1996, there was disillusionment with Russia's domestic transition and debates about the United States' role in promoting capitalism Russian-style both in Russia and in the United States. Primakov's rejection of a pro-western policy and espousal of "multi-polarity" as the cornerstone of Russia's security policy evoked considerable criticism in the United States. When Primakov's tenure ended, NATO enlargement, the Kosovo campaign and growing Russian economic and political contacts with "rogue" states had considerably soured relations between the two countries. American officials and experts believed that Russia was incapable of abandoning "old thinking" in foreign policy, viewing relations with the United States as a zero-sum game and persisting in supporting states that, from Washington's viewpoint, supported terrorism and were opposed to U.S. interests. When Putin succeeded Yeltsin, the second Chechen war and Moscow's continued commitment to promoting a "multi-polar" world placed further distance between America and Russia. By the end of the Clinton administration, relations were at low ebb.

The Bush administration came into office committed to downgrading and normalizing relations with Russia, de-personalizing them and focusing on a new strategic framework, as opposed to Russia's domestic situation. Indeed, policy toward Russia became a major issue during the election campaign, and the Congressional Cox Report heavily criticized the Clinton administration for betraying American and Russian interests in its Russia policy.[1] Nevertheless, after taking office, the Bush administration quickly realized that, given its objective of deploying a missile defense system and creating a new strategic framework, intensified dialogue with Russia was essential. When Presidents Bush and Putin met in Ljubljana in June, the obvious rapport between the two presidents was a welcome respite, from the Bush administration's point of view, from the disagreements between the United States and the EU over a wide range of issues, and European accusations of American unilateralism. Thus, prior to September 11, the US-Russian relationship, including the personal ties between the two presidents, was on a positive trajectory.

The aftermath of September 11: A new security agenda?

Since President's Putin's call to President Bush in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, both the perception and the reality of U.S.-Russian relations has become more positive. From the American point of view, Putin has made the strategic choice to support fully the anti-terrorist coalition by not interfering with U.S. overflights and bases in Central Asia, and has eschewed, for now, talk of multipolarity. Many officials and analysts attribute Putin's support to pragmatic reasons. More cynical observers point out that the United States and its allies have succeeded in accomplishing what Russia, for the past decade has been unable to do: ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban, whose influence has destabilized a number of Central Asian countries, and whose spillover effects within the Islamic areas of the Russian Federation have caused Moscow great concern over the past years. The anti-terrorist coalition promises to bring greater stability to Central Asia and to Russia. Moreover, by making the direct link between Russia's Chechen problem and Al Qaeda, Putin has all but silenced American criticism of continuing Russian military action in Chechnya.

Although it is undeniable that Russia's security interests are served by America's actions in Afghanistan, it is nevertheless also true that Putin faced considerable domestic opposition, both from the military and parts of the foreign policy elite, to his vocal support for American policies. His willingness not to prevent the establishment of an American military presence in Central Asia, and share Russian intelligence on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and his muted reaction so far to the Bush administration's announcement that the United States intends to withdraw from the ABM treaty continue to raise opposition domestically. However, his personal popularity is so high that, at this point, this opposition has not cost him politically at home.

As the anti-terrorist campaign continues, the Bush administration seeks to balance its commitment to Missile Defense and withdrawing from the ABM treaty with its recognition that Russia should receive a quid pro quo for its support of the United States. After all, one could argue that, up till now, Russia's contribution to the anti-terrorist campaign has been greater than that of most of America's NATO allies, with the exception of the United Kingdom. The agreement at Crawford that both sides will pursue deep cuts in their strategic nuclear arsenals was a beginning. After a yearlong review of all Comprehensive Threat Reduction programs in the FSU the administration has decided to retain the bulk of these programs, contrary to signals that were initially given in February of 2001. Washington has also offered Russia accelerated WTO membership and the possibility of other economic incentives, including permanent graduation from the Jackson-Vanik amendment tying most-favored nation status to emigration policies; further debt rescheduling or even debt forgiveness – an issue on which the United States and Russia's major creditor, Germany, do not agree. But there is also recognition that the United States and its allies should take more concrete steps toward encouraging Russia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

