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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Had No Hope of Saving the Summit

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Cynics might say the Russia-EU summit at Volzhsky Utyos near Samara on Friday was a success simply because it took place. This was hardly a foregone conclusion.

A few weeks before the summit, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson stated the obvious -- that the current level of misunderstanding and mistrust between the EU and Russia was greater than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

The summit provided no evidence to the contrary.

When Germany assumed the EU presidency on Jan. 1, it hoped to announce three success stories at the conclusion of this summit: the opening of negotiations on a new strategic partnership pact to replace the Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which expires at the end of this year; the lifting of the exorbitant fees charged to European airlines for flights to Asia over Russian territory; and progress on improving European energy security.

Failure on all these fronts is certainly not what Germany expected.

Building on the legacy of close ties between President Vladimir Putin and former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, the current chancellor, Angela Merkel, made the task of improving Russia-EU relations a priority of the German EU presidency.

The summit failed to live up to Merkel's expectations for a number of reasons, starting with the polarization of views within EU institutions and among EU member countries, governing coalitions and political parties, and the diverging policies that have emerged as a result.

Two rival approaches have emerged in the European debate over relations with Russia. The first is associated with Schr?der, former French President Jacques Chirac and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. It enjoys support in business circles; socialist, social-democratic, green and liberal parties; and institutions, such as the German-Russian Forum and the so-called St. Petersburg Dialogue, which support the broadening of economic, social and cultural ties with Russia.

These groups accept the Kremlin's portrayal of Boris Yeltsin's presidency as a time of disorder and decline, and of Putin as the driving force of political stability and economic growth. They regard a strategic partnership with Russia as a long-term but entirely realistic goal.

In a position paper drafted in advance of Germany's EU presidency, the German Foreign Ministry maintained that Russia should be actively encouraged to become constructively involved in European affairs through fresh offers of cooperation and integration and the creation of a network of mutual dependence aimed at binding Russia irreversibly to Europe.

In line with this approach, nothing is to be feared from broader cooperation on energy; some have advocated forging an "energy alliance" with Russia.

When it comes to European security issues, adherents of this approach argue that the United States ignored Russian concerns when it announced its plan to install a radar system in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland and to create military staging posts in Bulgaria and Romania.

Similarly, they say, those who call for further eastward expansion of NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine, and those who oppose ratification of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, fail to take Russia's interests into account.

Such moves detracted from rather than enhanced European security, they say.

Finally, the members of this camp regard the current focus on values as misdirected, if not utterly pointless.

The second camp includes conservative governments and political parties; the new Central and Eastern European members of NATO and the EU, notably the Baltic states, Poland and the Czech Republic; and the majority of research institutes and academic specialists who work on Russia and foreign journalists reporting from Moscow.

From this group's perspective, Putin's second term has been characterized by an arrogance of power, a return to authoritarian domestic policies and increasing assertiveness abroad.

They note with concern Moscow's use of energy, along with other commodities and services, as instruments of political coercion. Over the past 16 months, they point to the shut-off of gas or oil to Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus; the diversion of oil from the Mazeikiu Nafta refinery in Lithuania, the Ventspils port in Latvia, and Tallinn in Estonia to Russian ports; the curtailment of coal deliveries to Estonia; and bans on the import of wine, spirits, mineral water or other agricultural products from Georgia, Moldova and Poland.

Members of this second camp see an inexorable progression from the strengthening of the Kremlin's so-called power vertical to increasing state control over strategic sectors of the economy and the use of energy as an instrument of foreign policy.

They find proof to support this view in such initiatives as the Nord Stream gas pipeline; the idea -- endorsed by Putin -- of an OPEC-style gas cartel; recent agreements with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on the shipment of Central Asian gas and oil through Russia to Europe; and the plethora of deals that Gazprom has signed with companies from Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Hungary and Slovakia.

This group maintains that Russia poses a threat to European energy security. When it comes to European political and military security, they see Putin's Russia not as a trustworthy strategic partner, but as a competitor.

As proof they point to Moscow's uncompromising stance on the so-called frozen conflicts in the former Soviet republics and the issue of Kosovo; its negative assessment and attempts to undermine the color revolutions; its indifference to the repressive policies of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko; its almost hysterical reaction to the arrest of four Russian military officers in Georgia on suspicion of spying and the relocation of a Soviet war memorial in Estonia; Putin's recent diatribe against the United States at a security conference in Munich; Russia's opposition to the U.S. missile-shield plan; and hawkish remarks made by General Yury Baluyevsky, head of the armed forces General Staff who warned that Russia could target the U.S. missile shield in Europe if it were deployed.

Merkel and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have made valiant attempts to bridge the gap between the two warring camps within Europe, and between the EU and Russia. But their efforts have come to nothing.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers held four days before the summit, Poland's Anna Fotyga said she was "completely dissatisfied" with German preparations for the summit. Lithuania announced that, like Poland, it would oppose the opening of negotiations on a new strategic partnership agreement unless the gas pipeline Mazeikiu Nafta were put back into operation.

It should be noted that Russia did little to help Germany's cause. Moscow refused to relent on the Polish meat ban. Neither Merkel's lengthy telephone conversation with Putin the weekend before the summit, nor Steinmeier's hastily arranged trip to Moscow, produced any concessions.

As a result, the summit ended with no new agreement, no joint communique and no prospect of any improvement before the Group of Eight summit in Germany early next month.

Hannes Adomeit is senior research associate at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin.