An Answer to the Russian Challenge

BERLIN – For 19 years, the West (America and Europe) has been putting off answering a critical strategic question: what role should post-Soviet Russia actually play globally and in the European order? Should it be treated as a difficult partner or a strategic adversary?

Even when this choice became critically acute during the crisis of Russia’s short war against Georgia last summer, the West didn’t provide a conclusive answer to this question. If you follow most East Europeans, the United Kingdom and the Bush administration, the answer is “strategic adversary.” But most West Europeans prefer “difficult partner.” These seemingly mutually exclusive alternatives have one thing in common: neither of them has been thought through to the end.

If you see Russia as a strategic adversary – and the restoration of Great Russian power politics under Vladimir Putin, to the detriment of the rule of law in domestic and foreign policy, does indeed speak for it – then the West should fundamentally change its agenda.

While Russia is no longer the superpower it was in the Soviet era, militarily it is still a great power, at least in Europe and Asia. To address the numerous regional conflicts (Iran, Middle East, Afghanistan/Pakistan, Central Asia, North Korea) and global challenges (climate protection, disarmament, arms control, nuclear anti-proliferation, energy security) that have high priority on the Western agenda, cooperation with Russia is necessary.