Recently, there has been a growing debate, both in the West and among the Russian opposition and intellectuals, about how Ukraine’s victory will affect Russia’s own future. All sorts of scenarios are being painted, and it is being debated whether Russia can ever become a democracy, or whether it is just facing another period of chaos and confusion.
Meanwhile, in the West, there are those who fear that such a Ukrainian victory could lead to the complete collapse of Russia, chaos and the threat of an uncontrolled nuclear arsenal. It is possible that this perception of alleged threats has so far deterred some Western capitals from supplying Leopards, Abrams and ATACMS to Ukraine. The strong response of Khodorkovsky and Kasparov to the hyperbolization of such alleged threats that is widespread in the West has also just emerged, pointing out that such a hyperbolization is very useful to Putin: the more the West is frightened by the consequences for Russia of a Ukrainian victory, the more the same West will limit the supply of its own heavy weaponry to Ukraine. Khodorkovsky and Kasparov present a convincing concept of Russia’s transformation into a normal state, with a clear “Day After” plan of what will be done from the first day after the change of power (after Putin, after the defeat of the war), in order to establish a normal federal democracy, with strong regional self-government, in Russia. Earlier, a similar plan for a “post-Putin” Russia was put forward by Navalny.
It is absolutely clear that the transformation in Russia will be carried out by the Russians themselves: by the opposition, by civil society activists, intellectuals and other patriots who genuinely care about the fate of Russia and who clearly see that the Kremlin’s current autocratic, neo-imperialist policies have brought Russia itself to a complete existential dead end, to a complete catastrophe threatening the survival of Russia itself, to what I have described as “the tragedy of Russia”.
The Russian opposition is preparing a strategy for the transformation of Russia. Whether the opposition succeeds in implementing it, will depend not only on the victory of Ukraine, which will open the door to such transformation. It will also depend on whether the Russian opposition manages to convince Russian citizens, or at least key groups in society, of the effectiveness of such a strategy.
Transformation happens when the citizens, who support such a transformation, have the opportunity to start to believe that they are in the majority, as well as when society has the opportunity to realise that it is not alone, when it realises that such a struggle for transformation is not only important for Russian citizens themselves, but also for the whole democratic world. This will only happen when the West proves that it is not just a passive observer of such a transformation, merely writing various theoretical scenarios for post-Putin Russia’s development, but that it has a clear strategy for helping such a transformation to take place.
Some in the West are afraid to talk about such a strategy of support for Russia’s transformation, because it is allegedly akin to a strategy of “regime change”, which is simply forbidden to talk about. Such a notion is completely irrational and is imbued with the simple fear, which still never leaves the Western subconscious, that talks of democracy in Russia might not please Putin.
Russia becoming a normal democracy is as much a global good for the European continent as stopping climate change. It would be strange if the West had a strategy for achieving one good (the Green Deal) and no strategy for contributing to another good (democracy in Russia) and instead, it would limit itself just to discussing various theoretical scenarios.
We are at a historical turning point: many of us still remember the historical moment when the Berlin Wall came down. I believe that we are now approaching the collapse of the “Kremlin walls” – the walls of the autocratic, kleptocratic, aggressive neo-imperialist Kremlin regime. It would be simply shameful and regrettable if, in the face of such historical fractures, the West were to remain a passive observer with no strategy.
In such a strategy of Western support for the transformation of Russia, we must not talk about some Western strategy of support for armed coups in Russia or mass Maidans in Moscow, but rather about a Western strategy that includes strategies of support for the victory of Ukraine and Ukraine’s integration into the EU and NATO, for the tribunal against Putin and for the future EU’s relations with democratic Russia. All of this must be aimed at bringing about the transformation of Russia. The West can also support Russia’s transformation very strongly by implementing its policies in this way.
Although I have written a number of texts on why the West should believe in Russia’s democratic prospects and what the West’s strategy of support should be (the aforementioned “The Tragedy of Russia”, as well as “Our Russian Psychological Complexes”, “Smart Russian Officers Will Decide The Fate Of Russia?” , “What Does The West Want?”), I have decided to briefly reiterate in a single text some of the main ideas that have been accumulated during the past months on what such a strategy should look like. This is prompted by the fact that we continue to see the West’s ongoing strategic indecision about Russia’s prospects.
