Underlining Europe's pull, President Medvedev recently called the EU a "strategic partner" and waxed that Europe and Russia were "united by history, by common borders, and most important, I hope, we are united by the vision of a new greater Europe."
In the wake of the Georgian war, however, Europeans have reason to harbor increased doubt that Russia is a strategic partner. Moscow is going out of its way to signal that Ukraine is the next target. Russian leaders have publicly vilified President Yushchenko, challenged the logic of Crimea's status in Ukraine, and insisted on retaining the Russian naval base at Sevastopol after the lease expires in 2017.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin even alleged that Ukraine had dispatched soldiers to fight alongside Georgian troops in the August war. Just as incredulously, this week Medvedev charged that the war was "among other things, the result of the arrogant course of the US administration." It is unlikely that rants such as these are what Europe expects of a partner.
Still, the EU has notable advantages over the US and NATO in influencing Russia to behave more responsibly. Distant from Russia, the US is a military rival and not a major economic partner. Many Russians are suspicious of the US and NATO.
The EU should develop more traction with Russia so as to capitalize fully on its advantage. The EU should devise ways for Georgia and Ukraine to participate in an association with step-by-step integration, free trade arrangements, and a road map for eventual EU membership. The road map should be accompanied by an intensified EU-Russian dialogue that would underscore the benefits of cooperation for all parties.