February 1, 2020

Russia is without any doubt an remarkable country with a civilization which has great depth. A society which has been greatly influenced by the Romanov dynasty which ruled for 304 years, by the brutal destruction during the Russian revolution of October 1917 and by the line of autocratic leaders which balanced the different interests and have ruled the country often with a iron fist.

To understand Russia is to understand its culture, history and position it claims in the world.

The country, with the greatest landmass (one-sixth) on earth, eleven time zones,  142 million people and since the 13th century with Moscow as its cultural centre. Russia has expanded its territory substantially since Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century.

Ivan the Terrible (1530–1584) transformed Russia from a medieval state into an empire under the Tsar, conquered the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberia and developed the bureaucracy to administer the new territories, while strengthening the autocratic powers of the monarch to a unprecedented level.

The Romanovs ruled from 1613 until 1917 with policies always orientated towards Western Europe. Tsar Peter the Great abolished the church patriarchy and effectively made the Russian Orthodox church an arm of the state, in fact making Russia a theocracy, which influence the Orthodox church still holds today.

The large territories are a source of great pride, confirming its uniqueness and importance of Russia in the world, but also has made Russia feel vulnerable and insecure for expansion on it territories by others. 

This vulnerability finds its origin how on different occasions foreign troops have entered the country and Moscow, which first was attacked and occupied in 1238 by the Mongols, followed by different occupations throughout its history.

These territories are bordered by countries which after the collapse of the Soviet Empire are not seen as partners or friends but as potential beachheads for enemies. Stalin already viewed independent states as security risks to Russian interests, stepping stones for possible aggression against Russia by adversaries.

This feeling of “Russia alone” against bigger adversaries has often resulted in defensive aggressiveness against the bordering countries of which Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ukraine as latest example. This has type of intimidation and aggressiveness has led that former Soviet belongings such as Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine now have security arrangements with the west.

In its most recent history Russia has been involved in different wars; there have been victories over Charles XII and Sweden which cemented Russian influence on the Baltic Sea and Europe. Just as Russia was victorious in WWII. But most wars were lost; the Crimean War of 1853-56; the Russo/Japanese war 1904-5; WWI.

Russia is not an easy country to govern and as Stefan Hedlund of the Uppsala university pointed out in “Russian Path Dependence” addressing Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism,

Russia has essentially collapsed three times in its history, in 1610-1613, 1917-1918 and in 1991 and each time the country was revived fundamentally unchanged. Despite the depth of the crises and the stated intentions of would-be transformative leaders, Russia remerged with an unaccountable government, repression, and resistance to the imposition of the rule of law.”

Reflecting on Russia’s history, culture and present position and looking at the rise and fall of the great powers in history it cannot be avoided like others also Russia has great difficulty to relinquish its own sense of exceptionalism while coming to terms with its own past, its reduced role in the world which process Germans call Vergangenheitsbewältigung.”

In today’s world which is dominated by the main economic centres China, EU and US, Russia geopolitical position is not that of a super power equal to the China, EU or the US but that of a great power on the peripheral, outside the developed industrialized nations.

Today Russia can be seen as a great weak” country which has been in decline since Catherine the Great, but also a country which has been haunted by its relative backwardness. By 1900 Russia was the 4th / 5th largest industrial power but its capita GDP reached 20% of the UK and average life span 30 years while literacy was 33%, lower than 18th century UK.

Russia’s position in the world is that of a country on the economic peripheral, being the 11th industrial power with a GDP equal to Korea, with its capita GDP reaching 59% of the UK and constituting 1,8% of the world economy.  

As of 2017 life expectancy at birth is 72.5 years, a substantial improvement but still low compared to countries with a similar income. However there is a striking difference between men (66,5) and women (77,1) which 11-year gap is correlated with alcohol consumption. Today the population is highly educated with the adult literacy rate for the Russian Federation at 99.8%.

Russia, has since the Romanov’s and until today always been Governed by autocrats and today is no different. Authoritarianism is embedded in its culture.

The tyrant Stalin believed  Russia needs a tsar, as the people are accustomed to one person being at the head “a tsar the people can worship and for whom they can live and work.” Today’s Putinism is no different and blends Romanov authoritarianism, Orthodox sanctity, nationalism, crony capitalism and adds to nostalgia for the Soviet Union and the Romanov empire.  

It is ironic as Simon Sebag Montefiore writes in this excellent book “The Romanovs” that Russian leaders effectively nominate their successors just as Peter the Great did, while unlike Western Europe it did not build independent assembles or institutions early on.

It is naïve and unrealistic to expect Russia will in the foreseeable future be able to turn the page and find the way forward to a more free and open society. Not under Vladimir Putin or after Vladimir Putin.

It is ironic as Simon Sebag Montefiore writes in this excellent book “The Romanovs” that Russian leaders effectively nominate their successors just as Peter the Great did, while unlike Western Europe it did not build independent assembles or institutions early on. Today under President Putin, the Russian parliament, the “DUMA” is a rubber stamp institution in which Nationalistic feelings run high.

Still today as there is a low level of development of the system of checks and balances and a low level of institutionalisation of social processes as Evgeny Minchenko concludes in the “Methodological basis of the Politburo 2.0 report series.”

Russia is organised around the ruler exercising undivided power, ruled by opaque cliques, able to amass vast wealth while linked together through hierarchical client – patron relationships all at the mercy of the ruler but also requires from the ruler to balance the different vested interests. But in case of failure change can come rapidly to autocratic leaders and with mortal consequences as history has shown.

The highest value is that of the state, which all dominant power supersedes the individual, liberty, human- or property-rights whereby the strong state is seen at the final arbiter and guarantor of the domestic order.

The Russian nation may be motivated by a deep, creedal ideology that has been wafting through the culture for centuries and can be traced back to Byzantium with overestimated visions of Grandeur, but its present position in the World has been mainly shaped by its hesitation to join international bodies, unless it can be a dominant member like in the UN where it has a Veto.

A world which after WWII has moved towards a system in which international relationships are based on International Law and for the relationship between EU, Russia and US this was influenced by the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the post-Cold War settlement  and the 1990 Charter of Paris for New Europe.

Our global, rules-based economic order with its values of free trade (NAFTA, TPP, WTO) and the rule of law has advanced and is based on a system of norms, institutions and international partnerships which have brought security, stability and prosperity to Europe, while NATO has limited escalation by Russia.

In the 1980’s Russia and our world order was greatly changed by Mikael Gorbachev (1985- 1991) attempts to reduce Cold War tensions and to reform Russia with his policies of Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring) with aspirations of democratic governance, freely organised civil society and rule of law.

