Latvians had revoked the broadcast licence for the Russian opposition TV channel Dozhd. Before that, the channel had been expelled from Moscow by Putin.
It is for Latvians to judge how well this decision was legally and politically justified. Rasa Juknevičienė, and I believe that this decision was neither very correct nor strategically wise. The decision was also met with a lot of public reaction in Lithuania, most of which was the same: “that is what they deserve because they all are imperialists. All Russians are agents of the Evil Empire.”
The Russian liberal opposition has responded with a similarly angry reaction, without any shades. This made both Lithuanians and Latvians even more furious.
That reaction of ours is what prompted me to write this text. Because I believe such a reaction shows the problems we have in our own thinking and attitudes. Psychologists call it the problem of psychological complexes. Some of them can lead to severe societal diseases. And we need to talk about this openly. Because some of those complexes may lead to significant negative consequences, particularly for ourselves and for our role in the region.
We have to analyse our own problems. Just as the Russian opposition must first analyse its own issues. We often feel more righteous and better than the Russian opposition; therefore, we are more inclined to analyse their problems first and foremost, but not our own. That is not a healthy approach.
That is why I am starting to first look at ourselves. Not at the Russian opposition. One day, I may take that up too.
I will try to identify briefly those our basic attitudes, those essential ‘Russian’ complexes of ours, which have been particularly prominent in the context of the TV Dozhd story, which in my opinion, are wrong, and I will try to explain why they are wrong.
Attitude 1 – Russia is incompatible with democracy.
Many in Lithuania and in the West, in general, have bought into the notion that Russia, because of its statehood traditions, is totally unsuited to democracy. Having inherited many state institutions from the Tatar-Mongol invasion, it has forever lived under autocracy, under tsars, secretaries-general or authoritarian presidents, and it has never had true parliamentarian, the rule of law, inter-institutional checks and balances. Something like the Great French Revolution, whose attitudes created the present-day West, never happened in Russia. Therefore, the West needs to stop naively dreaming of a democratic Russia.
It is worth noting that Putin has consistently sought to persuade the West to believe the same notion – that Russia has no chance of becoming democratic. By his own actions, Putin has effectively created and has been creating the image of a savage, oriental Russia which is poisoning its opponents of an aggressive state with a nuclear bomb in its hands. According to Putin, there will never be democracy in such a state, and the West must therefore stop talking naively about the prospects of democracy in Russia because this could make Putin nervous, and provoke him. He would again start threatening with nuclear weapons. According to Putin, the West simply has to adapt: adapt to the current Russia, which means that the West has merely to maintain a dialogue with Putin, regardless of how he behaves.
Mr Emanuel Macron is an example of how Western leaders are willing to accept this doctrine imposed by Putin and are eager to adapt to it because Mr Macron does not believe that Russia can be different. The consequence of this is that some Western leaders are still willing to geopolitically ‘sacrifice’ Ukraine to ‘accommodate’ Putin. Moreover, it is necessary not to anger or provoke Putin with support for Ukraine. Putin and Russia are savages, they will never be different, and they still have a frightening nuclear bomb.
One can evaluate in different ways the arguments based on historical determinism that Russia will never be able to become a democracy because its past history supposedly prevents it from becoming a democracy. I do not believe in such arguments because I have seen many examples of countries or nations that had no democratic experience before turning into successful democracies at the end of the 20th century. One such country is Mongolia, the ancestral home of the Mongols and the Tatars, which today, according to many global studies, is doing quite well in the light of the index of democracy. The second example, Taiwan, demonstrates an extraordinary capacity for democracy, even though the main nation of the country is Chinese. Despite hundreds of arguments from many proponents of historical determinism as to why China, the Chinese and Confucianism are incompatible with democracy.
Therefore my first piece of advice on the matter of our ‘Russian’ complexes is not to believe that Russia will never become a democracy. Or at least to doubt those who insist on this. Because that is what Putin claims.
Attitude 2 – Russians as a people are not fit for democracy
We often hear claims that Russians are simply not fit for democracy: they all long for the restoration of the empire, and they all support Putin and the war he has started against Ukraine. The Russians are a dark, uneducated people (‘народ’), brainwashed by propaganda. They have no democratic instincts and never will have any, so let us stop deluding ourselves with illusions about Russia’s democratic prospects.
