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Expert: EU-Russian Relations Will Remain Difficult for Months

DW spoke to Henning Riecke from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) to get his analysis of the Caucasus conflict.

Symbolic image of the Russian and the EU flags intertwined

Time to review the partnership

DW-TV: Why did this conflict escalate?

There has clearly been an escalation in Georgia. The Russians might even have attempted to provoke some kind of military overthrow of the government in Tbilisi. Possibly, Saakaschwili's government felt obligated to intervene -- it's very complicated and it's not easy to grasp what's happening. What is clear is that both sides wanted to avoid military deployments, but that's not how the situation developed. And now we're facing the risk that Russia takes the opportunity to position troops in Georgia on the grounds that it needs to protect the Russian population in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What needs to happen now is that they return to their original position and stop jeopardizing the Georgians' room for maneuver in the Georgian heartland.

Other European countries -- such as the Ukraine and the Baltic states -- are afraid of Moscow's muscle. Are these fears justified?

A column of Russian armored vehicles moving toward the border with Russia's North Ossetia

The Baltic states are worried they might get the same treatment as Georgia

The fear that Russia will defend its interests aggressively and perhaps start to test the resilience of, for example, NATO's solidarity with the Baltic states ort he Ukraine's western ties, is a justified one. But the situation is unlikely to develop in the same way as it did in Georgia, with an intervention of Russian troops. However, we shouldn't forget that the Ukraine is home to one of Russia important Black Sea Fleet bases. Part of its population also has Russian passports and pro-Russian sympathies. So a similar conflict is possible. As for the Baltic states: in these cases I would be more inclined to expect Russia to gain influence with a cyber-war and infiltration, before it resorted to military intervention.

The EU urged Russia not to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow ignored the warnings, and not for the first time. What political options does the EU have in its dealings with Russia?

We shouldn't expect some miracle cure able to make Russia change its foreign policy. We have to think ahead. That involves reminding Russia that it is in its own interests to maintain economic cooperation with the EU. It involves ensuring that the stabilization process in the post-Soviet regions -- politically, legally, and economically goes ahead, led and supported by the EU. Brussels should not allow itself to be thrown off track. This process must go on, and the EU must insist it does.

What do you think EU-Russian relations will look like in four months time?

I would expect relations to remain difficult, because it will be necessary for both sides to take a few steps and review whether or not they still want a partnership in the first place.

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