Mikael Gorbachev succeeded in giving Russia a taste of democracy seen only briefly in 1917, before it was smothered, and was smothered again in the 1990’s and beyond, regretfully Gorbachev was unable to sustain it. But gave people a glimpse of the light of freedom.

In the years of great changes (1989-2001) both H.W. Bush and Mikael Gorbachev played a pivotal role by working together in the spirit of cooperation ending the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, significantly cutting both countries arsenals as laid down in the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

START also led to the removal of nuclear weapons and infrastructure from the Ukraine, which started with the Lisbon Protocol in 1992 and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. With the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 the agreement was violated by Russia and made clear US security assurances had limited value and the worst fears of the Ukraine were realized.

Influenced by the events surrounding the German reunification in 1990 the European Uninion embarked on a path of fundamental change and there have been attempts to build a safe and prosperous Europe which would include Russia. Envisioned was the expansion of the international system by essential legal rules.

But the idea that Russia should become “just another European state” or be viewed as a regional power was and is adverse to the core beliefs about Russia’s exceptionalism, status and position in the world. Another limiting factor for such an association with the European order and transatlantic institutions was that Moscow was expected to give up some of Russia’s sovereignty which was and is not in line with the ideas and priorities of the Russian leadership which seek to enhance the country’s sovereignty not reducing it.

However much was accomplished to lay a serious foundation for cooperation, whereby Russia and its 140 million people were integrated in the global economy, but there were also signs of differences in mutual interests. There were chances for a new alignment in the world which was changing from a unipolar world into a multipolar world as Henry Kissinger predicted in his book “Diplomacy,” but the West to its own detriment failed to become deeply involved in Russia.

Gorbachev was overtaken by events and the people were sucked into anxiety about Russian society also influenced by the 1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt. The August Coup, an attempt by hard-line members within the government opposed the reform programs and the new union treaty which decentralized much of the government power to the republics. Reason for hardliners to take control of the country from Soviet President and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Coup collapsed within days due to civil resistance led by Boris Yeltsin and Gorbachev returned shortly to power, but resigned on December 25 of the same year. These events contributed greatly to the dissolution of the USSR.

Mikael Gorbachev, an unusually decent man, in a country whose citizens crave strong, tough leaders and are prone to take decency as weakness, was instrumental to end of the cold war and allowed for the democratisation of the eastern European, Baltic states and gave the southern caucuses independence from Moscow’s rule.In fact Gorbachev initiated and oversaw the dismantling of the Romanov empire which Lenin and Stalin held together with much cunning, destructive force and enormous sacrifice in human life.

Boris Yeltsin used the ambitions of the republics to outmanoeuvre President Mikael Gorbachev, a very wise, fair, thoughtful and experienced leader, passionate about democracy yet understanding the uncertainties and transitional difficulties and led in the first real Democracy, with free press and free market.

One wonders instead of Vladimir Putin, an expansionist autocrat in the mould of the old Soviet presidents, how much better Russia could have been under Mikael Gorbachev’s  continued leadership.

On June 12, 1991, during the first presidential elections Boris Yeltsin was elected as the first President of the Russian Federation. The Yeltsin years show how this potentially great country became once again hijacked both politically and economically by vested interests at the expense of the Russian people.

Boris Yeltsin retired in 1999 and did choose his own successor, like most czars did when he handed supreme power to former KGB colonel turned politician Vladimir Putin. Russia has found in Vladimir Putin the tactician an unlikely, cynical and cold-eyed host who was parachuted in this position of power by the Yeltsin inner circle. Part of the arrangement with the Yeltsin clan was to guarantee not to prosecute Yeltsin or confiscated his assets.

In 2000 Vladimir Putin was elected with 53% of the vote, helped by the Government control of the television stations with a ruthless approach towards the Chechen terrorist treat which led to the complete destruction of Grozny.

With Putin the momentum and trust for close cooperation was gradually lost and tensions increased also influenced by the US bombing of Bosnia of 1995 and Belgrade in 1999. Trust further deteriorated after the 2008 Russian military intervention in the Caucasus and the 2014 activities of different pro-Russian groups in the Ukraine and Russia under Vladimir Putin turned into a revanchist expansionist nation.

Nevertheless Putin’s achievements during the first and second term he has been in power must be recognized. Like with any autocrat the traits of his character are magnified, everything personal become political and is transformed into power.

After Boris Yeltsin rule stability was achieved in Russia and most Russians were able to live normally. Vladimir Putin must be applauded for establishing  a functioning and political system in Russia and prevented further territorial disintegration of Russia and collapse of the Russian state. Sound macroeconomic policy was introduced by Alexei Kudrin as Finance minister who introduced a package of anti-inflator and liberalizing measurers whereby the inflation stayed in control and from 1999 to 2008 the economy grew with 7 % annually.

This has been achieved at the cost of political freedom and civil liberties, which were tolerated, but after the manisfitations of popular discontent in 2011-2013 after the flawed elections, regarded as a colour revolution in Russia encouraged by Western Intelligence services, the policy of tolerance has been abandoned and dissent has been silenced in order to consolidate power further.

In 2015 Boris Nemtsov was assassinated a new law was enacted restricting public assembly and the Government has further shut down reform minded outlets and is expanding its control of the Internet, monitoring, blacklisting and using troll to post anti-American views.

These tactics have proved effective as has the Crimea annexation which served the Government and Putin’s popularity well, mainly due to the weak opposition. In all of this Putin presents himself as defending and securing what Russians care about, showing himself as a strong leader surrounded by a small inner circle.

During Putin’s third term Vladimir Putin strengthened his control over state and society by repressing opponents and controlling his own political base, thereby creating an image of Russia as a global power using the same instruments used in the Soviet era.

It should not be expected that Vladimir Putin iron grip on power supported by Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox church calling him a “miracle of God for Russia” will end with his third term. –

Also Putin himself has said, describing both Nicholas II and Mikael Gorbachev as weaklings, who in his view threw power to the floor “I would never abdicate.”

The suggestion can be made “much like the shark that can only by eating his gills only by eating more.” This is the dilemma of Russian power then and now as Simon Sebag Montefiore writes in “The Romanovs” describing Prince Alexander Menshikov (1673-1729) “who was appointed generalissimus by Catherine I, a title held by a select few – culminating in Stalin.

