Swedish Foreign Minister sees Russia moving away from European values
Carl Bildt sees reflections of 19th century attitudes in today’s Russia
“It takes two to tango. If Russia doesn’t want to dance, then the tango will be a bit awkward.”
This is how Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt describes relations between the European Union and Russia, which have been put to a major test by the crisis in the Caucasus.
Bildt, who took part in a European security seminar in Helsinki on Friday, told Helsingin Sanomat that the EU must reassess its policy toward Russia. While he expects cooperation to continue on a wide front, the changing winds affecting the European security environment are blowing specifically from Moscow.
“Russia itself has said that a big change is underway. Russia emphasises that [the Caucasus] involves more than a local crisis; it is a significant change both on the regional and global level”, Bildt said, adding that Moscow’s tougher rhetoric is placing an impact of its own on the atmosphere of cooperation.
“The strategic partnership if the EU and Russia has been based on common values. It is most obvious that we are not in such a situation now. We can still talk about common interests, but not common values”, Bildt says.
Bildt has criticised the incursion of Russian forces into Georgia with exceptional vigour. Sweden is seen by many to have taken a harder line on Russia than most other EU member states. However, Foreign Minister Bildt rejects the assessment, and praises what he sees as EU unity on the matter.
“We have been united and clear. Certain countries have reacted more strongly, but we have been in agreement on action to be taken”, Bildt notes.
Bildt sees no foundation for suggestions of a new cold war between Russia and the West. He notes that the world has changed since the days of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, he sees signs that Russia might be reverting to the security thinking of the 19th century, when there was an emphasis on pan-Slavism with an authoritarian Russia as its guiding star.
“Russia itself must make a choice on what road it will take. Is In the geopolitics of the 19th century or the path of integration, networking, and global cooperation of the 21st, which Europe is leaning on”, Bildt says, noting that there is “much of the 19th century” to be found especially in Russian rhetoric.
Bildt says that although Russian politics appears to be moving away from European values, and although the EU must be prepared for a more difficult partnership, he does not believe in a complete collision course.
“If we forget natural gas, Russia is more economically dependent on the EU than vice versa”, Bildt says.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Vanhanen: Strong support for Georgia but no sanctions against Russia (1.9.2008)