Russia’s European Courtship

The other day, I flagged what seemed to be significant developments in Russia-EU and Russia-NATO relations. Specifically, Russia’s offer of material support (six to eight desperately needed helicopters) to the EUFOR Chad mission, as well as logistical support (relaxed supply transport restrictions) for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Today, M K Bhadrakumar has an Asia Times Online article that provides some context to the NATO angle. Basically, Russia is taking advantage of the desperate situation in Afghanistan to float a comprehensive proposal that would essentially break NATO’s (read: America’s) monopoly on stabilization efforts in Afghanistan in particular, but in the region (ie. Pakistan) in general. The move would open the floodgates to involving both Russia and China (through the CSTO and SCO) in any strategic solution to the region’s problems, including extremist violence but also the growing drug-trafficking problem in Afghanistan.

As significantly, in light of Russia’s historic contribution to the EUFOR Chad mission, the effort seems aimed at driving a wedge in the trans-Atlantic alliance by luring Europhile EU countries (ie. France and Germany) into closer strategic cooperation with Russia. In his January NY Times Sunday Magazine article, Waving Goodbye to Hegemony, Parag Khanna raised the specter of Russia integrating the EU. Intuitively, the move seems to make sense for both sides: Russia gains the multi-lateral legitimacy that comes with the EU brand identity; the EU gains the clout that comes with Russia’s strategic and expeditionary capacities. Their mutual dependance in terms of energy purchases only lends added incentive.

Obviously, this is nothing but strategic daydreaming for now. But if an EU-Russia marriage ever did happen, it would start with the kind of flirtation we’re seeing now.