2022.12.30

Andrius Kubilius. The Fate Of Russia Will Be Decided By Smart Russian Officers?

The 2022 year came  to an end. A year that will be marked in the history of the world with the title of “Year of War”.

During this year, both here in Lithuania and in the West, there have been many analyses of why Putin started this war, as well as many predictions of how this war will end and what its impact will be, both on Ukraine, on the West and on Russia itself.

Strangely enough, as the year draws to a close, I have to conclude that perhaps the most accurate analysis of the causes and consequences of this war was provided, a month before the war, at the end of January 2022, by the Russian retired general Leonid Ivashov, who, in his famous statement of  the Assembly of Russian Officers, warned in the strongest possible terms of the tragic consequences of the war, first and foremost, for Russia itself. The statement proved significant at the time in that it was radically opposed to the Kremlin’s planned war with Ukraine, considering that such a war could ultimately destroy Russian statehood. Alongside this, it also contained more extremely harsh and bitter criticism of Putin’s policies, both domestic and foreign, making it clear that such policies are simply detrimental to Russia. This is why, at the end of the statement, Putin’s resignation is also ultimately demanded.

It is worth pointing out that Ivashov is not some liberal who has always opposed Putin, but neither is he another Girkin, Rogozin or Prigozhin who criticise Putin for not crushing Ukraine and not restoring Novorossiya.

Colonel-General Ivashov is known as an orthodox Russian nationalist and is certainly no friend of the West. He was a high-ranking official in the Russian Ministry of Defence under Yeltsin (Chief of the Main Department of International Military Cooperation of the Russian Ministry of Defence (1996-2001)), who notoriously brought Russian troops into Pristina during the Yugoslav Wars, against NATO opposition, and thus caused a great deal of confusion. He has been, and continues to be, an outspoken opponent of the enlargement of NATO to the East.

What prompted the almost 80-year-old general to make such a statement, and who was behind it, is difficult to say today. According to Wikipedia, Ivashov is a descendant of the famous Decembrist Ivashov; in 2001 he was dismissed early by Putin, along with many other officers; and he is currently a member of the famous ‘Izbor Club’, where, according to the Lithuanian analyst Marius Laurinavičius, all the most important Russian affairs are decided, including its geopolitical situation.

It is possible that all three reasons – nostalgia for the glory of the Decembrists, a personal dislike of Putin, who dismissed Ivashov from the high office, and, finally, an attitude established even before the war amongst the Izbor elite that Russia is structurally in a deep crisis – have led to the publication of such a statement, while at the same time warning of the tragic consequences of such a war on Russia itself.

It is worth noting that General Ivashov continues to comment on various YouTube channels on the progress of the war and remains consistent: Putin must leave office and the Kremlin’s nuclear threats against the West are complete nonsense, as any attempt by Russia to use a nuclear weapon would result in the liquidation of the Russian state. Although General Ivashov has reached a respectable age and likes to digress into reminiscences, the overall understanding of the situation and the existential threats that the war has posed to Russia remains very clear and convincing.

hat is why, finding some time in the inter-holiday period, I read carefully once again the statement issued by the Russian Officers’ Assembly on 26 January 2022, signed by General Leonid Ivashov, and I was quite surprised at how accurate the analysis of Putin’s desire for war and the predictions of the tragedy of the war for Russia itself were at the time.

I have therefore decided to simply go through the statement again in detail, to look at the highlights, to add a few comments of my own, and to try to draw some conclusions about further scenarios in Russia itself.

The statement starts with the assertion that the world is at the risk of the war (the statement was issued on 26th January, while the war started on 24th February). According to the authors of the statement, every major war is a tragedy and a grave crime. Russia is at the centre of this looming catastrophe, and this is the first time in history, because until then Russia had been fighting defensive wars against threatening enemies. However, at the moment there are no critical external threats to Russia that would justify war, because the greatest threats to Russia are its internal threats.

The statement goes on to say that Russia is on the verge of historical extinction, with all the key vital spheres of the state, including demography, in a state of steady degradation and with population extinction rates breaking world records. That degradation has taken on a systemic character, and in any complex system, the collapse of one of the elements can lead to the collapse of the whole system.

And this, according to the authors of the statement, is the biggest threat to the Russian Federation. But it is an internal threat, the main causes of which are the model of the state, the quality of government and the state of society. This is what is constituting the main threat to Russia’s fate: the unviability of the state model, the complete incapacity and unprofessionalism of the government system and the ruling bureaucracy, and the disorganisation and passivity of society. According to the authors of the statement, any  country  would not survive for long in such a state.

One cannot disagree with this critical analysis of Russia’s current state of affairs. There is a lot of legitimate concern about Russia’s internal state, which threatens its continued existence. The only surprising thing is that this is being proclaimed by Russian generals and military officers. But there have been many cases in the history of the world where military officers have taken it upon themselves to save their country from those internal threats that they themselves were able to see.

The authors of the statement went on to say that the tension created by the Kremlin on the issue of Ukraine (the statement was issued a month before the outbreak of the war, when the Kremlin was actively and publicly raising the issue of Ukraine’s alleged threat) is artificial and self-serving, because it is organized only for the benefit of some of the internal Russian political forces. According to the statement, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent state, a member of the United Nations, with the right to individual and collective defence under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. Until beginning of 2022, the Kremlin authorities have claimed in all the Minsk talks that the Donbas belongs to Ukraine and have never mentioned in any international organisation (neither the UN nor the OSCE) that Ukraine is committing genocide against the population of the Donbas.

According to the authors of the statement, in order for Ukraine to remain Russia’s friendly neighbour, it was necessary for Russia to demonstrate the attractiveness of the Russian state model and system of government to Ukraine and other neighbours . However, Russia has not become so attractive, its development model and the mechanisms of international cooperation used in its foreign policy is alienating practically all its neighbours, and not only them.

 

The fact that Russia has ‘acquired’ Crimea and Sevastopol and that this has not been recognised by the international community (which means that the majority of the world’s states continue to recognise that this is Ukraine’s ‘property’), the authors of the statement go on to say, is a clear proof that Russia’s foreign policy is a failure and that its domestic policy is unattractive. Attempts to make  anyone to  ‘love’ the Russian Federation and its leaders by ultimatums or threats of force are utterly pointless and extremely dangerous.

The use of military force against Ukraine will, firstly, call into question the very existence of Russia as a state; secondly, it will turn Russians and Ukrainians into mortal enemies once and for all. And thirdly, there will be tens of thousands of casualties on both sides, and these will be young, healthy men in the first place. This will have an impact on demography  of both dying countries. On the battlefield, the Russian troops will not only have to deal with Ukrainian troops, many of whom will be Russian-speaking, but will also have to deal with the troops and military equipment of many NATO countries.

Again, it is worth noting that the prediction of the course of the war made in this text was, and remains, remarkably accurate, especially when we consider it after 10 months of a tragic war. No naive insight that Kiev would be captured in 3 days can be seen in this statement.

The authors of the statement go on to say that if Russia goes to war against Ukraine, it will be added to the list of states that threaten peace and international security, it will be subject to the most severe sanctions, it will become a pariah in the international community, and it will possibly lose its status as an independent state (! – a significant prophecy).

Again, one cannot help but wonder at the accuracy of such predictions about the consequences of war for Russia’s international status. It is worth noting that the authors of the statement consistently repeat themselves when talking about threats to the continued existence of the Russian state. These are both structural internal threats and the threat  of  criminal war planned by the Putin regime.

According to the authors of the statement, the President, the Government and the Ministry of Defence cannot be so blind as not to see these consequences, because they are not stupid not to realise them. Therefore, according to the authors of the statement, the question arises as to what are the real objectives of the tensions that are being raised and of the possible large-scale hostilities (at least 100 000 troops are being mobilised on both sides)?

The authors of the statement themselves answer the question they raise about the real reasons for the war by arguing that the country’s leadership, unable to lead the country out of a systemic crisis (which could lead to a popular uprising and a change of power) and supported by oligarchs and corrupt officials, as well as by the Kremlin-fed media and power structures, has decided to prioritize a political strategy that will ultimately destroy Russia’s statehood and decimate the local population. The war is the means by which this will be achieved, with the sole aim to preserve Kremlin’s  elite’s anti-national power for a while longer and to preserve the wealth they have seized from the people. As the authors of the statement say: we cannot offer any other explanation.

Again, a surprisingly accurate analysis of the real reasons for the war: I myself have been saying the same thing all along: that Putin did not start the war because he felt he was very strong, but just the opposite – because he felt that the regime was weakening, that it was unable to resolve any of the country’s systemic problems, that the people’s allegiance to the regime was falling dramatically (as in Belarus in 2020), and that it therefore had to go to war. Just to “preserve their anti-national power for a while longer and to preserve the wealth they have seized from the people “.

 

And at the end of the statement, the authors explain that they, the Russian military officers, are demanding from the President of the country that he abandon his criminal policy of provoking a war in which Russia will find itself alone against the combined forces of the West, and they are also demanding that Putin step down in order to make it possible to put Article 3 of the Constitution into practice (“The bearer of sovereignty and the only source of power in the Russian Federation shall be its multinational people.”)

******

This was the statement issued almost a year ago by the Assembly of Russian Officers, the head of which is a descendant of Decembrist Ivashov. It is worth remembering that the Decembrists were Russian officers of the early 19th century who, in 1825, wanted the same kind of democratic changes in Russia as the Great French Revolution brought to Europe at that time.

It is worth summarising the main points of the statement in question:

  • Neither Ukraine nor the West poses a security threat to Russia; Russia’s threats of war against Ukraine are therefore criminal;
  • Russia’s greatest threat to its existence comes from its systemic internal crisis, especially its demographic crisis;
  • The root cause of the internal crisis is a flawed state model, mismanagement by the Government and a passive society. In other words, the authoritarian model of the state is becoming the root cause of Russia’s crisis and a fundamental threat to its further existence;
  • Russia has not developed either a model of governance that is attractive to others or a successful foreign policy. Attempts to ‘force’ others to ‘love’ Russia or its leaders are doomed to failure and are disastrous for Russia itself;
  • The war will be disastrous for Russia itself in particular, because the Russians will forever be mortal enemies of the Ukrainians, thousands of young men will perish, and Russia in Ukraine will have to fight not only the Ukrainians (including the Russian-speaking ones), but also the equipment and troops of the NATO countries;
  • Russia faces the threat of total international isolation, crippling sanctions and even the loss of its status as an independent state;
  • The war could completely destroy the Russian state and its nation; the only answer to why the Kremlin is initiating such a disastrous war is that the government has the sole aim of preserving its anti-national power for a while longer and of preserving the wealth that it has seized from the people;
  • That is why not only a abandoning of  the preparations of war is demanded, but also Putin’s immediate resignation, because that is the only way to avoid Russia’s ruin.

Now, almost a year after the start of the war, such insights and predictions are truly astonishing, not only in their accuracy, but also in their civil courage. And, above all, behind all the words there is a deep concern for the fate of Russia, not the imperial ‘hurrah-patriotism’ of Girkin or Prigozhin, but the concern of a genuine Russian patriot for the ‘Russian tragedy’. The same as in the patriotic declarations of the Decembrists in 1825.

