Russia and the West: Back to the Wall?

By: Rachel Marsden

25 years ago the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of Soviet-era communism. Now some Western entities are intent on building a new barrier between Russia and the West, in the absence of any ideological imperative.

 

Speaking recently in Sochi to the Valdai Club, Russian President Putin reiterated: "We have left behind Soviet ideology, and there will be no return." Putin has proven himself to be consistently ideologically pragmatic, and intent on building Russia's influence along economic and trade lines  from the creation of the BRICS alliance to the Eurasian Union, formally set to start its activities in January.

Even in the wake of a Western backed coup against a democratically elected government in Kiev that had severely disrupted the economic ties between Ukraine and Russia, vital to both countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been pitching the idea of a Russia-Europe free trade zone to European business leaders, and has recognized the economic reality of Ukraine's position between Russia and Europe. Isn't that what we, in the West, wanted from Russia  for it to compete globally for hearts, minds, and wealth on the basis of economics rather than ideology?

However, there appears to be an ongoing effort, through torqued rhetoric and marginalization (economically via sanctions, for example), to goad and provoke Putin into a misstep  anything that could be held up as "proof" of ill-intent or lack of reason. Those efforts have quite obviously failed, as Putin isn't following anyone else's playbook.

It makes little pragmatic sense for the heavily-indebted European Union and countries as far-flung as the United States and Canada, to inflate rhetoric and exert overtly antagonistic action against Russia when the net benefit is already questionable: Ukraine is nowhere near either Canada or the United States. Europe's interests seem more geographically obvious, but the cash-strapped European Union is now paying for Ukraine's gas and related debt, which is going straight into Russia's coffers anyway.

As it's being played out, there is more to lose in the current sanctions game than there is to gain  particularly in the long term. During a recent political comeback talk in Troyes, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "It is unreasonable to oppose Russia, which is so close to us in Europe. This is a significant error."

The 1.2 deal that Sarkozy made with Russia for a couple of Mistral warships is now the object of political wrangling, with Socialist French President Francois Hollande's administration insisting on being convinced prior to delivery that Russia "fully observes the ceasefire agreement" in Ukraine. In the fog of an increasingly covert war involving provocation, dirty tricks, and insurgency, it seems to be a tenuous pretext for reneging on a business deal  and a worrisome precedent to set.

Presumably, France has adopted this position as a bargaining chip on behalf of Europe and its Ukrainian interests  but at what long-term cost?

Russia and Europe are inextricably linked economically  in critical sectors ranging from oil and gas to defence technology. Canada and Russia will have to be able to engage with each other civilly down the road to resolve issues around Arctic oil exploitation or even matters involving China. Still, every country has a right to trade diversification in its own competitive interests in spite of these cooperative realities, and a balance has to be achieved.

For the sake of all involved, here's hoping for a swift and mutually beneficial return to diplomacy and reason over rebuilding old walls.

25 years ago the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of Soviet-era communism. Now some Western entities are intent on building a new barrier between Russia and the West, in the absence of any ideological imperative.


Speaking recently in Sochi to the Valdai Club, Russian President Putin reiterated: "We have left behind Soviet ideology, and there will be no return." Putin has proven himself to be consistently ideologically pragmatic, and intent on building Russia's influence along economic and trade lines from the creation of the BRICS alliance to the Eurasian Union, formally set to start its activities in January.

Even in the wake of a Western backed coup against a democratically elected government in Kiev that had severely disrupted the economic ties between Ukraine and Russia, vital to both countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been pitching the idea of a Russia-Europe free trade zone to European business leaders, and has recognized the economic reality of Ukraine's position between Russia and Europe. Isn't that what we, in the West, wanted from Russia for it to compete globally for hearts, minds, and wealth on the basis of economics rather than ideology?

However, there appears to be an ongoing effort, through torqued rhetoric and marginalization (economically via sanctions, for example), to goad and provoke Putin into a misstep anything that could be held up as "proof" of ill-intent or lack of reason. Those efforts have quite obviously failed, as Putin isn't following anyone else's playbook.

It makes little pragmatic sense for the heavily-indebted European Union and countries as far-flung as the United States and Canada, to inflate rhetoric and exert overtly antagonistic action against Russia when the net benefit is already questionable: Ukraine is nowhere near either Canada or the United States. Europe's interests seem more geographically obvious, but the cash-strapped European Union is now paying for Ukraine's gas and related debt, which is going straight into Russia's coffers anyway.

As it's being played out, there is more to lose in the current sanctions game than there is to gain particularly in the long term. During a recent political comeback talk in Troyes, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "It is unreasonable to oppose Russia, which is so close to us in Europe. This is a significant error."

The 1.2 deal that Sarkozy made with Russia for a couple of Mistral warships is now the object of political wrangling, with Socialist French President Francois Hollande's administration insisting on being convinced prior to delivery that Russia "fully observes the ceasefire agreement" in Ukraine. In the fog of an increasingly covert war involving provocation, dirty tricks, and insurgency, it seems to be a tenuous pretext for reneging on a business deal and a worrisome precedent to set.

Presumably, France has adopted this position as a bargaining chip on behalf of Europe and its Ukrainian interests but at what long-term cost?

Russia and Europe are inextricably linked economically in critical sectors ranging from oil and gas to defence technology. Canada and Russia will have to be able to engage with each other civilly down the road to resolve issues around Arctic oil exploitation or even matters involving China. Still, every country has a right to trade diversification in its own competitive interests in spite of these cooperative realities, and a balance has to be achieved.

For the sake of all involved, here's hoping for a swift and mutually beneficial return to diplomacy and reason over rebuilding old walls.
 

COPYRIGHT 2014 RACHEL MARSDEN