So what should the West’s strategy be and how will the West ultimately help Russian democracy? And what is our, Lithuania’s, interest in all of this?
The Tragedy Of Russia And Western Responsibility
As I have already mentioned it is clear that Russia is currently going through one of the most tragic pages of its history, by bringing together many tragedies to its neighbours, especially Ukraine.
I have every confidence that Ukraine, with the support of the West, will win this war and will have every chance to recover and become a successful European country.
Meanwhile, Russia is at a historical crossroads. If imperial dreams continue to dominate in Russia, it will probably end in total disaster for the Russian state and the Russian people. Defeat in the war could open the door to the transformation of Russia, to deep self-reflection and to the deputinisation of the Russian society.
It is obvious that such a transformation of Russia is not only necessary for Russia, but also for the whole of Europe. Because the security of the entire European continent depends on it. Democracies do not fight each other. For this reason alone, the EU must have a strategy to help Russia in this transformation.
It is time for the West to realise that an instant, short-term or just a reactionary policy to the Kremlin’s actions is no longer sufficient. The West needs a long-term, proactive policy towards Russia based on a broad and inclusive philosophy: a clear isolationist policy towards the current Putin regime, a strategy of support for the future transition (post-Putin), a strategy for future relations with democratic Russia.
The West took a similar approach during the Cold War when it pursued a long-term strategy of containing Russia. The famous US diplomat and analyst George Kennan gave birth to this strategy with his philosophical doctrine of containment of Russia, which he explained in 1946 in his “Long Telegram”. This doctrine was based on a thorough analysis of Russia’s internal processes and the prevailing mentality of Russian society. This doctrine gave rise to the famous Truman Doctrine, which shaped Western behaviour during the Cold War. The latter doctrine consistently led to the 1947 Marshall Plan for Western Europe, which influenced the creation of the European Union and NATO. That way, the West not only resisted Stalinist and later Soviet plans to extend its influence throughout the Western Europe and the rest of the World, but were also able to overcome one of the long-standing tectonic conflicts on the European continent, that caused the First and the Second World Wars.
This conflict was linked to the early 20th century disputes between Germany and France over the dominance of the entire European continent and the inability to share the economic power of the Ruhr region’s industrial steel and coal resources. This long-standing tectonic conflict only ended when the Americans proposed the Marshall Plan to both countries and to the whole of Western Europe, calling for the integration of the coal and steel industries, thus starting the process of unification of all the Western economies. This long-term strategic move not only ensured an end to the conflicts over the riches of the Ruhr, but also brought sustainable peace to Western Europe.
Similarly, one can remember the leadership of the West and the United States in the 1980s in bringing about the collapse of the Evil Empire: it started with Karol Wojtyla becoming the Pope John Paul II, followed by the dramatic fall in oil prices, then Reagan’s threat that the US was beginning to invest in Star Wars technology, then Stinger missiles for the Afghan mujahideen, all of this leading to Gorbachev being forced to declare “perestroika”. All this was not an accidental action by the West, it rather was the consistent implementation of a multi-step Western strategy to defeat the Evil Empire.
The same strategic approach is needed now.
Although the West was able to resolve the deep tectonic conflict between Germany and France in the 20th century with a clear strategy, Europe and the West continue to struggle with a second tectonic conflict on the European continent. This was and still is the tectonic conflict between imperial or neo-imperial Russia (the Soviet Union) and continental Europe. In the 20th century, this conflict led to bloodshed and captivity over large areas of Europe. As a result, large parts of the European continent have been occupied and cut off from democracy, freedom and prosperity for decades.
Between the end of the war in 1945 and the beginning of the 1990s, the Stalinist and expansionist policies of the Russian Empire were at the root of this conflict. After 1990, the causes of the conflict were the post-imperialist nostalgia and sentiment, in which Russia was trapped. This also bred Putin’s kleptocratic, autocratic and increasingly aggressive regime, which eventually led to the war.
Although Russia is at the root of this tectonic conflict, the West needs to propose a long-term strategy for resolving this conflict. Such a strategy must achieve one goal – Russia must transform itself into a normal, European type of democracy. Democracies do not fight with each other and do not fight bloody wars. The West must help such a transformation to take place. This requires a Western strategy, and it must be of the same scale and systemic nature as the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the strategy to contain Soviet Russia or the strategy to bring down the Evil Empire.
