Dmitri Trenin, Moscow Carnegie Centre, Deputy Director.
Ten years ago two things became clear: Eastern Europe ceased to be communist and became West- oriented in political, economic and cultural terms, and the Baltic states of the then Soviet Union would soon separate from the USSR.
Since then the destinies of nations of the region were different. The central core of the former Eastern Europe has conducted democratisation of political system. It successfully carries out an economic reform and is actively integrating into transatlantic and European institutions. The south-eastern flank of the former "socialist camp" is suffering enormous hardships on the ways of post-communist transformation. Yugoslavia faced a national catastrophe. The Baltic states re-established their independence. They conduct more or less successfully economic transformations and are striving to become fully-fledged members of the "new West". New Eastern Europe - Belarus, Russia and Ukraine - found themselves in a much more complex situation. None of these countries has sorted out the fundamental identity problem. Neither political nor social prerequisites for successful economic reforms have been created.
Yet, in the end of the last decade of the 20th century it is becoming increasingly more apparent that the process associated with the development of Big Europe, originated in 1989, has not come to a halt on the line where at one time there used to be the border of the Soviet Union or even on the outside perimeter of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Despite the natural hindrances and reasoned doubts, the EU will expand both its geography and its influence, attracting increasingly not just the Baltic states, but also Eastern Europe, including Russia. With the end of the Kosovo crisis, the EU is focusing its efforts on the restoration of south- eastern Europe. In the shortrun, the Balkans are a rival to the Baltic states and European East. In the longrun, it is of key importance that the EU apparently will not be able to function effectively without having ensured security (in the broad sense of the word) to its periphery and without having created mechanism for integration of the Balkans, Turkey, Eastern Europe (let alone the Baltic states) into the pan-European economic and legal spase.
Such perception is of principal significance for the future foreign political strategy of Latvia, Belarus and Russia. The relations between these countries objectively make up a part of their European policy. Riga that has already announced its "western" orientation and North-European identity needs now not so much to dissociate itself from neighbouring Russia as to look for areas of common interests and cooperation, especially in the economic field. Such cooperation apparently requires improvement of psychological climate in bilateral relations, which are now impeded by disputes relating to the problems of citizenship and the Russian language status in Latvia. On the other hand, it is no less obvious that national integration in Latvia, formation of political community of Latvians is not just a prerequisite for the country's integration into European structures, but also a crucial, fundamental national interest of Latvia itself. As regards the Russian language, its knowledge is a permit to the Russian and - on a broader scale - East-European market, proximity to which is one of relative advantages of the Baltic states.
Seemingly, the time has come for Minsk to define both its identity and statehood. What is modern Belarus - aberration, occasional, and temporary phenomenon in modern European history or the origin of the own statehood of 10-million people living at one of the most intensive crossroads of European East? Of course, the own statehood is not a synonym to self-isolation. Rather, it is statehood being a sound foundation for cooperation with the neighbouring countries and integration projects. As regards direction of integration, closing with Russia should not be viewed as antithesis to integration with Europe. Russia and Belarus will not be able to create a counter-balance to the European Union. Moreover, it runs against their inherent interests. Integrating with each other and moving jointly to Europe - that is what we regard as the optimum course for Minsk and Moscow.
However, Minsk should clearly realise peculiarities of the geopolitical position of Belarus as a European country. Not to find itself isolated, Belarusian statehood should advance towards gradual establishment of a law- governed democratic state with the developed civil society. Capabilities for the transformation of the current regime are limited, but they should under no circumstances be disregarded. Anyway, out of all possible scenarios it is an optimum one for the foreseeable future.
Moscow is more than ever preoccupied with internal political problems. Russia has entered an exclusively important phase of power transfer. If it is possible to maintain the Constitution framework, to provide "soft landing" to the Yeltsin's regime, form a more or less stable political centre, work out a consistent approach to the development of federal relations, prerequisites for the economic development can finally be set up.
Russian leaders' pragmatism makes them, against their own rhetoric, adapt themselves to Russia's new posture in Europe and in the world. So far, popular in Moscow is a concept of a multi-polar world stemming from the conviction that Russia is rightfully one of the poles of the international world order. Without delving into discussion of the concept as such, it should be noted the Russia's role in it is evidently exaggerated. Russia, without regaining the position of the "premium pole", is much more likely to find itself simultaneously in the gravitation field of several poles and be compelled again, the same as one thousand years ago, to make a civilisational choice. Thus, integration of Russia into the Big European Area - an EU-plus of a kind - can become an imperative already in the first quarter of the coming century.
Incidentally, in the future the Russian policy will take increasingly more account of the fact that the relations between the Russian Federation and the rest of Europe, as well as its place and role on the continent will be conditioned by the level and quality of contacts not just with Berlin, Paris, and Brussels, but also with Warsaw, Kyiv, Riga and other capitals of the neighbouring states. In this regard Belarusian, Ukrainian, Moldavian directions, as well as that of the Baltic states, objectively constitute important components of the European policy of Moscow.