Several of my friends, including some both in Moscow and elsewhere, have wondered both privately and publicly what I meant when I wrote the following in the most recent issue of the King’s Russia Memo:
…now is precisely the time for the West to outline the contours of a relationship that could transform both sides, placing Russia’s development on a solid institutional footing, relieving Europe’s energy insecurity and ending competition over the ‘near abroad’. Now is the time for the West to show Russia (and Russians) just how different the future could be – if Russia, too, is willing to invest.
A lot of the feedback focused on the part about ending competition over the ‘near abroad’ (or the Eastern Neighbourhood, depending on your point of departure). In this regard, and as regards the sentiment as a whole, some clarification is probably in order.
What I am not suggesting is that Europe abandon its transformational project in the Eastern Neighbourhood (or anywhere else, for that matter), that EU enlargement be declared dead or even on hiatus. Much less am I suggesting that Moscow and the West reach some sort of condominium arrangement for the ‘lands in between’. Such arrangements inevitably suppress the aspirations of populations, and suppressed aspirations eventually lead to the downfall of regimes and, sometimes, world orders. (The realists would do well to remember that – there is nothing realistic about expecting populations to remain docile.)
What I am suggesting is that Europe (and the U.S. has much less to do with this story) determine the degree to which it is in Europe’s interests to see Russia transform, the amount of time and treasure it is willing to invest in achieving that transformation – and then, with those two things in mind, to build a transformative relationship.
What would that look like? That depends on how Europe answers those two strategic questions, but it would begin from a realization that Europe’s myriad and complex institutional structures – its financial markets, its legal safeguards, its regulatory environments and so on – are part of the fabric of the Russian economy. Europe can thus use these structures to shape the incentives faced by Russian economic and political actors. To an extent, that’s what the sanctions are about, but the sanctions are punitive and situational, not transformative and strategic. The transformative use of Europe’s institutions would, over time, make it more lucrative for Russia’s rich and powerful to play by Europe’s rules than to continue to profit from kleptocracy. When that happens, competition over the ‘near abroad’ will fade.
That’s what I meant. Perhaps, of course, I should have said so in the first place.