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The time is now ripe for Russia
to become part of Europe




November 16, 2001

London - Can the spirit of the successful achievement of the Putin-Bush meeting now be carried over into Russia's relationship with Europe? In many ways it is easier for the U.S. to make a big peace with Russia than it is for Europe. There has never been any territorial issue between the two, apart from the quiet selling of Alaska to the U.S. in 1867.

Despite all the tension of the Cold War it remains true that neither Russia nor the U.S. lost a soldier to the other side in combat. Yet for Europe the memories of war with Russia and Russian occupation run deep. Is it at last possible, ten years after the fall of communism, for contemporary Europe to finally respond to Mikhail Gorbachev's plea to build a "common European house"?

This is Europe's call. America will want to be privy to the content of the discussions, but Washington knows that in this case what Europe decides it wants it cannot obstruct. Nor does it have any real reason to interfere.

There is now urgency in the matter. The European Union made it clear this week that most of the eastern European countries, not long ago stalwart allies of Moscow, are on track for integration into the European Union by 2004. The larger ones are already members of Nato and Russia seems to be downplaying its opposition to future membership of the smaller nations on its Baltic border.

Is Russia a European or Asiatic nation? It is a question that has been debated for 500 years at least. The nineteenth century Slavophile, Nikolay Danilevskiy argued that Russia possesses an instinctive Slavic civilisation of its own- midway between Europe and Asia. Yet Dostoevsky speaking at a meeting at the unveiling of a statute to the poet Pushkin said, "Peoples of Europe, they don't know how dear to us they are." If this is the predominant mood among Russian intellectuals today they still have to contend with the nationalism - and Slavism - of the rump Communist party and those powerful voices in the army, and even the foreign ministry, who fear a loss of independence if Russia is swallowed up in a greater Europe.

Seventy years of totalitarian communism, following on the autocracy of the tsars, as Norman Davies writes in his monumental history of Europe "has built huge mental as well as physical curtains across Europe." It was Churchill who called the Bolsheviks "a baboonery", steeped in the deadly traditions of Attila and Genghis Khan. Yet Lenin and his circle assumed that one day they would join up with revolutionaries in the advanced capitalist countries. The Comintern in the early 1920s discussed the idea of a United States of Europe. It wasn't the Bolsheviks but Stalin who pointed Russia eastwards.

In today's liberated Russia the European heart beats fast. The roots go deep. Muscovy has been an integral part of Christendom since the tenth century. In the late imperial era it was not just Dostoevsky and Pushkin who wrote in the European tradition, but Lermontov, Tolstoy and Chekhov, giants then whom the passage of time has not demoted. Russian music, so eminently of European pedigree, with Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov rivalled anything that came out of nineteenth century Germany, Austria and Italy. The Ballet Russe and the Stanislavsky Theatre School were the leaders in Europe. Even Stalin chose not to squash this inheritance, although he sought to control its legacy and energy in his own ruthless manner.

Russia has now found with America that it has been able to fashion a common alliance- against terrorism, for nuclear disarmament, against nuclear proliferation to unstable countries and perhaps even the quiet, unprovocative containment of the growing might of China. The agenda with Europe is more demanding, but its rewards will be much more long-lasting.

If discussions on the future membership of Russia in the European Union began now it would take at least ten years and probably twenty to bring to the point of consummation. Russia still has too much corruption, misadministration, and lack of widespread democratisation, not to mention seriously inadequate legal institutions for it to be a quick process. But, as with Turkey today, the carrot of future entry can prove to be a good stick for beating the system into shape.

Europe itself has to decide how much it wants this. It has within its power the opportunity to anchor Russia firmly within Europe, to cut off for all time the Russian temptation to look eastward. Without Russia welcome in Europe it leaves the Russian psyche dangerously exposed- insecure, exiled from its natural centre of gravity and horribly free to roll around the deck like the proverbial loose cannon.

Yet for some Europeans there will be a price that goes beyond the usual debate on subsidies and the cost of the development of backward regions. It is to give up the vision of a united federal Europe, under one parliament and one president. Already with the planned admission of eastern Europe and Turkey the EU is getting too large for such a grandiose idea. With Russia a member, clearly it could not work. Yet Europe would still gain more than it ever dared aspire to - the continent-wide union of its members and the stabilization of this great centre of civilization that has spent too much of its history at war with itself.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER



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