Opinion: Putin grasped the political soul of the West

Vladimiras Laučius
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

It is not the months-long war and bloodshed in Eastern Ukraine lasting, and not Russia‘s behaviour that continues for at least a century, but the response of the EU states and societies to the ongoing war in Europe that is the most shocking aspect.

As Putin‘s regime follows the steps of Hitler, the EU can think of nothing better but to express concern and to apply sanctions of miserable extent. If it were not for a little more resolute attitude of the United States, everything would resemble a farce rather than a true response to Russia’s actions.

The EU, which declares utmost respect for human life and international law, reacted to the occupation of Crimea and the many victims of Putin’s war in Eastern Ukraineme by merely punishing a handful of people who will not be allowed into Rome’s and Berlin’s shops and museums. It is terrible. Well, at least it’s something.

But a lot of people see and understand perfectly well that such prolonged lip-service response to the rising Russian Hitlerism (racism) is totally inadequate in terms of both effective pressure on Russia and justice and morals. Needless to mention the Mistral sale, the continuing economic and business relationships, counterbalanced by nothing more than speculations that perhaps, in the future, Russia will not be invited somewhere by someone.

By the way, we hear more often, for example from FIFA, that nobody must boycott the next World Cup in Russia, since sport brings nations together and will somehow make the White Dove of Peace rise up (apparently, it does not matter how many nations are attacked and occupied by Russia until then or how many people would be killed).

Interestingly, the EU’s unconvincing posture is excused even in Lithuania. This is done in support of the idea that the Western powers decided not to sink to the level of Russia and not to deal with it with methods readily employed by the Kremlin. It is stressed that increasing economic pressure on Putin would not lead to desired results – he simply could not back away without falling on his face in the dirt in the eyes of his citizens, so we should not push him into the corner.

Such arguments remind of excuses by those who are too weak to take the necessary steps to complete successfully what they started. For example, to drive the USSR into the corner and achieve the collapse of the empire of evil. Therefore, for them the only option is to insist that the best strategy in the fight against evil is not to do things that would irritate that evil too much.

I would like to ask those who say that economic pressure more to scale to Russia’s aggression will not produce desired results and will harm rather than help – what results have been achieved by the current gentle, almost imperceptible pressure.

During the months of Western tenderness with Moscow, hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians were killed as well as passengers onboard MH17 flight. The Crimean problem has been slurred over. Moscow has strengthened its military and cries even louder about the Russian Lebensraum, which it calls the “Russian world”. What is the real situation: is gentle pressure justified or not?

The Kremlin has always respected power and scorned the powerless purr of peace missionaries. This was emphasized by Winston Churchill in his famous Fulton speech (“Iron Curtain Speech”, 1946):

“From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.”

Although we would like to see a different Russia, after almost 70 years passed since Fulton’s speech, this country has remained largely unchanged. While Europe, unfortunately, has no more Churchills.

The weak policies of the EU, hopeless and toothless even after the MH17 crash over Donbass, can be interpreted and justified with beautiful words: “caution”, “moderate”, “peaceful”, and so on. However, the word “peace” sounds in the current context like it was coming from the mouths of Chamberlain and Daladier in Munich.

This “peace”, when Merkel hugs the master terrorist in Brazil, and the EU calls on the Ukrainian president to come to the negotiating table with terrorists, is not peace at all, but rather a moral and political defeat.

The driving force of such a “peace” is not some noble goal like justice, containment of the aggressor, respect for national sovereignty and the principle of the inviolability of borders, but two very crude and strong motives: greed and fear. Unfortunately, it seems that these two motives determine the West’s policies towards Russia today.

Greed has pervaded this relationship a long time ago – former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s example has since been overshadowed by a wide range of shameful things that influence Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy playing up to Russia. Fear contributed, too, when Russia began to make inroads into Ukraine.

The chief analyst of Moscow Carnegie Center Lily Shevtsova also speaks about fear and greed that permeated Western political elites and societies, without actually using these terms. In an interview to Rytas Staselis (Verslo Žinios, 25 July 2014), she says:

“The West does not want to admit that Ukraine and Russia are at war, because after recognizing that, certain actions and reactions are necessary, since aggression is a clearly defined term in the eyes of the United Nations.”

The West is afraid to take such action, and Putin, Shevtsova says, is relishing at such reluctance to confront.

And about greed: “The Western political elites think that Russia needs to cooperate at any cost. This belief of the West is strengthened by the Kremlin’s investment in Brussels, in powerful lobbying machines that operate in EU capitals. Paradoxically, however, not just Russian, but broad political, business and cultural circles in the West are interested in survival of the current regime in Russia.”

Putin, according to Shvetsova, will continue to look for Trojan horses in the EU, wooing them with exceptional energy prices and investment conditions in Russia.

However, a fundamental question arises: how could it happen that the West, and especially the EU, the champion of primacy of values in politics, is suddenly swept into what is not even the moderately amoral Realpolitik, but downright apolitical greed and fear?

This could not be due to solely external factors. It must be down to certain internal characteristics of Western political system – the liberal democracy – that serve well to Putin’s geopolitical games; now it has turned against the West itself.

Shevtsova said frankly that the response of the West and especially the EU to events in Ukraine demonstrates the weakness of liberalism. In her view, the West is facing a crisis of functionality of the liberal model of society. The crisis, according to her, is evidenced by the fact that the West is no longer guided by values, but rather by interests which, in turn, arise from motives like greed and fear.

But could it be true that greed and fear are the columns of the “liberal model of society”? How can they be the basis for such noble ideals like human rights and freedoms that liberalism has always championed?

The answer would be negative if we only considered the liberalism of the 19th 20th centuries. But heralds of political modernity and classical liberalism Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in particular based their own visions of societal progress on the grounds of fear and greed. Their idea turned eventually into a part of political project – the model of liberal democracy, and this, in turn, became the Western political face of the last century.

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