Should a state be driven by law, or by force? Russia's neighbors, friends and enemies must reflect on what's really at play in the showdown over Ukraine.
WARSAW — In his speech after Crimea’s annexation, Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the West’s policies towards his country without mincing words. “Those actions were aimed against both Ukraine and Russia,” the Russian president declared. “Time after time, we were lied to, decisions were made behind our back, we were constantly put before a fait accompli: the enlargement of NATO to the East and establishing military infrastructure close to our borders are just a few of the many examples.”
This point of view found a willing audience in many corners of the West, where Russian fears are considered more than comprehensible. After all, the argument goes, the eastern expansion of NATO and the European Union, which followed the fall of the Soviet Union, intruded into the Russian sphere of influence. Thus, when Russia regained its forces, it hit back. Its actions in Ukraine are nothing more than defense. The West asked for the troubles. Now, it should alleviate the situation instead of supporting the Ukrainian troublemakers.
Curiously, though, the same people who advocate taking Russian fears into account simultaneously reject the apprehensions of Tallinn, Kiev or Warsaw. They do not take into account that Ukraine, which lost a part of its territory, has every right to feel threatened and seek out anti-Russian defense alliances.
Estonia, which has a large Russian-speaking community, has all the reasons to fear a repeat of the Crimea precedent. While Tallinn calls on NATO to deploy additional forces on the Estonian territory, its voice is drowned out by those who do not want to fuel further Russian agitation.
It is not clear whether any other country in the world enjoys as much understanding and consideration of its sentiments as Russia does. The very logical consequence of this state of affairs is well reflected in an old saying: “Which countries border Russia? Those authorized by Russia. And so which countries does it authorize? None.”
Obviously, Russia does not aim to rule the world. The Russian-speaking part will do.
It is, however, probable that any eventual aspirations of Budapest to unite the Hungarian-speaking territories would not gain the same approval. As for Russia, that’s another story. Russia is strong enough to be able to do whatever it wants.
And if it was China?
On the other hand, not all the strong can do as they please. The West cannot. Its peaceful expansion to the East, carried out in accordance with international law, is seen as a mistake that provoked Russia. Maybe then we should grant China its right to a sphere of influence. In other words, the law of the strongest is a privilege of non-democratic countries.
The collateral damage in this (no longer new) world order are the citizens, from both threatened and threatening countries. The former were not consulted about whether they wanted to belong to any sphere of influence, while the latter must give up rights and freedom for the sake of the imperial fame.
Comprehension for Putin’s actions amounts to rejecting the notion that a state should be driven by law, not by force.
Western supporters of the mild approach towards Russia probably think that Moscow is not a threat to them because there is a country strong enough to take up their cause if needed. That’s a pity. As Samuel Johnson famously said, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”