The Paths to Moscow

At the Kremlin © PP

          The President of the French Republic is going to Moscow to discuss matters concerning the European continent in the first place. This approach can only be encouraged. The meeting with the Russian President could have just as easily taken place in Beijing, on the margins of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, and the message would have been even stronger. The truce of sport is indeed a supreme principle of which Pierre de Coubertin’s France – which will host Paris 2024 – is founded to be a natural repository. In any case, it will be a meeting in the heart of Eurasia in gestation, a new formulation from Atlantic Europe to the Urals.

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We sometimes talk about the “Chinese card” that Russia is playing. The evocation is not new and already dates from about fifteen years. Russia’s Asian tropism is also natural, given its history and geography, for the largest country in the world with its own “Far East”. If the term “near abroad” is part of the post-Soviet phraseology, “the East that is not distant” (Nedalnyi Vostok) and designates in particular the peninsula of Kamchatka or the Sakhalin Islands corresponds to another reality.

On the other hand, phantasms must be brought down to a lower level. The share of foreign investment in Russia, far from decreasing over the last twenty years, has increased to 75%. Russia’s external trade is 37% with the countries of the European Union.

In terms of energy, the majority of flows are directed towards the West and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is today part of the debate. This can be presented, or even experienced, as a dependency (NB: almost total for a country like Poland; in the case of Germany, 55% of the imported gas comes from Russia), but also judged positively by presenting these flows as the substrate of a partnership. The Soviet Union, at the height of the Cold War, never resorted to the use of the gas weapon and always respected long-term agreements (NB: for example with GDF). Gazprom is now making deliveries at a minimum required, which does not fully satisfy current European demand in a recovery phase, but in no way violate any contractual agreement whatsoever.

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Bolchaya Ordynka, Moscow © PP

The Ukrainian case should not be reserved for military strategists, to paraphrase a formula of Clemenceau about war. The problem is old and linked to a history that goes back to “Kievan Rus”. The current Russian President did not create the problem. During the very contemporary period, the question arose at the end of the Soviet Union, for example with thorny bilateral discussions between Kiev and Moscow on the sharing of the Black Sea fleet.

In addition to its historical, strategic and economic dimension, the problem has a psychological dimension that escapes total rationality. We are talking about the Russian minority in Donbas, but the question of mixed families could have been raised long ago. At the end of the USSR, they were counted by millions on Russian territory. The very popular Alexandre Routskoï, Vice President of Boris Yeltsin and former hero of Afghanistan where he had been a fighter pilot, proclaimed in the early 1990s his inner heartbreak. This heartfelt cry made the headline of the Russian press under the title: “I, Russian officer, of Ukrainian mother. In recent days, the successful writer Vladimir Fedorovsky- former interpreter of Leonid Brezhnev and Soviet diplomat – was talking on television programs highlighting his Ukrainian origins through his father. For him it was not a question of reinvigorated nationalism but of the anguish aroused by a confrontation between two countries whose destinies were intimately linked.

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The time has come to be clear. One only has to go to Ukraine to realize the country’s fundamental “hybrid” character. In Kiev, one no longer feels quite in the East but also not in the West and this lack of reference can be confusing. Let us say unequivocally that, in view of the above considerations, the vocation of Ukraine is to be a bridge between the western part and the more eastern component of Europe on the vast Eurasian continent.

Ukraine is not destined to be a member of NATO, neither today nor tomorrow, which was already opposed in 2008 by the French President and the German Chancellor. And we should reconsider our own status within the Integrated Military Organization of the Alliance, in the sense of greater “strategic autonomy”, an expression that must be taken at face value.

Ukraine, where essential and indispensable reforms are awaited like Samuel Beckett’s Godot – not to say things brutally -, is also not destined to be a candidate for membership of the European Union in the short or medium term. However, the rapprochement with the EU may continue in the form of specific agreements for a kind of association. The process could develop at the pace that Europe on its side would adopt for a rapprochement with Russia.

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The meeting in Moscow, which could have been the one in Beijing, can therefore be an important moment. The Moscow Ways do not necessarily lead to the Berezina, they also lead to all the capitals of a considerable whole which will be the heart of tomorrow’s world.

Christ Savior cathedral viewed from the Kremlin © PP

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