Menshikov could survive only by consuming more to safeguard what he already had. If stopped he would be destroyed and retirement of the leader is impossible without insurances that he will not be prosecuted nor his fortune confiscated. As history shows Menshikov rapacity aroused general hatred and in 1729 he was deprived of his enormous wealth, stripped of the titles, and he and his whole family were banished to Beryozovo in Siberia where he died the same year.”

As President Putin failures must be seen his inability to step over his own shadow in order to modernize Russia since the country is in structural decline both economical as in human capital and with the absence of a successor. However it is likely a successor will come from the inner circle, someone who will resemble Putin’s autocratic leadership style and his defence of Russian interests.

Today the country is doing worse than any time since 1990 due do the domination of the state and ruling class on the economy, corruption and sanctions, which latter have effectively increased Russia’s  dependency on China.

After recovering from sharp contraction following 2009 financial crises, Russian economy is under pressure.  GDP Growth Rate in Russia averaged 0.74 percent from 1995 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 4.10 percent in the first quarter of 1999 and a record low of -5.40 percent in the third quarter of 1998.

Since years of negative growth the country has in 2017 returned to minimal  non-structural growth whereby over the years the dependency of income out oil products has only grown, contributing 20-25 percent of GDP, 65 percent of total exports and 30 percent of government budget revenues.

There is a level of dysfunction that is pushing the country to the wrong direction, due to stagnation of the economy, military adventures and its self-chosen isolation which is often the case with autocracies. Instead of reducing the dependence on the oil and gas sector together with the diversification of the economy and the necessary infrastructure as suggested by Kudrin.

Russia has during Putin’s term in office continued these stagnant economic policies. But as a result of operational setbacks in the war in Georgia the modernization of the armed forces have prioritized and defence spending has increased 20-fold during his time in office.

To understand Vladimir Putin is to look at his background and experiences made before and after the unification of Germany and with the disintegration of the Soviet Empire which according to Putin was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” whereby the often quoted humiliation of Russia by the US and Europe is most questionable.

What the dissolution of the former Soviet Union made clear, a Russia in chaos is a nightmare. The Government was bankrupt, the protection of the nuclear arsenal was inadequate, which leads to the conclusion a weak Russia poses a far greater danger.

Nevertheless these experiences made during the 1990’s have caused bitterness and great resentment towards the west within the Russian national security establishment and increased Vladimir Putin’s popularity. As does the supposed underappreciation of Russia’s importance and exceptionalism, in the world often influenced by internal factors.

In order to comprehend Vladimir Putin is to look at Russia as a “theocratic nationalist autocracy”  and at his favourited philosophers Nikolai Berdyaev, Vladimir Solovyov and Ivan Ilyinn.

Ilyin expresses overblown visions of grandeur, while all of this is based on the devotion to the Orthodox faith and the influence of the Orthodox Church and the belief in Russian exceptionalism which as a autocracy is destined to have its own unique place in the world. As Ilyin wrote

the time will come when Russia will rise from disintegration and humiliation and enter into a time of new development and greatness.”

In this regard Russia will continue to develop its civic nationalism and will not bow to Western pressure. As President Putin sees this, Russia is attempting to halt what has been a creeping western (US + EU) invasion of Russia since 1991 and is at war with the free Liberal order an order which the Kremlin considers an existential threat to its rule and must therefore defeat it. Its guiding principle is the “Primakov Doctrine” which has the following guiding principles:

Russia should strive toward a multipolar world managed by a concert of major powers that can counterbalance U.S. unilateral power.

·Russia should insist on its primacy in the post-Soviet space and lead integration in that region.

·Russia should oppose NATO expansion and, more broadly, persistent efforts to weaken transatlantic institutions and the U.S.-led international order are another. Partnership with China is the third fundamental component. All three remain major pillars of Russian foreign policy today.

Following years of first cultivating extreme right circles, policies towards the free Liberal order have now become more aggressive by means of open military confrontation and hybrid warfare based on the “Gerasimov doctrine,” a blend of propaganda, hacking  attacks and disinformation.

This leads to the conclusion a nationalistic and expansionist Russia which in fact seeks the reversal of the 1989 historic events has difficulty coexisting alongside a Democratic Europe in which political freedom, civil liberties and free media are guaranteed.

In this regard Russia has become a growing threat to Europe as the killing of  Litvinenko and the failed assassinations of Skripal and Gebrev and the destabilization attempts in Moldova, Montenegro and elsewhere show. 

History also shows how Russia likes to play being victimized by the West, especial accusing the European elite using self-serving revisionism, thereby conveniently ignoring Stalin’s 1939 pact with Hitler under which Poland was invaded and the 40 year long occupation of the former Warsaw pact countries.

Since the Berlin Wall came down there have been suggestion that promises and understandings made by NATO have not been kept, while there has been the fast and furious eastward expansion of NATO and economic expansion of the EU at the same time.  

But this expansion of the European project has its limits, with a Liberal order and EU not in need of expansion, but more in need of consolidation in order to protect the achievements made during the last fifty years whereby the future of the free Liberal order is more conservatism.

A case can be made that the post-Cold war settlement was perhaps unbalanced and the EU eastwards expansion was strategically unwise and has violated assurances given by Hans-Dietrich Genscher to  Eduard Shevardnadze during the negotiations over German unification.

Also according  to transcripts of meetings in Moscow on Feb. 9, 1990 then-Secretary of State James Baker suggested that in exchange for cooperation on Germany unification, U.S. could make “iron-clad guarantees” that NATO would not expand one inch eastward.” No formal deal was made but the Russians accepted the assurances which were not in writing and reunification talks began.

At the time the consequences of the rapid development were not overseen, but there was no real alternative at the time, also due to the fact the US and EU have since 1991 no coherent strategy in place and these opportunities to include Russia in the framework of nations during this cycle of history was wasted.

The perceived arrogance from Europe and the US since the German unification are the “bitter fruits of history” and caused Russia to feel alienated and to its own detriment did not join Europe in its partnership with the US.

This partnership while joining our European house would have benefited Russia greatly, instead of this self-inflicted wound Russia has chosen isolation and further decline. But the reality is also, there was never a real chance that a undemocratic and powerful Russia was going to join Europe and NATO, given its desire to dominate organisations it joins, just as China will oppose US military dominance in Asia.

As Dimitri Trenin suggests in his book Russia – should we fear Russia,” there are chances to improve the European-Russian relationship, but with the US there always will be confrontation, which may subside over time. This scenario would lead to a Europe without NATO and the US which is not a very feasible scenario.

In this regards the “anxiety” in the US about the security concerns for the Russian bogeyman shows also a fair amount of hypocrisy and has been a useful instrument in justifying the annual increase in defence spending since WWII.