One can only speculate why General Ivashov is still allowed to express his critical views in public when others are being mercilessly imprisoned for their far lesser criticisms of Putin and the war. Perhaps the Kremlin realises that putting the general in prison will only exacerbate his criticism, and that a ‘general’ is traditionally more respected in Russian society than some ‘liberal oppositioner’.

In the end, it is not very important what role the same General Ivashov or the Russian Officers’ Assembly under his leadership currently play in Russian society. Such a statement, published almost a year ago, only demonstrates the fact that there is more to critical thinking in Russia than just what can be found in the liberal opposition to Putin. And most importantly, the brightest sprouts of that critical systemic thinking can be seen among the military and retired officers.

Can any far-reaching conclusions be drawn from this?

Certainly not!

However, when many people nowadays consider how change will come about in Russia after the defeat of the war, one hears all sorts of scenarios, sometimes even fantastical. For example, that all the peoples once conquered by Russia will rise up: the Chukchi, the Chuvash, the Mordovians, the Yakuts, etc., the publicised plans to form armed Russian resistance groups in Ukraine and in Russia itself, which will in due course somehow take over Moscow and overthrow Putin, seem equally unconvincing; it is also unlikely that a mass political movement for change in Russia can emerge in Russia and that such a movement will succeed in bringing about change in Russia through democratic means.

Of course, all these scenarios are theoretically possible, and a mixture of them is also possible. However, one should not forget the fairly widespread historical experience of the military officers (not necessarily of the highest rank) taking the initiative to save their countries from ruin as they see it, using the organised force of at least part of the army, and often almost bloodlessly taking over the power of their country. There have been many cases of military officers taking power in this way and becoming bloody dictators, but there have also been many cases in history of “smart military officers” taking power in this way and managing to stabilise a country, returning it to a normal path of development and creating the right conditions for the evolution of democracy in that country. I do not wish to expand on this topic, but for those who would like to read more academic research on the subject, I can only recommend once again S. Huntington’s excellent “The Third Wave: Democratisation in the Late Twentieth Century”.

I am not an  expert on the Russian army or the prevailing views among its officers. Nor do I pretend to be. However, history shows that, quite often, officers feel a special sense of responsibility for the future of the country they are sworn to serve.

Whether there are any such officers in the Russian army, I do not presume to judge. But it is safe to say that there are some among the Russian reserve officers. That is why such a systematic statement of their Assembly was being born.

I cannot answer, whether the intelligent officers of Russia will take the initiative to save Russia from ruin.

However, I cannot deny that there are intelligent people in Russia either. This means that the time will come when the Russians start looking for ways to save Russia from the threats posed by the Putin regime. Otherwise, Russia is heading for certain doom. And that is not attractive to many Russians.

2022.12.27

Andrius Kubilius. What Does the West Want?

The fundamental question of the future course of this war is, paradoxically, not about Ukraine but rather about Russia. It is about the West’s attitude towards post-war Russia. Because Western fears, linked to the future of post-war Russia, determine and control the decisions that the West takes today in relation to support for Ukraine.

The support of the West to Ukraine is obvious. It is also obvious that Ukraine has won several strategic victories thanks to that support. But the future course of the war can either be a sequential and more rapid continuation of Ukraine’s victories, or a ‘frozen trench war’, frustrating for Ukraine, perhaps frustrating for Russia too, but comfortable for the West, because it does not require any clear strategic answers to the question: what does the West want and what does it seek?

Theoretically, the answer is that the West seemingly wants Ukraine to win and that it is up to Ukraine to decide what result it wants, but it remains unclear whether the West really wants Russia to lose in a crushing way.

The words about the outcome of the war being for Ukraine to decide sound like the position of a bystander; such words do not reflect any strategic interest of the West: do they want a crushing victory for Ukraine, or just the preservation of the status quo?

I believe that at this stage of the war, the crucial question is whether the West has a strategy for the outcome it wants in Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression. And this question is not so much about the scale of the Ukrainian military victory, but rather about the impact of that victory on Russia’s future after a lost war. Does the West want Russia to undergo a fundamental transformation into a normal state after the war, or does the West not believe in such a transformation and fear that Russia’s future after the war may be even worse than its present with Putin?

Such fears are the root cause of the West’s current indecision in supporting Ukraine.

Ukraine can achieve a resounding victory if the West gives Ukraine as many weapons as it needs to win, and not just as it is currently receiving (see General Zaluzhny’s interview in the Economist). Ten months of war have clearly demonstrated that Russia’s military power is no match for Western military technology combined with the courage and motivation of Ukrainian soldiers. This is the equation for Ukraine’s victory, in which the most important variable in determining when Ukraine will be able to achieve the victory is the level of Western military support.

Why doesn’t the West increase the quantity and quality of arms supplies? There are only three possible reasons: a) they themselves have no more weapons in their warehouses and are unable to produce more; b) they are afraid of the “escalation” when a strong and significantly increased Western support for Ukraine with Leopard tanks or ATACMS long-range missiles triggers an insane nuclear response from Putin; c) the West itself has no strategy for victory against Russia and does not know whether it really wants a total Ukrainian victory.

I will not go into the technical problems of whether the West can produce more weapons. They certainly can if they want to. The question is whether they really want to and how much they want to.

The talk about fears of escalation is also becoming less and less credible. Such talks were understandable in March and April, when the West was only supplying Ukraine with light weapons such as the Stinger or Javelin. However, when the Americans started supplying medium-range HIMARS, which have made a very significant contribution to the recent Ukrainian victories, this did not provoke any super-mad Russian reaction, apart from the so-called ‘mobilisation’ and the shelling of civilian energy installations. Therefore, the explanation that the supply of Leopard tanks, Abrams tanks or ATACMS to Ukraine will be the cause of some new madness of the Kremlin is merely an attempt to escape from the main question – what is the West’s strategy in this war and what is the West’s strategic objective in this war.

There is still no answer to this question, and therefore there is no supply of Abrams or ATACMSs.

The fundamental problem is that the West does not have a strategy for what kind of impact on Russia’s future the West expects and wants from the outcome of the war. The West knows what scenario it fears – the total collapse of Russia (after the lost war and after Putin), with bloody internal Russian chaos, nuclear and chemical weapons out of control. The West is not convinced that Russia will be able to transform itself (with the help of the West) into a more normal, European-type state after the defeat in the war (in the same way that Nazi Germany transformed itself into the present Germany). Or the West thinks that such a transformation will only take place if Russia not only loses the war, but is also exhausted by a long and Russia-destroying war before that.

This does not mean that someone in the West wants very much to keep Putin after this war; this just means that they are not yet prepared to loudly request ‘unconditional surrender’, just as the Allies said to Hitler at the beginning of the war. That is why the West is still repeating that the terms of peace will be determined by Ukraine (which is better than nothing), but it is not telling itself what it, as the West, wants.

When the West still does not know what kind of future  of  Russia it wants and seeks as the outcome of this war, the West’s support for Ukraine remains at a level that allows Ukraine not to lose, but also allows Russia to avoid being totally crushed. So far.

Such Western indecision is inexcusable. Not least because it costs tens and hundreds of Ukrainian lives every day. But also because the West does not dare to take a decisive initiative and leadership on the question of Russia’s future.

It is clear that this is the most important issue in this war. Not only how to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty in this war, but also how to destroy the threat factor of ‘imperial Russia’ forever – these are the fundamental questions of this war. This war  opens up the unique possibility of solving this second fundamental issue, which is the elimination of the threat of ‘imperial Russia’. This requires, first of all, a crushing military victory for Ukraine. However, this requires a much greater Western military support for Ukraine. And that starts with the West believing that it has a strategy to help a war-torn Russia transform itself into a normal, European-style state.

Paradoxically, such a crushing of the current ‘Putin’s Russia’ in the war it launched against Ukraine would be primarily to Russia’s own benefit, because this is the only way in which Russia can turn towards a radical transformation after the defeat in the war. In this way, Russia could return to the civilised world, modernise itself and learn to build a normal life in Russia itself through a gradual evolution, rather than punishing itself with the tragedies of imperial nostalgia, civilisational backwardness and internal revolutions or colonial wars.

And this would be good for Ukraine too, because it is the only way to avoid having an ‘imperial Russia’ which, after a few years of recovering from a lost war, is again planning how to return to Ukraine with a new aggression.

And this would be good for the European Union and for the West as a whole, because it is the only way to finally resolve the main European security problem on the European continent, i.e., the problem of ‘imperial aggressive Russia’. Only a democratic Russia will no longer be a threat to the European security, because democracies do not make wars with each other. Today, the choice for the West is an existential one: either the West invests in the opportunity that is opening up to finally resolve this ‘Russian threat’, or future generations in Europe will have to continue to live under such a  threat.

What is needed for the West to finally find the courage and the intellectual strength to have the kind of ‘Russia strategy’ that is needed today and that would be based not on the fear of Putin’s madness, not based on the fear of an escalation of war, not based on the fear of the chaos in Russia that has collapsed after a lost war, but focused on supporting the transformation of Russia that has been defeated? And a strategy implementation of which would begin with the kind of military support that would guarantee Ukraine’s immediate and crushing victory?

I see only one answer to this question: first of all, the problem of the West’s strategic leadership deficit must be resolved. The West has changed fundamentally since the beginning of the war: the false illusions about Putin have disappeared; the West has been able to mobilise so much support for Ukraine that Ukraine has achieved several strategic military victories: in the Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson regions; Ukraine has been granted EU candidate status; and the European Union has been very successful in ridding itself of its energy dependence. However, all this was achieved only in response to Russia’s aggressive actions and the shock they caused. One could welcome that the possibility for this response had emerged; but there is still no sign that the West has dared to answer the fundamental strategic question of whether the West will seek a transformation of Russia that starts with a crushing military victory in Ukraine, and finally will have a strategy of their own, and will pursue it, rather than merely reacting to Russia’s actions.

Where can such a leadership come from? I doubt that a collective European Union (which should be congratulated for what it has managed to do so far, and not expected to do anything qualitatively and strategically new) could take on this role. As Kadri Liik of the ECFR writes of the European Union since the war: “No single EU member state is guiding Russia policy; a ‘leaderless unity’ has emerged”.

Only the United States can realistically take such leadership in the West. And Ukraine can. Both the US and Ukraine need to agree on larger issues, not only on  HIMARS or ATACMS. They also need to agree on the transformation of Russia (after Russia has been crushed) and a strategy on how such a transformation can be implemented. Because only when Washington believes in the reality of such a strategy, will the ATACMS and much more HIMARS become available for such a victory.

What role could the European Union and Lithuania play in the matter of the Russian strategy, which is the most important contemporary challenge to the West? The European Union must first address the paradox of its “strategic autonomy” – if the European Union wants to participate in the post-war Russian fate, it must invest in the war as much as the Americans (in weapons) or the Ukrainians (in lives) do. The fact that the EU as a whole has so far supplied 5 times fewer weapons to Ukraine than the US only shows that the EU is deliberately avoiding involvement in the crucial issue of the future of post-war Russia. Or it is afraid to engage on it, because it is still afraid of upsetting Putin. That is why Mr Macron talks again and again about some kind of ‘security guarantees’ for Russia. And like a small child who has had his mouth burnt at least a few times by hot soup, he is still blowing into a plate of soup that has already cooled down. Even though it is clear that the greatest threat to Russia’s future is posed by the current Russia itself and its authoritarian Putin regime. If one wants to provide ‘security guarantees’ for the Russia of the future, there is only one way to do it: to see to the transformation of post-war Russia into a democracy. That requires stopping being afraid, including of the current Putin and of what will happen to Russia when Putin loses this war crushingly. Europe must finally free itself from it’s  ‘autonomy of fear’.

