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“Greater Europe” or “Greater Eurasia”: time to change not only the rhetoric

Former Foreign Minister of Russia Igor Ivanov. Photo: kommersant.ru

While making a speech on US-EU-Russia relations in Riga on Sept 12, 2015, President of the Russian International Affairs Council, former Foreign Minister of Russia Igor Ivanov admitted that the “Greater Europe” project had failed. He was one of the most ardent advocates of this project and his council was the most active platform for it. Now the Council has launched a new project called “Greater Eurasia.” Quite a drastic change, isn’t it? So, September 2015 has marked a serious shift in Russia’s foreign political ideology. But the question is how real and serious this interpretation of Russia’s long-term foreign political strategy is.

Over the last decade, the “Greater Europe” term has referred to a territory between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and covering Europe, Russia, the South Caucasus and Kazakhstan. In fact, this project implied integration of most of the post-Soviet republics, including Russia, into European civilization. So, it was not so much a geographic, but a politological project.

In terms of geography, Greater Europe covers a big part of Eurasia, so, in terms of geo-politics, this project may also be termed as “Greater Eurasia.” Hence, if viewed from the West to the East, it is “Greater Europe” and if viewed from the East to the West, it is “Greater Eurasia.” Here all depends on who is going to prevail in this territory.

This is the way this territory was seen by some geo-politicians in mid XX and this is the way it was described by British writer George Orwell in his anti-Utopian “1984” novel. Here, “Eurasia” refers to the Soviet Union but spreads as far as La Manche, while Great Britain and its former colonies, including the United States, constitute “Oceania.” In Orwell’s novel “Eurasia” and “Oceania” are in a state of a permanent lukewarm war with neither of them having any more hope to win. This is very much like the post WWII map, when Russia forced the United States out of Eurasia.

“Greater Europe” is also a civilizational term. And it is here that we have a serious mental contradiction: the problem is that the western Europeans do not regard the Russians as Europeans, while the pro-Western Russians think otherwise – they believe that Russia can be Europeanized, and once its civilization code is changed, it will be able to smoothly integrate into the trouble-free West. This is exactly what they in Europe would love to see: Russia as their periphery, Russia with no political ambitions. Their example is the Kemalist Turkey.

But once we regard Europe as a civilization, we see that though geographically farther, the United States is closer to Europe than the neighboring Russia is. The United States is a product of Europe’s colonization policy and this factor is much stronger than the geographical closeness of Russia. The first time Europe heard of Russia as a strong state was late XV, exactly when it launched its colonization campaign and when it first faced the Ottoman Turkey. In late XV the Europeans regarded both Turkey and Russia as military empires representing some other civilizations. Both were successors of the Byzantine Empire and both are historically Eurasian empires, with almost never coinciding interests. In 1922 Turkey and in 1992 Russia transformed into national states but this transformation has failed to make them part of Europe.

Russia’s active involvement in Europe’s affairs since the times of Peter the Great was regarded by the Europeans as undesirable interference. As a result, they appeared with lots of projects to force the Russians out of Europe. The key paradox of the “Greater Europe” project was that it combined two contradicting ideas: on the one hand, it suggested involving Russia into Europe’s affairs, mostly, in economic ones, on the other, it implied the loss of Russia’s political personality and, consequently, its removal from Europe. This conflict was the key reason why the project failed.

For the first time, the concept of “Greater Europe” with a territory spreading from the Atlantic to the Urals and no more ideology in the east was mentioned by Charles de Gaulle during his historic visit to Germany in Sept 1962. During a meeting with Soviet Ambassador to France Sergei Vinogradov in Jan 1963, the French President allegedly said that there would be time when the West would be building Europe jointly with the Soviet Union. So, it turns out that de Gaulle foresaw what the perestroika-time Soviet leaders would do a quarter of a century later. And even though some French political scientists believe that the only implication of de Gaulle’s concept was that he was bad at geography, there is much more interesting implication here: to keep the Americans away from Europe’s affairs. So, according to some experts, Russia meant this project as a weapon against the United States’ hegemony in the post-war Europe.

It seemed that the time of “Greater Europe” came in 1985, when the new leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev visited France and spoke in favor of closer ties between the Soviet Union and Western Europe. During a TV interview he said: “We all live in one house even though some enter this house through one entrance and others through another entrance. We must cooperate within this house.” Eventually, this “house” concept resulted in the removal of the Berlin Wall.

It was Gorbachev who first spoke about “a European house from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” Under this very slogan the Soviet leaders agreed to reunify Western and Eastern Germanies and Western and Eastern Europes and to break down the Soviet Union. In fact, they exchanged the Soviet empire for the right to privatize its property and to legalize it and their new status in Europe.

The Russian Federation threw off its peripheries but not at all for becoming a national state. Its economy was breaking down with its exports being adjusted to the needs of Europe. The Soviet-German “gas for pipe” project made Russia dependent on Europe and allowed the Europeans to turn the “Greater Europe” project into their own advantage.

