The EU-Russia-US triangle

With George W. Bush on the way out and Barack Obama still to unveil his policy, US ties with Russia are somewhat up in the air. Capitalizing on the transitional phase in Washington, the Europeans (with the exceptions of Lithuania and Poland) are entering the EU-Russia summit in pursuit of a new strategic partnership with Moscow (anger over Russia’s violation of Georgia’s sovereignty froze negotiations in September). The EU move sets a political precedent that will impact on US-Russian relations. The Bush years saw Russia’s political and military encirclement by the US. The countries of so-called «Old Europe» were reluctant to adopt the strategy, fearing it would put them at the heart of a new Cold War. Washington’s strategy also served a secondary objective, namely discouraging Europeans from spurning the US for the sake of closer ties with Russia. However, the EU needs Russia’s energy resources, while Russia needs Europe’s technology, goods and services. The Bush presidency objected on the grounds that it would make Europe energy- and, potentially, politically dependent on Moscow. In fact, the US tried to drag Europe into a policy that would revive the East-West divide, only this time the dividing line would be further to the east. Although there is no single EU policy on Russia, most governments seem to agree on most issues. «Old Europe» resisted Bush’s Cold War-style policy, but at the same time was reluctant to forge an independent strategic partnership with Russia. Obama’s election win has created hopes among Europeans that US policy will change. They hope that he can bridge the transatlantic gap, thereby enhancing their bargaining position toward the Kremlin so that they can reach an agreement that will recognize its role but also bind it. As EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana put it yesterday, «To have a relationship with Russia that has a framework is better for the EU.»