“This morning we could have had a direct military clash between Russia and The United States of America in the Mediterranean,” explained Andrey Kortunov, referring to Donald Trump’s latest tweets on Syria. Kortunov is Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), and was speaking at a lecture at the Berlin-based Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC).
Putting the US-Russia tensions in historical context, Kortunov stated that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia had two strategic goals. The first was to integrate into the Western community of nations, especially the European bloc. The second, to create a belt of friendly neighbours around its borders, characterised by mutually beneficial relationships.
According to Kortunov, neither of these goals were achieved. Russia and the West did not manage to create amicable relations based on equality and integration. He also posited that nobody should believe that Vladimir Putin’s landslide victory in last month’s presidential elections was a result of manipulation: “Vladimir Putin is still and will remain the most popular politician in the country. Regime change is therefore out of question”.
However, as long as the Ukraine crisis continues, it would be difficult to restore European-Russian relations. At the same time though, the EU remains Russia’s biggest trading partner. Kortunov highlighted that Ukraine, in the broader sense, is not an American problem, but a European problem. In particular, he would like to see more intense peacekeeping initiatives by Angela Merkel in the Donbass. The conflict there, Kortunov stressed, is solvable in different ways and by all sides. Germany’s role could be very significant.
Germany could also play a very important role in stabilising and developing the Energy Partnership between Russia and the EU, which should definitely include Ukraine. Energy remains one of the very few areas that still glues Russia and Europe together.
Kortunov reminded the audience about another urgent matter that Germany could mediate between the US and Russia: The IMF Treaty, which is due to run out soon. He questioned why Angela Merkel does not propose an urgent US-Russian Summit in Germany to handle this particular issue.
The RIAC director appealed to his German guests, stressing repeatedly that a lot of potentially positive developments in relations between Russia and the West depended on the actions – or lack of action – taken by Berlin: “Time is running out. The fact that we were able to live for the last four years without a major dramatic accident is not a guarantee that this accident is not waiting just around the corner.”