Mikhael Gorbachev has penned an article in the New York Times reflecting on how the period since the fall of the Berlin Wall (the 20th anniversary of which will be celebrated on Friday) has not necessarily heralded a less distrustful approach to Russia. He cites the open letter to to Barack Obama by Vaclav Havel and other European luminaries in September, counseling the US President to take a firm stand on Russia, and the OSCE resolution equating Stalinism and Nazism as moves demonstrating that latent russophobia is still hampering unity in Europe.
To my regret, the events took a different course. This has stalled the emergence of a new Europe. Instead of the old dividing lines, new ones have appeared. Europe has witnessed wars and bloodshed. Mistrust and outdated stereotypes persist: Russia is suspected of evil intentions and of aggressive, imperial designs.
I was shocked by a letter that politicians from Central and Eastern Europe sent to President Barack Obama in June. It was, in effect, a call to abandon his policy of engagement with Russia. Is it not shameful that European politicians gave no thought to the disastrous consequences of a new confrontation they would provoke?
At the same time, Europe is being drawn into a debate over responsibility for unleashing World War II. Attempts are being made to equate Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Those attempts are wrong, historically flawed and morally unacceptable.
Those who hope to build a new wall of mutual suspicion and animosity in Europe do a disservice to their own countries and to Europe as a whole.
Europe will only become a strong global player if it truly becomes a common home for Europeans, in the East as well as in the West. Europe must breathe with two lungs, as Pope John Paul II once said.
How do we move toward that goal?
In the early 1990s, the European Union decided to accelerate its enlargement. Much has been accomplished; those achievements are real.
The implications of this process were not carefully thought through, however. The idea that all European problems would be solved by building Europe “from the West” turned out to be less than realistic and probably unworkable.
A more measured pace of enlargement would have given the European Union time to develop a new model of relations with Russia and other countries that have no prospects of E.U. accession in the foreseeable future.
The current model of E.U. relations with other European countries is based on absorbing as many of them as quickly as possible while leaving the relationship with Russia a “pending matter.” That is simply unsustainable.
Some in Europe are reluctant to accept this. Is this reluctance a sign of unwillingness to accept, and take part in, Russia’s resurgence? What kind of Russia do you want to see: a strong, confident nation in its own right or just a supplier of natural resources that “knows its place?”
Too many European politicians do not want a level playing field with Russia. They want one side to be a teacher or prosecutor and the other, Russia, to be a student or defendant. Russia will not accept this model. It wants to be understood; simply put, it wants to be treated as an equal partner.
Rising to the historic challenges of security, economic recovery, the environment and migration requires a redesign of global and, most importantly, European political and economic relations.
I urge all Europeans to give constructive and unbiased consideration to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s proposal for a new European security treaty. Once this core issue is resolved, Europe will speak with a full voice.
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