(The post was restored after the cyber attack.)
Written by Fedor Lukyanov for RG; Appeared in Bulgarian at A-specto, translated by Yoana Manoilova for SouthFront
We don’t have a clear strategy regarding our attitude towards Russia. Instead of analyzing the situation seriously, we are allowing our russophobia to dictate the daily order. We say ‘’Russia only respects the language of force’’. Today, many politicians and means of mass communication represent Russia in this way. We must admit that they are right. In the last years, the West showed Russia the efficiency of the language of force. After the falling of the Wall, the West had no desire at all to listen to Russia’s opinion but instead it put through its own line. The comments on Russia were becoming more abrupt, without having in mind the historic facts. The people, who tried to understand and explain Russia were called ‘’useful idiots’’. I don’t defend Russia. I am not bothered by Putin, neither by the Russians. For me, the Russian social system is not really attractive. But I think that the one-way communication, used by the media and the politicians aims to distract people from the fact that the West has no clear strategy regarding Russia.
If there is something that is absolutely unnecessary to the world now, that is the reflex of armament of armies and a new Cold war. This consumes resources that are so necessary for the human kind in order to overcome problems such as overpopulation, poverty, climate change, and etc. This is why it is of such importance to develop a reliable strategy for our relationship with Russia, to set the goals and the methods that we will use for their accomplishment. It’s not a strategy to call people ‘’useful idiots’’. This only distracts people from the fact that Russia’s behavior is completely sensible and rational. For instance, the bad news for the day regarding the ‘’Russian propaganda’’ had been published by media, that is not controlled by the state. Then, why publishing it at the first place? Because it lacks self-critical analysis? Or was it done on purpose? Or was it just about pointless competing, the aim of which is who will think of the scariest newspaper headline, which calls people idiots, because of their critical thinking?
In some of the means of mass information, every Russophobe can get a place in the column for comments, in case that his article is evil enough and that it uses words like ‘’villainy’’. The clearest example of this scenario is the ‘’chronicle of the stunt man Rahlin’’ in Berlingske, where his thesis is that Putin is dangerous for the West, because he is physically short. But there are other representors, who deserve their place there as well. For example, this summer a retired brigadier wrote that the armed conflict will probably begin in the Baltic Sea in just a few weeks. Another German author claimed that Russia is getting ready to form an illegal army in Europe. According to Jyllands-Posten the last hot news is that Russia will place the rackets ‘’Iskander’’ in Kaliningrad. In six hours the story was moved in another place in the website, and on the other day it was completely erased. The predictions of near Russian offensive in Europe don’t have long headings. It is strange that these statements for existential threat are published somewhere on the last pages of the newspapers. It is clear that in reality nobody actually believes in these statements and that it is really unlikely that Russia is the reason for the increasing of the military defense budget. The debates on Russia are reminding of the statement that the Earth is flat- nobody makes an attempt to look over the horizon to see the real reasons for the worsen relationship between the two sides. It looks as if all of the debates are based on values, and not on strategic interests.
I do not agree that Russia is the existential threat. Moreover, I do not agree with the statement that Russia is unpredictable. Indeed, some of Russia’s actions contradict to the international law and ethics, but these actions should be viewed and considered as a final unit of historic events, started in 2008, whose bases were set back in the 90s. In terms of strategic perspective, Russia was acting pretty predictably back then. But many strategic mistakes were made in the relationship with the state. First of all, this was the conviction that our liberal ideas have made the elementary strategic dynamic as meaningless as the geostrategy and balance of the powers. It was foolish to proclaim the West to be the winner in the Cold war and then, to continue the rivalry by expanding the borders of NATO to the border of Russia. Of course, Russia cannot say in what way one or another country will proceed in the matters regarding its own safety. But was this expanding the only right decision? You believe it was impossible to guarantee the European safety in some other way? On one side, we accept with understanding the antirussian feelings of the east Europeans and their history, and on the other, we reject Russia’s historic memory and say that the Russians are hysteric. But a country that has survived three western invasions (1812, 1914, and 1941), being completely broken and having lost 25 million of its citizens during the last one, clearly has the right to use its own experience from history. Denmark needed a hundred years to overcome the consequences of the syndrome of 1864, so why Russia is supposed to react in a different way? In whatever way we try to explain that NATO is a peaceful organization, its existing is viewed as the continuing of the Cold War in order to confront Russia.
