Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgar Rinkēvičs, addressing the EU summit’s section dedicated to the Eastern Partnership, said that they need to bring USA into the program and rename it the Euro-Atlantic Eastern Partnership. Also, the head of Lithuanian Foreign Affairs thinks that Eastern Partnership countries should not be offered association with EU, but full membership. But, for this updated Eastern Partnership model to be feasible and not just lead to new political confrontation in Europe it must include Russia. That’s the opinion of famed politologist and scientific director of the German-Russian Forum Alexander RAHR:
Mr Rahr, the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit will happen in Riga in 2015. Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgar Rinkēvičs recently said that we must bring USA into the program and rename it into the Euro-Atlantic Eastern Partnership. What do you think of this idea?
You know, these things aren’t mutually exclusive. The idea itself is pretty positive. I remember how then-president of Russia Dmitry Medvedev when speaking in Berlin in 2008 proposed a discussion on creating a common security zone from Vancouver to Vladivostok. He was referring to USA, EU and Russian cooperation. Even in the 90’s Yeltsin and Kozyrev had the same idea of creating a big democratic community in the Northern Hemisphere. This idea can’t be negative as a whole.
Except you can’t exclude Russia. So I’m all for the Transatlantic, Eurasian and European cooperation to be institutionalized in some way.
Europe itself is faced with a choice. Either cooperate only with Russia and the Eurasian Union with common economic zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok – then USA will think that they are kind of isolated from Europe. Or the opposite, EU will focus only on a free economic zone with USA and push Russia away, along with all of the post-Soviet space, which is also bad.
Latest political events, Ukraine in particular, show that big countries don’t really need common space. Do you think the idea of USA, EU and Russia’s cooperation is an utopia with the current tensions between countries?
Of course, there are multiple conflicts. There is the geopolitical struggle, pursuit of economic interests, etc. In particular, the East-West civilization conflict that stops us from creating this common space today. But we don’t know what the situation will be in say, 50 years. I think that in a few generations, when US, European and Russian populations will dwindle and there’ll be a common threat and a need for mutual help. And, when the world politics main conflict will be North-South instead of East-West, then the idea of a common space will be very welcome and have a chance.
And we already have a positive development. Take for example the World Trade Organization. All of the countries in it are already in a common economic space. There was never an economic “club” this big in all of history. Globalization is in full force, and that’s good.
Do you think this idea came from Latvian MFA or is there a certain “order” for this program reform in Brussels?
Of course this idea was not born in Latvia, similar concepts were in works in Europe even before the fall of the Warsaw Pact and also after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the end of the 80’s Gorbachev spoke of a “common European home”. I recall the Paris Charter, which was signed and supported by the Americans. It was a foundation of sorts upon which we could have built a common order, but as we can see that didn’t happen.
I think Brussels’ current bureaucracy blew its chance to create such a concept because the last European partnership wasn’t right. It was obviously acting against Russia on the post-Soviet space. It was an attempt to “drag” Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova out of Russian influence.
Naturally, the Ukrainian crisis is deepening the conflict between Russia and the West, but it won’t be like that forever. I hope that in six months or a year when the situation will calm down we’ll return to this idea.
The head of Latvian MFA also proposed to give a firm promise to the countries participating in the Eastern Partnership by guaranteeing their full-fledged membership in the EU and not the blurry associated membership. How realistic is that promise?
Recently due to the Ukrainian crisis many “New Europe” representatives have made speeches about attracting the Eastern Partnership countries into EU. This emotional tension is caused mostly by the fear of Russia, which suddenly got scary. But I’m sure this will stop. Joining the EU should not be conducted as an escape from Russia. EU and NATO are not Cold War instruments.
Countries must reach the needed qualifications to enter the EU, which in turn must not accept countries who are economically or mentally unprepared. You must also heed the public opinion, which, as we see, not always wants to join the EU. So you need to look at the situation clearly.
I think EU has already went over the borders of its possible progression, including economically.
We realize how difficult it is to save Greece. And it’s not the only country that is in such a difficult financial position. You need to carefully consider how to expand the EU and whether you should add new members at all? Are there the resources for it? Time will tell all, including how EU will handle its own financial crisis.
In your opinion, what are the differences between Washington’s and Brussels’ policy on the Eastern Partnership countries?
I am critical of how the Eastern Partnership policy was for the last five years. Because it didn’t include Russian interests, moreover it was aimed against them. I think that the “Old Europe” – Germany, France, Benelux countries, Spain or Italy, - would gladly return to the idea of a “common European home”. I frequently hear the “You can’t stabilize Europe without Russia” axiom in these countries, because worst case scenario, disregard of the Russian side will lead to negative consequences in all ways.
Of course there are a lot of questions to this axiom in Central and Eastern Europe and all of them add up to mistrust or discontent with Russian influence. There they think that they need to strengthen NATO and EU positions against Russia.
And I think that the Americans are playing the geopolitical game on the “new” European countries side, Latvia in particular, where the atmosphere of dislike towards Russia thrives. USA has their own absolutely legitimate interests there.
It’s favorable for the Americans that the EU is somehow connected to USA, so the Transatlantic community that decided the trade rules was in control of the new world order’s creation and was the main locomotive of human civilization. And Russia doesn’t fit the American plan. Because it's not part of the common Europe, then in that context USA's role is automatically weakened. And that’s how this situation came to be: USA wants to have its own relations with Russia, but also doesn’t want to build the “common European home” with it because, as I said, American influence will weaken.
I believe that the European point of view shouldn’t be pro-American. Europe should be focused on building a platform where it leans on the American shoulder on one side and the Russian on the other.
You’ve noted that Latvia as an Eastern Partnership country is a platform where the US and EU have set up their influence via estranging the Latvian government from Russia. And this is where EU and US policies are similar. But how long can this situation last? Can any partnership be made in this state of affairs?
Latvia entered NATO and EU very quickly to feel protected. Protected from Russia. It’s known that fears of Russia annexing them are rampant there, but I don’t believe Russia has any plans of doing that.
Overall, I’d like to say that geographic positions are destiny which you can’t escape. Little Latvia can’t just up and move all of its people to America. And it’s not going anywhere from its Eastern neighbor.
I think the Latvian government must handle its own relations with Russia directly. I think that the next generation of Latvians will realize that you can’t depend on USA protection in everything. Latvia profits more from creating ties with the Russian side instead of hanging a new iron curtain on its Eastern border.
What do you think caused the Latvian MFA to so radically revise the Eastern Partnership program?
I view this as an attempt to influence the major decision-making process in the EU. Every Foreign Minister has the right to suggest ideas like that and Rinkēvičs is no exception. But I think that in the EU he is in the minority opposed to the majority who doesn’t support such initiatives.
Rinkēvičs’ initiative can be viewed in two ways. If he’s calling America to support the current Eastern Partnership which is aimed against Russia, then it will just worsen the conflict in Europe. If he is calling for America to join in on creating a peaceful zone of security and economic mutual assistance in the framework of the common space, then that’s good. You can interpret it differently. You need to figure out how the argumentation goes and what’s the nature of these calls. In any case, for Latvia it’ll be profitable only if the country doesn’t turn away from Russia.
Translated by Pavel Shamshiev.