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The post-Soviet Russian leaders destroyed the Soviet Union in hope that their commitments to cooperate with the European Union and NATO and to join the Council of Europe gave start to the “Greater Europe” project. They refused to join the EU but instead they pledged to deepen their strategic ties with Europe and to form common grounds in economy, security, science, education and justice. They even drafted road maps to this end. In 2001, President of the European Commission Romano Prodi invited the EU and Russia to create a Common European Economic Space, but since the sides had no free trade area deal, this initiative was not realized. Instead, the sides went on creating mutual economic barriers. The EU adopted a special energy policy with respect to Russia, while Russia refused to give full access to European goods and imposed its own terms on transnational companies wishing to develop its mineral resources.

The EU used the “Greater Europe” concept as a basis for its expansion into the post-Soviet area. In Mar 2003 the European Commission introduced a program entitled “Wider Europe — Neighborhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbors.” It was a tool for strengthening ties with Europe’s new neighbors. But this was in no way a step towards “Greater Europe.” This project gave birth to the Eastern Partnership program, an initiative that was not approved by Russia and was de facto the green-light for the EU to expand into the post-Soviet republics – a territory regarded by Russia as one of its foreign political priorities. In response, Russia launched a project for Eurasian integration. The US and the EU could not accept that project as it was contrary to their concept of “Greater Europe.” This attitude is clearly formulated in Zbigniew Brzezinski's The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997):

Here are the key points of the “Greater Europe” project as seen by the United States:

- geopolitical pluralism in Eurasia as a weapon against any anti-US coalition;

- trans-Eurasian security system based on “pluralism,” i.e. on the United States’ hegemony;

- no political integration within the EU;

- trans-Atlantic free trade deal between the EU and the US;

- geopolitical pluralism in the post-Soviet area;

- no plans on Russia’s part to restore its empire;

- modernization of Russia’s society and decentralization of the country’s political system on the basis of market economy;

- transformation of Russia into confederation;

- expansion of Europe and NATO into the post-Soviet area.

Thus, the US concept of “Greater Europe” was aimed to prevent political consolidation in both the EU and the post-Soviet area and to ensure Europe’s eastward expansion under the aegis of the United States.

Since 2008 we have seen what key factors contradict Russia’s interests in the “Greater Europe” project. They are as follows:

- mentally, Russia is a stranger to Europe and therefore is not regarded as equal to it;

- there still are clear dividing lines along the boundaries of NATO. NATO seeks to expand to the east, while the Russians do not deem it necessary;

- Russia and the West have mutually contradictory foreign political attitudes;

- for Russia “Greater Europe” means cooperation with Western Europe only, with the United States not involved in the process

This is what the Russians expect from the West under this project:

- free access to European technologies and financial market;

- a substantial role in the European security system.

And what they cannot accept in any case is the loss of their status of a great power and their control over the CIS.

Once the Eurasian integration project was started, the Russians began assuring their European partners that it was not meant as a counterbalance to the EU or a renewed USSR. They said that for “Greater Europe” to be created, it is first necessary to create a Eurasian Union. At the next stage, the Eurasian and European unions are supposed to get closer. And in the end, they are supposed to merge.

But very soon it turned out that the US and the EU could not accept the Eurasian integration project as for them it was a chance for Russia to get stronger.

For the Americans and their allies in Europe “Greater Europe” is not a merger of two centers of force but the EU’s expansion to the east, Russia’s adjustment to the United States’ requirements and its transformation into the EU’s economic and political periphery. One of the key reasons why the EU and Russia are unable to cooperate is that they have different visions of what the future of the CIS should be. For the EU it is a conglomerate of states, with Russia having no preferences.

The key practical contradiction of the “Greater Europe” project is that for Russia this is a way to create an own integration group for equal partnership with the EU, while for the EU it is a way to enlarge own integration in the post-Soviet area.

For pro-Western Russian politicians, the one-sided concessions made by Russia since the 1980s were a gesture of goodwill. For them the collapse of the Soviet Union was something good. For them in the West it was a defeat of the Soviet system in the cold war. For them in Russia it was not. As a result, they in Russia consider themselves as equal to them in the West, while they in the West think that they are one level higher. In fact, this is the fall of the Yalta-Potsdam system. The Kremlin insists that the West should organize an international conference on European security and should demarcate the zone of Russia’s security interests in Europe. The Americans and the Europeans pretend to be unaware of what they in Moscow mean – in fact, they hope that the Russians will continue to concede as for them the “Greater Europe” project means the final defeat of Russia in its geopolitical confrontation with the West.

So, this project is obviously not over. The West is resolved to continue its part of it and Russia will have either to accept or to defy it – but not just in words as Igor Ivanov does but in specific actions that will eventually force the US and its allies to admit that their version of the “Greater Europe” project has failed.

Dmitry Semushin, editor of EADaily European bureau 

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