Is the West prodding Moscow into a new Cold War?
Click to enalrge the image. Drawing by Konstantin Maler
Where is the confrontation between Russia and the West leading? Is there a point at which both sides will halt in order to be able to start over from scratch? There is little doubt that the confrontation is heating up.
Take Ukraine, for example. I believe European Union officials are seriously underestimating the determination of the Kremlin and the Russian president to oppose the so-called European integration. Discussions on both sides about what is supposedly the sovereign choice of the Ukrainian people should not mislead anyone.
European officials can resent the behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin all they want, but when they themselves, as well as U.S. Assistan Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, show up on Kiev’s Indepenece Square, it is just another confirmation for the rulers in Moscow that all of this being paid for and directed against Russia.
The Russian ruling class believes first and foremost that nothing in the world happens without a reason, and for the most part it is directed against them.
Meanwhile, the prevailing perception in the Kremlin is that after European integration, NATO is just around the corner, meaning tanks and missiles stationed near Belgorod and Kursk, and global missile defense units. Not even the Kremlin's cleaning lady believes the assurances about it "not being directed" against Russia.
The "loss" of Ukraine is perceived by the ruling class in Russia as a threat to the very existence of Russia. That's not an exaggeration. It is seen as a threat that must be resisted by all means available. And when all other means are exhausted, in the extreme case, resorting to the military.
Back when NATO's eastward expansion via Georgia was considered by the Kremlin to be an unacceptable threat, few in the West seriously expected Moscow to take military action so easily. But Russia was ready to roll on even to Tbilisi. And the relationship between Russia and the West was better in 2008 than it is now.
Are E.U. bureaucrats in Brussels even thinking about this when they say that they have nothing to say to Moscow about Ukraine in a trilateral discussion?
Putin, of course, is not the West's favorite politician, just as his government is not the epitome of Euro-Atlantic values.
But does this mean that Putin's current Russia should be intentionally turned into a rogue state? This is how many in the Russian ruling class are thinking. When fully authorized officials of the E.U. call, say, for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, I want to ask, “What, has Moscow sent troops into Afghanistan again?”
Moreover, as the experience of Iran and North Korea has shown, being a rogue state is not so bad. Take, for example, Iran. It threatens to destroy Israel, continues to call the U.S. the devil incarnate, and quietly goes about building a nuclear bomb. Of course, sanctions are imposed. But the country still earns $69 billion from oil exports.
Western media often writes that Putin is evil and terrible, he imprisoned Pussy Riot, doesn't like gays, and that he's easy to read. And then there's the strange enthusiasm for the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Oh, he smiled. Oh, he called Obama and doesn't say every day that the Holocaust never happened, unlike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Oh, he's ready to discuss his nuclear program. When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign minister of Iran hugged briefly in Tehran with nonbinding smiles, the right to their own nuclear program was recognized.
So, the worse you act, the happier they are to negotiate with you, as soon as you start to hint that you will take the path to reform.... sometime soon. But in the global context, this is bad for motivation.
Putin, of course, does not yet know how far he is willing to go in the confrontation with the West. But the logic of his actions shows that Putin, who is deeply disappointed in the West and who knows the beauty of double standards, is prepared for a confrontation. A long and growing one.
Hence the policy of making the elite sovereign. Hence the attention being paid to re-equipping the army. Nobody re-equips an army just for the sake of creating jobs and new technologies. Even in his 2013 address, Putin didn't say a word about foreign investment. On the contrary, he talked about returning capital to the country. It is evident that self-reliance is playing an increasing role in his policies.
Many of those responsible for carrying out policies regarding Russia's relationship to Ukraine and the former Soviet Union have the mindset that Russia is weak and that many of its economic interests, and the interests of its ruling bureaucracy, are in potential rival countries.
And that's why at some point the Kremlin will flinch, swallow their latest defeat, accept the humiliation, and make peace with their new role, crawling ever further east. And I mean "crawling" here in the literal and figurative sense.
Rational economic calculations and a comparison of technological capabilities both favor such an outcome. But what if rationalism is a false indicator in this case and these people are wrong?
First published in Russian in Gazeta.ru.