In the past two decades, the world has witnessed yet another historical opportunity missed: the fall of the Berlin Wall has not led to a logical conclusion -- Russia's full economic, political and even military integration with Europe and the West in general. In the recent past, Russia's Westernizers' centuries-old dream of joining Europe was nearly within reach, but then it faded again, to wait for another miracle.
In the 19th century that goal was closer than ever, as Europe and Russia were strongly linked within a unified cultural and economic space despite their religious differences and many political upheavals. Even Fedor Dostoyevsky, generally highly critical of the West, noted that Russia needed Europe, and that Europe was Russia's second Fatherland.
The Bolshevik coup of October 1917 destroyed the natural process of Russia drifting toward Europe, but the end of the bloody communist experiment should have removed the remaining barriers for that process. However, this has not happened so far. Now, will it take place, at long last? Will Russia even try to overcome the West's rejection as the balance of world power is shifting to Asia?
From the traditional European point of view Russia is too big and too unpredictable to be a member of Exclusive Club Europe. Moreover, some Europeans believe that, despite its Orthodox Christian traditions and culture, Russia represents an entirely different civilization. On the Russian side there are many obstacles to the European affinity as well. Nostalgia for the lost empire, the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, monstrous corruption, and even the symbolic leftover from the dark communist times -- the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square -- hardly fit in with Russia's proclaimed European values.
There are some strong indications, however, that Russia's integration with the West is not at a dead end. The country's rise from the ashes after the collapse of the Soviet empire forces Europeans to go on considering and evaluating possible future scenarios for closer economic and security cooperation. It appears that "Old" Europe is ready for stronger ties with Russia, and even within Eastern Europe (what is curiously known as "New Europe") widely divergent approaches prevail. While Poland hysterically demands more military hardware and even American soldiers as defense against possible Russian invasion, other former Warsaw Pact countries are quietly expanding their trade relations with Moscow and welcome new gas and oil pipelines now being built. The Czechs' overwhelming rejection of the U.S. missile defense shield is an important indicator of divisions on Russia policy even in the former Soviet-dominated countries.
What is even more encouraging is Medvedev's push toward creating a new security architecture in Europe with Russia as its integral component. True, this idea has not so far met with great enthusiasm from Moscow's Western partners, but the Kremlin should continue exerting pressure on this issue and back it up with specific details and logistic plans as well as a strong PR campaign to get the message across, not being content with vague unsubstantiated appeals.
The West should also welcome recent statements from Medvedev and Putin denouncing Stalin's terror and their rejection of communist policies and dogmas. At the same time Europeans should be more modest in setting themselves up as knights in shining moral armor while painting Russia totally black. One should remember that it was not only Nazi Germany that invaded Russia in 1941. Among the troops that participated in the Operation Barbarossa, as assault on the Soviet Union was codenamed, were the Slovak Expeditionary Force, the Royal Hungarian Army, the Italian Expeditionary Corps, two Romanian Armies, Norway's Army High Command, as well as volunteers from France and many other countries, 4.5 million "civilized" Europeans in all. We should also remember that Holocaust was also a shameful European phenomenon and those who liberated most of the death camps were the Russians.
Russia should be more outspoken in claiming a well-deserved credit for liberating the world from the Nazis, from the communist menace, and from the threat of nuclear war. Then again, the role of Russian democrats, including at the RF government level, in helping former Soviet republics acquire independence should not be forgotten, as it now all too readily is in these newly independent states and elsewhere.
Medvedev's recent speech in which he frankly admitted Russia's deficiencies and outlined his new vision for the country's development should be followed by his major address indicating Russia's goal of becoming an indivisible part of the European home.
For its own security's stake the West should correct the tragic mistakes in their policies towards Russia made by the Clinton and George Bush Jr. administrations. It should mount a new effort to engage Russia -- instead on listening to anti-Russian lobby and relying on proxies in the former Soviet space who play the anti-Russian card and expect Washington and Brussels to solve their problems, mostly of their own creation.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.