To place this in perspective the  United States leads in military spending in 2018 with 649 billion US dollars with Russia spending 61,4 billion US dollars, which amounts to respectively 3,2 % and 3,9% of GDP.

The Russian defence budget remains the third largest in the world, dwarfing the military expenditures of most European states combined. In reality Russia’s effective military expenditure Is more in the range of $150-180 billion per year, with a much higher percentage dedicated to procurement, research and development than Western defence budgets., with the substantial annual rise in arms procurement.

From the perspective of the average Russian citizen and given its history, the eastward expansion this looks different with NATO troops within two hours from Moscow and St Petersburg. These decisions made in the past are viewed as having ignored Russian sensitivities and security interests and are backing Russia in the corner, evidenced by the fact that nine of the former Warsaw pact nations and three former Soviet republics have been incorporated into NATO.

Also it must be recognized that the “Fast and Furious Eastwards expansion” of the EU under the encouragement of the US has slowed down and negatively influenced the integration of the traditional member states of the European Union and its institutions and has delayed the “Political Union.” The EU would have been better served with a two-speed European Union,  instead of including the Eastern European countries as” full “members in the EU.

A two-speed Europe, whereby the “traditional” EU would have concentrated on faster integration of the EU and its institutions and establishing in earnest the “security and defence union” which already was agreed in 1956 but never ratified given France it objections would have been more sensible.

Differences in culture and commitments to the democratic and legal values of different member states in New Europe have led to illiberal democracies where the free media is attacked, while the independence of the judiciary and other sources of check and balances and human rights are severely weakened.

The difference in culture and values between “Traditional” and  “New” European countries, the “interest of the individual” versus the “interest of the state” will take years to bridge.

By moving eastwards, threatening the black sea and in fact meddling in the domestic affairs of others, in the sphere of influence of Russia the case can be made the west has perhaps overreached and given Russia legitimate security concerns, which have stoked the forces of revenge and revanchism and has also caused the revival and modernization of the Russian military since its war in Georgia in 2008 which reasserted Russian hegemony over the Caucasus.

But  also internal difficulties have been reason for these reactions with anti-Muslim sentiments growing in Russia. Russia’s overall population is dropping (142 million-2010) the number of Muslims (16,7million) being 11,7 % is on the rise. The population of indigenous Muslims, mainly from the Caucasus has increased since the fall of the Soviet Union from 13,6 to 16,7 million in 2010.

In all of this Vladimir Putin unlike Mikhail Gorbachev who recognized the changing winds of time and stepped over his own shadow with policies of glasnost and perestroika, Vladimir Putin has been unable to ignore his Soviet past.

Vladimir Putin is riding the tiger of Nationalism, this ideological poison which is narrow- minded and immoral requiring a blind loyalty to country over justice and humanity and which drove some of the greatest crimes in history. The ethnic nationalism which we see today sticking up its ugly head has led in the past to ethnic cleansing and caused the break-up of multi-ethnic empires, including Habsburg, Ottoman and Russia.

Today Vladimir Putin has chosen for continued authoritarianism and confrontation over cooperation, despite that the west was the natural partner for post-soviet Russia and is a historic part of our European house, thereby ignoring a one-man authoritarian rule is the weakest form of Government.

Any sign of perceived weakness by the populist autocrat or the loss of legitimacy of the regime will be seized upon. Even in the soviet politburo this caused leaders to be replaced and finding consensus between its members was a requirement.

In fact Vladimir Putin has chosen to be on the peripheral position opposed to the developed world and not to be part of the global equilibrium.

In Putin’s view the Ukraine is part of Russia’s sphere of influence and cannot be a nation separated from Russia. As Zbigniew Brezinski noted “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”  The historic significance of Ukraine and the Crimea peninsula is evident.

As Orlando Figes writes in his excellent book “The Crimean War”,

the savage Crimean war (1853-1856) killed almost one million soldiers and civilians. It emmeshed four great empires -the British, French, Turkish and Russian in a battle over religion as well as territory; and fixed the fault lines between Russia and the West; that set in motion the conflicts that would dominate the century to come.”

At the same time the present day reality is Ukraine joined NATO’s “Partnership of Peace” plan in 2006 as already expressed in 1994 which can only be seen as a further measure of NATO’s encirclement of Russia and applied to join the NATO Membership Action Plan in 2008 despite the fact that Putin has on numerous occasions emphasized that any indication of Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO was a red line for Russia.

It cannot be seen as realistic that Ukraine will be invited to join NATO in the foreseeable future, also considering the fact that it’s doubtful the West had and has real intentions of defending the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. All of this has not contributed to increase the stability in the region.

Plans for NATO membership were shelved by Ukraine following the 2010 presidential election in which Viktor Yanukovych, who preferred to keep the country non-aligned won.  It was obvious that the West has been meddling and encouraging the power change in Kiev knowing from the beginning the far-reaching consequences of such action, since a Ukraine with the Crimea closely allied with NATO, which Russia sees as a threat to its borders, territory and interests.

After the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych Russian leadership came to the conclusion that Western expansionism could only be reversed with an “iron fist.

Following parliamentary elections in October 2014, the new government made joining NATO a priority. Membership of EU and NATO of the Ukraine which has been hollowed out by the elite during the last two decade and is spiralling downwards is however not a priority for the European Union, even the association agreement between EU and Ukraine is not favoured by EU citizen.

We much recognize that until 2012 Russia’s policy was based on emotive nationalism and soft revisionism contesting and undermining the post-cold-war liberal international order, while benefiting from the same order.

Russia has also increased political and economic integration of former republics and increased cooperation with China, but has not yet led to the substantial increased Chinese investments Russia had anticipated.

Both these nationalistic and authoritarian regimes share a resentment and contempt for the Liberal order of the West and are interested to create an alternative economic order in which India also plays a part.

China has obviously its own Greater Eurasia strategy which it is building. However any relationship with Russia will be unbalanced given China’s economic position and the different aims both countries have. It’s also questionable if the public in Russia will back the shift from west to east on the long term.

During 2014 based on what the political theorist Alena Ledeneva calls “Sistema,” meaning “elusive,” different pro-Russia groups with various interests and strategies became active in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, which is deeply divided between Russian and European sympathies and has a large Russian population opposed to the Kiev government.

The repeal of the 2012 law by the Government allowing Russian and other minority languages to be used locally was not helpful either. 

Other groups joined the anti-Kiev militias. The following invasion of Crimea and support for the pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas.

