The Soviet Union's relations with Western Europe following World War II were colored heavily by Soviet relations with Eastern Europe and by the Warsaw Pact forces arrayed in Europe against NATO forces. The Soviet influence over Eastern Europe, punctuated by the 1956 invasion of Hungary and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and by a constant buildup of conventional and nuclear forces, prompted West European NATO member nations to reinforce their defenses and discouraged direct relations between those nations and the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union's policy toward Western Europe had five basic goals: preventing rearmament and nuclearization of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany); preventing the political, economic, or military integration of Western Europe; obtaining West European endorsement of the existing territorial division of the continent; splitting the NATO alliance by encouraging anti-Americanism on various issues; and creating nuclear-free zones by encouraging European peace groups and leftist movements. The more general aim was to make Western Europe as similar as possible to the Soviet Union's highly advanced northwestern neighbor, Finland: a neutral buffer zone whose political reactions could be anticipated under any circumstances, and which would refrain from commitments to Western nations. In the early 1980s, a conflict in Western Europe over NATO and Warsaw Pact nuclear installations accelerated Soviet efforts to neutralize NATO's European contingent. The Soviet Union tried to foster a European détente separate from one with the United States. The effort was defeated because West European governments were determined to uphold and modernize NATO, and Soviet-sponsored peace groups failed to arouse public opinion against NATO participation.
The Soviet-era division of Europe into two distinct military alliances continues to influence Russia's policy toward Western Europe. NATO remains an active presence in Western Europe, and Russia sees a persistent threat that NATO will embrace the former Warsaw Pact allies and leave Russia without its European buffer zone. Because of this perceived threat, sharpened in the rhetoric of Russian nationalist factions, Russia has been reluctant to accommodate West European nations on a number of issues, even as it has hastened to bolster relations in other areas such as commerce.
Even before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin pursued closer relations with Western Europe on behalf of the Russian Republic. In his first foreign trip after the failure of the August 1991 coup had substantially improved his stature as president of the Russian Republic, Yeltsin visited Germany to seek safeguards for Germans residing in Russia. After 1991 Russia's relations with Western Europe achieved a level of integration and comity that the Soviet Union had aspired to but had never reached. The draft foreign policy concept of January 1993 called for Russian foreign policy to consolidate the emerging partnership with the states of Western Europe, but it also emphasized that Russia's vital interests might cause disagreement on some issues. Russia's major goals included gaining West European aid and markets, recognition of Russia's interests in Central Europe and the CIS, and regional cooperation in combating organized crime and nuclear smuggling. Germany emerged as the largest European aid donor to Russia and its largest trade and investment partner.
In June 1994, Yeltsin and the leaders of the European Union (EU) signed an agreement on partnership and cooperation. Pending the ratification of the agreement by the member states, a provisional economic accord was drawn up in early 1995 extending most-favored-nation status to Russia and reducing many import quotas. Because of Western disapproval over the war in Chechnya, the EU did not sign the agreement until July 1995, following a cease-fire in Chechnya.
The Council of Europe also sidelined a Russian application for membership as a sign of disapproval of events in Chechnya, and in July 1995 the council issued a report detailing Russian (as well as some Chechen) human rights abuses in Chechnya. After the conclusion of the cease-fire, Russian officials requested reconsideration of Russia's application. The council granted Russia full membership in January 1996. European authorities explained that admitting Russia into Europe's foremost body on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law would promote democratic trends in Russia more effectively than the isolation that would result if membership were denied. A substantial body of European opinion continued to oppose admission, however, especially when Russian army attacks on Chechen civilians continued and Russia failed to impose a required moratorium on capital punishment (see Chechnya, ch. 9; The Criminal Justice System, ch. 10).
In February 1996, the Council of Europe and the EU announced an aid package to help Russia meet the legal and human rights requirements of membership in the council. Tensions in Russia's relations with the West continued, however, with its refusal in April 1996 to provide arms sales data. These data are necessary for establishment of a military technology export control regime to replace the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom), which NATO used during the Soviet era to monitor world arms shipments.
The CFE Treaty, which the Soviet Union signed in 1990, aimed at stabilizing and limiting the nonnuclear forces of all European nations. Signed in the context of the NATO-Warsaw Pact division of Europe, the treaty remained a basis for reduction of tensions in Europe after the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union dissolved.
Although the Russian military accepted the CFE Treaty, in the ensuing years it increasingly insisted that the signatories allow modification of force limits on Europe's flanks, which included the still substantial garrison in Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic and the troublesome Caucasus region (see The Geopolitical Context, ch. 9). In the early 1990s, Russia shifted much weaponry to the southern flank area to stabilize its North Caucasus republics, particularly breakaway Chechnya, as well as the independent but conflict-plagued Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Although NATO proposed some alterations in Russia's flank limits in September 1995, Russia still was not in compliance when the treaty came into full force in November 1995. Russia met the treaty's overall arms reduction targets, however. Russia called for further modifications of the treaty's troop disposition requirements to be put on the agenda of a planned May1996 review conference. After intense negotiations, the conferees finally agreed to allow Russia to retain additional equipment in the southern flank area for three years.