The remarks of Merkel, Sarkozy and Medvedev and their body language at the October 19th closing ceremony of the first trilateral summit in five years give us an unequivocal indication of their mutual relations. Kremlinologists can surely find here the answer to their number one question: will Dmitry Medvedev continue in office after 2012.
Medvedev at Deauville: An Eyewitness Account
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
In the run-up to the summit meeting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the French coastal town of Deauville on 18-19 October, there were expressions of concern in American media over the prospect that precisely these three would be discussing the structure of European security without the presence of American representatives. These were the three nations which had colluded to frustrate the United States before its invasion of Iraq in 2003 by denying it UN Security Council approval. Would they again come together to damage U.S. global leadership in some new balance of power exercise?
Washington’s specific misgivings, as reported in The New York Time on October 17th (Judy Dempsey, “Russia Wants to Formalize Relation with E.U.”) arose from Chancellor Merkel’s recent expressions of interest in bringing Russia regularly into the midst of EU policy-making by creating a new entity called the EU-Russia Political and Security Committee. The idea was supposedly to move forward with closer cooperation between the major powers on the Continent than has been possible from the NATO-Russia Council which dates from the presidency of Bill Clinton. If implemented, the new idea would effectively remove the United States from a major dimension of intra-European state-to-state relations, as the Russians have long sought.
The German-French-Russian summit was feared all the more because it was scheduled just before the long-awaited NATO summit in Lisbon during November when the Alliance would be deciding upon a new strategy for the 21st century which has been informed by the resolute former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It will be remembered that Albright had worked with might and main in Clinton’s second term to keep the Russians in a small box. The Kremlin had not yet taken a position on the invitation to come to Lisbon for side meetings.
American media were not the only ones to brace for the worst should a German-French-Russian axis reconstitute itself at Deauville. This is a nightmare scenario for the new EU members from Central Europe and the Baltics led by Russophobe governments. And there is a good deal of skepticism over possibilities for cooperation with Russia in security issues even in some Member States of long standing, such as Sweden, or the U.K., for that matter. They particularly resent what they see as a successful Russian tactic of divide and conquer when the two drivers of the EU, Germany and France, make policy towards Russia without the participation (read: foot-dragging) of other EU members.
This very resentment and sense of alarm underlay the preparation and timely release on Friday, October 15th, of an 80-page study entitled “The Spectre of A Multipolar Europe” by the London-based think tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations. In their outreach to the European press which got considerable coverage across the Continent, the top management of the Soros-funded ECFR set out the following thesis:
“The Merkel-Medvedev-Sarkozy summit has the right agenda but the wrong participants. We need an informal European security trialogue that brings together the three key pillars of European security: Turkey, Russia and the E.U.”
Without going into the specifics of their argument, the overarching idea was to ensure Europe would be speaking as a single entity when dealing with Russia and would do so not all by itself, but alongside another major power. If the USA was too distracted by other parts of the world to be an effective participant in any trialogue, as the authors of this study believe, then Turkey would be co-opted for the purpose.
In the event, it now appears these worries in the USA and in some European capitals were unjustified. While any confidential, as yet unpublished understandings reached at Deauville between Russia, Germany and France may upset what I am about to say, there is enough circumstantial evidence from the statements of the three leaders at their public closing ceremony on the 19th and from their body language as revealed on television coverage, for me to state with reasonable certainty that the Russians came away with less than nothing.
In this connection I can express particular appreciation to the Russian state television channel Vesti and its internet portal for making available to us all rather extensive broadcasts of major international events in which Russia participates. Thanks to them we are all today ‘flies on the wall.’
Most media commentary on the results of the summit both in the West and within Russia has focused on the decision announced with respect to ending the visa regime for travel between Russia and the EU. Abolition of visas has been one of the key foreign policy objectives of the Medvedev administration. Indeed on the eve of the summit, for the n-th time Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called upon European business leaders attending an investment forum to lobby their governments for an early end to visas.
Instead what Dmitri Medvedev got from Merkel and Sarkozy was the hazy idea of creating a common economic and security area between Russia and the EU some time before 2025 which will, among its other features, involve visa free travel of the respective citizens.