The following annexation of the Crimea by Russia was a violation of international law and not justifiable.

But as history has taught us, this isn’t as simple as our ideals. The Greeks were there, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Mongols, the Tatars, the Ottomans, and in 1753 the Russians annexed it. In 1853 the French, British, and Ottomans began a long war against Russia there that was devastating and ended.

As to the reasons to the invasion of the Crimea there are three interpretations and most likely the reasons and motivations for seizure was a combination of the three

a. response to the threat of NATO further expansion and encirclement;

b. recapture of former territories of the former Soviet empire;

c. a hastily opportunistic response to the events in Syria and the Ukraine.

With the support for the ascension war in eastern Ukraine, annexing Crimea in 2014 and the intervention in Syria in 2015  Russia has made clear it is willing to pay a high economic and diplomatic price by influencing the balance of power in Europe and the Middle East, in order to confirm Russia’s Middle Eastern aspirations from Catherina the Great to the cold war.

The weakness which the Obama administration showed in its cautious response played also a role, by refusing to put American troops on the ground in Syria or to pursue a prolonged air campaign and to declare safe havens or no-fly zones, together with failure to act on his “red lines” in case Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. 

This further consolidated the Assad regime’s position making sure Assad stays in power until a better arrangement is formulated through international negotiations whereby Russia plays a leading role.

What is also clear, from the beginning in 2009 the Obama administration failed to understand the long held revanchist feelings of Russia, demanding as the great power Russia sees itself, equal standing with the US.

By ignoring the 2008 war in Georgia and the 2009  “good will” decision to cancel the missile defence system for Poland and the Czech Republic Obama showed weakness, instead of strength and gave the impression to withdraw from Europe.

In fact the Obama team in their disdain dismissed Russia as a regional power, instead of the security threat Russia is to the US, an attitude which continued even after the annexation of the Crimea and the influencing of the US elections in 2016. Obama’s animosity towards Putin is not an equivalent for strong leadership and only led to further destabilizing activities of the European order.

With the invasion in the Donbas Ukraine the US showed passivity and weakness by not providing lethal weapons to the Ukraine in order to defend itself better, favouring  “strategic patience” thereby ignoring the security assurances given to  Ukraine in the “Budapest Memorandum” of 1994 and confirmed as in the Joint Statement in 2009 by Russia and the United States,” 

As Secretary of State John Kerry stated in 2014

Russia is behaving in a 19th century fashion” by invading Ukrainian territory, an incredible act of aggression by president Putin, trapped in a centuries-old mindset.”

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,” which makes one wonder does Secretary Kerry think with Iraq and Afghanistan in mind the world has amnesia.

As Obama stated in 2014 on the Crimea issue “The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia, now is not the time for bluster … There are no easy answers, no military solution.

In both Syria and Ukraine this position was further exploited by Russia in their usual manner and made clear contrary to Obama’s  view on Russia as a 19th century regional power, Russia understands much better how to avail itself of the modern tools available to it in the 21st century which has given a strategic advantage.

The response in the West to these crises in 2014 has certainly worsened rather than improved a very serious crisis and failed to recognize Russia will hardly change, not with or after Vladimir Putin.

For one thing, the so-called autonomous republic of the Crimea is a mistake of history, unique in its culture, language, history and geography, thus making it “Little Russia” inside and independent and sovereign Ukraine – a mixed up bound to blow up from the very beginning, not only because of the West’s open support for regime change, but also as a result of the agreement between Russia and Ukraine that failed to address the entangled nature of the Crimea.

It should also be noted in these attempts to meddle in other states domestic affairs by the US thereby facilitating regime change by non-governmental organisations under the cover of promoting democracy play an increasing role, activities which were used to be done covertly by the CIA.

Those dynamics and realities should have been the guiding force of both EU and US policy toward Ukraine. Anything else risks the fragile breakup of the country, whose Crimean region is populated mostly by Russian-speaking ethnic Russians.

Realistically speaking there is no way that Russia will return the Crimea Crimean Peninsula given its strategic importance to Russia’s Black Sea Naval fleet, as Sevastopol is the only warm water naval base and the control of the Sea of Azoz.

The black sea has also significance to the oil and natural gas industries. At present, there are fewer than 100 wells drilled, with Exxon Mobil ready to start drilling deep-water wells.

Obviously allowing Ukraine to secede from its sphere of influence is not in Russia’s best interest and neither is there a great desire for war with Russia.

The confrontational but weak reaction to the crisis by the Obama administration instead of a more prudent and retrained reaction was not based on any form of strategy gave only the “illusion of success.” By doing so Obama only confirmed the perceived hostility from the west and increased Putin’s popularity.

As Reagan’s former Ambassador Jack Matlock argued after the Obama administration had issued public warning to Vladimir Putin

“whatever slim hope that Moscow might avoid overt military intervention in Ukraine disappeared when Obama in effect threw down a gauntlet and challenged him. It was not just a mistake of political judgement – it was a failure to understand psychology – unless of course he wanted a Russian intervention, which is hard for me to be.”

As former Ambassador Jack Matlock noted,

“Russia is acting in response to years of perceived hostility from the U.S., from the eastward expansion of NATO to the bombing of Serbia to the expansion of American military bases in eastern Europe.”

The wisdom of the 2016 economic sanctions against Russian interest, instead of engaging seeking to isolate Russia must be questioned as economic sanctions, although relatively low-cost measures are never a very productive instrument for to realize change and once implemented take years to influence policies.

The sanctions have undermined the objective of integrating Russia into the global economy and have shown other countries the danger of integrating financial institutions into a American led system and the influence on US dominated transactions.

The sanctions have deflected public attention away from demands for higher living standards, political rights and freedoms and have given Putin greater control over the economy and a powerful argument to blame the struggling economy on the United States and the west enabling to stimulate his brand of rally around the flag” Nationalism.

The sanctions-sword has cut both ways for the EU and Russia and we Europeans are paying the economic price, while the economic price to the US is minimal. In 2010 trade between Russia and the EU exceeded US 400 billion and EU investments in Russia accounted for more than 60% of total FDI reaching US 300 billion, confirming the financial and economic cooperation between the EU and Russia. This cooperation was also seen in other areas.

There are also economic reasons for the sanctions which are influenced by Oil & Gas interests and who controls the gas and its transports through the pipelines which is reflected in the opposition to North and South Stream gas pipeline projects.

The other aspects are: 

a. the modernization of the Russian Refinery industry; 

b. the supply of modern technology to Russia- JV Rosneft-Exxon;

c. acquisitions by Russian companies in Europe together with participations in Joint Ventures;

d. purchasing Russian Gas by European Companies.

