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4 Oct, 2009 08:49

EU and Russia “cannot afford to have disputes everywhere”

Thierry de Montbrial, the director of the French Institute of International Relations, spoke to RT about marked shifts in the balance of international diplomacy and Russia’s role in what is becoming a multi-polar world.

RT: As a constant observer of Russia’s relations with the West, do you see an opportunity of starting a new page that many have been hoping for when Obama came to power?

Thierry de Montbrial: I hope so. But I think, unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding between Russia and the West, and very deep misunderstanding, which is based on ideological considerations.

The West on the whole continues to insist on propagating democracy and human rights and so on and so forth. It’s been criticizing the regime, the Russian regime, claimed that Russia’s becoming imperialistic again, and this sort of rhetoric I personally totally disagree with. And I think that on the Russian side there is a feeling that the West is trying to take advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union to encircle it more or less. I think that this is a deep misunderstanding and I think that Obama is starting with a sincere desire to improve the relations, but to transfer it into reality requires a lot of will and continuity.

Q: Do you think that the European Union is ready to move on from the tension created just over a year ago with the conflict in the Caucasus?

A: Yes, because I think this is our common interest. Nevertheless, the tragedies are still there, the Caucasus case is perceived in the West, and particularly in Western Europe, as an imperialistic move. This perception, you know, exists. It’s still there. At the same time, everybody understands that it is important to have relations with Russia as good as possible. Of course, you know very well that the European Union does not have a single unified policy, and each country is playing its own cards. On the whole, what I am saying about the nature of this disagreement is true to all the major European countries. But yes, I think there must be room for improvement, and another very important point, which is true to both the US and the European Union, which is that we have so many other problems in the Middle East, in particular, in Afghanistan, that to improve our relationship with Russia I think is also a consequence of that. We cannot afford to have disputes everywhere.

Q: NATO has recently resumed its cooperation with Russia. However, many people in Russia are skeptical about it, thinking that it’s limited and has no practical results. What is your opinion?

A: I think more generally there is a real issue about the future of NATO. And this organization and alliance – this is more than a classical alliance. It is more or less a community, an unidentified object, politically speaking. And after the collapse of the Soviet Union it survived, but today more and more there is a very real question about what is it for? And the record of NATO in Afghanistan, as I said before, is not that good. So, I think there is and there will be a lot of discussion on this with NATO.

So, in the future, this of course is going to be related with a question of the relationship of NATO and Russia. At this stage I cannot make one single prediction. I think a range of possibilities is quite open, and not necessarily hostile vis-à-vis Russia. But I, as an analyst and observer, and a friend of your country, I understand that for Russians the way NATO has developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union may be irritating, to say the least.

Q: Well, that would probably include that one thorny issue – what is the mood in Europe and particularly in France towards NATO taking in Georgia and Ukraine?

A: I am definitely among those who believe that it will be a huge political mistake to extend NATO to Georgia and a posteriori to Ukraine. I am one of those who believe that the question raised by Medvedev, namely how to shape a new security structure in Europe, is a very relevant issue. But I think it will make progress all the more than Russia itself is able to make concrete proposals. One of the problems we have is that sometimes Russia reacts nervously against what the West is doing, for understandable reasons. But when it comes to more concrete – we can make very general proposals to such a new architecture – but when it comes to make concrete, detailed proposal, there is nothing. So, my suggestion would be for Russia is to take the ball in its hands and to make proposals.

Q: The proposal of the European Collective Security System… It seemed that the United States wasn’t really that interested in the idea of the European Collective Security System. Do you think that the idea is more appreciated in Europe?

A: I think there can be a more understanding, of course, for this sort of thing. It still needs, even in Western Europe, it still needs more work for the relevant elites to become really interested. But what I hear – I won’t say everyday, but quite often, especially on the part of experts or diplomats and the like – is that they are waiting for Russia to be more explicit about this idea. And I think they are right in the sense since it is Russian proposal, it is up to the Russians to go into a little more details about what they want to achieve. But today I think in the West most people are not ripe to approach a problem this way. But it would help, I repeat, if the Russian side, instead of complaining constantly about the West, were a little bit more constructive, more proactive.

Q: In one of your recent articles you were talking about a need for the new world order which inevitably is going to be multi-polar. Where do you see Russia’s role in it?

A: Well, I think that Russia is back, in spite of all its weaknesses, in the sense that Russia is one of the poles in this new multi-polar world. For a number of reasons: the huge size of your territory on the European continent, or Eurasian continent; the fact that you have the culture of a major power, and culture is very important; you have still an armament industry, nuclear weapons and so forth and so on. And you have, I must say, great diplomacy. I have a lot of respect for Russian diplomacy. I always stress the fact that during the difficult years, the nineties, it is really the Russian diplomats who saved the honor of Russia internationally. I think this is important to recognize this fact and to pay respect to what they have achieved.

So, Russia is a pole. There are not so many, because for me a pole in the international system has to be a country or a political unit having both certain economic capabilities, but also military capabilities, you know. A country like Brazil, for instance, is certainly important as far as economic government is concerned, but I would not say that it could, for instance, apply in my judgment, at least to the permanent members of the Security Council, precisely because it has no military power. So there are not so many poles. But I think that Russia obviously has a role. I think no order in Europe particularly can be achieved without Russia. To a large extent, this holds true for the Middle East too. But there should be a learning process. In my judgment, contrary to most of my fellow countrymen or others in the West, I think we have to recognize the heterogeneity of ideologies. We should stop constantly preaching you what you should do, at the least this is highly counterproductive. You will follow your own way. But the fact that we do not have the same political regime, for instance, does not mean that we should not cooperate in some major issues internationally. That’s obvious for the economic rehab, this is also clear if we want to fight terrorism. Terrorism is an issue for all of us, including the Chinese, and we have to cooperate on these poles, even if we do not share the same political values or principles.

RT: Thank you very much for this interview.