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Europe, not the US, can get Russia to behave

Europe must take advantage of its special pull on Russians.

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When war erupted in August between Russia and Georgia, it was the European Union (EU) president who achieved a cease-fire agreement. Was this just a lucky break for the EU, or a sign of Europe's strength?

The answer is one that Europe needs to take full advantage of: Nicolas Sarkozy achieved the cease-fire not because the EU has more military divisions than Stalin's heirs. His personal energy and France's weight may have helped, but Europe's real clout is its pull on Russia and its people.

As the tone of Russian President Dimitry Medvedev's state-of-the-union address indicated this week, big challenges remain. On top of strong language for Washington, Russia has military predominance on Georgia's doorstep and no Western counterweight is in sight. Moscow's recognition of the "independence" of the Georgian separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – despite international condemnation – seems intended to signal that Moscow will not retreat.

Europe, not America is now best able to get Moscow to behave. Europe is a neighbor and huge market for Russian energy and minerals. The EU accounted for just over half of Russia's foreign trade in 2007. Russians see Europe as appealing – a rich and stable region where the state plays a large role and citizens enjoy generous social benefits. And Russian elites have long aspired to European ways.

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