The sanctions have isolated Russia from global markets and its inability to borrow on the international market and have led to depreciation of the rubble and fall in overall incomes. Without access to international credit it relied on the two Reserve Funds of which The Russian National Wealth Fund was merged in 2017 with the remaining of Russia’s sovereign Reserve Fund. The Reserve fund was built up over years with profits from oil exports but amid low oil price prices was emptied by the end of 2017 and ceased to exist. The National Wealth Fund covering the budget deficits has decreased to below its nominal value.

Russia’s countersanctions on agricultural products have only increased the tight economic constraints in a country which has been without substantial structural reform for years in which the economy shows continued stagnation.

However what has had a much greater impact on the Russian economy and the modernization of the armed forces is the low oil price which plummeted during 2014-2016 from $100 to $ 30 but which has recovered during 2018.

Since the recovery and given budget rules, oil revenues in excess of $40 per barrel are channelled into the National Wealth Fund, and the threshold of 7 percent of GDP above which the law allows the treasure chest to be opened up will be passed by the end of this year.

This means that in 2020, the treasury will have almost 2 trillion rubbles ($31 billion) in its coffers to be allocated. The money is already eyed by the State Capitalist such as Gazprom, Rosneft, Novatek to finance large projects which the central bank fears will spur inflation, the rubble rate and lead to a procyclical budget policy. How this money will be spend is up to the inner circle of the Putin Cabinet.

The sanctions have also led to increased consensus in the strategic partnership between China and Russia. In addition China has used this opportunity to increase the  purchase of Russian oil products and completed the “oil for money” contract. China has not joined the sanctions since this is not in their interest, but they will be obliged to follow them.

The annexation of Crimea, involvement in Syria and influencing US and European election Russia confirmed this assumption to be but correct, but was not limited to this. Also the relationships with China, Iran, India and Turkey has been intensified.

With the knowledge of yesterday it was naïve of the Obama administration not to recognize Putin’s goals were limited in Syria and Ukraine and to think Russia would not response within its means.

Russia has always shown to react most and aggressively in order to capitalize on weaknesses and use all instruments at its disposal in order to protect what it sees as legitimate interests of the State. Like most Russians Vladimir Putin is a chess player with few fixed principles who approaches everything on a case by case basis, whereby his risks are calculated while responding pragmatically and flexible to events.

The annexation of Crimea, involvement in Syria and influencing US and European election Russia confirmed this assumption to be but correct, but was not limited to this. Also the relationships with China, Iran, India and Turkey has been intensified.

It’s regrettable the US has left behind the “live and let live” concept of Dr Kissinger thereby dealing with China and Russia in a more balanced and diplomatic manner, which begs the question “is the world better off with Russia inside or outside the tent of Nations?”

It is unavoidable to conclude, there is more what connects Russia and the West than divides us, one of those issues being the conflicts and wars in the Middle East which pose the same threat to Russia as the rest of Europe and the United States

As Dr Henry Kissinger rightly concluded at the time

Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any global equilibrium. We need not a confrontation but a dialogue with Russia in order to merge our futures. There are opportunities for cooperation on global issues which should be used.”

It is however questionable if the global equilibrium still exists with the decline in soft- and hard-power of the US since the 1970’s, the increase of Chinese economic influence and the arrival from Donald J Trump who has been able to destroy what his predecessors have built over the last 70 years.

This despite the successes of spreading democracy and the decrease of global poverty due to Globalization.  Also the adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have not been helpful in stabilizing the out of sync global equilibrium.

It should have been obvious to the Obama administration, Russia is more than a regional power as seen by some in US Congress and should be taken seriously and as history shows can be unpredictable and brutal both internally and externally when angered.

I also cannot avoid observing that during my lifetime I have witnessed Russian adventurism in Hungary, Afghanistan, Georgia, Ukraine and other places which have resulted in repression and in enormous destructive exercises in futility. Just like I have seen American adventurism in Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, the greater middle east region and south America, all in the name of freedom and democracy.

But the light of freedom cannot be dimmed forever. What springs to my mind is the “Hungarian Student Revolt” of  1956 and how the revolt  was crushed by Soviet forces and how we accepted the Hungarian refugees. This was followed by the “Prague spring “and with Alexander Dubcek’s election in 1968, which led to the two-decades long occupation by Soviet troops. The siege and assault of the Chechen capital Grozny by Russian forces, from late 1999 to early 2000 made also clear how Russia uses its iron fist. Afterwards President-elect Vladimir Putin declared victory and Grozny freed, while in 2003 the United Nations called Grozny the most destroyed city on Earth.

The strength of the Russian bear might have declined after 1991, but Russia is a formidable and ruthless force to be reckoned with and has in President Vladimir Putin a strong unpredictable leader with the desire for facto control over its sphere of interests. Allowing the Ukraine to secede from its sphere of influence and to enter into the Western orbit seems dubious. Neither is the West willing to enter into a far ranging military conflict.

The strength of the Russian bear might have declined after 1991, but Russia is a formidable and ruthless force to be reckoned with and has in President Vladimir Putin a strong unpredictable leader with the desire for facto control over its sphere of interests. Allowing the Ukraine to secede from its sphere of influence and to enter into the Western orbit seems dubious. Neither is the West willing to enter into a far ranging military conflict.

Russia has alienated Germany, historically and economical its most important partner in Europe and would be well advised to re-evaluate its domestic position and role in the world and seek to re-connect and join the countries of Europe on basis of equality and embark on a process of domestic restructuring and modernization.

We must also conclude Russian attacks on international law and state’s sovereignty have reached an unacceptable level of aggression.

So are the attacks by the Putin government or its proxies against American and European democracies, attacks which seek to divide by means of weaponizing information and cyberspace.

These attacks are unprecedented and have only one purpose to discredit basic Liberal values and to strengthen isolationist and destructive forces in Western societies in order to destabilize our Free Liberal Society and the foundations of democracy with the help of radical right, which confirms Russia as the existential threat to Europe.

With the rise of national populism weaknesses in US and European democracies have been exposed resulting in the weakening of institutions and value systems.

As  Grigory Yavlinsky concludes in his book “The Putin System

The weakening of Western democratic institutions is a long-term trend that emerged well before Moscow’s interference in Western countries internal politics. Actually the weakening made the interference possible, even though, in a vicious circle of sorts, Moscow’s interference may have exacerbated the damage to institutions and democratic values.”