It would be important for Lithuania to realise that we can help Ukraine not only with what we have been supplying them bilaterally: first, weapons or generators; second, not only with new sanctions packages against Russia, which are biting less and less, but also by mobilising global public support for the leadership of the United States in resolutely tackling the transformation of post-war Russia, and investing in Ukraine’s resounding and immediate victory now. We need to talk in Washington not only about how to increase the number of American rotational forces in Lithuania, but also about what strategy to pursue with regard to post-war Russia, because the answer to this question is essential in order for Ukraine to be able to achieve victory in the near future.

Is the West and the United States capable of such a strategic leadership?

Let us 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 John Paul II becoming the Pope, 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 is needed now.

It is not for nothing that Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington, which had just taken place, has been compared by many to Churchill’s famous visit to the United States in 1941. The example of Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s leadership is much needed in the West today.

Putin in the Kremlin must finally hear a clear strategic message from the West – ‘unconditional surrender’. Only Mr Biden and Mr Zelenskyy can tell him that. Let us hope that the Europeans will not oppose such a leadership of the US and Ukraine.

2022.12.12

Andrius Kubilius. Our “Russian” Psychological Complexes

Latvians had revoked the broadcast licence for the Russian opposition TV channel Dozhd. Before that, the channel had been expelled from Moscow by Putin.

It is for Latvians to judge, how well this decision was legally and politically justified. Rasa Juknevičienė and I believe that this decision was neither very correct nor strategically wise. The decision was also met with a lot of public reaction in Lithuania, most of which was the same: “that is what they deserve, because they all are imperialists. All Russians are agents of the Evil Empire.”

The Russian liberal opposition has responded with similarly angry reaction, without any shades. This made both Lithuanians and Latvians even angrier.

That reaction of ours is what prompted me to write this text. Because I believe that such a reaction shows the problems we have in our own thinking, in our own attitudes. Psychologists call it the problem of psychological complexes. Some of them can lead to serious societal diseases. And we need to talk about this openly. Because some of those complexes may lead to major negative consequences, particularly for ourselves and for our role in the region.

We have to analyse our own problems. Just as the Russian opposition must first analyse its own problems. We often feel both more righteous and better than the Russian opposition, therefore we are more inclined to analyse first and foremost their problems, but not our own. That is not a healthy approach.

That is why I am starting to first look at ourselves. Not at the Russian opposition. One day, I may take that up too.

I will try to identify briefly those our basic attitudes, those basic ‘Russian’ complexes of ours, which have been particularly prominent in the context of the TV Dozhd story, which in my opinion are wrong, and I will try to explain why they are wrong.

Attitude 1 – Russia is incompatible with democracy

Many in Lithuania and in the West in general have bought into the notion that Russia because of its statehood traditions is totally unsuited to democracy. Having inherited many state institutions from the Tatar-Mongol invasion, it has forever lived under autocracy, under tsars, secretaries-general or authoritarian presidents, and it has never had true parliamentarism, the rule of law, inter-institutional checks and balances. Something like the Great French Revolution, whose attitudes created the present-day West, never happened in Russia. Therefore, the West needs to stop naively dreaming of a democratic Russia.

It is worth noting that Putin has consistently sought to persuade the West to believe the same notion – that Russia has no chance of becoming democratic. By his own actions, Putin has effectively created and has been creating the image of a savage, oriental Russia which is poisoning its opponents, of an aggressive state with a nuclear bomb in its hands. According to Putin, there will never be democracy in such a state, and the West must therefore stop talking naively about the prospects of democracy in Russia, because this could make Putin nervous, provoke him, and he would again start threatening with nuclear weapons. According to Putin, the West simply has to adapt: adapt to the current Russia, which means that the West simply has to maintain a dialogue with Putin, regardless of how he behaves.

Mr Emanuel Macron is an example of how Western leaders are willing to accept this doctrine imposed by Putin and are willing to adapt to it, because Mr Macron does not believe that Russia can be different. The consequence of this is that some Western leaders are still willing to geopolitically ‘sacrifice’ Ukraine in order to ‘accommodate’ Putin. Moreover, it is necessary not to anger or provoke Putin with the support for Ukraine, because Putin and Russia are savages, they will never be different, and they still have a frightening nuclear bomb.

One can evaluate in different ways the arguments based on historical determinism that Russia will never be able to become a democracy because its past history supposedly prevents it from becoming a democracy. I do not believe in such arguments, because I have seen many examples of countries or nations that had no democratic experience before turning into successful democracies at the end of the 20th century. One of such countries is Mongolia, the ancestral home of the Mongols and the Tatars, which today, according to many global studies, is doing quite well in the light of the index of democracy. The second example, Taiwan, demonstrates an extraordinary capacity for democracy, despite the fact that the main nation of the country is Chinese, and despite of hundreds of arguments of many proponents of historical determinism as to why China, the Chinese and Confucianism are incompatible with democracy.

Therefore my first piece of advice on the matter of our ‘Russian’ complexes is not to believe that Russia will never become a democracy. Or at least to doubt those, who insist on this. Because that is what Putin claims.

Attitude 2 – Russians as a people are not fit for democracy

We often hear claims that Russians are simply not fit for democracy: they all long for the restoration of the empire, they all support Putin and the war he has started against Ukraine. The Russians are a dark, uneducated people (‘народ’), brainwashed by propaganda. They have no democratic instincts and never will have any, so let us stop deluding ourselves with illusions about Russia’s democratic prospects.

In doing so, we inadvertently turn ourselves into nothing more than simple racists. Because such an attitude means that, from our point of view, the Russians are an underdeveloped nation, just as some people nowadays still think of the people of African descendance. And that the Russians will never rise from this inferiority. We are beginning to see ourselves, intentionally or unintentionally, as a nation of higher genetic quality compared to the Russians. Putin says the opposite: that only the Russians are the ‘chosen people’, and that therefore, according to him, the Russians can exterminate the Ukrainians. I hope that, first of all, we will stop at the right time and will not  follow the Nazi way of judging and classifying other nations according to their quality, and of sending the representatives of the ‘inferior quality’ to the gas chambers.

There are different people among  Russians. Just like among the Lithuanians. I remember huge demonstrations during Gorbachev’s time when ordinary Russians were not only fighting for democracy in Russia, but also supporting Lithuanian independence. I do not believe that such genes can be lost to alcohol. The genes might have been “tarred” with the brush of dictatorship and persecution, but they are not disappearing anywhere. And when the opportunity arises, they break out with tremendous force. Just as it happened in the summer of 2020 in Belarus. That is what scares Putin. That is why he has started a war, so that the example of the Belarusian revolution and the success of Ukraine does not infect ordinary Russians.

Attitude 3: Ordinary Russians and the opposition do not take up arms against the Kremlin regime

Increasingly, one hears Lithuanians complaining that not only ordinary Russians, but also the leaders of the liberal opposition are not protesting in the streets against the Kremlin regime, taking up arms, and, whether in Russia or Ukraine, joining the frontline against the criminal aggression aimed at rebuilding the empire. Hundreds of thousands or millions of Russians who are being mobilised, are choosing to flee Russia, but not to take actions of defiance in Russia itself that would shake the foundations of the regime from the ground up.

Indeed, there are no such mass protests in Russia. This allows Lithuanian “champagne revolutionaries” (a reference to the Britain’s “champagne socialists” or Spain’s “caviar left”) to advice the liberal opposition which has fled from Putin’s persecution to better “pick up their arms”, to go back to Russia and to take up the real struggle there. At the same time, it is as if we are saying that we would certainly do so if we were in their shoes, because we heroically fought for our independence and our democracy, we took part in huge demonstrations, we took to the Baltic Way, and we brought down the Soviet empire and the communist dictatorship.

Somehow, we are so easily swayed by the demagoguery of self-satisfied Europeans. We forget that before Gorbachev’s Perestroika, we did not dare to hold mass rallies, nor did we dare to protest en masse in any other way. There were brave  military resistance by “forest brothers” after II World War, here were  brave dissidents who were imprisoned and persecuted, there was Romas Kalanta, who put himself on fire in protest in 1972, as well as his mass demonstration style funerals. However, during Brezhnev time Lithuanians who were mobilised into the Soviet Army did not protest and did not run away from the army or from the mobilisation when the Soviet Army occupied Czechoslovakia or invaded Afghanistan. Some in Lithuania are even now proud of their “Afghan” experience.

Why did we not then have the courage that we now want to teach the Russian opposition? Because we were humanly afraid of persecution, imprisonment, forceful treatment in psychiatric hospital, or simply of having our professional careers ruthlessly ruined. That is why we only rebelled when we believed that Gorbachev’s perestroika meant that we would no longer go to prison for taking part in a rally. In contrast, in Russia, they do go to prison now. And one can get 8 years of hard labour for a Facebook post. Or one can simply be poisoned. With “Novichok”.

Therefore maybe we should stop making ourselves comfortable from the sofa and teaching the Russians how to fight such a terrorist regime. Because we did not fight it ourselves when we were enslaved. And even now only few of us would fight.

Attitude 4 – all Russians are collectively guilty of the war against Ukraine and the opposition must be punished

When one sees the brutal war crimes committed by the Russian army in the cities of Bucha, Irpin, Izyum, there is no doubt that the first and simplest emotional statement that comes to mind is that all Russians are guilty. Equally guilty. Because they allowed Putin to come to power, they allowed Putin to become a dictator, to become an aggressor, because they did not protest, they did not fight against this criminal regime which today terrorises Ukraine with war, torture, rape, murder, and terrifies the Russian opposition with its prisons and its “Novichoks”.

Well, in fairness, a part of the collective blame for the current Putin also lies with the West, because the West has consistently made concessions to Putin, sought dialogue and the resumption of relations with him – even after the war against Georgia  in 2008 and the occupation of Crimea in 2014. Because a large part of the European Union has allowed itself to be tamed by the Kremlin to the needle of cheap gas, to Nordstream and yachts of Abramovich. That is how the current Putin came about, with the paradigm in the West of “just let us not provoke Putin”: let us not provoke the Kremlin with Western support for the integration of Ukraine, with the fight for freedom of speech or assembly in Russia, with the fight against the poisoning of Navalny. The West has not reacted to Putin’s crimes, therefore Putin has reacted increasingly aggressively to the West’s non-reaction.

We can justify ourselves that we, Lithuanians, reacted and shouted loudly. Today, many in the West admit that we were right. But that does not make us feel righteous, because we are part of the collective West, for better and for worse.

Of course, it would be a mistake to justify Putin’s crimes solely on the basis of Western indifference or appeasement. But it would also be a mistake to make all Russians equal subjects of the collective guilt. This is what we, several Members of the European Parliament and several well-known Western experts have recently written about in the text “’Collective guilt’ – the dilemma of penalising Russia’s opposition”.

In that text, we have provided a historical example of how the West’s attitude towards collective German guilt for the crimes of Nazi Germany has evolved. Here is a quote from that text:

In the first years after the defeat of Hitler’s Germany in 1945, “collective guilt” — blaming all Germans for Nazi aggression — was the guideline for the Allies to deal with the German people.

