- 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 to rot 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 how to help Ukraine win the war and 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 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 maintain the Russian people’s loyalty 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 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 neighbouring Ukraine can have a very strong contagious impact on 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 military aggression against Ukraine.
- The West has had no long-term strategy towards 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 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 in 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 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 EU membership. Rapid European integration has been the only reason Central Europe and the Baltic region have laid the foundations for the countries’ success. 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, 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 future Democratic Russia. Such a strategy must outline the prospects for free trade, 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 that the dream of a normal life in Russia is real and that it will be realised in a democratic Russia 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 for the Russians themselves and 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.
The full text “The Tragedy of Russia” by Andrius Kubilius can be read here.