The nature of the conflict between authoritarian Russia and democratic Europe is unfolding and requires new means to address it. The search for such a solution is also the responsibility of the West, because the cost and damage of the failure of Russia’s transformation could be extremely high. New wars on the European continent could be even more terrible.
Unfortunately, the West has not yet developed a long-term strategy that will not only resolve this conflict but also help Russia to overcome its tragic trajectory. For only democracy in Russia is a proper and long-lasting solution.
Therefore the West, and the European Union in particular, must finally wake up from the sleep of “geopolitical laziness” and realise that Russia’s transformation is not only necessary for Russia itself, but that it is also of equal strategic importance for the European Union. For such a transformation of Russia would facilitate the creation of a completely different security architecture across the European continent. That is why the European Union must have a clear strategy to assist such a transformation.
Looking for a solution: How Can The West Contribute To Russia’s Transformation?
As Mr Borrell, the EU’s “Minister for Foreign and Security Affairs”, admitted very openly last October in the plenary session of the European Parliament, the European Union’s deep dependence on gas and other energy resources from Russia has so far prevented the European Union from having a clearer strategy for its relations with Russia. And, by the same token, a strategy towards Ukraine. Now that the volume of Russian gas on EU markets has fallen from 41% (before the war) to 7.5% (in September), according to Mr Borrell, there is also a room for an independent strategy towards Russia.
This frank and courageous acknowledgement of the EU’s past strategic mistakes, coming from Mr Borrell, gives us hope that the EU will be truly capable of moving from the “Putin-first!” strategy in its relations with Putin to finally turning towards “Democracy in Russia-first!” strategy. As well as towards a strategy on how to help Russia transform itself.
This strategy to support the transformation must be based on a number of principles:
- The European Union must overcome its division between those who “believe” and those who “do not believe” in the possibilities and prospects of democracy in Russia.
Only by believing that democracy is possible in Russia we will be able to help this transformation to happen. Putin has for long time been trying to prove to Western leaders that democracy in Russia is not possible. All the poisonings of Litvinenko, the Skripals, Navalny, where the Kremlin has made no effort to hide the traces of its involvement, have been suitable for this. This was simply aimed at frightening the West and at demonstrating what the Russian reality is, which the West would not be able to change. The Kremlin’s aggression, both internal and external, was also suited to this, by constantly communicating to the West that this is what Russia is: aggressive, savage, oriental, with a nuclear bomb in its hands, ready to take revenge and punish anyone who tries to explain the prospects for democracy in Russia, and to punish those who are unwilling to adapt to the kind of Russia that Putin’s regime has created. Western leaders have succumbed to this Putin “influence” and have tried to adapt to such Russia, believing themselves that Russia will never become a democracy. Hence the whole “Putin-first!” doctrine, with successive Western leaders rushing into dialogue with Putin, regardless of how Putin himself behaved.
- In the minds of the Russian people, the dream of a normal life must overcome the dream of rebuilding the empire.
It is obvious, that any transformation of Russia will only be realised by Russians themselves. By those who will begin to understand that the Putin’s regime is the Russia’s greatest tragedy. Putin is pursuing a scorched-earth strategy with regard to such opposition to his regime. It is therefore not surprising that protests against the war, against the mobilisation, are not becoming a mass phenomenon in Russia. However, this does not mean at all that the transformation in Russia will not begin in the near future. It may depend on a number of factors, the most important of them being whether ordinary Russians will be assisted to create for themselves a new dream of their future, of a normal European life, instead of the collapsed dream of a return to the past, to the “glorious” days of the Empire. The European Union can play a particularly important role in helping Russians to return to such a dream and to work towards its realisation through the fundamental transformation of Russia. The European Union is capable of playing such a role because many members of the Russian opposition, its intellectual leadership, have now largely emigrated to various European Union countries. The European Union, by extending the hand of intensive cooperation to this opposition, could help it to unite and to work together with the EU institutions already now on joint strategic cooperation programmes that could be implemented as soon as Russia’s transformation into a democracy is realised. This would also help the EU to mobilise its institutional resources to launch a completely new phase of EU policy towards Russia right away, in a real move away from the strategy “Putin-first!” to the strategy “Democracy in Russia-first!”. This, unfortunately, has still not happened.
