At Deauville, Europe Embraces Russia

By Katrin Bennhold


President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have had their differences over the years, but on one thing they appear to agree: if Europe wants to remain relevant in the world and maintain peace in its own backyard, it needs Russia.

On Monday, as the French and German leaders began two days of talks with their Russian counterpart on the Normandy coast, diplomats and foreign policy observers said conditions might now be in place for a closer, if informal strategic dialogue between Europe and Moscow.

Before heading to the resort town of Deauville, President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said he wanted a “worthy global response” to his idea of a new European security architecture. French diplomats said that Washington’s separate efforts at a reset of relations with Russia had diffused some of the tensions between Russia and the West, while German diplomats pointed to a softening by some ex-Soviet satellite countries toward Moscow in recent months.

“The stars are aligned,” Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations said. “Only three years ago, we saw almost unbridgeable gulfs between several E.U. member states and Russia. That has changed. President Obama’s reset has led to really big rethinks in Poland and the Baltic states.”

Mr. Sarkozy convened the Deauville summit talks in part to prepare for France’s leadership of the Group of 20 leading global economies starting next month. But the talks also come a month before an important meeting of NATO in Lisbon, where the alliance is to approve a new strategic doctrine. U.S. officials have expressed discontent with the idea that France and Germany are talking to Russia — without the United States present — about security in advance of the NATO talks.

Both Paris and Berlin have sought to reassure Washington in recent days by stressing that the three-way meeting had none of the anti-American undertones of the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis that emerged in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

No decisions will be made in Deauville, a French diplomat said, calling the meeting a “brainstorming session.”

Mrs. Merkel said Saturday that a goal of the summit was to improve cooperation between NATO and Russia, “for the Cold War is over for good.” She emphasized that a new “security architecture” should not hinder U.S.-European cooperation in NATO, which has invited Russia for a special meeting on the margins of the November summit meeting. Moscow has not yet responded to the invitation.

But even if no formal new structure emerges from the talks in Deauville, the meeting may lay the groundwork for an informal new forum on security issues, officials said.

Moscow is looking to create a Russia-E.U. committee on foreign policy and security, according to Russian news reports, and to build security cooperation in the “Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia region.”

French diplomats have floated the idea of a new zone of economic and security cooperation comprising the E.U. and Russia, while German officials say they are open to the idea of Russian participation in the E.U.’s political and security committee, which is responsible for setting the bloc’s foreign policy.
The New York Times