This strategy was deliberately ended after it was understood that the building of a democratic Germany would be jeopardised in this manner. Collective guilt was replaced by a more selective approach in which Germans who had demonstrably resisted the Nazis, were fully integrated into the effort of remaking Germany.

We have to answer for ourselves to the question of what is more important for us and for the West as a whole: to hold all Russians “collectively responsible” and “collectively guilty” of Putin’s crimes, or to be genuinely concerned about how to fight against Putin together with Putin’s opponents and, once Putin has been defeated, to build a different, normal Russia together.

Attitude 5 – Democracy in Russia could be dangerous for us, because Russia will again gain strength

Many of us are aware that Russia, with the authoritarian Putin at its head, is getting weaker and weaker politically, economically and technologically. Putin also understands this, and this is one of the main reasons for his aggression.

It is also understood that Russia’s transformation, as it returns to a democratic path of development, would also enable Russia to return to the world markets and to a normal modernisation path. It is likely that, in this case, the European implementation over the coming decades of the Green Deal would also force Russia to transform its economy and to move away from the total dependence on oil and gas exports. This would allow Russia to become an economically successful and strong country.

However, there are Lithuanians who think that it is better to let Russia remain without democracy, because if democracy is going to strengthen Russia’s economic power, we do not need it, because it is dangerous.

Such Lithuanian fears that the expansion of democracy to the East may not be good for us re-occur every few years, every time the foundations of authoritarian regimes in our region begin to shake. Thus, a few years ago, in the summer of 2020, our experts were shouting loudly that Lithuania was making a grave mistake in supporting the Belarusian opposition and Sviatlana Tsykhanouskaya. Because such a support is allegedly weakening Lukashenko, and Lukashenko is supposedly the only guarantor of the Belarusian sovereignty. Where that “guarantor” has led Belarus is something we can all see today, but no one dares to admit that they were wrong at the time.

It is not surprising that there is a lot of such thinking in our countries. These days it has emerged that such thinking has recently infected Ivars Āboliņš, a Latvian who today heads the Latvian National Council for Electronic Media (NEPLP), which recently revoked the licence of TV Dozhd. According to the media, in 2014 Mr. Āboliņš had publicly spoken out against the Maidan revolution, denouncing support for it because he believed that Ukraine’s integration into the European Union would be dangerous, as many Russian speakers would end up in Europe. He also felt that Putin’s regime was good for Russia, because with his authoritarian rule he was preventing Russia from falling apart, which could again be dangerous for Europe. It has however to be said that recently the same Ivars Āboliņš, when after his decision to close the TV Dozhd, he was reminded of his earlier words, has publicly admitted that he was wrong at the time, and has apologised.

In trying to answer to these arguments of fear for democracy in Russia, we must first of all answer the question of why an economically weak Russia is not something good for us to strive for and for which we should oppose the prospects of Russia’s democratic transformation.

It has long been demonstrated by world-renowned political scientists that democracies are not at war with each other. Authoritarian regimes being prone to military aggression is something that we have seen once again since 24 February. From the point of view of our own security, therefore, Russian democracy would be good for us. Political scientists have also demonstrated that democracy is more stable in countries that are sufficiently rich and economically developed (this does not apply to countries that export oil or gas). Poverty and democracy can be difficult to reconcile because poverty breeds political radicalism. Germany’s painful experience is a well known example for that: after the defeat in the First World War, Germany was impoverished by extreme reparations, which the famous John Maynard Keynes considered unfair and dangerous, and then  by the global crisis of 1929, which led to the collapse of the fragile democracy of the Weimar Republic, which opened  the door to Hitler’s rule.

It is also worth remembering the experience of the West after World War II. As early as in 1944, when the Allies were discussing how to deal with the defeated German economy, the plan drawn up by the US Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, was approved, which took the name of the “Morgenthau Plan”, and which envisaged the destruction of the German heavy industry and the division of Germany into a number of independent states. This plan was based on the basic premise of Morgenthau himself and his associates that this was the only way to prevent Germany, which had recovered economically from the war, from starting World War III ten years later.

One of the memoranda which endorsed the Morgenthau Plan, stated that the military industry in the Ruhr and Saar regions of Germany (its main industrial regions) would have to be destroyed and that Germany itself would eventually have to be transformed into a “country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character”.

However, after the war, the Americans very quickly realised that this plan was completely wrong, as it would condemn the Germans to a long period of poverty and deprivation, which would enable various radicals, including the Communists, supported by Stalin, to win the elections.

Therefore, as early as 1946, the United States and President Harry S. Truman began to realise that the main objective of the US in post-war Europe was to defend the democracies against Stalin’s encroachments on them, and they promptly abandoned the implementation of the Morgenthau Doctrine and any hint of its territorial partition or of destruction of Germany’s economy. On 6 September 1946, US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes delivered a famous speech in Stuttgart, called by the Germans themselves the “speech of hope”, in which he essentially “buried” the Morgenthau Plan and outlined the prospect of an independent, democratic and economically strong Germany. In 1947, the US announced the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, the implementation of which was aimed at the economic reconstruction of post-war Europe (including Germany), with the clear geopolitical objective of defending European democracies against the radicalism of the electorate (which had become disillusioned with the post-war difficulties), and thus against the communist expansion of Stalin.

Thus, if we want more security for ourselves, let us look after democracy in Russia. And that requires a democratic Russia to have the capacity to develop economically and become a strong economy. That is why today, when we are considering how the West will have to deal with Russia that has lost the war, we need to consider not the Morgenthau plans for such Russia, but something like the Marshall Plan for a democratic Russia. For only this will help to stabilise the revival of democracy in Russia after the defeat of the war, if such a revival takes place. We have written about this, together with experts from the Western and Russian opposition, in a dedicated text “The EU’s Relations With a Future Democratic Russia: A Strategy” .

Attitude 6 – the only way to ensure our security is to put a high fence around Russia, and then let Russia, closed off from the world, rot and collapse

Some in Lithuania believe that we can build a high fence against Russia. A very high fence. Not just a physical fence, but a NATO Article 5 fence and a missile defence fence. They also say that when we are so fenced in, we will no longer have to worry about what happens to Russia next, because it is not up to us anyway. We are better off becoming a “Baltic Israel”, which, although surrounded by hundreds of millions of hostile Arabs, is able to defend its sovereignty, win wars and, at the same time, be an innovative start-up nation, able to attract billions in investment.

I have nothing against this dream of becoming a “Baltic Israel”. It just does not seem very realistic to me. Because, first of all, we are not Jews, with all their painful and tragic historical experiences that have shaped the unique nation of Israel.

Secondly, Israel, even though it is surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs, has the privilege of having nuclear weapons, whereas the Arabs do not. Even Iran does not yet have one. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian “dream” of a failed and divided Russia is dangerous because Russia is a nuclear state. The traditional “turmoil” (“смута”) in Russia can be not only profusely bloody but also horribly nuclear; or it can be accompanied by the diffusion of marauding bands and terrorists of the “Wagner” group into Europe, above all, through Lithuania. Because historically, the route to Europe for Russian wars or looting has been via Lithuania as the most geographically convenient route.

It is naïve (to say the least) to expect that we will not be affected by a possible turmoil in Russia. Moreover, the prospect of such potential turmoil in Russia is likely to frighten some Western leaders already today. Therefore, they are tempted to be wary of the main cause of such potential turmoil – a complete military victory of Ukraine over Russia.

The popular explanations among us are that Russia will never become a democracy and that it is best to lock Russia up in its own “pot” and watch from a safe distance it self-destruct and collapse are all the more dangerous because they can only serve to fuel the West’s natural fears even further. Such Western fears are Putin’s most desired and cherished ally. Because Putin, having lost the war in Ukraine, is desperate to negotiate peace with the West in his favour, and he desperately needs the whole world, and the West in particular, to believe that Russia, after it will have lost the war, and after Putin, will really descend into complete chaos (including nuclear chaos), which would be dangerous for the whole world. And that is why, according to Putin, the West should stop supporting Ukraine, because its victory will also cause confusion in Russia.

We must therefore ask ourselves honestly: do we really want to help Putin to continue frightening the West?

******

So much for our attitudes towards Russia. Sometimes I have the impression that such attitudes are even prevalent among us. But, nevertheless, I would argue that they are misconceptions, and even dangerous ones.

I have already explained why they are wrong and dangerous.

It is equally important to understand why we have such attitudes, and why we feel that way. What are our own psychological complexes that lead us to behave this way? And how can we help ourselves?

First of all, it is obvious that some of our current attitudes are caused by what we see with our own eyes. Not only Putin, but the entire Russian army, all of Russia, has been and will continue to be accompanied by reports of the most atrocious war crimes that they have committed, of the killings, the rapes, the bombings, of the infinite human suffering of the Ukrainians. It is impossible to just watch it all without any feelings.

Solidarity is a natural reaction to it, and hatred is, too.

Hatred for those who are killing, hatred for the terrorist army, hatred for Putin, who is leading it, and hatred for everything that is connected with it. It is a natural emotional reaction and this reaction is inevitable.

But that alone is not enough. We have a much greater responsibility than just indulging in hatred. We have a responsibility to future generations to help them not to live under such a threat.

We have been saying for decades that Putin’s Russia is the greatest threat. The rest of the West has finally become convinced of this, and NATO has finally signed up to the fact that authoritarian Russia is the greatest threat to European security. That is why NATO is now radically reinforcing its key instruments for dealing with such a threat: the policies of Deterrence and Defence.

But deterrence and defence are not enough to make the threat go away. The Russian threat will only disappear completely if Russia transforms itself into a democracy. Just as the threat of Nazi Germany only disappeared when it was forced to transform itself into a democracy after losing the war.

Western policy towards Russia must therefore have three strands: Deterrence, Defence and Transformation.

For such a transformation to take place, the Russian people need to be helped to let go of their old dreams of rebuilding the empire and to start to  believe in a new dream of a normal life in Russia.

Therefore, the transformation strategy implemented by the West must first of all include a plan for the deputinization of Russia (the Americans had a plan for the de-Nazification of Germany), which includes the destruction of the post-imperial dreams: the military crushing of Russia in Ukraine; a tribunal for Putin and his cronies; the general lustration of the current regime’s politicians, administrators, judges and power structures; and the Ukraine’s NATO membership, which will finally kill the post-imperial Russian dreams.

On the other hand, such a transformation strategy must include a plan for a Strong Ukraine, because the example of a strong, successful Ukraine can be the strongest incentive for ordinary Russians to demand change in Russia itself. The goal of a strong Ukraine requires not only that the West helps Ukraine win the war and assists Ukraine in rebuilding its war-torn economy, but also that the West ambitiously helps Ukraine to rapidly become a member of the EU (because only this creates success for the EU’s neighbours).

On the other hand, it must be agreed in such a Transformation Plan that the West will work much more intensively with Russia’s opposition, and will work with them to develop plans for a different, normal, successful Russia, the EU, together with democratic Russia, assisting in implementation of such plans. In the name of this, the West must help the Russian opposition to unite today and must help it to strengthen its communication with ordinary Russians.

Such a transformation strategy is not only necessary for the Russian opposition, not only for Russia’s own prospects, but it is necessary for us and for the West as a whole. Because a different Russia will no longer be a threat to European security. It is worth making every effort to ensure that our future generations do not have to live under a threat.

When Russia loses the war, there may be opportunities for change in Russia. It is essential to be ready to seize those opportunities. The West must be ready for it, we must be ready for it, and the Russian opposition must be ready for it.

