OPINION

Europe between rock and hard place

Bucharest may lie in what former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tagged «new Europe» but for the American president the Romanian capital will mostly be a bad memory. The NATO summit meeting was not exactly a Waterloo for George W. Bush but it was certainly far from a success. Compared to previous summits, Washington got less than it asked for. The truth is, the US demanded too much, prompting a reaction from European governments. Bush’s mistake was that he took NATO members for granted. As a result, the final decisions left him with egg on his face. No doubt the fact that Bush is about to step down as president made it easier for Europeans to turn down many of his proposals. In fact, the American posturing and Russian reactions had posed a dilemma for the Europeans. If they had accepted the US proposals, the continent could have found itself embroiled in a new cold war. This would have been of little interest to the US, which is more concerned about the fact that the Russian bear is no longer on its knees. In a bid to maintain its strategic advantage, Washington is using political and military means to encircle Russia. This objective is served by plans for NATO’s expansion all the way to the Russian borders, the installation of the anti-missile shield, and the – justified – criticism regarding Moscow’s democratic deficit. But Moscow feels greater self-confidence these days. Armed with plenty of state power and boosted by an increase in energy prices, President Vladimir Putin has managed to steal back the political and economic power that had been in the hands of the so-called oligarchs. America’s tactics effectively pushed the Russians into seeking a new equilibrium, more in line with Russia’s size and power. Washington’s aggressive policy also served a secondary purpose, namely to make Europeans back the US agenda and abandon their plans for political independence and closer ties with Russia. The Old Continent needs Russian energy while Russia needs Europe’s products and services. It’s a relationship based on mutual interest. Washington opposes the EU’s strategic partnership with Moscow on the grounds that this will make the community politically dependent on Russia. In reality, however, the US is trying to drag the Europeans into a policy that will revive the old East-West dividing line (and now the line has drifted eastward). Bucharest saw the comeback of the «old Europe,» which feared that further pressure on Russia would have negative fallout. The EU refused to fall in line with US plans, but it left the door open for doing so in the future. Bush’s image was somewhat tainted, but American diplomats did not leave Bucharest completely empty-handed.