William Perry, minister of defense in Clinton’s administration, characterizes the American behavior towards Russia during the 90s in the following way: ‘Who cares what they think? This is a third sort of a country’. The author of the strategy of containment George Kennan was warning us in 1998 that expanding the borders of NATO is unjustifiable, due to the fact that nobody threatens the West. He warned us that this expanding would turn in a ‘’tragic mistake’’, caused by the ‘’wrong understanding of the Russian and Soviet history”. On this occasion, Kennan had made the following conclusion: “Of course, there will be a negative reaction from the Russian side, and then they’ll say ‘’didn’t we warn you what the Russian are like’’’’. The former American defense minister Robert Gates says: ‘We made a mistake by not looking at the world from their perspective and that is the reason why we didn’t manage to establish stable and calm relations with them’. Gates also says that the idea of accepting Ukraine into NATO would be viewed as ‘direct provocation’ by the Russians. The American political scientist and neorealist John Mearsheimer had also said that the biggest part of fault for the wrong direction of the relationship between the West and Russia lays on the shoulders of the West.
There is no reason to treat Russia as it is a negligible country. Russia is great and powerful country, and from its perspective it should be viewed as one. Nobody took Russia seriously when they frustrated the contract for the missile defense and developed a new missile defense system that practically could have easily been rotated on 90 degrees and to abridge Russia from the opportunity to shoot a single rocket. In a similar way, they didn’t take Russia seriously when the EU offered it an Association agreement and put it on the line with countries such as Georgia and Malta. Great countries don’t respect such attitude towards them. Sometimes, it is necessary to take in mind their logic, and not to demonstrate them how we live with the Strasbоurg circus of France in the EU, or the British self- consciousness of a global country, or the injustice in the Security Council. The United States is a great country. It also strives for power and domination. However, we are acting as if we don’t see it happening.
The opinion that Putin is a bad strategist but “clever opportunist” is well-established among the society. That ever-lasting determination to take away the humanity of Putin’s personality has led us to the point, where we don’t see what Russia actually wants. Russia has been having a clear strategy regarding its attitude towards the West for a very long time. At the same time, the West, according to the words of Henry Kissinger, demonizes Russia, instead of working on a strategy of establish a cooperation with it. From strategic point of view, what Russia is aiming for is to show that it is a great country that should not be treated with disrespect. Russia would not let it being subordinated. Our strategy led us to the position where we have provoked Russia, rejecting hysterically its objections towards NATO’s expansion on the east. William Perry stood against these actions of NATO back in the 90s- he predicted this conflict with the Russians. If Kennan, Perry, Gates, Kissinger, and Mearsheimer are also ‘’useful idiot’’, then, I will leave this question open for interpretations, but Russia should not be disrespected and the classic security dilemma should not be neglected i.e. the better security one country has, the less security another country gets. Based on its history and geography, Russia feels that for the aim of its repression the EU and NATO are united in one. In that way, Russia’s ability to maneuver can be blocked all the way from Petersburg to Vladivostok. That’s the strategic logic. This is why Russia is fighting for its vital strategic interests in Syria and in Ukraine, and of course, it uses methods and means that are not unusual for this fight. Russia wouldn’t have acted in this way, if it hadn’t had to lose so much in its international relationships.
