In defence of Russia
Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war.
– John Adams, 2nd U.S. President
Following the anti-intellectual mass-hysteria of Western media little has been done or written in the public domain, to de-escalate or at least explain in depth the situation in the Ukraine. Instead, a lot of the energy has gone in demonising Russia and comparing its military capabilities to that of the Ukraine, openly searching for sensationalising news and anxiously informing of another piece of “breaking news”. Needless to say, counting tanks and war planes will do little in resolving what is a very complicated political stalemate. Analysing the crisis just from the Western perspective deprives the public from gaining vital understanding of the motives that stand behind the Russian incursion, which otherwise might aid their position and undermine the stereotypical and eternal image of Russia as the ‘bad guy’. Its arguments are well-constructed, and at times, they are superior to that of the West. In this article I will not try to justify Russia’s actions, but merely to present the country as a “normal” player on the international arena, whose foreign policy is not all that different from its adversaries.
Russia’s security concerns
Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech of 2007 directly challenged the West and the international order that followed after the end of the Cold War. It marked the official beginning of a Russian “reset” in its relations with the US and the EU. There are several key arguments presented by the Russian president – first, Putin criticised the undemocratic, unipolar world, in which the United States is the single sovereign, often using illegitimate and unrestrained violence, invading a number of countries without UN Security Council resolutions. This, according to the Russian policy formulators had created an insecure and unstable international order, stained by the surge of inter-state conflicts and terrorism. And indeed, US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have revived frozen conflicts leading to the death of hundreds of thousands civilians, and the displacement of millions of others, destabilising entire parts of the globe and bringing insecurity to billions. The idea that “legitimate” decisions on using force could only be taken by the UN, EU or NATO was also fiercely criticised; Putin directly turned to the Italian foreign minister and saying: “we have a different point of view”.
In continuation to his speech, the new Russian Foreign Policy Concept (FPC) of 2013, speaks of a clash of civilisation, which has been escalated by the Western crusade for democratisation and imposing Western values across the world. International legal frameworks and institutions have been designed to fit the needs of a small group of nations, losing its democratic character. Double standards have been another focal point of Russia’s argument; the notion of a club of countries, being exceptional and breaking at will the international rules they have created themselves, has corrupted the system, making it vulnerable to chaos and creating a “power vacuum”.
Another “serious provocation” to Russian security has been the expansion of Western-made institutions into Central and Eastern Europe, pushing Russia back to its very own borders and bringing a “substantial negative geopolitical shift”. The “enemy at the gates” has significantly strained relations, and breaking promise made to the Soviet Union that no NATO troops would ever be deployed beyond a united Germany, a Germany that was allowed to unite peacefully because of that.
A parallel could be drawn between Germany and Russia after the ends of WWII and the Cold War. Germany was integrated into common European institutions, eliminating the possibility of another war, while Russia was left outside those institutions, making it the only great European Power not part of the present European Concert. The disrespect and lack of consideration for Russian national interest, the neglect, hypocrisy, ideological stereotyping and double standards are all external factors which led to the creation and strengthening of Putin’s current regime, a direct consequence of Western irresponsibility towards Russia. It took Germany just 20 years to recover from WWI and wage another war in order to achieve its foreign and domestic policy objectives. It took Russia less than that to return as a major, active and key player, summoning a global opposition to the present Western order. It actively props up other poles of influence and power in order to counter-balance the overwhelming might of the US and EU. This has inevitably lead to a alternative world order view, one immensely more complex than its predecessor, a view which aims to democratise the present international system. It is surprising that Russian “resurrection” was not predicted considering its enormous economic potential, imperial traditions and culture. A certain element of a rematch between Russia and the West is also part of the motives that drives its foreign policy.
Being denied the right to be seen as an equal, Moscow is turning itself into a self-proclaimed centre of values and influence, consolidating its immediate neighbourhood of post-soviet space by creating a Eurasian Union. The means used are not always democratic and often include coercion and blackmail, but so do the means of the US, in this respect. Moscow sees itself as normative power, challenging the EU as well. Another tool in Russia’s greater strategy has been leading the Rise of the Rest. Russia has broken out of the “regional shell” which the West had designed for it.
The current crisis in Ukraine has highlighted all of the issues mentioned above. Like two like poles of a magnet, Russia and the West repel each other. A fine example of exercising double standards was presented by the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin to the UN:
“we definitely saw some imposed mediation and some people trying to determine for Ukraine what they wanted. You remember the footage when the speaker of the parliament from one of the Baltic countries was speaking at an opposition rally… when the foreign minister of Germany was actually marching in the demonstration with the opposition, You know, now we are going to have a referendum on the independence of Scotland, can we expect Baltic politicians marching there among those who are fighting for independence or speaking at rallies at Edinburgh, let’s see if this is going to happen…”
Another, even more striking example is when President Obama labelled the Crimean referendum on joining Russia as a “violation of international law”. This leads to the assumption that the he denies the right of an entire ethnic group to self-determination and choose freely how and with whom it would want to shape its future. It is cynical on behalf of the US considering the Kosovo case and the forceful partition of Serbia.
The Russian “invasion” has been happily endorsed by the local population. Unlike US invasions, Russia inflicted practically zero casualties. No false pretext was needed as well. Putin’s view on the deployment of troops and Ukraine is pragmatic and transparent:
“If we can let this happen in one country of the post-soviet space, this means that we are allowing it to happen in all countries of the post-soviet space, which means “chaos”.”
This “chaos”, brought directly by the “enemy at the gates” is seen as a direct Western interference into a region that has been part of Russia for centuries, and now it is part of the Russian cultural and political orbit. Allowing it further would trigger a chain of horrible events, destructive for both sides. It is essential for the West to recognise Russia’s right as the sovereign in its immediate neighbourhood. Further steps, should also be taken to increase not only the economical but also political interdependence between the two. The opportunity of attracting Russia into the Western institutions might now be lost, but a new one arises – that of creating “bloc” interdependence between the EU and the rising Eurasian Union. A substantial revision of the way the US sees Russia is crucial, as well. American political culture is used to seeing it as the “evil empire”, an argument that is now obsolete, outdated and more importantly – irritates the Russians.
Unfortunately, Ukraine has radicalised the West in the way it sees itself, as a force of good. It also showed how fragile the current international order is, due to the interdependence of states and the exclusion of major countries. Russian pressure is cracking what is an idea or belief that the US, and its values are “вся и все”, or in other words “everything”. Western rejection to let go in the first place would only prove to be destructive and would bring more conflict. A possible outcome of the crisis would most likely end with Crimea joining the Russian Federation and the rest of Ukraine, taking the path of European integration. New constructive steps, however, have to be taken on the Western part in order for a new type of Cold War to be evaded.