As the NATO alliance debates the next round of enlargement before this fall's Prague summit, NATO is seeking to enhance the NATO-Russia relationship and create an institutional framework that will be more effective than the PJC, toward which Russian officials have always felt profound ambivalence. The United States and its European partners are still grappling with the modalities of a new NAC-Russia body. If it is not to be a repeat of the PJC's "19+1", it must give Russia more of a voice – which, as Lord Robertson has said, also implies potentially a veto. From the American point of view, the question is how far Russian thinking on NATO has now evolved since the low point of the Kosovo campaign and whether the innate suspicion of NATO and "zero-sum" mentality has dissipated. Russia's own actions will, of course, have an impact on this debate, and so far, President Putin has responded to the intra-wetern debate with caution.

Despite this new US-Russian rapprochement, Washington's concerns with other dimensions of Russia's security policies persist. The United States remains preoccupied by the activities of Russian entities – technically not government entities, but closely allied to them – that, it considers, have exacerbated nuclear proliferation, thus endangering global security. Russia's ties with Iran, Iraq and North Korea are the prime concerns. Washington also remains concerned about Russia's policies toward many of its CIS neighbors, its use of energy leverage in Ukraine and other CIS countries and its continued support of undemocratic regimes, the most egregious example being that of Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko. Thus, the United States continues to view its security relations with Russia within a broader global context.

EU-Russian relations: The US view

Broadly speaking, the United States has supported EU policies toward Russia and has viewed them as complementary to American goals. As expressed in the EU's 1999 common strategy, the twin goals of "a stable, open and pluralistic democracy in Russia, governed by the rule of law and underpinning a prosperous market economy" and "maintaining European stability, promoting global security and responding to the common challenges on the continent through intensified cooperation with Russia" are basically those of the United States.[2] Throughout much of the 1990's, the United States and the EU shared an assessment of Russia's domestic evolution, and American and EU assistance policies were directed toward similar sectors. American advocacy of neoliberal economic policies, however, which were espoused by Gaidar, Chubais and other officials in the early and mid-1990's, were not echoed in EU polices.

Nevertheless, both the United States and the EU recognize the imperative of supporting Russia's institutional integration into Europe as the most desirable path both for Russia and for Europe. Putin has reiterated that he made this choice – for integration with the West – some time ago, and that September 11 was merely the culmination of a long process of resolving Russia's identity. Nevertheless, both the U.S. and the EU recognize that Russia's choice of a European, as opposed to a Eurasian, identity is an ongoing process whose end result is not yet clear.[3] Both believe that closer institutional cooperation between the EU and Russia will also affect Russian perceptions of the relative value of a European choice, but that concrete results will be important. In the tradition of Russian modernizers since Peter the Great, reportedly one of Putin's heroes, the Russian president seeks both to import Western techniques and organizational structures and to increase economic and political ties with Europe. Nevertheless, as Putin has also reiterated, Russian history and culture differentiates it from the mainstream of European civilization, and it is as yet unclear whether Russia's closer integration into European structures will involve a wholesale acceptance of European values. Although these questions might appear as first sight rather abstract, they do have an impact on security policies, because they affect how Russia views in place in Europe and how far it is willing to eschew its belief in the legitimacy of its uniqueness to become part of the European mainstream.

In terms of EU policies, during the 1990's, there was some concern in Washington that the EU initially moved too cautiously in its move to bring the post-communist states into Europe. Indeed, the United States would have preferred an accelerated timetable for EU enlargement, particularly toward the Baltic States, because that might have altered the debate about NATO enlargement. With the next round of EU enlargement in sight, the U.S. recognizes Russian concerns about the impact of Baltic enlargement on Kaliningrad and the ensuing economic and security issues. The place of Kaliningrad should the Baltic states be invited to join NATO is also a major Russian preoccupation, although so far Russia has expressed more equanimity about EU Baltic accession than about NATO enlargement to the Baltics.