In doing so, we inadvertently turn ourselves into nothing more than simple racists. Because such an attitude means that, from our point of view, the Russians are an underdeveloped nation, just as some people nowadays still think of people of African descent. And that the Russians will never rise from this inferiority. We are beginning to see ourselves, intentionally or unintentionally, as a nation of higher genetic quality compared to the Russians. Putin says the opposite: that only the Russians are the ‘chosen people and that, therefore, according to him, the Russians can exterminate the Ukrainians. I hope that, first of all, we will stop at the right time and will not follow the Nazi way of judging and classifying other nations according to their quality and of sending the representatives of ‘inferior quality’ to the gas chambers.
There are different people among Russians. Just like among the Lithuanians. I remember massive demonstrations during Gorbachev’s time when ordinary Russians were not only fighting for democracy in Russia but also supporting Lithuanian independence. I do not believe that such genes can be lost to alcohol. The genes might have been “tarred” with the brush of dictatorship and persecution, but they are not disappearing anywhere. And when the opportunity arises, they break out with tremendous force. Just as it happened in the summer of 2020 in Belarus. That is what scares Putin. That is why he has started a war so that the example of the Belarusian revolution and the success of Ukraine does not infect ordinary Russians.
Attitude 3: Ordinary Russians and the opposition do not take up arms against the Kremlin regime
Increasingly, one hears Lithuanians complaining that not only ordinary Russians but also the leaders of the liberal opposition are not protesting in the streets against the Kremlin regime, taking up arms, and, whether in Russia or Ukraine, joining the frontline against the criminal aggression aimed at rebuilding the empire. Hundreds of thousands or millions of Russians who are being mobilised are choosing to flee Russia but not to take actions of defiance in Russia itself that would shake the foundations of the regime from the ground up.
Indeed, there are no such mass protests in Russia. This allows Lithuanian “champagne revolutionaries” (a reference to Britain’s “champagne socialists” or Spain’s “caviar left”) to advice the liberal opposition, which has fled from Putin’s persecution to better “pick up their arms”, to go back to Russia and to take up the real struggle there. At the same time, it is as if we are saying that we would certainly do so if we were in their shoes because we heroically fought for our independence and our democracy, we took part in huge demonstrations, we took to the Baltic Way, and we brought down the Soviet empire and the communist dictatorship.
Somehow, we are so easily swayed by the demagoguery of self-satisfied Europeans. We forget that before Gorbachev’s Perestroika, we did not dare to hold mass rallies or protest en masse in any other way. There was brave military resistance by “forest brothers” after II World War there were brave dissidents who were imprisoned and persecuted; there was Romas Kalanta, who put himself on fire in protest in 1972, and his mass demonstration-style funerals. However, during Brezhnev’s time, Lithuanians who were mobilised into the Soviet Army did not protest or run away from the army or from the mobilisation when the Soviet Army occupied Czechoslovakia or invaded Afghanistan. Some in Lithuania are even now proud of their “Afghan” experience.
Why did we not then have the courage that we now want to teach the Russian opposition? Because we were humanly afraid of persecution, imprisonment, forceful treatment in a psychiatric hospital, or simply of having our professional careers ruthlessly ruined. That is why we only rebelled when we believed that Gorbachev’s perestroika meant that we would no longer go to prison for participating in a rally. In contrast, in Russia, they do go to prison now. And one can get 8 years of hard labour for a Facebook post. Or one can simply be poisoned. With “Novichok”.
Therefore maybe we should stop making ourselves comfortable on the sofa and teaching the Russians how to fight such a terrorist regime. Because we did not fight it ourselves when we were enslaved. And even now, only a few of us would resist.
Attitude 4 – all Russians are collectively guilty of the war against Ukraine, and the opposition must be punished
When one sees the brutal war crimes committed by the Russian army in the cities of Bucha, Irpin, Izyum, there is no doubt that the first and simplest emotional statement that comes to mind is that all Russians are guilty. Equally guilty. Because they allowed Putin to come to power, they allowed Putin to become a dictator, to become an aggressor because they did not protest; they did not fight against this criminal regime which today terrorises Ukraine with war, torture, rape, murder, and terrifies the Russian opposition with its prisons and its “Novichoks”.
