Analysis: Putin's ambitions in Europe
By Robin Oakley, CNN European Political Editor
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed on a visit to the German parliament last week that the Cold War was over.
Speaking in the fluent German he learned as a spymaster in the old East Germany, he said Russia and its European neighbours had to learn a new language of trust.
In March, Russia's president was chumming up with European Union leaders at their Stockholm summit. This week, fully enlisted in the anti-terrorism coalition, he is in Brussels for two more days of meetings with senior EU figures.
Under Boris Yeltsin, Russia's relationship with the EU marked time. But its leaders have no doubt now that Putin wants Russia to be a player on the European stage, and Moscow-watchers agree.
Daphne Ter-Sakarain, Eastern Europe analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, says: "I do think that Putin's aim has always been to return Russia to Europe, if you like.
"I mean throughout Russian history there is this tension -- Eurasia, are we Asians, are we Europeans. Maybe because Putin comes from St. Petersburg he has always definitely wanted to return Russia to where the action is."
On Wednesday Putin will meet NATO Secretary-General George Robertson. On the Russian leader's visit to Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schoeder said his country would not stand in the way of eventual Russian admission to NATO, a move which many would have regarded as unthinkable two years ago.
Could Russia ever join the 19-nation alliance it used to stand against? Some senior figures doubt it.
Douglas Hurd, former British foreign secretary, said: "I think that's a step too far. I'm not quite sure what NATO would then mean.
"I'm pretty sure too that the Czechs and Hungarians and Poles joined NATO last year because they needed to feel some security, probably against a conceivable Russian threat again. I don't think we'll see it.
"But I welcome the idea of a Russia less hostile, listening a bit more and not being surprised by what we do."
The reverses it has suffered in Chechnya have helped make Russia a partner in the coalition against terrorism. And the events of September 11 have made others more receptive to a new degree of partnership.
In the end it is unlikely that Russia will join NATO. That would change the whole nature of the Alliance. Nor could the EU cope with enlarging to include a country as big as Russia.
But both sides see an advantage in getting closer. Russia wants a bigger say on the world stage. And EU leaders want the giant to their east to remain a friendly giant.
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