How can the EU help the Russians in their war of dreams?
In politics and geopolitics, we tend to look only at the actions, motivations, and emotions of the national leaders, because many feel that this is what determines the development of countries and the internal or external actions of the particular country. This is not unimportant, but it would be a mistake to forget other relevant factors: the general public, its nostalgia, its expectations, its beliefs or its dreams. Dreams lead to change in democracies, but they also affect possible transformations in authoritarian systems. Even authoritarian regimes have to be concerned with the loyalty of their citizens, which depends on the prevailing dream in the society. Authoritarian regimes cannot remain in power for long by relying or sitting on the bayonet alone.
In Russia, too, change can only begin when the majority of Russians will start to believe in the dream of a new, normal life, and will have the opportunity to see, in some way, that such a dream is believed in by the majority.
There are three actions on which the West should concentrate its efforts to help the Russians to achieve a new dream:
- the West must help the Russians to immediately and definitively rid themselves of the false nostalgic dream of regaining the supposed “greatness” of the empire, as such a dream leads only to a deeper and deeper tragedy for Russia;
- the West must work already today with Russian opposition intellectuals to map out a strategy for future relations between the West (including the European Union) and a future democratic Russia. Such a strategy would explain to ordinary Russians how a new “normal” dream would be realised in a democratic Russia together with the West.
- the West must politically and economically invest in the success of Ukraine, so that the example of such success would encourage the Russians to pursue a new dream of a normal life in Russia.
How Important For The Russian Society Is Ukraine’s Victory, a Special Tribunal for Putin and Ukraine’s NATO Membership?
To help the Russian people to get rid of the old “imperial” dream, it is necessary that this dream is completely crushed on the battlefield. Ordinary Russians need to see the tragic consequences of this false dream for themselves, including painful sanctions against Russia and Russia’s international isolation. Only a clear understanding by Russians that this false dream is the root cause of the current tragedy in Russia will not only bury this “imperial” dream, but also open the door to a new dream of a normal life in Russia.
Therefore, Western arms supplies to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia are important not only for Ukraine to be able to defend itself and win the war, but also for this false “imperial” Russian dream to be finally crushed, and thus for ordinary Russians to be able to free themselves from the tragic trap of such a nostalgia.
It is worth recalling once again the words of Alexei Navalny from his text, published in September 2022: “Too many people in Russia are interested in normal life now, not in the phantom of territorial gains. And there are more such people every year. They just don’t have anyone to vote for now.”
The Russian opposition is well aware of how important it is for ordinary Russians to believe in the dream of a new, normal life in Russia. The West has a duty to help Russians to believe in the reality of such a dream. This requires, first of all, helping Russians to finally rid themselves of their belief in what A. Navalny called “the phantom of territorial gains”. Instead, Russians must be helped to believe in what Mr Navalny himself has described as the dream of “a wonderful Russia of the future”.
Second, Russian society will have to go through a painful process of “deputinizing” itself. There will be many important parts: from lustration to self-reflection, from a new constitution to the restoration of the rule of law.
First of all, the Russians themselves will have to admit that the root cause of the crisis is that they have allowed themselves to believe in the dream of rebuilding the empire that has been “infected” into them by Kremlin propaganda. By relying on such an artificially exalted nostalgic dream, Putin has guaranteed the loyalty to his regime of a large part of the Russian society. At the same time Putin has created a mafia-like power structure; and the mixture of mafia-like power propaganda and the dream of rebuilding the empire has become the basis of the ideology of the new, Russian Nazism. Same as during Hitler’s time, this type of Nazism is capable of generating the loyalty of a significant part of the people (even the educated German people). Hitler enjoyed this loyalty in his time, and Putin has been enjoying it up to now.
The Russians themselves will have to find the strength to say goodbye to Putinism. For an example of how to do this, one need not look far: once upon a time, as far back as 1956, Nikita Khrushchev had the courage to openly name and condemn Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. Thus, at least for a time, the Soviet Union farewelled with the Stalinism. And now someone, perhaps even from within the current Kremlin elite, will have to take on the same role, just to talk about the crimes of Putinism. This would be the first step towards a national understanding that the state and the nation are in the deep crisis.