We in Lithuania are in a unique position – when the war broke out, the West began to listen to our views. On the other hand, we know how to work together with the Russian opposition.

At the moment, Western support for Ukraine is our main strategic objective. The West will support Ukraine even more strongly if it believes that Ukraine’s victory will also bring positive changes to Belarus and Russia. But if they do not believe this, if they believe that Russia cannot under any circumstances become a democracy, if they believe that Russia without Putin will descend into bloody and nuclear chaos, the West may simply be frightened of the consequences of a Ukrainian victory.

So let us understand that our “Russian” psychological  complexes, our loud statements about not believing in the democratic and common human perspective of Russia, about the fact that it would be best for Russia to collapse, are dangerous, because we are already being listened to in the West.

We would help Ukraine much more if we broadcast to the West our belief in the possibility of Russia’s transformation, if we started to implement such a strategy ourselves, if we worked even more intensively with the Russian opposition, if we were concerned about how to open up more channels of communication with ordinary Russians, rather than how to close down the channels that are already open.

We are in the midst of major historical events. The Berlin Wall once fell. We had a hand in that. Now the “Kremlin walls” may come down: the walls of autocracy, kleptocracy, aggression and state terrorism. We have the potential to contribute to this too. But only if, as we did during the times of our Independence movement “Sąjūdis”, we act wisely and not just emotionally.

Emotions are sometimes a convenient cover for intellectual laziness. It is easier to condemn than to create anything else. Superficial populism is also possible on patriotic and geopolitical issues. Meanwhile, it is not populism that wins wars these days, but reason and wisdom.

Let us wish ourselves more wisdom! Because we need it for our security!

2022.11.16

EPP proposal for Resolution on Recognising the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism

The European Parliament is moving forward with the adoption of the resolution on recognising the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism. The adoption is planned in the plenary meeting next week in Strasbourg. Political groups have already presented their suggestions and expect to finalise the text this Thursday (November 17) or Friday (November 18) at the latest.

The draft resolution as proposed by the EPP Group in the European Parliament.

 

2022.10.18

Andrius Kubilius. The Tragedy of Russia (full text)

Read only main points of the text.

Read the text (including summary) in pdf format.

It is not popular these days to speak with pity about Russia and its people.

It is much more usual to find ever more poignant words of indignation and dismay directed at all Russians. Because many of us are convinced that they are all guilty. All of them: for Putin, for the aggression, for Bucha, for Irpyn, for Izyum.

While we understand the reasons for such sincere indignation, we must nevertheless realise that such emotional anger does not relieve us of our own grave responsibility to help Russia to become different.

We are no longer able to help Putin, we are no longer able to help his clique, we are no longer able to help the war criminals, because they are facing defeat in Ukraine and the Hague Tribunal.

But after Putin is gone, we must find it in ourselves to help Russia to become something different: a non-aggressive, non-mad, normal European-type state, or at least a country beginning to move towards such a change. Because not only does Russia’s future depend on it, our security depends on it. A “normal” Russia in our neighbourhood would lead to a major change in the security architecture of the entire European continent. That is why today, when we talk about both the Russia of today and Russia of the future, we need to talk not only about deterrence of and defence from the aggressive Russia of (what NATO and Ukraine have been doing), but also about the transformation of the Russia after Putin. And for this, we need to move away from the paradigm of “Putin first!” to a completely new strategy of “Democracy in Russia – first!” in all the thinking of the West.

We have no obvious proof and no answers on whether Russia, after losing the war against Ukraine, will be able to transform itself into a democracy, whether we will find the right ways to help its transformation. But not to try to help Russia after Putin to transform itself, not to make every effort to make such a transformation happen – we simply do not have such a right.

Alexei Navalny writes about Russia after Putin in his latest piece in The Washington Post a few weeks ago in a very reasoned way, still out of prison, but firmly believing in Russia’s democratic, parliamentary future, believing that the majority of Russians do not want some new territories, but just a normal (European) life: 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.”

Navalny asks for Western help to transform Russia after Putin. Because people in Russia want a normal life, and they need and will need Western support. Despite the fact that Putin’s Russia has now declared war not only on Ukraine, but on the entire West.

However, for the West to move towards a strategy of “Democracy in Russia – first!” in its relations with Russia we, those of us who are closest to Russia, must first of all have a much better and more rational understanding of the historical processes behind Russia’s development, of the root causes of where Russia is today. And only after we have understood this, will we be able to offer the West a strategy to support Russia’s transformation. This requires rational thinking in the West, not just emotions. Especially our own (Lithuanian) rational, strategic thinking on Russia is needed, because the West has already started to listen to our thoughts on Russia. That is why we (and not someone else) must propose the draft strategy: because for us it is a vital issue of our own security, while for others it is something far away from their comfortable lives, where “geopolitical laziness” has become a habit that is difficult to change.

 

Putin Is The Tragedy Of Russia

 

Today, it is quite obvious to all the sanely thinking people, including in Russia itself, that Russia is in a tragic state. This tragic state of affairs is only deepening. Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has become a huge problem not only for Ukraine but also for Russia itself. Russia is losing the war it started, Russia is revealing itself as a completely backward country that is rotting from within; and Putin is behaving like a rabid rat cornered in a corner, threatening the World with nuclear strikes. But the prolonged stay of Putin in power threatens Russia itself with the further rapid collapse of the entire state and the complete disintegration of the country.

One of the Putin’s current henchmen, the Speaker of the Russian Duma, V.Volodin, once famously proclaimed: “If there is Putin, there is Russia; if there is no more Putin, there will be no more Russia”. It is now becoming increasingly obvious that Putin is one of the main causes of the current tragedy of Russia, and one of the main symbols of that tragedy. This is why Volodin’s famous words have to be rephrased: “If Putin is there, Russia may not exist; if Putin is gone, Russia may recover”.

However, it would be frivolous to think that, with Putin himself gone, all of Russia’s problems, which have led to today’s tragedy, will be solved very easily and spontaneously. Russia’s problems today are also the result of objective historical patterns, which Putin has exploited for the benefit of his regime and has himself fallen hostage to. Russia’s history in the 20th century is also full of tragic historical twists and turns, which are now echoing with existential challenges for Russia.

A couple of these fundamental historical problems in Russia are worth discussing separately, because only by understanding them can we better understand how we can help Russia.

 

Post-Imperial Nostalgic Seizures

 

Historians have noted that Russia’s historical development has largely followed the historical trajectories of Europe, but usually with a significant delay. And this delay has often had tragic consequences for Russia itself and the wider World.

Russia is now the last collapsing empire on the European continent, having begun to crumble only in the 1990s. The disintegration of an empire is not a one-day process, and it certainly did not end the day the Belovezh Accords were signed. The longest time the crumbling of an empire takes is in the mind of the imperial nation. It is still happening in Russia.

We in Lithuania are lucky that we managed to escape from that collapsing Soviet/Russian empire almost without the bloodshed.

Even though the Russian Empire began to crumble only in the 1990s, the other great empires of the European continent, France and Great Britain, began to say goodbye to their imperial grandeur immediately after the Second World War. Such a farewell was nowhere easy: nostalgia for the fading “glorious” imperial grandeur played a prominent role in public consciousness everywhere. By the mid-1950s, the French were so deeply nostalgic for the loss of Algeria and other colonies in North Africa that it was only de Gaulle’s return that saved French democracy from the complete collapse.

A tormented nostalgia for the past is common to all societies undergoing the revolutionary change. We in Lithuania, too, experienced a strong wave of nostalgia for the past immediately after the Sąjūdis revolution, when the Lithuanian public elected  a majority of former communists during the 1992 parliamentary elections, and then later elected the last General Secretary of Lithuanian Communist Party A. Brazauskas as the President of Lithuania. Even in 2004, when Lithuania became a member of the EU and NATO, in a poll commissioned by our party, when asked whether life was better under the Soviets or in the Independent Lithuania, 54% of the respondents answered that life was better under the Soviets. Lithuanians were no strangers to nostalgia for the past, for the Soviet past, and our democracy was only saved from the disastrous effects of such nostalgia by the fact that the European Union opened its doors to us at the same time.

Many scholarly books were written about the nostalgia for the past as an inevitable and dramatically important social phenomenon in young democracies. The two most memorable of such books for me personally were published   by the famous Samuel P. Huntington: Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) and The Third Wave: Democratisation in the Late Twentieth Century (1991).

Russia in the late 1990s was also undergoing a major revolutionary change. Inevitably, a wave of nostalgia for the past also swept throughout Russia. Only it was even more poisonous than in Lithuania,  because alongside the natural nostalgia for the Soviet past, the Russian society was also suffering from the nostalgia for the former imperial “glory and grandeur”.

The FSB took advantage of this by re-installing in 2000 to the power one of their own, Vladimir Putin. Putin and his circle in the Kremlin quickly realised that it was easy to score cheap popularity points by stimulating the nostalgia of ordinary Russians for the Soviet, imperial past. For the mafia, with its pyramid of power (if to use famous words of the late Senator J.McCain: “Russia is a gas station run by a mafia that is masquerading as a country.), that Putin had created, the most important objective has been personal gain from easy oil and gas money and the preservation of the regime’s pyramid of power. It was for the preservation of this pyramid that the public had to be fed ever greater doses of nostalgia-inducing global zombification. Putin has been very successful in creating (or restoring) an imperial dream for ordinary Russians, and the narrative “Krym nash” (“the Crimea is ours”) has become a volcano of such a nostalgia and imperial dreams. Putin had to simultaneously worry about how to maintain the society’s nostalgia for the imperial past, and about another problem: how to prevent a democratic, pro-Western Ukraine from becoming a successful state, because such an inspiring example could also make ordinary Russians want to live like Ukraine, and such a dream of Russians would very quickly destroy the foundations of the Kremlin’s mafia pyramid. Thus was born the Novorossiya plan, a mixture of nostalgia for the imperial past and jealousy of Ukraine’s success.

Such the mix led not only to the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine, but also to the tragedy of Russia and the threat to its existence. Nostalgia for the imperial past is the dynamite beneath Russia’s foundations; it is one of the root causes of the tragedy of Russia. It is clear that Putin deliberately stoked the fire under this dynamite for a long time, and finally, for reasons known only to him, decided to light the fuse that leads directly to that dynamite.

The process of the disintegration of the Russian Empire and the nostalgic storms of the public in recent decades are different from the post-war dismantle of the other empires on the European continent in a way that Putin personally encouraged the growth of nostalgia for the imperial past, then became a hostage to such nostalgia himself and thus killed off the young democracy of Russia. This is the opposite to other European leaders like de Gaulle who had the courage to contain the post-imperial nostalgia of their societies, and thus saved French democracy.

In order to help Russia to transform itself after Putin, the West must help Russian society to say a final and irreversible goodbye to the dream of the imperial nostalgia. In particular, Russia’s painful defeat in its own war of aggression against Ukraine would contribute to that. Western arms for Ukraine are therefore also the Western aid for the Russia’s transformation. Even Ukraine’s NATO membership would positively contribute to the Russia’s transformation, because it would demonstrate to ordinary Russians that Ukraine no longer remains in some grey area of Russian imperial interests. And that this is being established for ever.

 

When Will The Great French Revolution Happen In Russia?

