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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bypassing Europe Is a Mistake

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This week's Group of Eight summit is one that is likely to be a triumph of process over substance. The reasons for this are many and multifaceted, but at their core lie two fundamental problems.

The first is that it is hard to imagine a serious discussion about global issues when so much of the globe is clearly absent.

The second is that there seems to be a growing divergence in worldviews among some of the members. More specifically, Russia and the West appear increasingly to have what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called, in reference to the question of Kosovo's status, "diametrically opposed" perspectives on global affairs.

The problem related to the missing important global players is a fundamental G8 issue that must be addressed in some detail and with a general re-evaluation of the organization's purpose in the world. The second issue, however, is one that the G8 is ill-suited to fix, as it is primarily a fundamental question at the heart of the current Russian-Western relationship. Hopefully, the summit will serve to highlight how serious this problem at the center of international diplomacy is, and to start generating ideas on how to move beyond this increasingly acrimonious conversation.

While U.S. President George W. Bush's invitation to President Vladimir Putin to spend some time after the summit at his family home in Kennebunkport is a welcome gesture with a clearly positive significance, it has also become clear that the key interlocutor with Russia in international affairs should be the European Union.

There are numerous reasons for this. It is in part due to the symbiotic energy and trade relationship between them. Europe depends on Russian energy in the same way that Russia depends on Europe as a source for investment and capital. Beyond this, Europe and Russia share a continent and a considerable common security space.

Until now, unfortunately, it seems as though these facts have been broadly disconnected from the debates on Russian-EU relations, something that has helped feed the current stalemate. For Europe, an inability to present a common front in negotiations has impeded progress. For Russia, the tendency to treat international affairs as a zero-sum game and to present itself as the global "anti-America" has caused the problems.

Unfortunately, one effect of the bilateral Russia-U.S. meeting is that it will reinforce this sense in Moscow, and further undermine the crucial centrality of Europe in the conversation. It is Europe, and not the United States with which Russia has a significant security and energy relationship, but Russian rumbling about troubling issues tends to imply that it is the dark hand of the United States that is pulling the strings behind the events. Europeans seem often to be considered here as playing the roles of puppets in a larger game between Russia and the United States. It is a complete return to the Cold War paradigm.

This is not to suggest that the United States does not have a role to play, and thus far its behavior and refusal to respond in the face of particularly inflammatory rhetoric from Russia has been exemplary. The time has come, however, for Europe to assume a more robust common posture, founded upon an acknowledgement of the common security space that Russia and the EU occupy.

This involves first getting together to understand why Russia sees the positions on Kosovo's status as diametrically opposite. Every effort must be made to engage Moscow on an issue it considers so fundamental. Europe must present its case clearly, pointing out that Serbia's geographical position on the continent makes it a priority issue. Efforts must be made to emphasize that Kosovar independence is not some sort of global precedent, and more work must be done to bring the Serbs and the EU together more broadly. The gradual elevation of a European nation within Europe to the role of pariah state is something that the EU cannot countenance.

Next, the EU must establish red lines on Georgia and Ukraine. Legitimate Russian concerns have to be borne in mind, but the EU's mildly nebulous policy on both, including a lack of clarity on either EU or NATO membership, is counterproductive. While hasty decisions will not help, some direction might aid in focusing European efforts so that they can be made in a manner that will allow Russia to come to the table.

Finally, Central Asia must remain a point of European focus and interest beyond German Chancellor Angela Merkel's push while she holds the rotating EU presidency. This is not only for realpolitik reasons of energy and transnational threats, but also to underscore the EU's desire to engage in helping the region develop. Russian involvement in the region may be bolstered by strong and long-standing connections, but there is also an unfortunate historical element to these ties that cannot be ignored. If Europe continues to reinforce the fact that it is not looking to promote regime change in the region and emphasizes that it is not trying to displace Russian power in the region (something Brussels can hopefully accomplish by leveraging its close connection to Moscow), then the two might find that their interests do not clash in Central Asia. Europe could actually prove a useful ally in helping nurture a long-lasting stability in this Russian border region.

For years, official rhetoric out of Moscow has characterized Russia as a part of Europe, yet its stance has increasingly become one of direct opposition to the West. Putin's threat to target EU countries in response to U.S. plans to establish missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland is only the latest flashpoint demonstrating that this week's G8 summit is a good time to try to halt this escalating rhetoric. The EU can engender a rethink about the current course of policy by emphasizing its symbiotic relationship with Russia, while clearly setting down Europe's critical interests with regard to Kosovo and Serbia, the union's newest members and neighbors, and Central Asia.

Raffaello Pantucci is a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and Alexandros Petersen is deputy director of operations at the Henry Jackson Society at the University of Cambridge.