Europe has once again become divided politically, economically and militarily: Russia in the east, NATO and the EU in the west, and the countries in between – Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Caucasus states – have become an area of potential conflict. A war between the great powers in Europe – which seemed to have remained on the pages of the history books – is once again possible, albeit unlikely (for nuclear issues).
The equivalent of military action was economic sanctions and information warfare that developed in full swing. Although Russia and the United States were already on the verge of a confrontation over Georgia in 2008, the episode was too fleeting, peripheral enough and left without consequences due to the outbreak of the well-known global financial crisis and the change of administration in Washington with the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama (2009-17). Unlike Georgia, however, Ukraine has managed to change the system of international relations more than thirty years after the end of the ‘first’ Cold War.
The sharp turn in relations between Russia and the West came after twenty-five years of slow efforts by both sides to build an inclusive relationship. In the last two years of Mikhail Gorbachev’s (secretary of the CPSU from 1985 to 1991) rule over the USSR, Russia hoped to create a “common European home” and joint world leadership with the United States. It soon became clear that both of those postulates were – so to speak – illusory. The first president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin (1991-1999), attempted to fully integrate the country with the West through NATO membership and a direct alliance with the United States. That didn’t work either, especially when someone in Russia realized that their country was in danger of being first literally sold out and then colonized by allogeneic soft power – to put it mildly.
After informally polling the West on Russia’s NATO entry, President Vladimir Putin (2000-2008, and 2012 to present) said in a speech delivered in German at the Bundestag in 2001 that Russia had formed an alliance with the United States of America, publicly announcing the country’s European choice. The third president, Dmitry Medvedev (2008-2012), called for a European security treaty, suggested that Russia and NATO create a common defense perimeter, and actively sought “modernization alliances” with the economically advanced countries of the West.
Despite the efforts of the last CPSU general secretary and the first three Russian presidents, Western leaders have never shown any real interest in Russian integration. They had good reason to avoid it.
Russia is too big for such an undertaking, especially in terms of the economic assistance needed to bring it closer to the level of Western Europe, and despite the loss of superpower status, it is too independent and lacks the sense of semi-colony, which is in the DNA of an EU which lacks – in addition to the necessary skills and means – an army and the will to build one. In addition, Russia has a huge nuclear arsenal and an elite that thinks in terms of a great power and fights for equality with the United States of America. It does not have politicians and representatives aiming for rich posts and seats in Brussels, Strasbourg, nationally or internationally, or for rich bribes, as we are discovering these days.
Russia would be too stubborn and inconvenient an ally for the United States. Finally, the West has no external threat that requires Russia to join the US-led alliance system, because – according to the eggheads above – the threat comes precisely from Russia, and even before the Ukrainian crisis .
Instead of integrating Russia into its system of international structures, the West sought to direct it to create the political, economic and social institutions that would bring it closer to the West in terms of competitive qualities. Western governments have supported market-oriented programs in Russia, hoping it would soon become part of a society subjugated by other-directed globalization. Before the 1998 Russian financial crisis, the country was supported for six years by the “life support equipment” of the International Monetary Fund. At many levels of Russia’s state apparatus, especially in its economic bloc, there were Western advisers. Western states supported Yeltsin in critical moments such as the armed conflict with the Russian parliament in 1993 and the election campaign in 1996.
However, despite the fact that Yeltsin turned out to be a puppet of the West, Russia still let its counterpart down. Having just recovered from the aforementioned default caused by high oil prices, its economy has become dependent on energy exports. The political system went from initial chaos to oligarchic rule and then to authoritarianism. Russian society underwent the shock of radical change, experienced unemployment and poverty – in the days of socialism it was unthinkable to see people dying of cold in hiding, not even having a home guaranteed by the CPSU – and also developed a taste for prosperity for the relatively few , but never developed the need to slavishly listen to Western morality and blindly copy and subordinate to Western political systems. Instead, people began to appreciate the stability – that is, a return to the security that the defunct USSR offered – and, having had enough of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, supported Putin. The liberals, the only category of the Russian opposition that interested the West, remained a small – if open – minority. Every time he coughed, the echo was amplified in the West into million-watt loudspeakers. Finally, Russia has insisted on maintaining its great power status, which to many Westerners seemed like a thing of the past. This has annoyed a lot of people.
It must be said, however, that there has been no attempt to isolate Russia:
1) was offered to become an underage and handicapped partner of the USA, EU and NATO;
2) in 1991 Russia was authorized to keep the seat of the USSR on the UN Security Council by devolution;
3) in 1996 it was admitted to the Council of Europe;
4) in 1998 he was admitted to the G8;
5) in 2002 the Russia-NATO Council for military cooperation was established;
6) Russia has established a close partnership with the EU, reinforced in 2003 by the concept of the four common spaces (a. the economic area; b. the area of freedom, security and justice; c. the space for external security; d. space for research, training and culture);
7. in 2012 Russia became a member of the World Trade Organization and started the process of joining the OECD;
8) all Russian leaders held private and informal meetings with their US counterparts and, in turn, with their Western counterparts.
At the same time, however, recognition of Russia as an equal partner of the United States of America and its EU bandwagon was ruled out. In the West, the Russian Federation was seen – and indeed is still seen – as a smaller international player whose influence and importance were declining. It was not a question of granting Russia special privileges in the form of a sphere of influence, especially over the fourteen states that constituted (together with the former Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, now the Russian Federation) the republics of the former Soviet Union. Russia’s policy towards its neighbors – the aforementioned Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Caucasus republics – has been closely scrutinized for “neo-imperial” elements. Since the first half of the 1990s, the West has been observing Russia’s actions against separatist terrorists in Chechnya and throughout the North Caucasus, considering them an indicator of human rights violations, a potential slide into Soviet-era methods and excessive influence of the armed forces and special services in the country.
According to the United States of America and the EU, Russia should have accepted the decision of its former Warsaw Pact allies to join NATO. For Russia, this has been particularly difficult for two reasons. First, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic (members of NATO since 1999), as well as Slovakia, the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria (members since 2004) received what Russia itself was not. Second, NATO enlargement went against the promises many Russians believed the Western foxes had made to the naïve and inexperienced Gorbachev in 1990: a reunified Germany would not be allowed to remain in NATO (the GDR was integrated in the Atlantic Alliance in the unification process with the Federal Republic of Germany). Western governments viewed Russia’s protests – about the “double Germany” in NATO as its aggressive expansion – as evidence of Russia’s imperial ambitions and even of her claims to Central and Eastern Europe. Russia, on the other hand, saw NATO expansion as a violation of Western obligations.
If we’ve come this far, there are reasons that don’t reside in the emotional state of the latest news anchor, but are lost in recent history that is often forgotten for the convenience of only one side.