Europe needs new Ostpolitik

Timothy Garton Ash: Europe needs a strategy to cope with Russia

Russia has lost an empire and not yet found a role. There’s only a limited amount we can or should do to affect the internal evolution of Russia. Which way Russia goes is up to the Russians. But while that post-imperial drama is played out inside Russia’s borders, over decades rather than months, we in the rest of Europe do have every right and every reason to protect our own vital interests.

Much of the Russian foreign policy elite treats the EU as a kind of transient, postmodern, late 20th-century anachronism: flawed in principle and feeble in practice. What matters, they say, in the 21st century as in the 19th, is the muscle and determination of great powers. And so Russia has been trying to restore the country’s dominance over its neighbours by hook or by crook.

There will be no European foreign policy unless there is a European Russia policy. This is not an anti-Russian recipe. Anti-Putin, yes; but Putin is not Russia. There are those in Moscow who recognise that a clear, stable, law-bound international environment would be good for the long-term evolution of Russia as a prosperous democratic nation state.

Not for the first time, the future of a larger Europe depends on the direction of German Ostpolitik. Today, the key to a benign long-term evolution in a divided Moscow lies in a change of policy in Berlin.

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