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Jonathan Power: Russia, Europe's Other Half

Read it for yourself, and don’t dismiss it, as most western commentators have. The Pan-European Security Treaty, proposed by Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, is worth a read. Doubtless it can be modified, improved and ambiguities removed. But it makes a lot of sense, and it would be another step forwards to what the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, urged—the creation of a “European house”, that contains Russia as one of its inhabitants. Only those “with one foot in the Cold War,” to quote President Barack Obama on the eve of his recent visit to Moscow, should find it objectionable. Indeed, play down Bolshevism and the Cold War. The moment communism, the Cold War and all its baggage were over, Russia itself quickly revived. This was, after all, a period of only 70 years in Russia’s long history—which began even before Prince Vladimir, its ruler, accepted Orthodox Christianity for himself and for his people a thousand years ago. It is 500 years since Byzantium Orthodoxy handed over the torch of the Church’s leadership to Russia. When Constantine in 326 AD moved the throne of the Roman emperor to Constantinople and took his newly adopted Church with him, the city became the headquarters of the Christian faith and its patriarch. When it was overrun by the Ottomans in 1453, the only place for both the spirit and the headquarters of the Church to move to was Orthodox Russia and the Slavic lands.  The “legitimate Church” was now the heritage of Russia. And 1453 was also the end of the Roman Empire. The consequences for Europe have been immense. The cushion of Orthodoxy in Russia saved Europe from the full impact of the eastern nomads and Islam. A Muslim Russia would have meant a very different history for the West. In 1767, the Empress Catherine categorically stated that “Russia is a European state.” In his ambitious study of Europe, Norman Davies wrote that “Fears of the ‘Bear’ did not prevent the growth of a general consensus regarding Russia’s membership in Europe. This was greatly strengthened in the nineteenth century by Russia’s role in the defeat of Napoleon, and by the magnificent flowering of Russian culture in the age of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Chekov.” Indeed it is clear that when it comes to the proficiency in all the arts, Russia has no peer in Europe. Even in the worst of times under Soviet totalitarian rule many individual Russians, not only Gorbachev, in their hearts wanted a European identity—not difficult to believe among those who were conscious of the natural links of their country’s artistic talents and their (repressed) Church. The end of the communist dictatorship enabled Russians and many of the other peoples of the former Soviet Union to greet, in Vaclav Havel’s phrase, the “Return to Europe." When two years ago I interviewed Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Russian scholar, former National Security advisor and now unofficial adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he told me that “I have given speeches about a Europe that extends from Portugal on the Atlantic to Vladivostok on the Pacific”. But he also added the important caveat, “But when that will happen I don’t know. However, I do know if Ukraine doesn’t move to the West, is prevented from moving, or is excluded from the West, Russia’s involvement with the West will be much more delayed.” I would add that if President Bill Clinton hadn’t pushed through the expansion of NATO and if President George W. Bush hadn’t continued the process by breaking a solemn American promise made to Gorbachev not to install NATO military infrastructure in eastern Europe, Moscow would not be so unnerved by Europe and America’s courting of Ukraine. Ukraine would be permitted to enter the EU without much of a serious fuss and Russia itself would have been a big step nearer being considered for entry itself. At the moment the question of Russia as part of Europe is off the agenda. The issues discussed at the recent Moscow summit are the short term ones—nuclear disarmament, Afghanistan, Iran and Georgia—although we do not know what Obama discussed with Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in private. But one day not too far off, the broad issue of Russia and Europe must be confronted and quite directly. Brzezinski is prepared to say that in 20 years’ time Russia might be considered for EU membership. There is much to put right before then, not just on the Western side but on Russia’s too. Nevertheless, Russia wants a peaceful and productive relationship with Europe and the U.S. That is why we must read and take quite seriously Medvedev’s Pan-European Security Treaty. It is a good place to start if one concludes, as I do, that one day Russia must be part of the European Union. Jonathan Power is a syndicated columnist and a contributing editor of Prospect magazine, London. His most recent book is Conundrums of Humanity (Martinus Nijhoff, 2007).

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