February 07, 2005

Condoleezza Rice's whirlwind trip to Europe : GERMAN PAPERS COMMENT


Rice Lectures Russia on Democracy

Condoleezza Rice's whirlwind trip to Europe may be over, but her strong critique of the state of Russian democracy attracts lots of attention on Monday. Could it be a prelude to the upcoming Bush-Putin meeting? Also, a German conservative is blaming Schroeder for the rise of Germany's neo-Nazi party.

If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium: Rice on her whirlwind tour.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Europe gets its last reviews by German editorialists on Monday. The day's main topic is the tone that Rice took with her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during their meeting in Turkey's capital Ankara on Saturday. After what had been a very friendly tour of the European Union, Rice had very direct words for Moscow on a range of themes from the Yukos scandal to freedom of the press. She said the US-Russia relationship is good but could get better, "particularly if democratic values can find a way to take hold in Russia."

Of course, Americans put themselves in a difficult position when lecturing other nations these days. Die Welt writes that Rice's visit was mainly to "repair and reactivate the trans-Atlantic alliance, especially with Germany and France," and that this was all well and good -- up to the point that she began wagging her finger at Russian values. "What Rice dished up to her Russian counterpart Lavrov over a dinner in Anakara was apparently a prelude for the meeting between Bush and Putin on February 24 in Bratislava, and certainly raises the level of suspense." But Bush shouldn't go too far in taking Putin to task, because the US has a poor track record when it comes to some of the same issues. "Moralizing foreign policy has always been a dilemma for Washington, because it's not consistent enough to see it through."

The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung says that "it speaks volumes that since this weekend, at the very latest, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wishes Colin Powell was back." Rice's tone was a bit of a surprise, but not fully unexpected. "The missionary-like campaign for democracy that George Bush has taken on for his second term doesn't stop even at Russia." The Americans are intent on sticking to their stated policies, even with allies. "Rice therefore set the tone in Ankara: The United States is not ready to stay quiet about things they don't like just in the interests of an already ambiguous 'strategic partnership'." It may be that the US is dreaming about another Orange Revolution. "George Bush, in any case, is unable to understand why that which was possible in the Ukraine may be unthinkable in Russia."

The popular Bild tabloid calls on German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to take Washington's out-stretched hand. Rice, after all, called Schroeder a friend during her visit. "Gerhard Schroeder should know: in the long term, friendly relations with America have a different quality than does, for instance, the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis." And Bush apparently wants to make up and be friends again. "Now the ball is in Schroeder's court. At the very latest during George W. Bush's visit should the Chancellor make it personally clear to the US president that America is our most important partner, and must remain so."

The German business daily Handelsblatt argues that now is the time for Europe to prove that it can provide alternatives to US policies. On the one hand, Rice's visit was a clear sign of a thawing in trans-Atlantic relations. "She tore through the EU capitals like a whirlwind, and announced everywhere that Washington is willing to work together more closely with Europe." And yet, despite being the "personification of the charm offensive", she made it clear to Europeans "what they have to look forward to in the next four years." The US is not going to be deterred from their course despite what their friends in Europe might say. "If they want to prevent a US policy they see as wrong, they'll have to prove that they can be successful with a different, 'civilized' political direction."


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