Read the original text at Die Welt
A key historical determinant of today's tensions between Russia and the West is the missed opportunity of the 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent Europeanization attempt of the new Russian Federation had come as a surprise to the West.
Thoughts and plans for a democratic and pro-Western Russia were not developed in Washington, Brussels, and Bonn, even when Gorbachev's Perestroika became more and more obvious in the late 1980s.
As a result, the West did not behave disrespectfully towards the new Russia under Boris Yeltsin, as is sometimes claimed by ignoramus historians today. However, in the 1990s, Western offers of cooperation with Moscow were uncoordinated, unrealistic, and aimless.
Of course, there were many individual steps in the right direction, including the admission of Russia to the Council of Europe, the transformation of the G7 into the G8 or the creation of the NATO-Russia Council. Unlike the new Federal Republic of the 1950s, the new Russian Federation of the 1990s had neither a clear strategic vision nor sufficiently far-reaching steps to include the post-imperial state in the Western community of the states.
Western conceptually more ambitious projects, such as the so-called four common spaces between the EU and Russia of 2003 (economy, freedom, security, justice) or the German-Russian modernization partnership of 2008, were developed when the Putin close system had started to establish. Thus, these praiseworthy initiatives came too late.
There are many differences between the Soviet Union of the early 1980s, on the one hand, and today's Russian Federation, on the other hand. However, the late Soviet and present Russian state are similar in that both the outgoing Soviet Union and Putin's regime have maneuvered into socio-economic dead-ends.
While the late-communist Moscow leadership failed to reform the Soviet planned economy in time, since 1999, Putin has created a peculiar corporatist-kleptocratic order in Russia. This pseudo-democratic regime, like the allegedly democratic Soviet system of the councils, is not permanently viable and doomed. It is only a matter of time before the Putin system collapses.
Ultimately, Russia's future can only lie in its gradual integration into Western economic and security structures. For Moscow, there is no Asian alternative to the European integration project (apart from an unequal alliance with China or a fragile dictator axis).
Russia is too weak to form an independent pole in a multipolar world. Like Putin's kleptocracy, his Eurasian economic union is a temporary creation. Russia is a part of Europe, not of a mythological Eurasia. Unlike after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West should be prepared in advance for a new Russian regime collapse and third - after February 1917 and August 1991 - pro-Western turnaround in Moscow.
It is likely that in the coming years - like the enormous tension in the early eighties - a high-risk deterioration in relations between the West and Moscow might take place. But a return of the Russian Europeans called so by historian Leonid Luks that is the pro-Western intellectuals, to the decision-making positions is ultimately inevitable for Moscow.
This time, the West should not only have a detailed action plan in case of a new Russian Europeanization attempt. It can already promote this future turnaround with an early release of an integration vision.
Today it is easier because there is already a practical pattern for the offer that the West can make to a post-imperial Russia: Brussels' policy of association and integration with the post-Soviet states of the EU's "Eastern Partnership".
In concrete terms, this would mean that Russia - like it happened with Ukraine or Georgia before - would be offered the Western an action plan on visa liberalization with the Schengen area, a deepened free trade zone with the EU and gradual accession to NATO.
The West would thus not only restore cooperation formats with Moscow by 2014, i.e. the G-8 meetings, EU-Russia Summit, OECD membership negotiations, NATO Partnership for Peace and so on. Following the implementation of a detailed Visa Liberalization Action Plan, Brussels would allow Russians to freely move across Europe.
The EU's particularly strong association agreements with the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, as well as the EU-Canada Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), could serve as models for establishing a continuous free trade area from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
After all, like its membership promise to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, NATO could also offer Russia the prospect of future membership and the joint implementation of a membership action plan. Similar offers could be made to Belarus and Armenia, which have close ties with Moscow.
The purpose of today's publication is to show the Russians that their country has a life after Putin, life without an empire and in Europe. In exchange for Russia's abandonment of its various foreign-policy crazy scheme in Syria and elsewhere, the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine, and the complete establishment of the integrity and sovereignty of these three countries, the Russian Federation would become part of the West in economic and security terms.
Since Russia itself would then become part of a free trade zone with the EU and the North Atlantic Alliance, the official justifications for Moscow's claims against Ukraine would have lapsed. There would also be no more false grounds for Russian annexation, occupation, and expansion in the post-Soviet space, as the countries in question would be part of the economic and security area to which Russia itself will belong.
By publishing a detailed cooperation, association, and integration plan for a post-imperial Russian nation-state, the West would not only be better (than in 1917 or 1991) prepared for a new Russian democratization attempt. European diplomats, Western politicians, Russian Democrats, political experts and civil society actors are already receiving an important argumentation tool for their public communication today.
They could make it clear to their counterparts in Russia that the West does not want Moscow's exclusion or even marginalization, but - on the contrary - a close partnership, and indeed broad integration with Russia. Of course, the Russians must understand for themselves that the latter developmental path, as well as a farewell to the empire, is desirable for their country.
The days of Putin and his fragile political system are numbered in any case. When the time comes for a new upheaval in Russia finally, the serious mistakes of the nineties should not be repeated. Germany can play a pioneering role in the implementation of this project, both as a former post-imperial beneficiary of a similar Western policy during the 1950s and as a Western major power closely associated with Russia.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.