 

Another historical difference between Russia and the Old Europe is that the Old Europe (Western Europe) has been undergoing major social changes since the end of the 18th century (and in some places, since much earlier), best symbolised by the Great French Revolution: the revolutionary transition from feudalism to modern capitalism, with the concomitant development of modern constitutional democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Some historians argue that in France itself, the Revolution, with all its iterations of the Terror, the Restoration, the repeated revolutionary upsurges (1830, 1848) and the ebb and flow of the tides, lasted until the war of 1870, which was lost to Bismarck and to a reunifying Germany. It was only this painful defeat that finally consolidated the revolutionary transformation in France.

In his fascinating book A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924 (1998, 2017), the world-renowned contemporary historian, Orlando Figes, details the tragedy of the 19th-century Russian Empire and how the Russian elite, in the wake of the French revolution, tried many times to replicate this revolution in Russia (starting with the Decembrist uprising of 1825), and never succeeded in any way. In the end, it was only the February Revolution of 1917 that succeeded, but this was followed by the Bolshevik coup in October of the same year, with Lenin at the forefront. In Russia, the “French” transition to capitalism (with the democracy that is characteristic of capitalism) did not take place, but ended with the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks and the terror of Stalin. Throughout the 20th century, Russia may have said goodbye to feudalism, but it never got to the classical capitalism. The 1990 revolution in Russia may have started Russia’s journey in this direction, but nostalgia for the past and the weakness of democratic institutions determined that the anti-democratic restoration that often afflicts young democracies has also happened in Russia. But such a restoration has not so much brought back times of the Soviet-era Central Committee of the Communist Party, but has rather created a completely new structure – the power of the mafia in the Kremlin and the rampant terror of that mafia.

For Russia to become a “normal” state, it is necessary, at the outset, to replicate the Great French Revolution. Russia is more than 200 years late in doing so, and this is another reason for the tragedy of Russia. Russia needs the institutions that are necessary for the functioning of a normal state, of a normal democracy. Currently, such institutions simply do not exist, beginning from the Duma, to regional self-government and to the Constitutional Court. And in order for them to appear, it will be necessary in a democratic Russia, first of all, to destroy institutions such as the FSB, which genetically cannot coexist with the institutions of democracy.

 

How Can The West Contribute To Russia’s Transformation?

 

First of all, 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.

As Mr Borrell, the EU’s “Minister for Foreign and Security Affairs”, admitted very openly in the last 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 [radical cuts in EU imports of Russian gas after the war has started] is something extraordinary that will lead us to free ourselves from the energy dependence on Russia, which was the major constraint of our foreign policy towards Russia and, consequently, of our foreign policy, which included Ukraine. In fact, we have not had a foreign policy towards Ukraine, because it was subsidiary to our policy towards Russia, and [policy towards] Russia was, in turn, subsidiary to our energy dependence – and was conditioned by it. Now we will have a clear policy towards Ukraine, which is dominated by the will and the desire for Ukraine to become a member of the European Union. A policy with clear objective, which will be possible because we will no longer suffer from this dependence on 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:

  • There can be no return to business as usual with the authoritarian Kremlin regime, regardless of who is the master of the authoritarian Kremlin – Putin or some other FSB general. The continuous returning to business as usual with Putin regardless of what criminal acts has the regime committed – be it the open poisoning of his opponents or the occupation of South Ossetia and the Crimea – has been a huge mistake on the part of the West. This has only increased Putin’s imperial aggressiveness and has ultimately led to the current tragedy of Russia. The EU must now have a clear strategy for the development of relations with democratic Russia, and this strategy must clearly define the criteria that will be required from the Russian democracy in order to recognise it as a functioning democracy and for cooperation to be built on entirely new foundations.
  • The European Union must overcome its division into those who “believe” and those who “do not believe” in the possibilities and prospects of democracy in Russia, because it is only by believing that democracy is possible in Russia that 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 a 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.
  • With the outbreak of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the overwhelming evidence of the criminal, inhumane behaviour of the Russian soldiers in Bucha or Izyum, for many ordinary Europeans such testimonies of the brutality of the Russian soldiers were also the evidence of the collective guilt and collective responsibility of the entire Russian nation as well as proof that Russia will never have a chance of becoming a democracy. However, it would be a major strategic mistake for Europeans to give in to their emotions and to attribute collective guilt to all Russians and to disbelieve in the prospects of democracy in Russia. Simply, it is difficult to devise any strategy for the EU support for Russia’s democratic transformation without believing in the prospects for democracy in Russia.
  • Therefore, despite all the understandable emotions, I have to urge Europeans again and again to return to a rational assessment of the situation and prospects in Russia: despite the tragic state of Russia and its society today, there are no rational arguments to explain why democracy is possible in Ukraine, why the Belarusians are fighting for it, and why the prospect of a normal European life and of democracy should be of no concern to ordinary Russians. The attempt to explain that Russia is essentially an Asian state and that it inherited its state structure and many of its traditions primarily from the Tatar-Mongol invasion, and that it will therefore supposedly never be able to become a democracy, is undermined by the simple fact that today’s Mongolia, which was once the homeland of the Tatar-Mongol invasion, is now one of the model democracies that is ranked highly in all the global democracy indices.
  • 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 Russians To Achieve A New Dream Of Normality?

 

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. It is simply not comfortable to sit at the point of a gun for long. In Belarus in 2020, it was clear that the loyalty of Belarusians to the Lukashenko regime is coming to an end, because the Belarusians had the opportunity to see, by electing Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, that the majority of Belarusian citizens are in favour of the dream of Belarus’ transformation. This is what mobilised the citizens to go to mass protests. It was only at the point of a bayonet that Lukashenko was able to temporarily maintain his illegitimate power, which is clearly a short-term way of stopping the inevitable transformation.

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.

How can the European Union help Russians to achieve such a new dream of normality?

There are three actions on which the West should concentrate its efforts to help the Russians to achieve a new dream: (a) 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; (b) the West must politically and economically invest in the success of Ukraine, so that the example of such success encourages the Russians to pursue a new dream of a normal life in Russia; c) 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.

 

How Important Is Ukraine’s Victory And Ukraine’s NATO Membership For The New Russian Dream?

 

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 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, already quoted earlier: “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”.

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!” Axis

 

Like Ukraine’s membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Ukraine’s membership of 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’s 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”:

“First, jealousy of Ukraine and its possible successes is an innate feature of post-Soviet power in Russia; it was also characteristic of the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin. But 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 entitled “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. This is what the authors of the text say:

Forget his [Putin’s] excuses. Russia’s autocrat doesn’t worry about NATO. What terrifies him is the prospect of a flourishing Ukrainian democracy. (…) Putin may dislike NATO expansion, but he is not genuinely frightened by it. Russia has the largest army in Europe, now much more capable after two decades of lavish spending. NATO is a defensive alliance. It has never attacked the Soviet Union or Russia, and it never will. Putin knows that. But Putin is threatened by a successful democracy in Ukraine. He cannot tolerate a successful, flourishing, and democratic Ukraine on his borders, especially if the Ukrainian people also begin to prosper economically. That undermines the Kremlin’s own regime stability and proposed rationale for autocratic state leadership. Just as Putin cannot allow the will of the Russian people to guide Russia’s future, he cannot allow the people of Ukraine, who have a shared culture and history, to choose the prosperous, independent, and free future that they have voted for and fought for.”

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 in recent days 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.

 

The European Union’s Strategy For Future Relations With Democratic Russia – The Basis For A New Dream Of Normality In Russia

 

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.

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 for a strong future relationship of free trade, visa-free travel, economic partnership in the name of modernisation, with a clear perspective that would allow ordinary Russians to believe today in a new dream – the possibility of a normal, European life in Russia. 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.

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 above-mentioned special study “The EU’s Relations With a Future Democratic Russia: A Strategy”, drafted by experts on the European Union and on Russia and published by the Martens Centre in July 2022.

The European Union 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, 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.

 

The Tragedy Of Russia As An Impetus For Change: Self-Reflection And International Justice For  Russia

 

Russia is not the first nation to find itself at a tragic crossroads in its development, when the main narratives of national identity, the nostalgia and dreams that prevail in society, bring the nation to the brink of total catastrophe, of total collapse. Global history is full of cases where such a moment comes for a nation due to the state suffering a crushing defeat. For some nations it has been a tragedy that has completely ruined them. However, the global history also provides many convincing examples where the painful defeat of a state has been a radical incentive for the nation of that country to rethink its way forward and to rebuild itself from the roots.

In his book “Upheaval: how nations cope with crisis and change”, the renowned historian Jared Diamond describes how some nations have succeeded in radically recovering from the tragedies they have suffered through, using the examples of Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, Australia, Chile and the United States. Diamond convincingly develops the theory that nations in such a crisis must behave in the same way as a person in the deep personal crisis. Psychologists know of as many as 12 essential actions and factors that lead to the recovery of such a person, starting with the person’s own admission that he or she is in the deep crisis and that he or she has to take action to get out of the crisis. Diamond transforms these principles of personal psychology into 12 rules for nations in crisis, ranging from the national consensus and the recognition that the nation and the state are in crisis and that the nation itself must find a new way out, to studying the experience of other similar nations, to rejecting established geopolitical constraints and to accepting support from other countries. Global history provides many compelling examples where a painful defeat has been a radical incentive for a nation to rethink its way forward.

What would Jared Diamond’s book “advise” Russia to do? Russia that is defeated in the war in Ukraine? Russia that is after Putin?

First of all, he would advise them to see the inevitable painful defeat in Ukraine not only as a national tragedy for Russia, but also as a defeat that opens up the possibility of a fundamental change of identity and the possibility of saying goodbye to Putinism and to the dream of the restoration of the Empire that has brought Russia to the tragic situation it is in today. Just as the painful defeat of Germany and Japan during the imperial wars of their time helped both of them to go into the deep self-reflection and to reorient themselves towards the dream of a normal life.

Mr. Diamond would also say that the Russians themselves need first of all to come to a fundamental national understanding that the state and the nation are in a deep crisis and that they themselves need to find new, strategic solutions. Secondly, 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 crimes need attention of 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.

 

The Inevitable Fourth Wave Of Democratisation And Russia

 

In his seminal book “The Third Wave: Democratisation at the End of the Twentieth Century”, published in 1991, the renowned American scholar Samuel P. Huntington made a clear case for a clear historical pattern: in the global world, democracy is spreading like the tides of the ocean: eventually, a wave of democracy is sweeping across the globe, and democratisation is sweeping across more and more new countries. However, not all new countries flooded by a wave of democratisation can establish a stable democracy, so when the tide turns, some new democracies, especially those that were flooded for the first time, revert to an authoritarian rule, and wait for a new wave of democratisation.

According to Huntington, the world experienced three waves of democratisation in the twentieth century: the first began after the First World War and lasted until the end of the 1920s; the second began after the Second World War and lasted until the 1960s; and the third began in the second half of the 1970s and lasted until the 2000s.

We, Lithuania and the whole of Central Europe, are also products of this third wave. We are fortunate that the global wave of democracy that washed over us did not retreat from Lithuania when the wave of democratisation was followed by its natural ebb. The European integration process that began in the early 1990s also contributed to preventing the tide from destroying our young democracy. In Russia, meanwhile, the ebb of democracy in the 2000s returned the country to Putin’s authoritarian rule. In Belarus, the ebb came even earlier. According to Huntington, this is the fate of countries with no previous experience of democracy – their first attempts at democracy are relatively short-lived.