The international community can play a particularly important role in this inevitable path of self-reflection and self-examination in the post-Putin Russia if it urgently establishes a Special International Tribunal to investigate Putin’s crimes of war aggression. All the crimes of Russia’s war in Ukraine are and will continue to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, but Putin’s crime of war aggression need special attention and can be investigated only by a special tribunal that can give an answer on Putin’s guilt not in ten years’ time, but in the foreseeable future. This would also help Russia to say a final goodbye to the imperial dream.
For Russians, the road from the imperial dream to the dream of a normal life will not be easy: it will not be enough for the Russian public to recognise that Putinism is evil. Nor will the decisions of the International Tribunal established by the international community on Putin’s crimes be enough. Russia itself, after Putin, will have to take decisions on reparations and damage repayments to Ukraine. Such will be the price of transformation.
And, above all, Russia after Putin, as well as the changes that have taken place in it, will be judged first and foremost in terms of its relations with its neighbours. Only the complete disassociation of the new Russia from its aggressive, neo-imperialist policy towards Ukraine and other neighbours, and the liberation of the occupied territories, not only in Ukraine, but also in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, will be the main criteria by which the Western democracies will judge the results of Russia’s transformation towards democracy. No one will believe in “change” in Russia if those changes do not meet the minimum criteria listed here. Even if Putin is gone.
Finally, a new dream requires that Putin’s imperial dream of Novorossiya not only be crushed, but also prevented from recovering, even when the inevitable post-revolutionary wave of nostalgia for the past once again sweeps over the newly revitalised young Russian democracy. This requires that even the Russian imperial hawks finally realise that Ukraine is no longer within their reach. It must therefore be in the West’s interest to grant Ukraine NATO membership in the near future. This is important not so much because it would increase Ukraine’s security (Ukraine itself is doing just fine without the NATO membership), but because it would help the Russians to stop succumbing to the imperial nostalgia.
NATO was created to enable the West to resist the imperial expansion of Russia/Soviet Union; Ukraine is now doing just that, with its military capabilities exceeding all NATO membership criteria; NATO’s admission of Ukraine would not only strengthen NATO military capabilities, but also help Russia to say goodbye to its “imperial” dream for good: Russia’s imperial return to Ukraine by military force would become impossible, and such dreams would become unreal.
Ukraine’s EU Membership Is A Cornerstone Of The European Union’s Strategy “Democracy In Russia – First!”
Like Ukraine’s membership in NATO, Ukraine’s membership oin the European Union is important not only because it is the only way in which Ukraine’s democratic and economic success can be built, but also because it is another way to help Russia free itself from the grip of “imperial” nostalgia. Ukraine becoming a full member of the European Union would be a crushing and final knockout blow to Putin’s long-standing “imperial” dream, the realisation of which the Kremlin has concentrated in Ukraine.
The main pragmatic objective of Putin’s “imperial” dream has always been the same: to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful state, because such a contagious example is dangerous for Putin’s mafia regime, while in the post-Soviet space, the only tried and tested way in which a country can become a success story is very well-known: it is the country’s integration into the European Union and its subsequent EU membership.
In the same recent text, A.Navalny highlights the same reasons for Putin’s aggression against Ukraine: jealousy of Ukraine and its potential success, hatred of Ukraine’s pro-Western choices and the desire to turn Ukraine into a “failed state” are the dominant features of Putin’s “Ukraine strategy”:
“… since the beginning of Putin’s rule, and especially after the Orange Revolution that began in 2004, hatred of Ukraine’s European choice, and the desire to turn it into a failed state, have become a lasting obsession not only for Putin but also for all politicians of his generation.”
Exactly the same is observed not only by the leaders of the Russian opposition, but also by the most prominent Western experts. For example, a few days before the war broke out, the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, together with Robert Person, published a valuable text with the title “What Putin Fears Most?”. The authors’ answer to the question they had formulated was unequivocal: what Putin fears most is not Ukraine’s membership in NATO, but Ukraine’s membership in the European Union. He is panic-stricken about Ukraine’s success, and Ukraine’s success can only be created if the West is interested in and helps Ukraine to become a member of the European Union. Because the whole of Central Europe and the Baltic States only became success stories when, immediately after the democratic revolutions in the late 1980s, these countries were given the opportunity to integrate rapidly into the European Union.