These vulnerabilities have also contributed to the rise of the radical right. The flow of refugees, increased military engagements, decline of the middle class and increased inequality have contributed to the rise in Nationalism and racism, this cancer which led to fascism and which has played such a destructive role in history.

Today’s autocrats use “fake reality” or “lügenpresse” which term goes back to 1914 and has a long history as a powerful instrument to influence the general public, a tool Hitler, Stalin used and now Trump uses which no longer distinguishes between analysis and propaganda, or between truth and lies suggesting there are different truth’s, destroying the notion there is one “truth.” f

Methods to attack Western Democracies with fake reality and influence the general public have been perfected during elections in Russia and in Eastern European elections are now used to attack US and Western Europe with obvious results.

Russian attacks against the US have also played a role in the 2016 elections, however this involvement is only secondary to other internal factors. It’s safe to conclude this meddling by Russia is no different from the meddling the US has done all over the world. Great powers meddle in other countries because they can.

Despite US obsession with Russia, the main factors for the election of the would-be Mobster Donald J Trump must be found in the vulnerabilities and polarization in US society, which grievances’ have been growing since the Nixon years and have resulted in a dysfunctional Congress.

In West Europe despite the support of the growing radical right circles in the US, Israel and Putin’s little helpers, these attacks during the elections in The Netherlands, France and Germany were less successful, but in Italy they were effective, but the economic connection between Russia and Italy has always been strong and especial since Berlusconi Russia can count on its friendship

During the 2016-2019 the US, French, Netherlands, German and EU elections in which more than 200 million people voted were attacked with disinformation so was the Brexit vote, seeking to manipulate public opinion which showed in the US and UK a disturbing level of success.

Influencing of European democracies was done by financial and media support and mutual legitimization of a wide range of populists and radical-right political politician like Victor Orban, Marine Le Pen, Milos Zeman and Geert Wilders and groups in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, UK (Brexit) which all seek to exploit the cancer of Nationalism and racism, while seeking at the same time to create illiberal democracies and disintegration of the European Union.

Victor Orban, the former Liberal turned autocrat of Hungary has filled the courts with sympathetic judges and has tampered with the rule of Law damaging the institutions and the economy.

In the tradition of all populist demagogues Orban has claimed to be “Europe’s defenders of Christianity based on nation, family and Christianity” and has infused xenophobia, racism and nationalism” in the political culture, labelling refugees a treat to Hungary and European Christian values. In 2017 a law was passed forcing all asylum seekers in detention camps.

Orban’s “Brussels must be stopped” has moved away from the Liberal democracies of Europe and has become one of Putin’s closest allies in the attempts to destroy the EU from within, while benefiting from the same European Union and following the Russian narratives on the benefits of ethnicity and the advantages of the Judeo-Christian civilization over multi-culturalism and regimes like this should not have a vote and seat at the main EU table.

But also radical-right populists have learned the lessons from Brexit and the coming post Imperial hangover and have taken an EU exit for the time being of the agenda.

It is an illusion of the Russian leadership to think that the free liberal order is “absolute” as Tsar Vladimir Putin has suggested and can be intimidated or destroyed by attacks against Liberal democracy with the help of Putin’s little dwarfs in Europe, an order which is in need of consolidation, not expansion.

As Francis Fukuyama recently noted

because of the highest aspirations of all humans is the recognition and acceptance of their rights, liberalism will inevitable triumph.”

This attempts by the Russian leadership Russia must be opposed with any and all means, economic, political or military in order to protect our free liberal society. Should this mean countries like Hungary or Poland who orchestrate an assault on pluralist democracy and which seek to establish this form of illiberal Democracy without constitutional constrains, check and balances they should be sanctioned and unless they adhere to Democratic values be forced to leave the EU. This is the kind of repressive authoritarianism in which the independency of the courts is under attack and opens the door to fascism.

With the election of the populist nationalist Donald J Trump protection of our free Liberal Society, human rights and international law has been taken off the agenda by President Trump, this despite the attacks by Russia on American and European democracies. This comes at a time that the Liberal order needs unity not disintegration.

The reality of today is that the Trump lines of communications with autocrats, dictators, despots and tyrants are open and far away from the public eye, while Trump has shown himself to be a useful tool for Russia given his personal and kleptocratic interests has been  gradually submitting to the demands of Vladimir Putin. Although there is some disappointment in Russia that the sanctions against Russian interest are still in place and what their man Trump has accomplished up till now.

With Trump we have identified a potential autocrat, someone who seeks internal and external destabilization, undermining the institutions, judiciary, free press, freedom of speech and follows the 1932 playbook in which the culture of lying is practiced which leads to nihilism and opens the door to fascism.

With Trump’s national populism we see the world change in front of our eyes negatively influenced by Trumps growing list of failures from Paris to Jerusalem, Iran, North Korea to China and tariffs  creating a void in which China and Japan are stepping in.

The result is that Europe must recognize that 70 years of trust and cooperation with the US are ignored by Trump and led in 2018  to the conclusion as made by the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on June 13th, 2018

The world order that we once knew and were accustomed to no longer exists. Old pillars of reliability are crumbling under the weight of new crises. Alliances dating back decades are being challenged in the time it takes to write a tweet.”

The questions is also “can Russia even be a partner in European security as long as it seeks NATO’s elimination?”

But the Atlantic divide did not start with Trump, this started in the early 2001 after 9/11 and led to the decline of  US hegemony which was further influences by the rise of China.

The turning point came with Bush43 with every assault on the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, rejection of treaty based responses to climate change (Kyoto), withdrawal from the ABM treaty, the Middle East conflict and his unconditional US support for Israel and Ariel Sharon.

The Bush administration squandered away US moral authority and global leadership with Iraq, Guantanamo and by employing rendition and torture methods. All of this has influenced and increased the Atlantic divisions.

Although Barack Obama was popular and recognized as an intelligent, erudite and emphatic President his weaknesses in Libya, Syria and Ukraine were also not very helpful.

But the trans-Atlantic cooperation, which produced stability and prosperity over 70+ years  was never damaged in the way it has been by Trump, the nationalist, protectionist and populist who hollowed out U.S. foreign policy even further.

We must recognize the U.S. with President Trump has become an security threat and adversary to Europe and its interests.  Questionable at this point in time is U.S. commitment to our international system of rules, norms and values, the value of US security assurances. After the recent withdrawal by the from Iraq with Trump it’s best to expect betrayal, in the same way the US  left the Kurds to defend themselves and face the prospect of ethnic cleansing by Turney.