Russia may be weak in its military and economic sides, it may be weak in its social structure as well. But as every other country, it follows its own goals with the means, power, and methods that it has available. Many people think that the term ‘’strategy’’ is connected only with the military. The military power can be a part of the strategy, but the strategy itself is formed thanks to many power tools- not only military power. For instance, this can be economic as well as institutional means. Russia’s actions are interpreted as being aggressive. But there are two forms of aggression- offensive and defensive. The united EU and NATO use unmilitary strategic means in order to expand its own sphere of interests and influence. This is why the weak country of Russia has nothing left to do except for using its military power in its defensive aggression. And we call that ‘’provocation’’. But this is happening because they have just figured out that they should take Russia seriously. It is also true that the reason for this interpretation now is based on a dangerous ground. The annexation of Crimea and the Ukrainian crisis also can be viewed as defensive strategy- as the last Russian opportunity to stand against the threat. This is of great strategic importance for Russia and Ukraine, but it is not for the West, who wants to use military power in Ukraine. In this regard, they are not paying attention to the fact that Russia may turn to the Baltics to reduce the pressure, put against it. Indeed, Russia would not get any strategical advantage by sending a challenge to the forces of NATO with the annex of the Baltic countries, however, it can use it to allocate the pressure on it and to test the unity of NATO. The same thing can be said about the crisis in Syria, where Russia may try to prevent the large-scale Western intervention and to accomplish its strategic goals. When our politicians say that Russia is unpredictable and irrational, they are getting the burden of taking responsibility in case that our relationship with Russia goes wrong out of their shoulders. They say that the Russian way of ruling is inconsistent with our values, however, I doubt that it is more inconsistent that Saudi Arabia’s way of ruling. Our relations with China are not due to our common system of values.
Generally speaking, Russia’s ruling is completely predictable in terms of strategical and geopolitical development. It doesn’t matter how weak the head of Russia, with the country’s culture, history, and geography, there is no other way for Russia to react in a situation like this, and Mearsheimer would confirm. Think about how the US would react if China has intentions to include Canada and Mexico in its military alliance. And what about Russia? If we follow Robert Gates’ thought, and for a moment we try to understand the world through Russia’s eyes, then maybe we will see a country, thinking with its balance of forces and different geostrategies, having the ambition to make Russia great again. In a strategic point of view, we always can see the way one of the sides is always stronger than the other. We can see how one of the sides is always so close to the tight surrounding of the other in such a way that the only strategic way out would be using the passage in the Arctic. In case that one of the sides strategically cannot confront the other, then for the second one there are only two possible solutions. The first one is to lose the game, and the second one is to try its best to manage to separate the adversary so that it can hear you opinion. Russia chose the second option. The sanctions against Russia are the so called ‘’changing behavior strategy’’. But Russia won’t change its attitude, because the strategy of changing the context of the expanding of the EU and NATO puts Russia in strategically unacceptable situation. The sanctions, which aim to weaken Russia, most likely will lead to a situation in which the West, as it has always proceeded, won’t take in mind any of Russia’s positions and suggestions as it will follow only its own interests. Russia won’t give up Crimea and Ukraine as well but if the state feels threatened of losing, it will be tempted by the thought of doing many more ‘’’provocations’’. Russia’s demonization and especially the one of Putin blocks rational negotiations, except for the ones regarding the Arctic, Iran, Syria, and Antarctica.
We need to re-establish the relationship with Russia based on a balanced strategy with clear goals. Probably in the marriage of convenience, Russia will be able to take some of our values? The isolation has never led to something different than extremism. Nothing can reduce our disagreements as the interdependence can. We need to form the new European context that will stop the already existing threat of raise in the arming. We need to define a clear strategic goal regarding how we see the relations between the West and Russia- what place should Russia take in our opinion; how will end a situation in which Russia only uses the language of power. In a completely destroyed Russia? In a new Cold war and endless raise in the arming of the army? Or in negotiations for establishing a stable and safe Europe? How can we change Russia’s thinking that it doesn’t need to be in an existential war with the West that surrounds and dominates it?
Mirsheimer suggested giving Ukraine a status of a neutral buffer, the same as they gave Austria during the Cold war. This is not easy, but the alternative is even worse. We need to start negotiating, as we did before by signing contracts for reducing the conventional forces in Europe and providing cooperation and safety during the Cold war. But Russia needs to have some benefit out of this as well. For instance, accepting it in the international community. The negotiations have become a problem, however, since the roles have changed. Earlier in history, the Warsaw pact was ideologically oriented, and NATO was concentrated in the defense sphere. Now, we use our values to prove that Russia lacks sense of humanity, to prove that it only thinks with its geopolitical strategy, balance of forces, and the looming threat over it. In that way, we run from our part of the responsibility in a very convenient way.