Putin’s “Ukraine strategy” has always been clear and unambiguous – to prevent Ukraine from becoming a successful state. This has been cloaked in various slogans of imperial nostalgia, but in fact Putin’s main objective has not been the annexation of the new territories of Novorossiya, but the destruction of the success of Ukraine. “Novorossiya” was, and remains, only an instrument for achieving this strategic objective, because the survival of the Putin regime depends on Putin’s ability to prevent the success of Ukraine. That is why Putin is fighting against Ukraine’s success. And this is the axis of his entire geopolitical strategy in recent decades.
Unfortunately, the West (including the European Union) until the beginning of the war did not have a clearer “Ukraine strategy”, it did not have a strategy to counter Putin’s “Ukraine strategy”. It had no strategy to help build Ukraine’s success with the ambitious EU enlargement strategy.
This was one of the reasons why Putin was tempted to go to war against Ukraine, because it seemed to him that the West would continue to have no strategy for Ukraine and would therefore very quickly return to business as usual with Putin.
Why the West has not yet had its own “Ukraine strategy”, was, as has already been mentioned, very openly and significantly acknowledged last October by Josep Borrell, the EU’s “Minister of Foreign and Security Affairs”, in a speech during the European Parliament plenary debate on Russia’s war against Ukraine. There was no strategy only because the European Union has hitherto been very significantly dependent on Russian gas. Mr Borrell openly admits that the European Union has not had its own “Ukraine strategy”: “We have not had our own foreign policy towards Ukraine” – the most frank and courageous admission by EU leaders of the EU’s past mistakes, these mistakes having contributed to the fact that the whole of the European continent is now in a profound geopolitical crisis.
There is only one way out of this geopolitical crisis: the European Union must have an ambitious and effective “Ukraine strategy”. This must be a strategy for Ukraine’s rapid integration into the European Union and full EU membership. Such a strategy must be realised by the end of this decade. The first right steps in this direction have already been taken: Ukraine has been granted the candidate status. But for Ukraine to become a member of the EU by the end of the decade, membership negotiations in Brussels must start as early as the beginning of 2023, rather than be delayed in the traditional bureaucratic way.
EU bureaucrats and political leaders must remember that Ukraine’s EU membership is not only necessary for Ukraine’s own success, but also for Russia’s transformation and the EU’s strategy of “Democracy in Russia – first!”. It is therefore clear that Ukraine’s membership of the European Union is, above all, necessary for the European Union itself, because it is the only way for the EU to implement a strategy that will lead to peace and security finally taking root on the European continent. The extension of the dream of democracy, of normal life, to the East of the European continent is the only way to ensure that the basic dream of Europeans, “Europe – whole, free and at peace”, is finally realised, because democracies do not usually fight with each other. And the European Union can realise this, first and foremost, by building on Ukraine’s success, which will have a huge positive impact on Russia’s transformation.
Ukraine’s geopolitical integration into the West (NATO and the European Union) is no less important than Leopards or Abrams for Ukraine’s defence. This requires a consolidated political will. The political will of the West for the defence of Ukraine is being consolidated in the “Military Ramstein”. Obviously, the West also needs an “Integration Ramstein” in order to consolidate the political will needed to realise Ukraine’s membership of the European Union and NATO.
It is worth remembering again and again that the success of countries and people on the European continent is only built on their integration with the European Union. The European Union has enormous “soft power” to positively influence and change the lives and policies of its neighbours, but often the European Union itself forgets about this special power. Or sometimes it does not dare to use it, as Mr Borrell openly admitted.
It is worth talking about this formula for success, not only in terms of the success stories of Central Europe and the Baltic States, not only in terms of how the success story of Ukraine can be created, but also in terms of how the dreams of a normal, European life in Russia can be realised in the future.
The prospect of a normal, European life in Russia and the European Union
Although the European Union will certainly not offer Democratic Russia the prospect of the EU membership, the European Union must already now propose a strategy for future relations with Democratic Russia, this strategy providing the most effective mechanisms of relations that would provide Democratic Russia with the same stabilising prospects for young democracies as the young democracies of Central Europe and the Baltic States were given by the prospect of membership of the European Union in 1993.
