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European Crisis Offers A Blessing for Medvedev

The euro meltdown is presenting President Dmitry Medvedev with a strategic opportunity that he needs to seize to lay an unquestionable claim to history.

The deficit crisis? has undermined the European social welfare model that provides it citizens generous cradle-to-grave services. Harsh austerity measures will lead to a slowdown or even a depression in Europe, causing massive social dislocation from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

The euro may not be dead yet, but the European Union enlargement process definitely is. That is particularly bad news for Turkey, Ukraine, Serbia and Moldova. The crisis is changing the mood in nations across the former Soviet Union as far as EU membership is concerned. Suddenly, the EU is no longer a source of prosperity and growth but of hardship and stagnation.

For the first time in 20 years, the gravitational pull of the EU is abating. Herein lies a geopolitical opportunity for Moscow to push for an economically viable form of integration in the former Soviet space — and even in parts of Eastern Europe — that would spark economic? growth in the region and provide a boost, not a drag, to Russia’s economy.

As Alexander Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations observes, “The chances for some serious reintegration policy on the post-Soviet space have never been so good.”

Ironically, Medvedev’s dynamic domestic agenda, with its focus on innovation, political competition, rule of law and “Internet democracy,” is strengthening the country while making democratic change in the former Soviet Union an effective tool to project Russian influence.

Medvedev is off to a good start in Ukraine. His strategic partnership with President Viktor Yanukovych is being converted into a web of joint ventures and asset swaps that will produce a tightly knit Russian-Ukrainian economic zone.

A temporary setback with Belarus and the customs union reflects the trepidation that Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko feels before Russia’s display of soft power ahead of the presidential election in that country early next year.

A likely change of government in Moldova this fall will further expand the opportunities for post-Soviet consolidation amid the European decline. Medvedev is both the agent and beneficiary of this geopolitical shift. He will savor this thought when he walks into the EU-Russia summit in Rostov-on-Don on Monday.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government-relations and PR company.

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