Russia: Putin Speech Renews Debate On EU Foreign Policy
February 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered an impassioned address at the annual security conference in Munich on February 10, in which he blasted the United States for trying to impose what he called its "unilateral" vision on the world. Saying the United States had "overstepped its boundaries in every sphere," Putin chided the European Union for doing little to check U.S. influence. Eberhard Sandschneider of the German Council on Foreign Relations attended the Munich conference, and he spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten.
RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech was full of criticism, mostly aimed at the United States. And some of that criticism echoed complaints made by European politicians about Washington's alleged "unilateralism." But Putin also hit out against NATO, the EU, and the OSCE, leading some European participants at the Munich conference to protest. What was your sense of the European reaction to Putin's speech?
Eberhard Sandschneider: The fact that people got upset is perhaps more a question of atmosphere and symbolism. People are certainly not accustomed anymore to being told by Russian leaders what the flaws in their own policies are. That, of course, was a kind of new experience for this group of people, and the fact that Putin did it led to a few reactions. In a few days, people will sit down and say: "Yes, OK, it's the Russian position and we do have to react." And one of our German politicians said: "We will have to talk about this in the context of the NATO-Russian partnership and the EU-Russian partnership." So the debate will continue. The Russian president just made his position as clear as he possibly could.
RFE/RL: It seems Europe is being pulled in two directions, with Washington setting out its expectations and now Moscow expressing its own demands. Where does that leave Brussels?
Sandschneider: There are, of course, expectations both from the United States, from Russia, and, by the way, also from China. And Europe will have to learn, first of all, to find a position of its own, which is difficult enough for the European Union, and then act -- cooperating both with our traditional partner the United States but also with important new partners like Russia, based on the agreement that without Russia there will hardly be any solution to any major international conflict. Be it Kosovo, be it Iran, wherever you look, we need Russia. So this is a learning process for the European Union which is ahead of us for the next few years.
RFE/RL: Do you think Putin's speech will galvanize EU leaders and push them toward forging a common foreign policy?
Sandschneider: You need a lot of optimism to assume that a speech made by the Russian president will lead to the final insight by the Europeans that it is necessary to formulate and agree on a common foreign and security policy. Everyone knows it but we also know about the problems, about the different interests of member states, but also about problems of coordination within the European Union. The message itself is clear: if Europe wants to play an important role in the world, wherever its interests are concerned, we need a common European position. Each and every single European member states acting by itself is not strong enough to push these interests. So we need the European Union. It's up to Europe to do its homework.
RFE/RL: What do you mean by homework? Do you mean European should be more assertive?
Sandschneider: The big challenge for us obviously is how to deal with very self-confident new or old actors in international relations who base their policies on the capacities they have. In the case of Russia, its energy; in the case of China, it's economic growth.
Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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