Well, in fairness, a part of the collective blame for the current Putin also lies with the West because the West has consistently made concessions to Putin and sought dialogue and the resumption of relations with him – even after the war against Georgia in 2008 and the occupation of Crimea in 2014. Because a large part of the European Union has allowed itself to be tamed by the Kremlin to the needle of cheap gas, Nordstream and Abramovich yachts. That is how the current Putin came about, with the paradigm in the West of “just let us not provoke Putin”: let us not provoke the Kremlin with Western support for the integration of Ukraine, with the fight for freedom of speech or assembly in Russia, with the fight against the poisoning of Navalny. The West has not reacted to Putin’s crimes. Therefore, Putin has responded increasingly aggressively to the West’s non-reaction.
We can justify ourselves that we, Lithuanians, reacted and shouted loudly. Today, many in the West admit that we were right. But that does not make us feel righteous because we are part of the collective West, for better and for worse.
Of course, it would be a mistake to justify Putin’s crimes solely based on Western indifference or appeasement. But it would also be a mistake to make all Russians equal subjects of the collective guilt. We, several Members of the European Parliament and well-known Western experts, have recently written about this in the text “’Collective guilt’ – the dilemma of penalising Russia’s opposition” (https://euobserver.com/opinion/156141).
In that text, we have provided a historical example of how the West’s attitude towards collective German guilt for the crimes of Nazi Germany has evolved. Here is a quote from that text:
“In the first years after the defeat of Hitler’s Germany in 1945, “collective guilt” — blaming all Germans for Nazi aggression — was the guideline for the Allies to deal with the German people.
This strategy was deliberately ended after it was understood that the building of a democratic Germany would be jeopardised in this manner. Collective guilt was replaced by a more selective approach in which Germans who had demonstrably resisted the Nazis, were fully integrated into the effort of remaking Germany.”
We have to answer for ourselves to the question of what is more important for us and for the West as a whole: to hold all Russians “collectively responsible” and “collectively guilty” of Putin’s crimes or to be genuinely concerned about how to fight against Putin together with Putin’s opponents and, once Putin has been defeated, to build a different, expected Russia together.
Attitude 5 – Democracy in Russia could be dangerous for us because Russia will again gain strength
Many of us know that Russia, with the authoritarian Putin at its head, is getting weaker and weaker politically, economically and technologically. Putin also understands this, which is one of the main reasons for his aggression.
It is also understood that Russia’s transformation, as it returns to a democratic path of development, would also enable Russia to return to the world markets and to a standard modernisation path. It is likely that, in this case, the European implementation over the coming decades of the Green Deal would also force Russia to transform its economy and move away from total dependence on oil and gas exports. This would allow Russia to become an economically successful and robust country.
However, there are Lithuanians who think that it is better to let Russia remain without democracy because if democracy is going to strengthen Russia’s economic power, we do not need it. After all, it is dangerous.
Such Lithuanian fears that the expansion of democracy to the East may not be suitable for us re-occur every few years, every time the foundations of authoritarian regimes in our region begin to shake. Thus, a few years ago, in the summer of 2020, our experts shouted loudly that Lithuania was making a grave mistake in supporting the Belarusian opposition and Sviatlana Tsykhanouskaya. Because such support is allegedly weakening Lukashenko, and Lukashenko is supposedly the only guarantor of Belarusian sovereignty. Where that “guarantor” has led Belarus is something we can all see today, but no one dares to admit that they were wrong at the time.
It is not surprising that there is a lot of such thinking in our countries. These days it has emerged that such review has recently infected Ivars Āboliņš, a Latvian who today heads the Latvian National Council for Electronic Media (NEPLP), which recently revoked the licence of TV Dozhd. According to the media, in 2014, Mr Āboliņš had publicly spoken out against the Maidan revolution, denouncing support for it because he believed that Ukraine’s integration into the European Union would be dangerous, as many Russian speakers would end up in Europe. He also felt that Putin’s regime was good for Russia because his authoritarian rule prevented Russia from falling apart, which could again be dangerous for Europe. It has however to be said that recently the same Ivars Āboliņš, when after he decided to close the TV Dozhd, he was reminded of his earlier words, has publicly admitted that he was wrong at the time and has apologised.
In trying to answer to these arguments of fear for democracy in Russia, we must first all answer the question of why an economically weak Russia is not something good for us to strive for and for which we should oppose the prospects of Russia’s democratic transformation.
