Does Russia Unite or Divide Europe?

Ever since Donald Rumsfeld’s famously successful division of Europe before the Iraq war, other nations seeking to benefit from European incoherence and indecisiveness have enthusiastically begun practicing this Machiavellian doctrine of diplomacy. No one has been more successful in this regard than Vladimir Putin, whose strategy to re-assert Russia’s status as a global power, has brought the full weight of the state’s control over oil and gas supplies to bear upon and exacerbate European disagreements. Leading up to the EU-Russia Summmit in Samara last week, many commentators had observed that today’s Kremlin has the uncanny capacity to bring out the worst in EU inter-state relations, and act as a mirror to reveal the EU’s most uncomfortable and fundamental conflicts of culture, values, and identity. Whether it is the constant undermining of a community energy policy caused by bilateral energy agreements, views on missile defense sites and Nato expansion, or the elusive sense of “solidarity” when new member states engage in symbolic battles with their former occupiers. However, this week we may be seeing the tides turn. It is possible that Russia overplayed its hand in Samara, and that patience is wearing thin. What is perceived as Russian arrogance, and the near total lack of any conciliatory language, may now be creating the opposite effect that the Kremlin has been seeking, causing disparate member states to unite and build solidarity. The AP reports:

“There is a general rethinking that being divided doesn’t help anybody in the EU anymore,” said Katinka Barysch, an analyst with the Centre for European Reform, an independent London think tank. “It is not a sustainable system — the Germans siding more with the Russians than their own EU partners. I think that has become fairly clear.” Not only were EU officials willing to raise human rights and restrictions on protesters during the summit, but EU President Jose Manuel Barroso warned Russia that it must deal with a united EU — a clear reference to Russian pressure on new members such as Poland, which faces a Russian meat embargo. … “Never has the European Union shown so much solidarity with Poland,” the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza said in a front-page commentary. “Barroso made it clear that the Union will not allow Russia to sow discord among its members — that the principle ‘one for all and all for one’ still stands.” In Lithuania, the director of the Vilnius International Relations and Politics Institute, Raimundas Lopata, noted that “Russia is constantly testing the boundaries of EU solidarity by pushing one or another newcomer.” “This,” Lopata added, “has resulted in the first timid attempts to unite forces and act as one strong organization.”