The European Union and democratic Russia could start planning now for a future special Association Agreement – something similar to what the European Union signed in its time with Ukraine, Moldova, Sakartvelo (Georgia) and later with Armenia. Such a future treaty with democratic Russia should provide for a strong future relationship of free trade, visa-free travel and economic partnership in the name of modernisation, the clear prospect of which would allow ordinary Russians to believe in a new dream – the possibility of a normal, European life in Russia – already today.
For democratic Russia, the EU should also open the door to joining the regional Eastern Partnership programme in one capacity or another, which would allow democratic Russia to engage with its neighbours in a European format, rather than in the manner of the dictatorship of the former imperial metropolis, which has led to the current disaster.
This EU strategy would be important not only because it would help to shape such a new Russian dream, but also because the implementation of such a strategy would be essential to protect the young, resurgent Russian democracy from the destructive force that the inevitable post-revolutionary nostalgia for the past brings with it. Just as the post-war Marshall Plan protected the young German democracy from nostalgia for the defeated Nazism, also it protected all the old European democracies struggling to recover from the tragedies of the war, as the joy of victory in the war was quickly crushed by the hardships of a shattered economy across Europe, and as societies weighed down by these hardships began to become radicalised at a very rapid rate, just as the communists in every country, local, but submissive to Stalin, were waiting for. The Marshall Plan saved the old Europe from such radicalisation and from public support for the Communists.
The young democracies of Central Europe were saved from the same dangers of nostalgia and radicalisation in the early 1990s by the prospect of European Union membership. However, nothing saved the young Russian democracies at the same time from the sudden rise in the threat of nostalgic radicalisation, which is why Yeltsin was followed by Putin.
For this reason, the importance of such a strategy for the EU’s future relations with the Democratic Russia was underlined by the European Parliament in its special report on the EU’s strategy for relations with Russia, adopted in September 2021. What such a strategy for the EU’s relations with Democratic Russia could look like, and why it is important to develop it today, was set out in detail in the special study “The EU’s Relations With a Future Democratic Russia: A Strategy”, drafted by experts from the European Union and from Russia and published by the Martens Centre in July 2022.
Both the European Parliament’s report and the study underline the same principles: The European Union (including Lithuania) wants good, mutually beneficial relations with Russia, but this depends on Russia’s ability to transform itself from an authoritarian, aggressive state into a democratic, normal, European state. This is one of the European Union’s most important strategic interests, and for this the European Union must have a clear strategy on how the EU can help Russia to achieve this transformation. It must also have a strategy now for future relations with Democratic Russia, because that is the way to help Russia’s transformation.
This must be a strategy for assisting Russia. Not the Putin regime (by offering the Kremlin to return to business as usual), but Russia and the Russian people. This must be a strategy on how to help the Russians to avoid a “tragedy of Russia”, on how to help avoid the catastrophic consequences of such a tragedy for Russia itself. Because it is not only Russia itself that would suffer from a catastrophic “tragedy of Russia”, but also the whole of Europe and the whole world.
It would therefore be simply irresponsible to say that the “tragedy of Russia” is a matter for the Russians alone.
Time to Act: Interest of Lithuania
It is in Lithuania’s best interest that the West has such a strategy and implements it systematically, because Lithuania’s geopolitical security depends on whether Russia eventually becomes a pro-European, democratic and peaceful country. As NATO has finally recognised, authoritarian Russia is the biggest threat to the security of the European continent. We, those of us in Russia’s current neighbourhood, feel that threat particularly acutely. Because it is not a distant and theoretical threat, but a real and visible one. Our painful historical experience is a proof to that.
We cannot just sit on our hands and wait for the West to come up with a strategy towards Russia. We should be more active in seeking such a strategy ourselves. We should go beyond just asking for NATO battalions to be reinforced in Lithuania, and not just look for ways to punish Putin or support Ukraine by our own actions. We need an ambitious and comprehensive Western strategy towards Russia, and we need to offer its draft.
We need the West, together with NATO, to have a strategy not only for deterrence and defence against the threat of an authoritarian Russia, but also a strategy for helping an authoritarian Russia to transform itself into a normal, European, democratic state. Only then will there be no Russian threat: either to the European continent, or to its neighbours and the Russian society itself.
This requires that the West today not only engages in discussing the scenarios of a “Russia after Putin”, but also develops and implements a strategy to help realise the “good scenario” – the good scenario for the future of Russia and, by extension, for the future of Europe as a whole.