2025! In the world of heads of state in which time is measured by intervals between the next elections, 15 years equals never. Moreover, it clearly fits within the range of time suggested by Russia’s least friendly neighbors in the EU. And, what is perhaps most galling, it means that Russia would be waiting out in the cold while the likes of Georgia and the Ukraine get their visa free travel first.
The amazing thing is that Medvedev seems to have swallowed, indeed readily agreed with this demolition of his sand castle, asking plaintively that a ‘road map’ be put in place leading to the never-never land of visa free travel.
It bears mention that in her nominally kindly explanation of how the visa regime could only be revised in a step by step manner, Chancellor Merkel let drop the remark that she and President Sarkozy appreciated how visa free travel was a very important issue for the Russians. Indeed, and is it not important for Western corporations doing business with Russia? More than a hint of condescension hung in the air.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who was otherwise politically challenged by his compatriots rioting against his pension reforms while the summit was proceeding, emerged radiant at Deauville. Was this feeling of wellbeing at all connected with the truculence towards his Russian guest which he permitted himself?
Sarkozy had no problem ticking off to the expectant media the areas of common interest which, in his view, bind together Russia and the EU:
1) Russia’s wealth of natural resources
2) enforcing sanctions on Iran
3) finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The list and its order of priorities betoken a very patronizing attitude, which was further expressed in Sarkozy’s affirmation that Europe wanted to help the Russians to implement their modernization program.
This would sound normal if the object of Europe’s solicitude were Rwanda, but it sounds peculiar. not to say insulting, when addressed to Russia. There was more than a little irony in the title which the daily Kommersant assigned to this particular news item: "We should help Mr. Medvedev..." In fact, the idea is that French and other European corporations will be making direct investment in production capacity or selling equipment and knowhow. This means decisions taken by private investors based on their own risk-return assessment. It scarcely can be described as state-to-state foreign aid and does not depend on Sarkozy’s good will.
As for European security itself, there was hardly a word said in the closing ceremony. The main news here was the announcement by Dmitri Medvedev that, after all, he had decided to fly to Lisbon for those side meetings. If the relationship with the Western powers proceeds along the lines set down in Deauville, he will be spending a lot of time in the corridors.
To sum up, at Deauville Dmitry Medvedev was treated as inconsequential by his interlocutors. He came across as a light-weight who was being manipulated by the more powerful personalities. Sarkozy and Merkel, both of whom had fought their way to the top and not just gotten a tap from the boss to stand in for him.
Gentle reader, if this disinterested observer in Belgium spotted on his screen something resembling the buffoonery of the Yeltsin years when Russia was pushed around and its national interests trod upon, then surely the shrewd party bosses of United Russia sitting in Moscow saw the same.
When Dmitry Medvedev launched his poorly conceived campaign to redesign the structure of European security which culminated in the publication of a working document devoid of content on his website in late November 2009, he was pulled out of the pit several months later by his Foreign Minister. Sergei Lavrov turned the initiative in a very different direction, linking it to the resuscitation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. I discussed this at some length in “Russia’s Draft Treaty on European Security: Sergei Lavrov to the Rescue,’ which I posted here on 15.02.2010.
This time it is scarcely possible for the Ministry to save Mr Medvedev from himself and from his incurable naivety. It is fairly obvious that he will be a one-term president, just like his counterpart in Washington, D.C., but for exactly the opposite reasons. Whereas Barack Obama has been inexcusably weak in facing down the Pentagon, thereby making the unpopular and unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan his own, Dmitry Medvedev has shown himself to be inexcusably weak vis-à-vis Russia’s international talking partners and adversaries.
Thus, the notion that his political fate somehow depends on arm-wrestling with Vladimir Putin misses the point entirely. It is scarcely possible that Medvedev will be supported by his party for a further term, quite apart from the role Vladimir Putin chooses to play in Russian politics after 2012.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2010
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G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University. His latest book Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12 is scheduled for publication in April 2013 and will be available from Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.