It has long been demonstrated by world-renowned political scientists that democracies are not at war with each other. Authoritarian regimes being prone to military aggression is something that we have seen once again since 24 February. From the point of view of our own security, therefore, Russian democracy would be good for us. Political scientists have also demonstrated that democracy is more stable in countries that are sufficiently rich and economically developed (this does not apply to countries that export oil or gas). Poverty and democracy can be difficult to reconcile because poverty breeds political radicalism. Germany’s painful experience is a well-known example of that: after its defeat in the First World War, Germany was impoverished by extreme reparations, which the famous John Maynard Keynes considered unfair and dangerous, and then by the global crisis of 1929, which led to the collapse of the fragile democracy of the Weimar Republic, which opened the door to Hitler’s rule.
It is also worth remembering the experience of the West after World War II. As early as 1944, when the Allies were discussing how to deal with the defeated German economy, the plan drawn up by the US Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, was approved, which took the name of the “Morgenthau Plan” and envisaged the destruction of the German heavy industry and the division of Germany into several independent states. This plan was based on Morgenthau and his associates’ basic premise that this was the only way to prevent Germany, which had recovered economically from the war, from starting World War III ten years later.
One of the memoranda which endorsed the Morgenthau Plan stated that the military industry in the Ruhr and Saar regions of Germany (its central industrial regions) would have to be destroyed and that Germany itself would eventually have to be transformed into a “country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character”.
However, after the war, the Americans very quickly realised that this plan was completely wrong, as it would condemn the Germans to a long period of poverty and deprivation, which would enable various radicals, including the Communists, supported by Stalin, to win the elections.
Therefore, as early as 1946, the United States and President Harry S. Truman began to realise that the main objective of the US in post-war Europe was to defend the democracies against Stalin’s encroachments on them. They promptly abandoned the implementation of the Morgenthau Doctrine and any hint of its territorial partition or of the destruction of Germany’s economy. On 6 September 1946, US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes delivered a famous speech in Stuttgart, called by the Germans themselves the “speech of hope”, in which he essentially “buried” the Morgenthau Plan and outlined the prospect of an independent, democratic and economically strong Germany. In 1947, the US announced the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, the implementation of which was aimed at the economic reconstruction of post-war Europe (including Germany), with the clear geopolitical objective of defending European democracies against the radicalism of the electorate (which had become disillusioned with the post-war difficulties), and thus against the communist expansion of Stalin.
Thus, if we want more security for ourselves, let us look after democracy in Russia. And that requires a democratic Russia to have the capacity to develop economically and become a strong economy. That is why today when we are considering how the West will have to deal with Russia that has lost the war, we need to consider not the Morgenthau plans for such Russia but something like the Marshall Plan for a democratic Russia. For only this will help to stabilise the revival of democracy in Russia after the defeat of the war if such a revival takes place. We have written about this with experts from the Western and Russian opposition in a dedicated text, “The EU’s Relations With a Future Democratic Russia: A Strategy” (25 July 2022; https://www.martenscentre.eu/publication/the-eus-relations-with-a-future-democratic-russia-a-strategy/).
Attitude 6 – the only way to ensure our security is to put a high fence around Russia and then let Russia, closed off from the world, rot and collapse.
Some in Lithuania believe that we can build a high fence against Russia. A very high fence. Not just a physical fence but a NATO Article 5 fence and a missile defence fence. They also say that when we are so fenced in, we will no longer have to worry about what happens to Russia next because it is not up to us anyway. We are better off becoming a “Baltic Israel”, which, although surrounded by hundreds of millions of hostile Arabs, can defend its sovereignty, win wars and, at the same time, be an innovative start-up nation able to attract billions in investment.
I have nothing against this dream of becoming a “Baltic Israel”. It just does not seem very realistic to me. Because first of all, we are not Jews, with all their painful and tragic historical experiences that have shaped the unique nation of Israel.
Secondly, Israel, even though it is surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs, has the privilege of having nuclear weapons, whereas the Arabs do not. Even Iran does not yet have one. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian “dream” of a failed and divided Russia is dangerous because Russia is a nuclear state. The traditional “turmoil” (“смута”) in Russia can be not only profusely bloody but also horribly nuclear, or it can be accompanied by the diffusion of marauding bands and terrorists of the “Wagner” group into Europe, above all, through Lithuania. Because historically, the route to Europe for Russian wars or looting has been via Lithuania as the most geographically convenient route.
