The time to rethink Russia policy comes
The Kremlin’s threats to break off relations with the European Union are nothing but hollow words. Moscow is not ready for such actions, since the EU remains Russia’s key economic partner in energy resources consumption. Russia’s dependence on the European energy market explains Moscow’s aggressive protection of the projects like Nord Stream-2. Therefore, the breach with the EU for the Kremlin will mean both decreasing its influence in Europe and losing foreign currency revenues as well.
The economic sanctions imposed by the US and the EU on Russia have proved their effectiveness. However, they turned out to be insufficient to accelerate the processes that will make Putin respect international law.
The Kremlin is afraid of toughen sanctions and expansion of groups of key export goods; introduction of more restrictions on technological imports to Russia, and impose of personal sanctions on individuals from the circles of the country’s political leaders.
During the visit of Josep Borrell’s, the EU foreign affairs chief, to Russia, the Kremlin defiantly declared three ambassadors of the EU member states persona non grata, accusing them of joining and supporting pro-Navalny protests. After the trip, the actions of the head of EU diplomacy faced a barrage of criticism from the European Parliament. Hilde Vautmans, Belgian MEP, said, ‘Mr. Borrell, do you know how to tame a bear? If you try once, you’d better get ready. Take a pot of honey and a large stick. Because only the bear feels that you do not control the situation, he attacks. If you are very lucky, he will only hurt you badly. The European Parliament gives you a yellow card. Let this humiliating experience be a lesson for you. We must agree on a clear strategy on how to engage with the Russian Federation’. Upon his return to Brussels, Josep Borrell admitted his mistake and stated about imposing new sanctions against Russia.
For a long time, we have been building on the fact that cooperation with Russia and reciprocal steps will stimulate Moscow to move towards democratization, peacefulness and acceptance of the values of the West. However, practically, the only result we could achieve is that this very policy has pushed Russia to perform the confrontational policy of the Soviet times, the Cold War. Such a policy is the most beneficial for Russia as it allows suppressing protests inside the country and explaining to its citizens the reason for such a low living standard having so significant natural resources. The Kremlin positions all Western countries as enemies, and this ‘hostile environment’ serves as a pretext for a constant struggle where the authorities empower and justify lawlessness and authoritarianism. This policy dates back to the middle ages when Moscow chose power inviolability and unlimited rule instead of the way of democratic development. Russia takes only strength and it is incapable of negotiating because negotiations are seen as weakness.
All our attempts in response to cyber attacks, interfering in the elections, murders on the territory of European countries to continue cooperating with Russia and build bilateral economic relations lead to the Russians get convinced in their beliefs: the more the West is scared, the easier it can be blackmailed with the game upped. The longer we fear to give a harsh response, the more we encourage the Kremlin to violate and interfere; and its every next step will get more and more severe.
Many of us remember very well how the Soviet leader Khrushchev threatened a nuclear strike from the UN speakers’ rostrum. However, the West ranged themselves against the threat that lead to the Soviet Union’ crisis and fall ultimately. Today, some European leaders prefer to flirt with Moscow and abandon the values that made the United States and Europe the most attractive places ever existing on the planet for living.
After the Soviet Union fall Russia has found itself vulnerable in the following aspects:
• its military equipment has become less reliable as the wars in Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria prove;
• the Russian political elite placed its assets and resources abroad that makes it possible to put pressure on it.
• Russia has lost its allies.
• Russia could not find an alternative to the communist ideology. Its citizens have no goals and ideas that could contribute into the country’s progress. Although, they were planted with the state propaganda-cultivated idea to be afraid of external aggression, and suppressed by internal repressions in case of riots and protest.
When the sanctions from the PACE Russian delegation were lifted, the advocates of that decision said that the sanctions should be lifted because in case of fulfilling its threat and leaving the Council of Europe Russians will not be able to apply to the ECHR. Using this pretext, restrictions from the Russian Federation were lifted under the framework of the Council of Europe. The second factor in the return was Russia’s share in the PACE financing. As a result, the authoritarian regime started financing an international organization that was supposed to defend democracy and resist authoritarianism. Later on, in 2020 the Russian Federation amended the Constitution prioritizing the national law over international legislation. In Navalny case, Russia refused to comply with the ECHR decision. The decision to return Russia to PACE was ill-judged. Today we are again faced with a choice: imposing sanctions or flirting with a gangster. Over the past 12 years, we have seen the complete failure of the latest model of relations with Russia. Inaction to the aggression in Georgia let to aggression in Ukraine, interfering in the elections, assassination attempts and murders in European countries, financing and organizing coups d’état, and cyber attacks. Apparently, we should go to maximum sanctions and pressure on foreign assets of the Russian elite. The economic confrontation was crucial in ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union fall.