But this will also require successful political modernization, which means nothing less than constraining the power of the center. The most important aspect of this will be to secure real judicial independence. Moreover, Russia needs a system of checks and balances compatible with its own culture and tradition, because this, together with the rule of law, is an indispensable precondition of a functioning democracy.
Finally, Russia will need to build a functioning party system, capable of sustaining Russian democracy. Considering the country's vast size, a two-party system seems to be the most appropriate.
All these transformations will take time, and they will not come easily or be free of conflict. So, for the foreseeable future, the West will have to deal with a Russia that yearns for its lost imperial power and shapes its foreign policy to this end.
In international politics, one side's strength often reflects the other side's weakness. The weakness of the US and Europe today is an open invitation for Russia to return to its old imperial politics. This development is anything but safe, particularly for Europe.
Europe thus has a strategic interest in Russia's successful modernization and in good bilateral relations. Above all, the EU and its member states cannot allow Russia to recapture its imperial spheres of influence without severely damaging its own central interests. It is for this reason that securing the independence of Ukraine is so important, as is assuring Turkey's European orientation.
So, while Russia's modernization and democratization are in Europe's interest, its return to an imperial foreign policy and barely veiled authoritarianism at home is not. Most Russians look westward. In the next few years, Russia will offer Europe a great opportunity for closer cooperation, but it will also pose a risk of increased intrusion in European affairs.
The right responses to these opportunities and risks require a united, strong Europe. Indeed, a strong and united Europe will also make an important contribution to Russia's sustainable modernization. A weak and divided Europe will tempt Russia to pursue dangerous paths into the future.
Joschka Fischer, a leader in the Green Party for nearly 20 years, was German foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005.
Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences