One of the trends of the present liberal thought in the West regarding Russia is to justify its aggressive policy through "pressure from the West". Certainly, no examples or even signs of such pressure are given for one simple reason: the liberal West is just incapable of doing so. The whole period after the collapse of the USSR, the West did not press it, but closed its eyes on everything that Moscow did within the country (e.g., the Chechen wars, the practice of "managed democracy") or outside (aggression against Georgia in 2008). And that was done with the sole purpose: to draw Russia into the western civilizational space and thus begin its gradual transformation into a democratic society.
Rather than figure out what the reason for Russia's inadequate behaviour was and to determine the means of counteraction, the West actively continued to "fight for peace." It is worth mentioning that a significant role in the emergence of "putinfersteers" was played by corruption exported from Russia, which involved a lot of corrupt politicians, "experts", journalists, and even some political structures and movements. And if we add to this, anti-Americanism widely spread in Europe (very often encouraged from Moscow and artificially imposed to European public opinion both by propaganda media of the Kremlin and local fifth columns), as well as corruption-stimulated economic interest of some large companies, active diplomatic work and the activities of the Russian secret services, aimed at undermining the unity of the West - we will get an answer to the question of why Western "politics" remained so "toothless" in the latest decades.
The West began to wake up gradually only after Russia's aggression against Ukraine and a series of crimes committed by the Kremlin.
So, the question of why Russia is pursuing precisely this policy that undermines international security and how to counteract it is, in our opinion, not only purely academic but also practical.
It is unlikely that a brief report can provide a solid answer, but some important details that will make it possible to provide a general idea of its essence should be dwelled on.
The Kremlin's aggressive actions, in particular with regard to Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, are only regular but far from exhaustive examples of the aggressive nature of Russia. This is evidenced by all its history. And the point is not in the absence of a democratic tradition. It really does not exist. The reason is that Russia is different. Its perception of democracy, human rights, the role of the state and personality in social development, and so on differs from the Western. Russia declares itself a separate civilization and does not want to be part of another - the western one. This is a political trend of modern Russia. However, it was from this that the political history of Muscovy began as early as in the 16th century. Therefore, it can be asserted that this is a political tradition of Moscow.
Against this backdrop, attempts of the West to "draw" Russia into its civilizational space look futile and naive. It is necessary to gain political courage and to recognize such attempts unsuccessful and, in fact, unnecessary. As repeated examples show, they are doomed to failure and cause the West only reputational losses. The latest example is Syria.
Consequently, the lack of a common ideological, and, therefore, political base, makes it impossible for any prospect to form a common security space with Russia at the global and regional level, or even on a bilateral basis. The security interests of the West and Russia in no way coincide, including in the fight against international terrorism. A country that sponsors and spreads terrorism (both in Ukraine and in Syria) cannot be an ally of the West in the fight against it. The West is an existential systemic opponent for the Kremlin. This is a paradigm formed for centuries. Therefore, the working-here-opposing-there policy is unpromising.
At the same time, once and for all, one should always understand and take for granted the fact that the concluded agreements are kept to only as they are in line with its interests (let us recall the famous phrase of the German Chancellor von Bismarck that the treaties with Russia "are not worth the paper on which they written"). And it refuses from them under any (even absurd) pretext, when it does not need such deals anymore. This is the way Russia, and formerly the USSR, have been understanding respect for the norms of international law. This is also its political tradition.
Today, Russia has become a global threat to the civilized world. It violated all the fundamental principles of international law (UN Charter, OSCE core documents, Budapest Memorandum, numerous bilateral agreements, etc.), thus undermining the foundations of the security system that functioned in the North Atlantic in the postwar period. The aggressive actions of Russia in Ukraine and Syria push the world to a dangerous point of a "hot conflict" between it and NATO. Being the basis of the foreign policy course, the aggressiveness of the Kremlin, however, also has internal political objectives: to rally the Russian society by means of spreading chauvinism and brainwashing, thus to continue the existence of the present totalitarian Russian regime.
These dangerous tendencies should become an important motivator for working out a new security policy of the West as for Russia.
The present Western policy towards Russia is unfortunately reactive rather than strategic. In addition, it is based on illusions of the possibility of building a democratic Russia. There is a lack of objective analysis of Russia's foreign policy and unbiased and unobserved, from the viewpoint of economic situation in particular, forecasts of forms of relations with Russia acceptable for the West.
Putin's Russia has no prospect. The turn from today's system of totalitarianism to even the simplest forms of real democracy will result in the loss of control over the situation. This would look like "perestroyka" of the times of M. Gorbachev, which led to the collapse of the USSR. So this way for the Kremlin is unacceptable from a political point of view, for it should be proceeded from the fact that its attempts to stop the desire for self-determination of both oppressed peoples of Russia (peoples of the North, Tatarstan, peoples of the North Caucasus, etc.) and remote and practically poorly managed by Moscow territories (Siberia, the Far East – also due to external factors) will have no chance for success.