It is clear that the convincing scientific arguments of Huntington’s theory of the three waves of democratisation, based on many concrete facts, including the history of change and transformation in our region over the last 30 years, also lead to conclusions about what we should expect in the future and allow us to be optimistic about the future of democracy in our region, including in Russia and Belarus: if the world experienced three waves of democratisation in the 20th century with the interval of roughly 20 years, now is the time to start preparing for a fourth wave of democratisation, since the third wave ended around 2000.

And this fourth wave, the first signs of which appeared in 2020 during the revolution in Belarus, and were at that time temporarily halted by repression, will inevitably sweep across Russia. This is a historical pattern.

 

The Tragedy Of Russia And Western Responsibility

 

Russia is currently living through one of the most tragic pages of its history, which is also bringing many tragedies to its neighbours, especially Ukraine.

Ukraine 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. Such a transformation of Russia is not only necessary for Russia, but also for the whole of Europe. The EU must have a strategy to help Russia in this transformation.

As Mr Borell has recently openly and courageously admitted, the EU has so far been constrained by its dependence on Russian gas supplies and has had no policy strategy either towards Russia or Ukraine.

It is time for the West to realise that an instant, short-term or reactionary policy to the Kremlin’s actions is no longer sufficient. The West needs a long-term, proactive policy towards Russia based on a clear and inclusive philosophy.

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.

However, Europe and the West continue to struggle with the second tectonic conflict on the European continent. In the 20th century, this conflict contributed to bloodsheds in large parts of Europe. As a result, large parts of the European continent had been denied the benefits of democracy, freedom and prosperity for decades. It was and still is  a tectonic conflict involving imperial Russia and continental Europe. 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. This strategy must be of the same scale and systemic nature as the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan or the strategy for containing Soviet Russia.

The changing nature of the conflict calls for new means of dealing with it. However, the cost and damage of a failure could be extremely high, as could new wars on the European continent.

Unfortunately, the West has not yet developed a long-term strategy to resolve this conflict and to help Russia to overcome its tragic trajectory. Because only democracy in Russia is a proper and lasting solution.

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.

We cannot just sit on our hands and wait for the West to come up with a strategy (if it has one) 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. We need an ambitious and comprehensive Western strategy towards Russia, and we need to offer its draft, instead of wasting our time just reminding the West about how wrong it was not to listen to us or to call us “Russophobes”, and just to look for new ways to return to business as usual and to increase dialogue with Putin.

We are most interested in good relations with Russia. However, we are convinced that only democracies are not at war with each other. That is why we need fundamental and deep changes in Russia, and not just new personalities in the Kremlin, in order to be able to enjoy good relations with Russia. The West could help to bring about such changes. But this requires a long-term Western strategy towards Russia, and we must help such a strategy to see the light of day. In order to develop such a strategy, we first need to understand the causes of the phenomenon we call the “the tragedy of Russia”.

This text is an attempt to look deeper into the tragedy of Russia and into how we can help Russia to avoid a tragic catastrophe.

Andrius Kubilius. The Tragedy of Russia (main points)

Read the full text “The Tragedy of Russia” by Andrius Kubilius

Read the text in pdf format.

  • The European continent is facing a severe geopolitical crisis, caused by Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. This has also revealed a phenomenon worthy of being called the “Tragedy of Russia”: a Russia that is failing, rotting from within, defeated, aggressive, and a danger to all those around it, in particular to Ukraine. But at the same time, the greatest danger by Russia is caused to itself, to the fate of its own state. That is the tragedy of Russia. However, the tragedy of Russia is dangerous for the whole world, not just for Russia itself. That is why today we must consider not only how to help Ukraine win the war, but also how to help Russia avoid the catastrophic consequences of its own tragedy.
  • In analysing the current situation in Russia, we must also take into account the main historical factors that have contributed to the current tragedy of Russia: (a) Russia is a state with the European path of development, albeit Russia is often lagging behind in experiencing turns of the common European history, and this often determines the scale of its tragedy; (b) Russia is currently the last crumbling empire on the European continent, and there is a natural post-imperial nostalgia for the former imperial greatness (which is encouraged to the fullest extent by Mr Putin himself); (c) Russia also differs from other European countries in that the Great French Revolution (as we know it) never happened and was never realised there;
  • The development of the Russian society today is determined by nostalgia, emotions and dreams. The nostalgic dream of restoring the greatness of the empire, which has led to this tragedy of Russia, is the dominant emotion there today. Putin is constantly and artificially fuelling and encouraging this dream. This helps him to maintain the loyalty of the Russian people to his regime.
  • However, Putin fears that the Russian people will increasingly begin to dream not so much of the return of the empire, but of a normal, European life within Russia itself. Putin therefore sees the greatest danger to his regime not as the expansion of NATO, but as the success of Ukraine. The democratic, economically strong, future EU member state – such an example from the neighbouring Ukraine can have a very strong contagious impact for ordinary Russians. And this is completely incompatible with the survival of an authoritarian, mafia-like Kremlin regime. The desire to destroy Ukraine’s ability to become a model of a successful state was the main reason why Putin launched the military aggression against Ukraine.
  • The West so far has had no long-term strategy towards either Russia or Ukraine. The geopolitical consequence of this is the war on the European continent. The West must have a long-term strategy for dealing with the tectonic, long-term problem of the “Tragedy of Russia”, in other words, how to help Russia transform itself into a normal, non-aggressive, European-type state. This requires, first and foremost, that the West moves away from the “Putin-first!” to the “Democracy in Russia-first!” paradigm in their relations with Russia. Secondly, the West must help Russia to say a final goodbye to the nostalgic dream of rebuilding the empire and must help Russians to acquire a new dream of a normal life in Russia itself. A long-term, ambitious and effective Western strategy towards Ukraine will play a particularly important role in the West’s pursuit of these objectives in relation to Russia.
  • How can the West help ordinary Russians to say goodbye to the nostalgic dream of rebuilding an empire? First of all, such a dream must be completely crushed. Western support for Ukraine’s military victory therefore at the same time plays a role of supporting Russia’s ability to say goodbye to its imperial dreams; the immediate establishment of a Special International Tribunal to investigate the crime of war aggression (the crime of Putin) would play an equally important role, as would the process of Russia’s “deputinisation”. Moreover, Ukraine’s NATO membership would also help ordinary Russians to understand that Russia no longer has a chance of realising its nostalgic imperial dreams.
  • How can the West help ordinary Russians to acquire a new dream of a normal life in Russia itself? The West can do this by first having a clear and ambitious strategy to build on the success of Ukraine, whose example could be the basis for a new Russian dream. The West can build Ukraine’s success not only by helping it to win the war against Russia, but also by implementing an ambitious strategy for Ukraine’s European integration and the EU membership. Rapid European integration has been the only reason why Central Europe and the Baltic region have laid the foundations for the success of the countries in the region. In the same way, the success of Ukraine, Moldova or Sakartvelo (Georgia) can only be built on the European Union’s ambitious European integration strategy for these countries.
  • The West, in order to give ordinary Russians the dream of a normal life in Russia as soon as possible, must already now also propose a strategy for the future relations between the European Union and the future Democratic Russia. Such a strategy must outline the prospects for the free trade, a visa-free travel, a partnership for modernisation and the implementation of other important EU programmes that are important in creating normal living conditions in Russia. It must be clear to the Russian people already now that the dream of a normal life in Russia is very real and that it will be realised in a democratic Russia together with the European Union.
  • Democracy in Russia is something that can fundamentally change the security architecture of the entire European continent. The goal of democracy in Russia must therefore be important not only for the Russians themselves, but also for the European Union as a whole. The European Union can effectively contribute to Russia’s democratic transformation, but this requires a very significant shift in the balance within the European Union itself between those who “believe” and those who “do not believe” in the possibility of democracy in Russia in favour of the “believers”. It is worth remembering for the Europeans that the development of democratic space in the world is taking place in the form of the so-called Huntington Waves, and that the map of democracy in the world today is the result of three such tidal waves of democratisation in the twentieth century and the ebbs that followed them. It is not difficult to predict that a Fourth Global Wave of such democratisation is due to begin in the next decade. And it could start in Russia. The democratic West must prepare for it today.
  • On the European continent, the phenomenon of the “Tragedy of Russia” is something that the West has so far been unable to solve. This is what is causing today’s geopolitical crisis on the European continent.

Every crisis is also a new opportunity. The expansion of democracy to the east of the European continent is what must follow this crisis, and democracy in Russia is the best long-term cure for the “tragedy of Russia”. At the centre of Russia’s healing and recovery procedure is Ukraine and the West’s support for its success.

2022.02.07

Andrius Kubilius. Statement on Belarus: Mr. Lukashenka and the President Putin are occupying Belarus

Andrius Kubilius
Statement on Belarus

Mr Lukashenka and the President Putin are occupying Belarus

Mr Lukashenka for many years since the very beginning of his authoritarian regime has been the Kremlin’s slave and a powerless servant of the President Putin. In 2020, he had a chance to stand by a side of the Belarusian people, but ultimately chose to stand against his nation and to continue his service to the Kremlin.

As the President Putin’s puppet, Mr Lukashenka is not able to change and even resist the Kremlin’s decision to deploy 30 000 troops in Belarus. All what Mr Lukashenka could to do is to follow the orders of the Kremlin. He was not asked for a permission, but got a directive to accept the biggest Russian deployment in Belarus since the Cold War.

No matter how this deployment is called, be it an exercise or a military alliance, Mr Lukashenka will be responsible for the consequences of his military collaboration against the will of Belarusian people.

If the President Putin will decide to invade Ukraine, he will commit an international crime and will be trialled for this by the international tribunal in Hague. If this invasion will take place from the Belarusian territory, Mr Lukashenko will become the accomplice in committing the war crime, and will be trialled together with Mr Putin.

This is why Mr Lukashenko should simply pray (since he has no other instruments to influence Putin’s decisions), that Russian troops now stationed on Belarusian soil will not be part to a military invasion into Ukraine.

If in the period when Belarus has no legitimate authority, the Russian troops will invade Ukraine from Belarus or will stay in Belarus for unlimited period, it will be the factual evidence that the Kremlin has occupied Belarus and Mr Lukashenka is a traitor of Belarusian statehood, and this betrayal will be his only legacy.

The West will be responding with harsh sanctions to the occupation of Belarus, as it did in the case of Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014. This response will involve personal sanctions on the Kremlin officials, sectoral sanctions on the economy of Russia, a comprehensive non-recognition policy of annexation of Belarus and an immediate launch of the international tribunal to trial Mr Lukashenka for his crimes against the people of Belarus and the Belarusian statehood.

If the Belarusian military will support the Russian invasion, its commanders will be sharing the same bench at the Hague Tribunal next to Mr Lukashenka and Mr Putin.

However, the administration of Belarusian institutions still has a change to distance itself from Lukashenka’s war crimes and to choose a different path of working not for the dictator, but for the future of the people of Belarus and for the future of democratic Belarus.

2021.12.08

An Address to the Russian people on the occasion of 30 years anniversary of the end of Soviet Union and of Russian independence

Members of European Parliament

Bernard Guetta,

Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz,

Andrius Kubilius

 

Dear European neighbours,

Dear citizens of the Russian Federation,

Dear Friends,

Let us dream, yes, let us dream together.

