PERHAPS Eduard Shevardnadze best summarized the situation in Europe these days.
``The [cold] war is over. Beware of the peace,'' Mr. Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister who played a major role in smashing cold war barriers, said at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe summit.
``The very idea of a common European house is nearly dead and is being consumed by the fires of numerous conflicts and wars,'' Shevardnadze continued, referring to the strife in the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union.
Given CSCE-NATO turmoil, it seems up to the European Union (EU) to overcome the negative mood whipped up by Balkan warfare, and keep the dream of a common European house alive. But efforts toward integration have hit snags, primarily due to Russia's opposition to NATO's eastward expansion.
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev refused last week to approve the ``Partnership for Peace'' that NATO had offered to Moscow.
``Russia is very concerned about building new borders in Europe, and I think Russia feels the discussion about NATO's emergence has been untimely,'' says one Moscow-based Western diplomat, adding that Russia probably acted more out of fear than aggression.
Alexander Golz, an analyst at the Red Star military newspaper, says both Mr. Kozyrev and Yeltsin acted on behalf of Russian security interests.
``We don't want to see an end of partnership between Russia and the West, but unfortunately that danger is becoming more and more realistic,'' he warns. ``Russia should be allowed to sit down at the table and fully participate in NATO planning, or else ... there will again be a threat from the East.''
EU heads of state will gather in Essen, Germany, on Friday and Saturday, and not so surprisingly, they will be busy discussing ways to bring the Continent together.
The summit's host, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, ardently backs creation of a federal Europe, and is taking a ``damn-the-torpedoes'' approach.
``The German government will work intensively in the coming years to ensure that decisive steps are taken toward ending the division of Europe once and for all,'' the chancellor said in a late November policy speech.
In a letter to fellow EU leaders Monday, Kohl said the Essen summit should finalize a blueprint for the organization's expansion into Central Europe. The current 12 EU members should send ``a clear signal of our resolve,'' Kohl wrote.
In the view of Germany, which sits on the East-West fault line, the rapid incorporation of Central Europe into the EU would help eliminate a dangerous threat to Continental stability. It would provide economic security to nations struggling to make the transition from communism to capitalism, German officials argue.
But Russian observers note the danger in barring the former empire from formally entering Europe's strongest multilateral organizations.
``It's difficult to accept ... that NATO partners will not seriously consider letting Russia into its select circle, once again repeating the old mantra about Russia's `uniqueness,' '' Foreign Ministry adviser Galina Sidorova wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta this week.
``As in the case with the EU, what is important here is the principle, and not the readiness or willingness of today's Russia to make such a step. If in this situation you keep convincing Russia of its `uniqueness,' it will become even more `unique' than it has been for the last 70 years.''
``Russia is ``a guest everywhere, sitting everywhere on a folding chair,'' adds Stanislav Kondrashov, a political commentator for the liberal daily Izvestia, earlier this week.
Even some other EU nations, including Britain and France, don't share Germany's robust enthusiasm for eastward expansion, or for the federalization of Europe. With the EU set to accept three new members - Austria, Finland, and Sweden - on Jan. 1, some leaders say it is too soon to discuss further expansion.
At a Nov. 28 meeting, EU foreign ministers agreed on the need to expand into Central Europe. But they dodged the crucial question of how to pay for it. Estimates show that eastward expansion requires huge spending increases, especially in subsidies to Central European farmers.