How To Stop Thinking About Russia — A Message From Eastern Europe To The West
David Stulik, senior research analyst at the Prague-based European Values Research Center, explains the risks of continuing to calculate all our choices according to hypothetical fears of and future compromises with Russia.
KYIV — There’s a school of thought among some in Europe that the energy crisis is due to the war “between Ukraine and Russia,” not because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s a subtle, but important difference in language — and one that reveals the partial success of Russia's non-stop propaganda and disinformation campaign.
Even some very pro-Ukraine politicians consistently use the phrase “the war in Ukraine” for saying what caused energy prices to increase, or why household incomes in the West are going to drop.
It is of course unfair to blame Ukraine for these problems.
The increased polarization in society that is bound to come, in the form of anti-government sentiment and social movements, means that a growing portion of the population in the West are likely to be "lost" and fall under the influence of pro-Russian extremist politicians.
The China example
There is a clear understanding in Europe that just as we've been dependent on Russian energy, we are also reliant on the cheap products that arrive from China. Many strategic industries have moved from Europe to China because everything is cheaper there, which is a big problem, most clearly voiced by the United States, which is putting pressure on Europe to be more skeptical of its economic ties with China.
China is not an ally, but an adversary.
And so we see that China is very similar to the Russian regime: authoritarian, undemocratic, and afraid of liberal democracy, and it does not respect the values of our society and civilization. So, we know that China is not an ally, but an adversary.
A few years ago, the project called "17+1 " was launched to attempt to recreate the Great Silk Road. Some countries, especially the Baltics, have since withdrawn from it. That is, those who know from their own histories the dangers of authoritarianism don't want any part in feeding China's ambitions.
Another example: Chinese companies are practically excluded from developing 5G networks in Europe. We have acted based on security concerns about giving China access to information, and to critical internet and communications infrastructure.
Putin and Xi
Putin and Xi in September at the SCO Council of Heads of State in Uzbekistan
Sergei Bobylev/TASS via ZUMA
How will Putin fall?
Ultimately, as we look to the future of Ukraine, we should not make decisions based on what may or may not happen to Russia as a result. We must make our decisions for ourselves. Yet such thinking has too often tied Germany’s hands. The Germans say things like: What will happen after Putin? What if his successors are even worse? More aggressive? And I always answer that it could also be just the opposite. Such hypothetical reasoning should not limit the choices we make.
Sanctions against Russia affect economic sectors and military-industrial potential, which has been significantly reduced due to limited access to necessary components. At the same time, ordinary Russians, seduced by the ideas of imperialism, are even ready to sacrifice their everyday comfort for Putin's ambitions.
When the number of coffins of mobilized soldiers arriving back in Russia increases significantly, it will be a wake-up call. It can severely impact consciousness and lead to a search for the guilty parties. This is already partly happening as different groups in the Russian elite blame each other for the current military failures.
Oligarchs are also well aware that their wealth is shrinking and will look for opportunities to preserve their assets. One example is Oleg Tinkov, who has renounced his Russian citizenship. Conflicts at the level of elites in Russia are very likely, and soon, they will be fighting among themselves like spiders in a jar.
The Kremlin has purged activists, the political opposition, and the media, and now they will cleanse the elites; that is, people in their own inner circle. There may be different ways; the simplest one is corruption charges followed by imprisonment. These people will of course look for ways to preserve their wealth and influence.
Logically, at some point, they will come to see the need to get rid of Putin. This does not mean that it will change the system in Russia; changing the leader or a few key people in power will not solve anything fundamental, and if this happens Russia will more or less stay the same.
Temptation of cheap energy
Yes, in the 1990s, Russia was weak and therefore made certain concessions to the West. In particular, it withdrew its troops from Central Europe, had to limit its nuclear potential, and so on.
Many politicians in Western Europe don't want to imagine such scenarios.
Now, Ukraine must take advantage of a once-again weakened Russia and use this time to restore its territorial integrity and introduce international mechanisms that would deter Russia as much as possible from future aggression. The next step is Russia’s demilitarization. And Russia must no longer have the trump card of energy and high gas and oil prices.
In addition, in light of the way Russia systematically violates international security guarantees, it should be excluded from the United Nations system.
Of course, many politicians in Western Europe don't want to imagine such scenarios, and are just busy dreaming of returning to the former economic relations with Russia— to a time when it supplied cheap energy.
The competitiveness of German exports is built on cheap natural gas, and so there will be a natural desire to return to this state. A new Russian leader who says "I am different from Putin" and will supply all your energy needs would suit certain interests very well. Western politicians might happily say: "Oh, let's go back to how it was before."
At that point, it will be up to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine included, to point out that Russia has not really changed. On its face, yes—but the system itself will have remained as it was. Instead, it is up to us to determine the future that we want, and let everything follow from there.
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