Monday, January 3, 2011

European and Russian relations must change.

Since the Cold War we have learned to see our big neighbor as a threat, as the constant bogeyman that is out there to take over Europe, and the reason why we desperately need USA's "protection".

While most Eastern European states will agree, since they had the misfortune of being under the Soviet rule for five decades, let us re-examine our relationship with Russia as many things have changed and continue to do so in our continent.

We can all accept that the Soviet regime was a cruel one and brought a lot of oppression to the countries it occupied. Yet we as Europeans have forgiven many of our member states like Germany and Italy, for the havoc they’ve created in our continent and beyond with fascism.

Not to mention, of course, the colonial powers and their treatment of their overseas territories, were not always much different, in fact a lot worse, than how the Soviets treated our Eastern European states.

Besides, Europe is not the same region anymore. It is uniting and integrating itself and if this trend continues and occurs correctly, we won't technically need America's "protection," or be afraid of Russia. We are more numerous and prosperous than them, while our unity gives us strength and advantage towards them.

In addition, Europe has formed its own military defense and while it is on an infantile phase at the moment, it will mean that our continent will be able to control its defense and foreign policies.

One big thorn in the European-Russian relations is, of course, Ukraine and the overall Eastern Partnership trade agreements, which Russia sees as an infringement by Europe in its own former territories.

It may look like a tug-of-war between the two blocks but in reality, these regions can act as a bridge between the EU and Russia, instead of an impediment. If Ukraine is allowed in the EU and treats its Russian minorities as equal citizens, Russia will have a large number of its ethnic minority in Ukraine as EU citizens.

If this minority manages to have elected representatives in the European Parliament and become fully engaged EU citizens, Russia will be able to have a voice directly in the EU, thus influencing Europe from within. The problem is naturally, the insistence of NATO to add all new EU member states as its own members two, thus allowing this alliance to establish missiles directly pointing at Russia.

If you were Russia, wouldn’t you have a problem with that too? Of course, the invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia, was a huge mistake, creating a never-ending conflict that has and will cost many lives. Destabilizing the region can never be a good thing for either side, financially, socially or politically. But Russia’s problem is not solely with Europe, rather America and our willingness to accommodate them no matter what.

We’ve got to realize that either we like it or not, we are heavily dependent on Russia for our oil and gas. We share common borders and so we should try to establish better relations with them. Europe is also co-operating with Russia already in many fields; the European Space Agency is closely working with its Russian counterpart on current and future space missions.
Why can’t this co-operation be expanded to other spheres?

One may question if the Russians can be trusted, since their political system is perceived by many European nations as utterly corrupt. But haven’t we our own very serious problems with corruption? Italy, for example, has chronic problems in its southern regions with Mafia, while Greece, Bulgaria, Spain, Romania and many other old and new EU members still haven’t managed to rid off corruption, even years after being EU member states.

Their records on human rights, especially for LGBT individuals are also very poor according to many westerners, while freedom of speech is also an issue, together with Russia’s love for authoritarianism.

We should not try to bring the country to our own standards by force though, or constant criticism. Besides, we have our own very conservative nations or regions. In Ireland and Poland, abortions are still forbidden, while Greece still remains a very religious country, with the Greek Orthodox Church heavily influencing the country’s society. Hungary and Poland have turned too authoritarian, so much that one could question their compatibility with the rest of Europe’s values.

If we look closely, all that we accuse Russia of, already exist to a certain degree in our societies too. That, of course, is not a reason to abandon applying pressure on them to reform or join us in the effort to better humanity, by playing a more positive and progressive role in the globe.

But we are doing it the wrong way. By cutting them off, applying constant sanctions towards them, or ridicule their ways as a society, we are only hardening their resistance towards reforms and modernization. Even if President Putin is indeed an obstacle or a problem, judging a whole country for his policies, only makes Russian people stand even more firmly behind him. They see him as a national hero this way.

Russia as a country, just like all of Europe’s countries, has its own unique history that has shaped its mentality and society. Yes, they may be more conservative overall, but they are also very diverse as a society.

The country is huge and is being consisted of numerous ethnic or religious groups, which are so diverse as its landmass and landscape. Instead of criticizing them, we should try and understand them. And if we really want to change them, the solution is not to cut them out, rather invite them in.

If we end this ridiculous visa restriction between the two regions, young Russians will be able to travel and study anywhere in Europe. And once they come in contact with our way of thinking, it is inevitable that they will push for more changes, when they move back to their country. That will help to bring the two communities together and close the mentality gap far better, than any sanctions have ever achieved.

They are after all largely European, and have contributed a lot to the European culture and heritage. From artists like Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky to their participation in both big wars of the continent, the unpleasant Soviet regime that spread in eastern Europe, their participation in the Greek struggle for liberation against the Turks, their meddling in the Balkans. Their involvement was not always pleasant or fair, but was Britain's, Germany's or even America's? 

Of course, one main obstacle for Europe changing attitudes towards Russia and vice versa, is our close alliance with America. They won’t like the drifting of Europe closer to Russia, or a greater Russian influence within Europe.

Yet we have to realize that we should establish our own independent foreign policy and why can’t this be friendly towards both Russia and the USA. In fact in the future, we will have a more multi-polar world and Europe should reach out to all other regions, establishing close relations with.

We may have our differences with China for example, but that does not stop European companies from investing in the country and moving thousands of jobs over there. Do we force all other regions of the world to abide by our own values in order to do business with them or form relations?

To conclude, I am not going to go as far and say as Mr Berlusconi did, that Russia should become an EU member. But if the Russians are willing to work with Europe in humanity’s overall progress, then their contribution should be welcomed.

Together, we can work on eradicating many problems that plague the world; like poverty and inequality, or battling diseases for example. With a bit of healthy competition, we can push humanity’s achievements in all spheres further, rather keep engaging in a ridiculous never-ending power game.

Having Russia on our side could mean a more positive and constructive Russian involvement in European affairs, keep alienating them and we should be thinking to find alternative oil and gas resources as soon as possible. Besides, shouldn’t the Cold War be over already?

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