How far can the confrontation between Russia and the West go? Is there a line where the two sides will stop before starting with a clean sheet? So far, the confrontation has only been growing. The Cold War II may begin any day, if it is not already underway. It appears that the West and the Kremlin have no answers to these questions.
They leave everything to chance. No country has stopped to think what the world will be like in the mid 2020s, nor is anyone developing a short-term policy in accordance with a long-term strategy. They forget that there are limits beyond which confrontation can grow dangerous.
Take Ukraine. It seems EU officials underestimate the Kremlin and Putin’s resolve to prevent so-called Euro integration. Don’t be deceived by their words about the Ukrainians’ sovereign choice. EU officials can express their outrage at Putin “blackmailing” poor Yanukovych as much as they want. But when they and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visit Kiev’s main opposition site, Independence Square, to shake hands with protesters and distribute buns among protesters and police, as Ms. Nuland did, the Kremlin definitely sees this as fresh proof that unrest in Ukraine is being financed by external forces and that it is directed against Russia.
The Russian ruling class strongly believes that nothing happens without a reason, and that most of what happens is directed against Russia.
Would anyone consider integrating Ukraine if not for its eastern neighbor and its president? Who would muster the courage to say “No” to this question?
According to the predominant, or rather the only belief in the Kremlin, Ukraine’s next stop after European integration would be NATO, with the bloc’s tanks and missiles, let alone the ballistic missile defense system, deployed near Belgorod and Kursk. Not even the admin girls in the Kremlin trust Western assurances that the BMD system is not targeted at Russia.
The Russian ruling class believes that the loss of Ukraine, and that is how its “flight” to the West, be it via European integration or any other way, is seen, is a threat to Russia’s survival that must be countered by any means available, even by military force, if all other methods fail.
Unfortunately, the Russian ruling class traditionally sees the world around as a conglomerate of threats, big and small, rather than opportunities.
One can explain this by post-imperial complexes, theories that work well for all kinds of seminars held in the pleasant business centers of five-star hotels. When the Kremlin denounced NATO’s eastward expansion via Georgia and Ukraine as an unacceptable threat, few people in the West thought Moscow would resort to military force, as it did in 2008, and would even consider marching all the way to Tbilisi. But this is what happened, and at a time when Russia-West relations were better than they are now and a different president sat in the Kremlin.
Do the officials in Brussels keep this in mind when they say they will not discuss the Ukrainian problem with Moscow in a trilateral format, because “the colonial era” is past, and refuse to admit that Moscow has a zone of national interests? These may be the right words, but they are only good for the bright future when, as Mikhail Gorbachev put it, the world will be ruled by new political thinking. But this age is still nothing more than a dream. They may refuse to admit this, but do EU officials not see the Ukrainian gambit as part of their big game with Moscow? The EU’s Ukrainian policy is not limited to this game, but it is certainly an aspect of its policy, primarily at the insistence of Russia’s former Warsaw Pact allies.
Putin is not the most popular politician in the West, and his government does not embody the values that form the foundation of the Euro-Atlantic civilization. Besides, Putin has changed since the early 2000s. He now says that Russia has its own, different set of values and will not live according to Western values.
Interestingly, there is a parallel between the current denunciation of “asexual tolerance” and the accusations of “rootless cosmopolitanism” in the early 1950s.
Does this mean that Putin’s Russia must be trolled into taking the wrong step and subsequently forced to become another of the so-called rogue nations? This is how many people in the Russian ruling class assess the current situation, because they are always ready to find proof of this both in objective reality and in things that only exist in a paranoid mind. Many believe that Russia is pushing itself into that group of sickly nations with its own actions. But when EU officials urge a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, one has to ask why they do this. Has Moscow deployed its troops in Afghanistan again?
It is true that Russian officials often use obsolete methods suitable to the 1960s or, worse still, the Middle Ages, to fight the generally recognized standards of behavior in the economy, cooperation and human rights. But this is not the point. The question is: What will happen when Russia is pushed out of the group of leading nations, to the joy of its haters in the West and as a result of the Russian cleptocracy’s persistent efforts? Could the world order be ideal with a marginalized and ostracized Russia?
Besides, being a rogue country is not all that bad. For example, Iran has been threatening to destroy Israel, has denounced the United States as the Great Satan, and has been working to create a nuclear bomb. The international community has imposed sanctions against it, of course, but Iran still netted $69 billion in oil export revenues in 2012.
This is not yet a war, but there is a notion of unacceptable damage, and the threshold of damage for the Western civilization, with its “asexual tolerance” and consumer comforts, is getting lower. It is now much lower than during the Berlin crisis in 1948 or the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. They say that Putin is the Big Bad Wolf who has imprisoned Pussy Riot and hates gays. At the same time, they are strangely euphoric about the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who smiles and calls Barack Obama almost daily, unlike his predecessor. They are happy that he seems willing to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. These smiles, the pictures of Secretary of State John Kerry shaking hands with Iran’s well mannered and Western-educated foreign minister, and naïve hopes that the Iranian rogues will ultimately embrace “new thinking” overshadowed the essence of the Geneva meeting, which recognized Iran’s right to develop a nuclear program.
Does this mean that the worse you behave the more readily the world will shake hands with you if you promise to mend your ways?
The North Korean dictator is almost the darling of the West. Pakistan can do anything provided it keeps its nuclear weapons away from the Taliban. India, a wonderful young democracy, has banned homosexual sex and no one in the West as much as turned a hair. It is a strange logic that underlies Western actions.
President Putin probably doesn’t know how far he will go in his confrontation with the West. But the logic of his actions shows that he has become disillusioned in cooperation with the West as he saw it in September 2001, has suffered the consequences of its hypocritical policy of double standards, and is preparing for a long and increasingly more intense confrontation.
This explains the policy of sovereignization of elites. In the not so distant future we may find out that in 2013 we were only at the beginning of this difficult path and that the sovereignization of elites, or the Orthodox Taliban as some describe this process, has also affected the general public and is becoming manifest in politics, the economy and everyday life. The public will increasingly feel the burden of the new spiritual values, and the views of such people as St. Petersburg politician Vitaly Milonov, who attempted to lay down God’s law by attacking homosexuals, will become the mainstream ideology.
An element of this new policy is the focus on rearmament. It is worth noting, though, that armies are never rearmed so as to create new jobs and new technology, but in preparation for a war.
Putin has not said a word about foreign investments in his address to parliament in 2013. But he spoke about returning capital to the country, which is another element of the policy of reliance on one’s own powers and resources. More and more counter-propaganda bastions are appearing on the imaginary Western front, and they will soon appear on the Russian-language internet in the form of prohibitive firewalls.
Many Western officials responsible for policy towards Russia, as well as towards Ukraine and the entire post-Soviet space, believe that Russia is weak and many of its economic interests (that is, the interests of the ruling bureaucracy) are located in “potential adversary countries.” They think that there will come a day when the Kremlin will reel back, swallow its pride and accept its new, humiliating role before crawling away – figuratively and in the literal sense – from Europe and pro-European values and towards the East.
These arguments are backed by rational economic calculations and comparisons of technological achievements. But what if rationalism is a bad adviser in this case and the West turns out to be wrong?
This article was originally published in Russian in Gazeta.ru