Alexander Rahr: "EU needs to balance its interests with Turkey and Russia"
In an interview with Global Review, famous German political scientist who specializes in Russia, Alexander Rahr, spoke about current challenges in relations between Europe and Russia. It should be noted that at various times Rahr worked as a research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and director of the German-Russian Forum, was one of the founders of several famous expert platforms, such as "Petersburg Dialogue", "Valdai Club", "Berlin Eurasian Club" and others. Right now Alexander Rahr is a consultant at Gazprom Brussels. Due to his position on German-Russian cooperation, Rahr was criticized by German "Tatlantists" and several media outlets.
On Russia as part of Europe
Since Peter the Great, Russia considers itself a European country. In fact, Europe would be completely united if the largest European state, Russia, would integrate into Europe. Culturally, Russia closely connected to Europe and vice versa. In order to maintain its stability, Europe must create a common security space with Russia, not against Russia. Vladimir Putin largely believes in this. He's different from his predecessor Boris Yeltsin because latter believed in the possibility of integration into Europe on the basis of Russia's accession to NATO and the EU. Russia's European strategy is legitimate, it corresponds to national interests, just like the desire of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including Turkey, to become part of Europe. There is nothing wrong with this. The problem is, however, that complete integration requires creation of entirely new institutions. Greater Europe will no longer be a community of liberal values, but a community of interests, which will work together against global challenges.
However, today's EU leaders don't want to "soften" such institutions as NATO and the EU because of Russia. As for Americans: of course, the United States have a right to pursue their own European strategy. In the end, they achieved prosperity and freedom of Europe after the Second World War. The US want Europe to remain integrated in a larger institution - Transatlantic community, in which America is the strongest power and has the last word. If such large country as Russia would become a part of Europe, it would undermine Transatlantic community and create a new model of continental Europe, in which American influence would decline. This explains why the US oppose the topic of a united Europe with participation of Russia, regularly raised by Germany and France, every time. Is the war due to this conflict of interests possible? Wars in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (since 2014) can certainly be viewed as a premise of such fatal development.
On "Trump phenomenon" in the context of relations between Russian and the West
Trump's era will be analyzed by historians in a few years later and they will understan that that the US-Russian conflict was a colossal farce. The NSA spied on American allies for many years. CIA agent Edward Snowden, who told about this, was granted asylum in Russia, but Washington skillfully avoided all problems. Today, America's allies forgotten about Snowden, and the entire world is talking about Russian hacker attacks. Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, are labled as Moscow agents. The worst news for powerful American establishment was that American people, most freedom-loving people on earth, elected "wrong man" as the president, and Hillary Clinton, favorite of the establishment, disgraced herself. A lot of what America does right now is directed against Russia. New sanctions against Russian energy sector are just a blind revenge and a continuation of the US domestic policy. Elites conspire against their own president. The entire world is watching this sad drama right now.
On Eurasian cooperation
What is the difference between current situation and the Cold War? The United States and the USSR were equally strong, respected each other in spite of their rivalry and discussed many issues, albeit reluctantly, on equal grounds. The Cuban crisis was settled at the last second, before reaching the scale of a nuclear clash, through equal negotiations. Why is it so problematic today? The West no longer takes Russia seriously: for the West, Russia is a collapsed power, without real economy and allies, without opportunities for growth, it's just a weakening regional power that no longer determines world politics. At least that's how Putin sees the position of the West. It makes him angry and pushes him to pursue more aggressive counter-policy. Honestly, I don't know how can we fix the existing negative image of Russia that formed in the consciousness of the Western public. The number of experts on Russia in the West is decreasing, I meet a lot of people who have never been to Russia and won't go there. During the Cold War we lived in hostility, but we still had mutual respect. This is the root of this problem. We need a totally different approach. The OSCE could become a platform for constructive dialogue between the West and the East.
I also call for a return to the policy of "changes through trade". I think signing of cooperation agreement between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union is the first necessary step. The latter has become a reality that we can no longer ignore. The concept of a common economic space - not from Lisbon to Vladivostok, but from Lisbon to Shanghai - is the second step. China's New Silk Road through Central Asia and Russia to Europe is also an important factor. So let's not leave the formation of this space to Chinese and Russians, let's work with them. Thanks to joint economic projects and free trade zones we can get great "peace dividends".
I support new way of thinking in Europe. Merkel's foreign policy approach failed, especially after Donald Trump came to power in the United States. The EU can't form partnership with this or that country solely depending on whether it pursues liberal democracy or not. The good old policy of interests is not exclusive to the 20th century. French President Emmanuel Macron reminds many people of young Charles de Gaulle. I think his big project of European reforms is an alternative to America's European vision, just like in the case with the SPD leader Martin Schultz. The EU needs to balance its strategic interests with other major European powers, such as Russia and Turkey, as well as the UK after Brexit. When it comes to Germany, only the SPD still has similar thinking, Sigmar Gabriel, for example.
On Brzezinski's concept and future world conflict
Zbigniew Brzezinski's views seriously influenced American political science for many years. He was an extraordinary witness of epoch-making events. Of course, the idea of partnership in the field of Transatlantic security was genius. By the way, in the 90s, right after the end of the Cold War, we could build Transatlantic partnership much more carefully and far-sightedly. Conflict between the North and the South will be a world conflict of the future, and not conflict between the East and the West. Problems of the Western world come from the South, not from the East. New interpretation of conflict with Russia is associated with two points: Russia's orientation not on Western liberal values, but on the idea of "traditional Europe." It's not a threat to the West. Second problem is NATO's expansion to the east into traditional Russian sphere of influence. If Brzezinski was still alive, I would like to ask him why the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was not simply renamed to APTO (Atlantic-Pacific Treaty Organization). We would live in peace today.
On criticism in his address
I support dialogue, not a monologue, which the West, unfortunately, encourages today. The fact that I workd as an adviser on EU issues in Gazprom should be viewed as a great thing. What's wrong with the fact that large Russian companies that expand their activities to Europe, while following European rules of the game, ask for consultation? As for large gas business, diversification in this field is important. The EU doesn't want to depend on Russian gas exports so much, so it also buys liquefied gas from Americans. But diversification also means that Russia doesn't want to depend on a transit country, such as Ukraine. In the end, it's no secret that Ukraine was stealing Russian gas sent to the West. That's why pipeline through the Baltic Sea is a logical consequence. I think that the market will resolve these problems. If the Nabucco pipeline, which was supposed to deliver natural gas from the Central Asia to Europe, was simply too expensive against the backdrop of falling gas prices, it was a right decision to abandon it. We must play fair. It's a complete nonsense that Americans impose sanctions on the supply of Russia's gas while trying to fill in the gap left by it with their own gas. Can this be called a fair competition? Never.