10.06.2021 – 09:04
Less than a month ago, Russia officially described the two countries as “unfriendly.” One was the US the other was the Czech Republic. His inclusion on the Kremlin list underscores how Russian-Czech relations have fallen to a level not seen since Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces invaded former Czechoslovakia in 1968 to suppress the Prague Spring.
The approximate cause of these tensions was the Czech revelation that Russian agents were responsible for blowing up a Czech ammunition depot in 2014. Reciprocal expulsions of diplomats followed. But the Czechs and Americans may soon be on Russia’s list of “bad guys.”
According to Izvestia, a Russian pro-Kremlin daily, eight other countries are candidates for inclusion. Australia, Canada and the UK form a trio that is considered in Moscow to be incorrigibly pro-American. The other five Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine are, like the Czech Republic, or the former Soviet satellite states or countries that formed part of the USSR.
The direct consequence of being on the official Russian list is that it will be more difficult for the governments in question to hire local staff at their embassies in Moscow. But the unofficial list compiled by Izvestia carries a deeper importance. Much of Central and Eastern Europe is in it, but France and Germany are not. According to Oleg Shein, a Russian lawmaker, this is because Moscow sees Berlin and Paris as “negotiating parties.”
The Kremlin’s assessment is not broad. Amid a general deterioration in Western-Russian relations, it is surprising that France and Germany continue to keep channels open for dialogue, despite the lack of tangible results. The display of unity that President Joe Biden and his European allies can be expected to make at next week’s NATO summit will mask the reality that EU policy towards Russia is flawed.
To put it bluntly, Central and Eastern Europeans do not have much faith in the EU’s obstructive efforts to establish a strong defense, foreign and security policy. To them, NATO and the US security umbrella over Europe are the only credible guarantees of their freedom.
The toughest position in Central and Eastern Europe took final shape on May 10th in a statement by the leaders of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
“Russia’s aggressive actions and military build-up near NATO continue to threaten Euro-Atlantic security,” they said. Germany and France share these concerns about Russia’s deception. But everyone believes that its national interests sometimes justify departures from a common EU line.
For Germany, it is mainly about business. Armin Laschet, the Christian Democrat candidate for chancellor, states that his home state of Rhine-North-Westphalia contains 1,200 companies that have traded or invested in Russia.
As for France, it is now two years since President Emmanuel Macron launched a dialogue effort with Moscow, declaring that “pushing Russia away from Europe is a profound mistake.” For Central and Eastern Europeans, the mistake was to pursue an initiative that was not coordinated with France’s EU partners and risked legitimizing Russian provocative behavior in the EU’s eastern neighborhood.
Like new wine in old bottles, Macron’s resettlement in Russia reeks of Gaullist wants an independent French role in the Western alliance that includes a privileged relationship with Moscow. German policy is to separate, as far as possible, political relations from economic ones with Russia.
None of the approaches provide Central and Eastern Europeans. The main victim of these disputes is the EU’s common foreign policy, which remains a distant aspiration regarding Russia.
Translated and adapted by Financial Times / FH, Konica.al