Thirty years after the break-up of the Soviet Union redrew the map of Europe, 32 years after the Central European revolutions, in those times also when your freedoms do not cease to decline, let us dream of the day when your Federation and our Union, will find the paths of an understanding and a cooperation which are so necessary for Europe and the world.

Let us dream of the day when there will no longer be any room for mistrust and fear between us, when no longer will there be any wall to replace that of the Cold War, when none of the countries that have emerged from the Soviet orbit will have to fear imperial nostalgia for Russia, when no Russian will be able to believe that the appeal of the European Union would threaten your country by bringing the Atlantic Alliance closer to your borders.

Let us dream of the day when the end of the East-West confrontation will no longer be seen by anyone as a victory or a defeat but as the possibility of new times, the beginning of a new era of democracy and prosperity on the whole continent, as promising for all of us as the first steps of the Union had been for us.

Let us dream of the day when we will be able to combine our intellectual, natural and scientific capital to affirm Europe, its culture and its civilisation, to contribute to the development and to the democracy of all our continent, and thereby of the other shores of the Mediterranean as well, in order to one day constitute this ensemble: Europe, Africa and the Middle East, which Rome had drawn up and whose outline has never been erased by any of the vicissitudes of history.

Yes, let us dream of the moment when bridges will span the forgotten walls, let us dream of it because there is nothing impossible about it.

From St. Petersburg to Lisbon, from Paris and Moscow to Vilnius, Berlin or Warsaw, our middle classes and young people share the same lifestyles, the same tastes and the same thirst for freedom. All generations and all walks of life are not looking to Asia, but to that part of our common continent which, by uniting it, the European Union has enriched so much.

Europeans we are, all of us, for better or for worse, from the conversion of Vladimir to to the Gulag camps and mass terror so scrupulously documented by Memorial, from the abomination of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to the first defeat inflicted to Nazism in the heroic battle of Stalingrad, Russia has always been one of the most decisive European powers.

Europeans we are from Brest to Vladivostok because Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Bulgakov, belong to our common heritage, to the pantheon of world literature where they sit alongside Shakespeare, Hugo, Dante, Kafka and Cervantes.

Europeans we are all, because you and we draw our common culture from Greek philosophy, Roman law, the Old and New Testaments, the Enlightenment and the democracy of Athens and Rome, reinvented by the British and French revolutions.

European, totally European is your history, because the most enlightened of your tsars turned to France, Germany and Italy when they wanted to open Russia to the world, because 1905, February 17 and the liberation that was the perestroika drew on the ideals of 1789 and 1848, and because your Empire was defeated in the same century, the 20th century, as the Ottoman, Austrian, French, British, Dutch  and Portuguese empires were.

Like all the other former European imperial powers, you were then divided between those who applauded the independence regained by so many different peoples and those who saw it as a historical setback that they were too hurt to concede.

This heartbreak, too, we shared. In your country as well as in ours, it has weighed on our political chessboards and our political lives. It continues to do so for you, because in Russia this turmoil is only thirty years old, but there are fewer and fewer among you, and very few under forty years of age to think that Ukraine or Georgia should be reconquered.

You too have come to see, as we have, that in trying to deprive others of freedom, you end up depriving yourself of it, and that a community of cultures, a common heritage and the permanence of economic exchange based on historical and no longer constrained complementarities are infinitely preferable to the injustice and fragility of empires.

The evidence is there.

India and Great Britain are not in conflict any more, nor are Austria and Hungary. As France is no more in conflict with the Maghreb or Indochina, and Turkey was better inspired by the ambition of an industrial Commonwealth than by its military incursions into waters and coasts that it will no longer be able to dominate.

The state of our present relations saddens us, of course. The tensions between us are numerous and deep, but one day soon, very soon, your new generations will find the way of harmony with your now independent former possessions. That day will come, we are certain of it. And it is with you, with this new self-confident and democratic Russia – serene and free because it is at peace with its closest neighbours – that we will build a continent of trade, freedoms and stability.

We say this to you because we can feel freedom trembling in your hearts, because you will resume your interrupted march towards democracy, because that day will see the birth of a new Europe, free, strong and exemplary, a Europe which we will be proud to leave to our children, because it is our common aspiration and our common destiny to which, together, we will give substance for the good of us all.

It is this message of friendship, certainty and common ambition that we address to you today, in the hope that it will contribute to our much-needed rapprochement, and precipitate it.

Long live Europe! Long live peace! Long live liberty!

2021.09.08

‘Elections’ in Russia – what does Putin fear most?

From September 17-19, the Russian Duma ‘elections’ will be held. The term ‘elections’ are placed in quotation marks because, of course, there will be no elections of the sort we in Lithuania and across the West are used to. Putin is a good student of Lukashenko – the latter ‘stole’ the elections already after they were held, and it turned out that Lukashenko lost to Tsikhanouskaya.

Putin is ‘stealing’ the election results ahead of time. So opposition candidates who could run in the Duma elections have either been imprisoned like Navalny and many of his comrades, or were simply refused registration, being described as ‘foreign agents’ or ‘extremists.’ Opposition news media and civil organisations are also persecuted, with the Kremlin exerting vast efforts to create an atmosphere of fear and government brutality in Russia. Pre-emptively signalling that the government will not tolerate any post-election protests.

It is clear that after last year’s elections in Belarus, Putin is rather frightened of something of a similar nature occurring in Russia as well. And so, the Kremlin is insuring and reinsuring itself as candidate lists in single-mandate electoral districts have been stripped of any potential competition, with even some communist candidates being refused registration. Voting will be held over three days so that no observers can control the fairness of the voting, while Navalny’s ‘wise voting’ initiative is fought to the point that courts even banned the two words from being used over the internet. With elections being held under such conditions of persecution, they cannot be recognised as legitimate by the international community, and so they are less critical in terms of the final ‘results’ that the Kremlin is now painting, and more in terms of what long term processes we will see sparked by these elections.

We can guess that Putin is interested less in the Duma’s composition and more in having the sort of majority the Kremlin needs alongside the typically loyal Zyuganov Communists and Zhirinovskyists. Putin is likely far more interested in what signal these elections will send the Russian elites and common citizens, as well as the world at large, prior to the looming Russian presidential elections in 2024, and it could be that already these Duma elections will send a sufficiently convincing signal to Putin himself that it’s no longer worth for him to run for office in 2024. It is also worth dedicating a little more attention to the indications and phenomena that would show already in these Duma elections that change is inevitable in Russia.

How do we evaluate view the Duma election results?

It is already clear that Putin is prepared to declare the victory of his United Russia party in the Duma elections, and massive efforts are being exerted to this end so that the party’s candidates do not face stiff competition. It is worth remembering that since 2016, the Russian Duma, which has 450 members, has been elected based on a mixed electoral system, which is like Lithuania’s. Half of the Duma’s 225 members is elected based on party lists, and the other half are in single-mandate electoral districts.

It is in single-mandate districts that Putin expects his greatest wins – some sociologists have calculated that based on current circumstances where the competition is eliminated, Putin’s candidates could win 180 single-mandate districts, which is 80% of the seats in this bracket. However, voting for party lists could prove far more painful to Putin, and this is where particular attention is due as based on current publicly released surveys, Putin’s United Russia has only 30 per cent support in surveys. This is reported by sociological campaigns that are intimidated by the Kremlin, and one could guess that, the support could be even lower, not even reaching 30 per cent. Putin’s United Russia party, one which has all the Kremlin’s resources in hand, would see obtaining 30 per cent of the vote in these elections as being a painful loss. It is necessary to remember that this party took 55 per cent of the vote in the 2016 Duma elections, 59.2 per cent in 2011, and 64.3 per cent in 2007. So let us be ready to objectively evaluate even the results of these elections, which Putin has already ‘stolen’ – even if the Kremlin were to trumpet that Putin won the Duma elections and that he has a majority, we should be most interested in the results of party-list voting, which are far more challenging to fabricate. If Putin’s party only wins 30 per cent of the vote, it will be a signal that Putin suffered a significant loss in these Duma elections.

What else does Putin fear?

It is evident that Putin is fearful of the coming Duma elections, and even these elections may be an unambiguous sign to him that the real, rather than falsified, support for the Kremlin’s policies is quite low not even reaching a third of voters and plummeting at a catastrophic pace. Two key factors will eventually play an increasingly important role and make both the Kremlin and Russian elites increasingly comprehend the necessity of inevitable change. Such changes are something that Putin’s kleptocratic regime seeks to avoid at all costs because its primary goal is to retain the wealth it has appropriated; however, there are changes which even the Kremlin cannot halt. The first of the two factors is the perspective of the new, younger generation. There is little need for explanation, you only need to take a look at the sociological study results released by the Levada Centre this year, which you can find here. Based on this study, we can see a clear trend that voters under 40 will not vote for Putin in the presidential elections. Once again, we should remember that the Levada Centre is one of the few whose existence the Kremlin still permits, but even its results indicate clear trends – the Russian public is becoming tired of Putin. The younger generation no longer associates Putin with their hopes for a better life, which happened to Lukashenko. Putin understands and fears this – the youth are on Navalny’s side, and so Putin can only pander to them and kindly agree with a student who dares correct the mistakes of Putin, the historian. But generations change, and Putin cannot halt this. This is what frightens him. The second factor, which Putin is afraid of is the European Union’s Green Deal. Without going into details (that I have written on previously), it is worth noting that the EU’s commitment to implementing the Green Deal will have massive geopolitical repercussions for Russia first and foremost over the coming 15-20 years. If the Green Deal is implemented as planned after 2035, gas imports from Russia to the EU will fall by around 70 per cent, and all Russian state finances are currently based on revenue from gas and oil sales to Europe. Implementing the Green Deal in the European Union will mean that Russia will inevitably have to transform its entire economic structure, which will eventually lead to fundamental changes in Russia’s internal political architecture. Where such changes will lead for Russia is hard to predict, but we already perceive that across the European continent’s Eastern side, we see the same historical trend – the democratic and Western European way of life is gradually gaining more ground in the East. It all started with the Baltic States, then with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova following. Belarus is now beginning to move in the same direction, and there are no reasons that suggest that Russia won’t do the same. We will observe the first two indicators at the Duma ‘elections’ in two weeks, and then come to the inevitable two factors – a new and younger generation of Russian citizens and the European Green Deal.

These are what Putin fears the most.

2021.09.02

Andrius Kubilius: European Parliament believes in Russia’s democratic future

The European Parliament published a report on the direction of EU-Russia political relations, which was approved by its Foreign Affairs Committee and submitted by the rapporteur on Russia Andrius Kubilius (EPP, Lithuania). The report will be voted and discussed in the European Parliament’s forthcoming plenary session on 14 September 2021.

After the vote in the Foreign Affairs Committee MEP Andrius Kubilius noted, that the European Parliament is convinced Russia can have a democratic future.

“Russia can be a democracy. The EU has to work out a comprehensive set of principles, a strategy, based on the fundamental values the EU is promoting. Defending ‘Democracy First’ in EU relations with Russia is our first task. The EU and its institutions have to work on the assumption that change is possible in Russia. It also needs more courage in taking a strong stance vis-a-vis the Kremlin regime when it comes to defending human rights; this is what strategic engagement with the Russian people is all about. It is about ending domestic repression, returning the choice to the people, and freeing all political prisoners”, said Andrius Kubilius.

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