Russia’s choice: America or Europe?

American President George Bush is coming to Russia on May 23. This visit is going to be a very important one: Russia’s foreign policy will depend on if the Russian and American presidents manage to come to a mutual understanding.

Russia’s major problem at the moment is the reform and modernization of its economy. It is an open secret that Russia far behind the technological level of the leading countries of the West. Therefore, it is very hard to claim one of the leading roles in the world, as such claims are pointless without the developed economy. The major objective of the Russian government is to create the conditions under which it will be possible to to overcome the technological gap. However, it is possible to create those conditions only by attracting foreign investment, basically from the USA and the European Union. Japan is not likely to increase its investments in Russia until the problem of the Kurile islands is solved. Furthermore, the Japanese economy is not experiencing its best of times currently.

Recently, there has been no unity among representatives of the Russian political and business elite concerning the following question: whether to choose cooperation with the European Union or the United States. This was demonstrated at a recent scientific conference that took place in Moscow “The New Agenda of Russian-American Relations.” Businessman Mikhail Khodorovsky, American Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow, and State Duma Deputy Vladimir Lukin took part in the conference. The participants of the conference talked a lot about the state of things in the relations between Russia and America and agreed upon one thing: it would be great for the two countries to become better friends.

Mikhail Khodorovsky believes that Russia could become a strategic partner for America on the Eurasian continent. He stated that the USA does not have “such a wide choice of partners” in Europe, and since “Europe was not developing actively and avoiding competition with Russia, then Russia could become America's strategic partner.”

Khodorovsky believes that both Russian and American business have a lot of common interests. The offer from American Vice President Dick Cheney regarding the increase of Russia's role in America’s energetic strategy was very important for Russian business. In Khodorovsky’s opinion, Russia and America needed to sign an agreement on friendship with cooperative suggestions in the field of energy, security, commerce, humanitarian aid.

Alexander Vershbow complained of the low level of commodity circulation between the two countries, mentioning that it was comparable to the level of commerce between the USA and Costa Rica. Vershbow stated that the situation had to be changed and the unofficial agreement on cooperation between Russia and America, which is to be concluded during George Bush’s visit to Russia, could assist in that.

Vladimir Lukin criticized the European Union, although, non-officially. He claimed that the authorities of the union suffer from “political impotence,” and that there are a lot more perspectives in the relations between Russia and the USA versus the relations with the European Union. It seems that this opinion has been formed due to the problems between Russia and the EU over the Kaliningrad region. Brussels is still insisting on the institution of the visa-entry order for the citizens of the region.

Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov believes that Russia and the EU have a lot in common: “Relations will enter a new stage, which will be characterized by close political and economic cooperation.”

Furthermore, a lot of Russian companies are interested in expanding cooperation with the EU. Gas giant Gazprom is one of them. This company does not have to count on the interes of the United States. The interests of a lot of large Russian importers are also focused on Europe. On the one hand, a lot of politicians and businessmen are interested in the necessity of such cooperation and in its advantages, but, on the other hand, a lot of Europeans are still certain of the abruptness of the Russian politics, which is a concern for them.

All those things represent a part of the problems in the relations between Russia, America, and the European Union. One cannot say that Moscow has a preference at the moment. Both parties are supposed to move closer to each other, and a single-handed movement is out of the question. Moreover, observers have repeatedly stressed that President Putin has to face a certain dissatisfaction on the part of the Russian political and military elite, some representatives of which do not like the idea of closer cooperation with the West.

Nevertheless, there is no alternative to cooperation with the West, like it or not. The most difficult thing to have at the moment is a balance of interests between Russia and the West. Russia’s place in world politics depends on the skills of the Russian leadership in this respect.

Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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