Friday, June 06, 2008

When will the West answer Medvedev's proposals?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - While in Berlin, Dmitry Medvedev has made so many proposals to the West, that it would be very rude to turn them down. It will be interesting to see how long the West ponders over them and which it will accept.

In brief, Medvedev suggested a pause on Kosovo, on NATO's extension (one more step to the East and relations with Russia will be spoilt once and for all), and on new U.S. missile defense elements in Europe. He said that the Russian views should not be tailored to the Western positions, that the UN and the OSCE should not be replaced with other forums, and proposed a universally binding international security agreement on the template of the Helsinki-2 accords.

His proposals will not be accepted as a package, and the West is not likely to give a prompt reply. Moreover, many Europeans are impeded by a blinkered understanding of the recent change of power in Russia. They cannot see that Medvedev is Vladimir Putin's successor, rather than opponent.

The new Russian president's first trip to the West was bound to attract comment, and Medvedev could not but be compared with his predecessor. This is only natural. But these comparisons were made against the background of Putin's speech in Munich on February 10, in which he outlined Russia's grievances. That speech scared the West quite a bit.

Thus, on the eve of his first visit to Berlin, Medvedev was expected to show renewed "liberalism," "restraint," and "gentleness," all the features which Putin had lost by the time he gave his Munich speech (these are all statements from British, German, and American newspapers). It is difficult to say where the West got such "confidential information," not only about the contents of Medvedev's speech but also about his tone.

Nor was it very well informed. Speaking before almost 700 German businessmen, politicians, and public figures, Medvedev set forth in detail the very same ideas Putin had so emotionally voiced in Munich. Indeed, it is difficult to find any differences between the two speeches. In Munich, Putin said "the use of force may be considered legitimate only if a decision is made by the United Nations, and the latter should not be replaced with either NATO, or the European Union (EU)." In Berlin, Medvedev spoke about "attempts to justify NATO's existence by 'globalizing' its mission, which infringes on the UN Security Council's prerogatives, and by inviting new members."

Moreover, Putin said that "NATO's expansion is a serious provocation, which is reducing the level of mutual trust. It is fair for us to ask in plain terms - against whom is this expansion directed?" This sounds much more liberal than Medvedev's warning that if NATO expands any further, "relations with Russia will be spoilt once and for all," and "the price of this will be high."

Putin said that Russia has "the privilege to conduct an independent foreign policy." Medvedev recalled that "our approaches should not be tailored to Western positions," and that we "are seeking truly equitable relations and nothing more than that."

One gets the impression that though many people understand that the era of "Yeltsin's mellowness" has gone for good, they cannot - or will not - accept it. They are trying to subject Russia to some kind of a check-up, to find out who it will make friends with and who it will oppose.

These people seem to think that Winston Churchill's dictum that Britain has neither friends nor enemies, but interests, should not apply to anyone but Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Australia or Canada. They forget that no country has a monopoly on pragmatism.

The business part of the meeting went without a hitch. After all, Germany and Russia enjoy a special relationship going back as far as Peter the Great. For centuries the two countries have had an unwritten agreement under which Germany helps Russia with technologies in exchange for access to its mineral riches. Today, that relationship is as strong as ever. Germany is Europe's biggest consumer of Russian energy, and Russia has always been its most reliable supplier. Today, oil and gas amount to 70% of Russian exports to Germany. Metals and alloys account for another 15%, and timber comes next. Ninety percent of German exports to Russia are machines and equipment, metal ware, chemicals, and electrical equipment.

Asked by a German newspaper what advice he would give to Frau Merkel at the talks with Medvedev, Andreas Schockenhoff, Germany's envoy on German-Russian relations, replied that he would suggest inviting the Russian president to attend the annual security conference in Munich, which is traditionally held in February.

That is a good idea. Medvedev has had his say. Maybe in Munich the Europeans will give him their answer.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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