40 years after Helsinki – how to continue
The S&D group in the European Parliament organized recently a conference on „Helsinki 40 years after“ – after the Helsinki conference of 1975. EU and Russian representatives and experts had an open exchange about the way or better ways forward. Helsinki was a big success and had its contribution to overcome the division of Europe. But now we have new conflicts between Russia and the EU and we saw some sort of a new Cold War. In the following are my basic thoughts I could present to the conference in a round table with Karsten Voigt from Germany and Andrej Gromyko from Russia as well as one colleague from Finland and one from Georgia.
The end of history and missed opportunities
1. When the security or non-security structure, which was established after World War II was breaking down, some like Francis Fukuyama saw the „End of History“! Democracy, civil liberties and rights will be extended to all the world together with liberal capitalism. The West with all these characteristics implemented and forming a basis for their policies was clearly on the winning side. It was not seen necessary to take the „dying“ empires and societies into account when planning the future. But the world was developing differently and we cannot see any end of history.
2. Even Western politicians did not really believe in an automatic development towards the „Western Paradise“. They were not convinced about the automatism of the historic process and the West especially NATO wanted to be sure of the „right“ development. So especially NATO was expanded and the same is true for the EU, which can be called an „empire by invitation“! And that lead to the complaint/question which one advisor to President Putin made recently: „Why was the end of the old structure and a new beginning not be constituted by a „Vienna Congress“ but with some sort of „Versailles treaty“. Of course Russia has an interest to have sovereignty given to (and staying) only with the states and their governments, especially the big ones, and not so much to and with the citizens. But on the end it was Russia itself, which violated the sovereignty and borders of Ukraine and of some its neighbors like Georgia and Moldavia. But all these countries do not belong to the big powers, which Russia regards as equal to them.
3. Fact is, that Russia was not offered a full fledged place in a new European wide security system. Many may question if Russia would have been ready to contribute to such a comprehensive system, but it was not even tried and Russia’s readiness was not challenged. Even if today with the Ukraine wound being still open, it is perhaps not too late to start with a new initiative. Because we need some initiatives to heal the wounds and to „solve“ the different border conflicts which go deep into some of Russia’s neighbors.
Russia’s reaction to Western expansion
4. Partly in reaction to the lack of recognizing Russia as an equal partner, it developed a course of countering the Western extension. It tried to undermine and destroy the further expansion of NATO and maybe even EU. Occupying parts of Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea as well as an extended ideological and political activism in the Balkans are demonstrating this policy. We cannot neglect it, we should not be naive. And we should see, that this kind of policy is in line with a long term „expansionist“ policy of the imperial Russia. But we can counter this trend only by trying to find a new relationship with Russia, recognizing its interests and at the same time not forgetting our the „European“ values. We can have long discussion if Russia can finally be convinced to change or it will stick principally to its „imperial“ policy. In all cases we have to be realistic and cannot count on quick adaptation to the European way of consultation and respect also for smaller countries and their special interest.
New opportunities we should not miss again
5. But we can have some hopes, because there is now a new situation because of common challenges especially from the Middle East. Already the Iran nuclear agreement showed, that a constructive cooperation with Russia is possible. Now we have to try to find a way how we can together fight the terrible terrorism which is affecting Russia like EU countries. Pit is in our common interest, that we find a path towards stopping the war and in consequence can implement peace in Syria. This offers a big chance to create new trust and confidence. But we should not fall into the trap of a simplistic anti-terror strategy in combining the Russian and the French (Western) tendency to fight terrorism only by military force. Very often blind military force have been promoting terrorism.
Many are criticizing a cooperation with Russia as long, as there is no solution of the Ukraine crisis. Of course we need the implementation of the Minsk agreement concerning Ukraine but we have to do things parallel. We need a peace agreement in Syria for our own security. To reach our aims we cannot always choose our partners according to very strict criteria. During Word War II there were even stranger coalitions in fighting Nazi Germany.
Strengthening the OSCE
6. Now we have to act responsible. Russia should refrain from sanctioning additionally the countries of the EU, if and when the Association Agreement with the Ukraine will go into force at the begin of 2016. And NATO should be acting responsible at its Warsaw summit in 2016 by not expanding NATO. We should rather think about how the OSCE could be strengthened, in order to be effective in preventing crises. After having seen two very different but effective presidency of the OSCE by Switzerland and Serbia the Austrian and the German presidencies will hopefully use the chance of making concrete proposals for strengthening the OSCE.