The course remains for further curtailment of democratic rights, strengthening internal propaganda, autarchy, and isolation at the international arena. But it will result in a relatively rapid economic collapse, since Russia's economy is export-oriented and technologically dependent on the West. Under the conditions of extension and, possibly, expansion of sanctions, this scenario looks more than realistic. But the economic collapse is always followed by the political one. Typical zugzwang.
But there is no prospect for the post-Putin Russia as well. These are Russians who elect such leaders as Putin. Therefore, there is a high probability that his place will be taken by an even more authoritarian person. For the Russian society is seriously infected with the bacillus of exclusiveness, intolerance, and chauvinism. It takes two to three generations of intensive care to show the first signs of recovery. However, the tragedy of Russia lies in the fact that it has no longer such time. It has deprived herself of such a possibility.
Therefore, Russia is doomed to repeat the experience of the collapse of the USSR. The question is only in time, which can be either accelerated or slowed down.
The West has two possibilities. The first is to continue the unpromising policy of "engaging" Russia, which motivates it only for new aggressive actions. This is the policy of strategic loss. In the end, Russia initially disintegrates the EU, and then dissociates NATO. The world can again fall into the spheres of influence, and, consequently, attempts to change them will result in a sharp increase of chances of unleashing a new global war.
The second is to face the realities and develop a new concept of security, but without Russia. This is a challenge that will entail the need to change the situation not only in the North Atlantic, but also at the global level. We will have to review the role and significance of the UN, the OSCE, and other international security instruments. NATO will also have to change, and as the only efficient global security structure, it will have to modify the geographical principle of its formation: countries that share common values and belonging to a common cultural space, in whatever part of the world they are situated, should have the opportunity to become its members.
New security policy of the West with regard to Russia must contain a well-defined strategy, stages of its implementation, mechanisms, forms, and means of achieving the goal. In either scenario, the West should be prepared not only for possible reaction to Russia's actions, but to act having proactive position, i.e. to impose their vision of a secure world.
At the current stage, "the Russian policy" of the West should, first of all, recognize the incompatibility of the two civilization systems and the need to seek for such coexistence that would not endanger humanity by a global nuclear disaster. To this end, modalities of deterrence in the political and diplomatic, military, economic, and humanitarian spheres should be clearly stated. It would read about a relatively long period of peaceful coexistence, which could be described as a policy of "total deterrence" of Russia. It will be a guarantee of the security of the West and Ukraine.
In the event that Russia continues its aggressive policy, the West must develop another model of behaviour. It should provide for such measures that would have their ultimate goal of transforming Russia into a politically and economically inconsistent subject of the world politics. The West must now begin modeling the situation in the event of such a case and/or the emergence of powerful centrifugal tendencies in Russia's domestic political life. With a considered strategy and tactics of action, this process will not cause global military confrontation or nuclear threats from the disintegrated parts of Russia (remember the collapse of the USSR). And we should proceed from the fact that the goals must be defined in advance, and the course of their implementation should be predictable and system driven.
Anyway, one can speak of the formation of a real and efficient system of protection of Western democratic values only under such circumstances. But this requires new thinking and political leaders capable of making responsible decisions. Events of tomorrow should be prepared today.
Some possible elements of deterrence of Russia in the political-diplomatic sphere.
- recognizing Russia aggressor country which has violated the UN Charter, its multilateral and bilateral obligations;
- enacting legislation, which recognizes and acknowledges the illegality of the annexation of the Crimea;
- making political statements as for the impossibility to continue partnership with Russia, which has become a rival and a global threat;
- making political statements, which recognize the actions of Russia in the Donbas and Syria as containing elements of war crimes;
- applying to relevant international judicial institutions (or establish new ones) to investigate and punish for the mentioned actions if they are found to have signs of crime;
- cancel or freeze indefinitely the action of fundamentally important political documents between the West and Russia (e.g. NATO - Russia Founding Act, etc.), and between Ukraine and Russia;
- reducing the level of bilateral political contacts to the level of ambassadors (for EU member-countries and NATO);
- in case of exacerbations reducing diplomatic relations to the level of chargés d’affairs (for the EU member-countries and NATO);
- breaking diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Russia;
- confirming at the highest political level that sanctions will be lifted only in exchange for meeting specific terms by Russia. Develop a catalogue of requirements, which, in particular, should include the return of all territories in the former Soviet Union captured by Russia and its mercenaries and end the war in Syria, as well as payment of compensation to victim countries for the caused damages.
Evidently, these are only some elements of possible political and diplomatic measures. But they, according to experts of the Centre for Russian Studies could significantly affect Russian policy and facilitate its behaviour resuming to a civilized course.
*Information about the author:
Amb. Volodymyr Ohryzko – Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2007-2009), CEO, Centre for Russian Studies, Ukraine
The article is prepared on the basis of address at the International Conference «Presidential Elections in Russia: Conclusions and Forecasts».