The damage done by Trump to US credibility, reliability and reputation is most likely permanent and it’s doubtful this will ever will be fully repaired, despite some cosmic repairs which are envisaged in the future. In this regard a possible Presidency by Joe Biden would be preferred. A possible re-election of Donald Trump would be disastrous for the US and the world.

The EU should have recognized in 2003 the changing winds of our times, the erosion in the Atlantic relationship when Bush43 pivoted away from Western Europe towards New Europe due to the criticisms on Bush43 adventure in Iraq, US support for Israel, opposition against the International Criminal Court and climate change (Kyoto). But the Alliance survived the serious disagreements as a result of mutual respects and trust of the Allies.

Today there is a lack of political leadership of the stature of Adenauer or De Gaulle and a urgent need to re-prioritize EU strategic interests which are headed for further change, given the change in the global political power is shifting from the west to the east, just like the relationship with the US has changed, which only confirms the benefits of the EU.

The position of the EU will be also further influenced by changing demographics and shrinking populations, declining economic importance and political in significance, unless resources are combined and by working together in order to be able to influence the international political agenda and the solution of global problems.

To abandon European unification would be a fool’s arrant now and would mean an irrevocable departure of the world table and accept total insignificance, with the EU and the individual members becoming toys to be played with at the whim of China, Russia and others.

In order to avoid this the EU needs to end to use of veto’s by individual member states and put an end to the illusion of continuing national sovereignty by establish the principle of collective responsibility and move forward with further integration and consolidations including  transfer of sovereignty to European institutions in order to impose effective fiscal discipline and guarantee a stable financial system.

At the same time we need closer coordination of financial, economic, defence and social policies in the member countries, with the aim of correcting the structural imbalances within the common area. In order to avoid the return  to nationalism we need to begin the process of moving towards political, monetary and fiscal union.

Majority voting in the Counsel and trans-National voting in EU elections should as a first step be agreed to. As the French President Emmanuel Macron noted

We need to change the rules… As long as we have not reformed the functioning of our intergovernmental method, we will not be credible at an international level or to our constituents, and it will be impossible to enlarge the EU in any way.”

Instead of being dependent on the US, the EU should next to its financial and economic influence be willing to use its raw power and consider a multi-speed Europe and speed up the “political union” including the “security and defence union” embedded in NATO in order to make Europe more independent and to increase and use its strategic position and geopolitical influence. by Turney.

However such a unified force cannot be done without political Union and in the meantime the national forces fighting capacity should pool their assets and centralize its R&D budgets, increase its defence budget substantial and integrate the European defence industry prioritizing EU hardware purchases. 

Against this background and changes in global environment the Russian – Europe relationship should also be reviewed with the understanding Russia has its own civilization, a autocracy in need of modernization which does not seek to join our rule based “civilized world” and shall remain our adversary.

Russia is a adversary who only understands strength, an adversary which seeks to  intimidate us in order to deter the United States and NATO from considering taking any military action against Russia—in Ukraine, Syria, or elsewhere. Part of this is putting the nuclear option on the table if any of the current conflicts seem likely to draw in the United States or NATO against Russian forces which takes us back to the potential for nuclear war of the 1980’s.

We Europeans should have no illusions, Russia seeks the weakening of the Transatlantic relationship and sees the European Union and NATO, which remains the deblock of our security, as obstacles towards its main goals, the gradual reversal of  the European state and the rise national governments.

We Europeans should understand, Russia favours a Europe that no longer is based on the liberal values on which the post-war period was based, but on a transactional relationship whereby Russia primary motive is to pull Europe into its sphere of influence.

Russia has long rejected the U.S.-led Liberal order and sought the weakening of the Transatlantic relationship and sees the European Union and NATO, which remains the deblock of our security, as obstacles towards its main goals, the gradual reversal of  the European state and the rise national governments.

In Putin’s view this is a Europe without NATO and without any other strategic alliances that are embedded in the European Union’s security concepts. This would give Russia military and security parity with European forces.

From Moscow’s perspective, the European integration project and collective institutions limit Russia in its goals and it’s broader security strategy. Russia seeks transactional relationships with the individual European countries, not embedded of broken away from NATO or the EU, not with major political blocs. This are relationships without mutual responsibilities with countries which can be intimidated and give Russia the clear military advantage in any configuration of opposing forces.

This Russian premise which seeks to exploit weaknesses in the Atlantic relationship is not acceptable, whereby the United States and Russia come together again, in a “new Yalta,” to thrash out on Russia’s terms adjustments to the current order that would recognize Russia’s special status in regions of Europe and Eurasia that once constituted part of the Russian and Soviet empires. In this regard a re-election of Trump would be disastrous and would bring a new Yalta nearer.

With the clear understanding of Russia’s geopolitical goals, the questions is also “can Russia even be an acceptable partner in European security as long as it seeks NATO’s elimination?”

Nevertheless there is still the need for the parties to engage and return to dialogue, work together and find solutions for the Global issues and conflicts despite the fundamental differences between US, EU, China and Russia. To solve the Ukraine issue based on the Minsk accords is essential, but is also preventing initiatives in other diverse areas. But today there is not much which gives confidence that good faith on Russia’s part can be assumed.

The key in this is to accept today new wars are not between civilizations as Samuel Huntington believed, but between those who believe in the clash of civilizations and those who believe in universal values and international law.

Vladimir Putin and the Russians who support him belong to the first group. In their view, it is legitimate to disregard international law in the name of the integration of the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine into Russia. We in the west belong to the second group and reject this view.

Given the long term interest on both sides it is essential to find a “cold peace” formula in order to adjust the present interests and demands. What is required is some realism and pragmatism from all parties and to enter into a wide ranging dialogue, using diplomatic tools to deescalate the conflict, a frozen conflict none of the parties really wanted. But such a dialogue cannot take place in the present climate, during the Kremlin’s ongoing attempts to destabilize Europe.

The return of Russia in 2019 to the Council of Europe was therefore premature and not helpful since Russia does not share the liberal values which are necessary to sustain the Council of Europe and as the weakest player actively seeks to undermine the international order. However it might be helpful as a first  step towards changing the overall tone of relations between Europe and Russia.

Although difficult to reach consensus, its more necessary than ever to find common ground in a new security arrangement with Russia and for the Ukraine embedded in the west and to find a large territorial settlement with land swaps and population transfers which already have been and are taken place.

Regarding the sanctions and  recognition  of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, there should be no high expectations for an early solution to these issues.

Perhaps in time when wisdom prevails and a better international climate has been created.

William J J Houtzager



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