|Europa and the Russian bear|
EE Times Europe
(09/09/2008 5:58 AM EDT)
LONDON — I was twelve years old and sitting in the family car during a summer holiday in Devon. My brother, a few years older than me, had gone off around the seaside town and rushed back to bring me the news: "World War Three has started."
It hadn't and he knew it. But on August 21, 1968, Russian tanks had rolled into Czechoslovakia to end the political and social freedoms that had been introduced during what had become known as the Prague spring. This was a potential flashpoint in the deepest part of a cold war that lasted from 1950 to 1990. The U.S. did not act; caught off-guard in the midst of a presidential election and heavily committed in Vietnam.
Almost exactly 40 years later Russia rolled into the regions known as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, apparently reasserting a sphere of influence on Russia's southern border and threatening Georgian aspirations to membership of NATO.
I do not propose to debate here the rights and wrongs of "peace-keeping" in Ossetia and Abkhazia, or troop movements made while the world dozed in front of televisions showing the Olympic Games. But I will point out that the power, the political will and the coherency of the European Union is likely to be tested in the coming months. Russia has already warned the European Union that hasty action over Georgia would be an "historic mistake." This is a Russia that, according to estimates, supplies the rest of Europe with 30 percent of its natural gas and 40 percent of its oil; the implications are clear.
EE Times has reported on the rise of Russia; how oil wealth has invigorated the economy, on continued government intervention in its chip industry and on gradually increased access to modern chip making technology and processes. Given the ability of the electronics and semiconductor industries, when driven by creative entrepreneurs and engineers, to create wealth and well-bring for the many, these are things we broadly welcome.
But EE Times has readers " in print or online " across Eastern Europe; in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. They all reside in sovereign states that have sought and received membership of the European Union. We also have readers in Russia and Georgia.
Russia's new-found assertiveness, a desire to "punch its weight" in international politics and to avoid being hemmed in need not and must not descend into more warlike actions in former spheres of influence. The European Union's response must be measured and appropriate, especially as its so-called 'soft' power equates to very little.
Russia has the oil. Russia has the attention of the EU. But the worst thing Russia could do is provoke another cold war which would, at best, bring about global division, and at worst " who knows what? As has been illustrated by its oil and semiconductor industries and its ten-year economic rise, in the medium- to long-term Russia does best when it works in cooperation with the West.
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