Russia tries to exploit division in Europe
Moscow's strategy to drive a wedge between European countries was on display during Monday's EU crisis meeting.
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That strategy was on display Monday in the first European Union (EU) crisis summit since the 2003 Iraq war. The 27-member Union strongly condemned Moscow's Aug. 8 blitz into Georgia and its recognition of two breakaway republics – and warned Russia that it faced isolation if such actions continued, though the summit fell short of more serious and controversial actions, like sanctions.
Before, during, and after the EU event – which ended with an 11-point statement seen by Brussels insiders as marking a "crossroads" in Europe's relationship with Russia – Moscow put on a concerted effort to highlight divisions among European nations, and between the US and Europe.
It sought to target divisions inside Germany, played on Italian and French concerns about the consequences of tough actions, and belittled the deeper worries in the "new Europe" bloc, led by Poland and the Baltics, contrasting them with the "reasonable" approach of what former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously called "old Europe," further west.
"Moscow is certainly trying to divide Europe, and to divide Europe from the US," argues Ronald Asmus, head of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund. "In the past few days they've started to try to emasculate NATO, to tell Europe not to go with the US. The comments sound Soviet-era."
Moscow's diplomatic "salami tactics," as they have been called, are expected to continue this fall, as EU officials decide how to support Georgia with a proposed EU observer mission – and whether or not Russia is complying with the terms of a cease-fire it signed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr. Sarkozy visits Moscow next week to discuss the Georgia crisis.
Much of the initiative for the Sept. 1 summit came from Eastern European countries, who pushed in Brussels for a massive aid program for Georgia, the specifics of which were not clear in the final statement.
Speaking after the EU meeting, Moscow's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said, "It is clear who the loser is – it is the policy pushed by the Polish president and his Baltic co-thinkers; they acted as the advocates of Washington's line to undermine pan-European cooperation."
Just ahead of the summit, Moscow targeted Germany, which relies on Russia for 40 percent of its gas imports and about 35 percent of its oil. Also, divisions between a Moscow-leaning lobby and a more transatlantic position are expected to heighten in the run-up to German elections next year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the reconciliation between Russia and Germany is one of the most important factors of the construction of a new Europe. "We will not let anybody place a wedge between our two peoples," he said.