Both the EU and NATO have recognized that, in the post-September 11 climate, it behooves the West to reassure Russia that the dual enlargements will bring greater prosperity and security closer to Russia's borders and that neither enlargement is intended to isolate Russia. Indeed, given the large Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia, the EU will gain a block of Russian-speaking members after Baltic accession. Since Russians still view NATO through a Cold War lens, but do not have this perception of the EU, it is easier to dispel Russian concerns about EU enlargement. Nevertheless, the Schengen regime and its impact on Russian mobility – particularly in Kaliningrad – pose major challenges. Despite Western assurances to Russia, it is undeniable that the prospect of an EU and NATO that stop at Russia's borders and could have the impact of creating a Europe of "haves" and: have-nots" is a long-term security challenge to both the United States and the EU. A Europe in which Russian remains outside the mainstream of European stability and prosperity is not a recipe for long-term security on the continent.

As the EU intensifies its cooperation with Russia on a broad range of issues – as outlined in the EU-Russia October 2001 joint statement – the issue of Russia's role in ESDP has become more salient. The initial American response to ESDP ranged from hostile, to skeptical, to enthusiastic. The Bush administration has generally supported the evolution of ESDP, but continues to express skepticism about the resources that will be devoted to it and whether it will function effectively with these limited resources. Nevertheless, the concept of Russia participating in future ESDP operations of the Petersberg type would probably be welcomed by the United States if they contributed to greater stability in Europe. As the U.S, looks toward phasing out its involvement in the Balkans, there will be new opportunities for European-Russian joint efforts.

Future security challenges and opportunities for US-EU-Russia cooperation

The events of September 11 have made it abundantly clear that traditional security challenges, while still important, have been overshadowed by the new security challenges – terrorism, bioterrorism, WMD proliferation, and activities that enable terrorism to flourish, particularly money-laundering and illegal movement of people across borders. Both the EU and the United States have recognized the need to confront these threats more directly, and both have initiated new cooperative mechanisms with Russia for dealing with these challenges. However, these new mechanisms will have to be improved and their area of application widened. Intelligence-sharing between the United States, the EU and Russia will remain a major means of coping with our common threats, and will require overcoming traditional constraints on such cooperation.

Beyond dealing with money-laundering and similar issues, however, the United States, Russia and the EU must begin thinking more proactively about broader security in the post-Soviet space. Before September 11, the major reasons that the West paid any attention to Russia, according to one scholar, were threefold: "the atom, the veto and the location." [4] Since the terrorist attacks, location has assumed an even greater importance. Neither America nor Europe has, so far, approached its policies toward Russia in the broader framework of the entire post-Soviet space. Yet this is now more imperative than before, because Russia's security is indivisible from its place in that post-Soviet space. Central Asia and the Caucasus may be a long way from Europe and the United States, but their future will be key to dealing with longer-term, threat that terrorism poses in a globalized world. The EU and the United States should discuss more systematically a possible framework for post-Taliban cooperation in Central Asia. This could include the United States, the EU, Russia, China, the Central Asian states and their South Asian neighbors, and would involve creating and maintaining a more stable environment there. There would of necessity be a division of labor, since the United States would focus more on military tasks, and the EU more on non- military economic and political tasks. Such a framework will be difficult to construct and maintain. Nevertheless, if the history of the past twenty years teaches us anything, it is that walking away from Afghanistan and Central Asia after a military victory – or defeat – is a recipe for future troubles.

In the 1990's, the United States and the EU were largely preoccupied with containing the potentially negative impact of Russia's weakness on the rest of Europe. September 11 showed that we have to move beyond this containment policy. The challenge for the United States and the EU in the next decade is to encourage a domestic evolution in Russia that combines market-oriented economic reform with as much pluralism, democracy and rule of law as the Putin administration will tolerate, while strengthening trilateral security cooperation in Europe. But that cooperation will have to move beyond Europe's borders to the broader post-Soviet space. Otherwise, the EU's goals, as set out in the Common Strategy on Russia, will not be realized and Russia will remain outside Europe's zone of prosperity, democracy and security, with potentially devastating consequences for the entire continent.

[1] See Russia's Road to Corruption.

[2] Common Strategy of the European Union on Russia, June 4, 1999, p. 1.

[3] For a discussion of this choice, see Dmitri Trenin, The End of Eurasia: Russia on the Border Between Geopolitics and Globalization (Moscow: Moscow Carnegie Center, 2001).

[4] Robert Legvold, "Russia's Unformed Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, September-October 2001.