On October 12-13, Moscow hosted The Potsdam Conference, an international seminar that has become traditional already. The event organizers were the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the German-Russian Forum. Considering that this year the Europe marks the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Accords and the transformation Europe, the invited politicians, diplomats, scholars and cultural workers of the two countries discussed the Russian-German relations and whether Europe needs “Helsinki II.”
In an interview with EADaily, Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs journal, speaks about the seminar, reasons behind deterioration of the Russian-German relations, as well as changes in the European Union’s policy towards Armenia and Belarus, the Russian-Belarusian negotiations over new Russian air base in Belarus.
What did you notice at the Potsdam Conference: whether your German colleagues are ready to start a dialogue and understand Russia’s interests or they came out for continuation the policy of the last two years?
- The event has shown a high readiness of the German party to listen to Russia’s arguments, but it is necessary to take into account the list of the participants. The German-Russian Conference most than any other organization tries to enhance the German-Russian ties and achieve mutual understanding in any situation. It was so in more or less favorable periods. Now, they continue working towards this goal, for which we are very grateful to them, and personally to Matthias Platzeck (Chairman of the Management Board of the German-Russian Forum) who works towards development of the two countries’ relations despite serious opposition and criticism he faces in Germany.
Therefore, I would not make any far-reaching conclusions from this meeting, as it brought together people who are ready for a flexible approach to the issue.
What about German authorities?
- So far, the German authorities have a different stance in general. It was mentioned in the speeches at the conference. Well, there are some signs of a possible thaw in the relations, but these signs are sporadic and, which is most important, they do not come from the top leadership. That is, the Federal government and German chancellor have a very tough stance on Russia.
The Russian press and expert society hope Germany will pursue a more independent policy, without reckoning with the U.S., which will help improving the Moscow-Berlin relations. Are these expectations justified?
— I think our perception of the German policy is certainly distorted. The point is that Germany is more independent now, but more independent does not mean more favorable to Russia. The point is that the changes in Germany’s policy are intertwined with changes inside the European Union, balance of powers, and its role in it rather than with the U.S. influence, though it is an everlasting factor. If Germany seeks dominance in Europe – it already does - it has to sacrifice something. Actually, it sacrifices its relations with Russia obtaining as a leader what German politicians call other opportunities.
It is wrong blaming U.S. influence for everything, though U.S. influence exists and will not disappear. The U.S. has a strong footprint in Germany. It does not come just to money or blackmail, though we used to think so. It is the fruits of decades-long work towards creation of the political establishment. Therefore, many in Germany really think the German-American relations are a priority. Apart from that, I repeat, it is wrong blaming the U.S. factor for everything that happens. Unfortunately, reality is much more complicated.
European Union has suspended the sanctions against Belarus. European Commission has been authorized to launch negotiations with Armenia around a new legal document. What is behind these changes in the EU policy towards the Eastern Partnership countries that are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) too?
- I think it is the beginning of the EU-promised reconsideration of policy. The Eastern Partnership no longer exists the way it was. It ended, bringing such very complicate result. On the one hand, part of the countries has crossed over to European Union. Yet, it is not so clear yet what all this will result in. Nevertheless, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia is one category of states, while Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus is quite different a category. It is useless to try to reunite them into the same program. The EU has understood it and, I think, it will launch a different, rather flexible and soft policy toward them, to hold them from deeper Eurasian integration.
How will Russia respond to this, especially to the negotiations with the EEU-members Armenia and Belarus?
- Russia will show caution, but I think it will be a very complicated game. For instance, Belarus appears to be a new “favorite” of the EU, which has decided that not everything is that bad with democracy in Belarus. Although the latest election in Belarus little differs from the previous ones, the situation with democracy there no longer seems so “terrible” to the EU. The leadership of Belarus plays this game willingly. At the same time, Alexander Lukashenko is well aware that he may find himself in the situation similar to the one in Ukraine, if he overplays this game.
As to Armenia, the EU will be working there too. However, Armenia is in a very specific geopolitical situation and is so occupied with its security issues that EU’s chances are very limited there. The EU can somehow try to hamper the integration into the Eurasian space, but, it cannot and will not try to give Armenia what it needs and what is vitally important to it.
Is Alexander Lukashenko’s statement about the Russian air base in Belarus part of the abovementioned “game”?
- Alexander Lukashenko is a genius when it comes to political bargaining. I think it is the beginning of a new round on new positions. He is now the president who has confirmed his legitimacy and his legitimacy was de-facto recognized by the West too. Therefore, the price in the game is rising.
Will Russia open the air base in Belarus? Will that issue be settled? What do you think about it?
- I think the issue will be settled, but Russia will make big concessions to Belarus.
Interviewed by Hayk Khalatyan, specially for EADaily