It is naïve (to say the least) to expect that we will not be affected by possible turmoil in Russia. Moreover, the prospect of such potential turmoil in Russia is likely to frighten some Western leaders already today. Therefore, they are tempted to be wary of the main cause of such potential turmoil – a complete military victory of Ukraine over Russia.
The popular explanations among us are that Russia will never become a democracy and that it is best to lock Russia up in its own “pot” and watch from a safe distance it self-destruct and collapse are all the more dangerous because they can only serve to fuel the West’s natural fears even further. Such Western fears are Putin’s most desired and cherished ally. Because Putin has lost the war in Ukraine, he is desperate to negotiate peace with the West in his favour, and he desperately needs the whole world. The West, in particular, believes that Russia after it has lost the war and after Putin, will really descend into complete chaos (including nuclear disorder), which would be dangerous for the whole world. And that is why, according to Putin, the West should stop supporting Ukraine because its victory will also confuse Russia.
We must therefore ask ourselves honestly: do we really want to help Putin to continue frightening the West?
So much for our attitudes towards Russia. Sometimes I have the impression that such attitudes are even prevalent among us. But nevertheless, I would argue that they are misconceptions and even dangerous ones.
I have already explained why they are wrong and dangerous.
It is equally important to understand why we have such attitudes and why we feel that way. What are our own psychological complexes that lead us to behave this way? And how can we help ourselves?
First of all, it is evident that some of our current attitudes are caused by what we see with our own eyes. Not only Putin but the entire Russian army, all of Russia, has been and will continue to be accompanied by reports of the most atrocious war crimes they have committed, of the killings, the rapes, and bombings, of the infinite human suffering of the Ukrainians. It is impossible just to watch it all without any feelings.
Solidarity is a natural reaction to it, and hatred is, too.
Hatred for those who are killing, hatred for the terrorist army, hatred for Putin, who is leading it, and hatred for everything that is connected with it. It is a natural emotional reaction, and this reaction is inevitable.
But that alone is not enough. We have a much greater responsibility than just indulging in hatred. We are responsible to future generations to help them not live under such a threat.
We have been saying for decades that Putin’s Russia is the greatest threat. The rest of the West has finally become convinced of this, and NATO has finally agreed that authoritarian Russia is the greatest threat to European security. That is why NATO is now radically reinforcing its key instruments for dealing with such a threat: the policies of Deterrence and Defence.
But deterrence and defence are not enough to make the threat go away. The Russian danger will only disappear completely if Russia transforms itself into a democracy. Just as the threat of Nazi Germany only disappeared when it was forced to transform itself into a democracy after losing the war.
Therefore, western policy towards Russia must have three strands: Deterrence, Defence and Transformation.
For such a transformation to take place, the Russian people need to be helped to let go of their old dreams of rebuilding the empire and to start to believe in a new dream of normal life in Russia.
Therefore, the transformation strategy implemented by the West must first of all include a plan for the deputinization of Russia (the Americans had a plan for the de-Nazification of Germany), which includes the destruction of the post-imperial dreams: the military crushing of Russia in Ukraine; a tribunal for Putin and his cronies; the general lustration of the current regime’s politicians, administrators, judges and power structures; and Ukraine’s NATO membership, which will finally kill the post-imperial Russian dreams.
On the other hand, such a transformation strategy must include a plan for a Strong Ukraine because the example of a strong, prosperous Ukraine can be the most substantial incentive for ordinary Russians to demand change in Russia itself. The goal of a strong Ukraine requires not only that the West helps Ukraine win the war and assists Ukraine in rebuilding its war-torn economy but also that the West ambitiously helps Ukraine to rapidly become a member of the EU (because only this creates success for the EU’s neighbours).
On the other hand, it must be agreed in such a Transformation Plan that the West will work much more intensively with Russia’s opposition and will work with them to develop plans for a different, expected, successful Russia, the EU, together with democratic Russia, assisting in the implementation of such plans. In the name of this, the West must help the Russian opposition to unite today and must help it to strengthen its communication with ordinary Russians.
Such a transformation strategy is not only necessary for the Russian opposition, not only for Russia’s prospects but also for us and the West as a whole. Because a different Russia will no longer be a threat to European security. It is worth making every effort to ensure that our future generations do not have to live under threat.
When Russia loses the war, there may be opportunities for change in Russia. It is essential to be ready to seize those opportunities. The West must be prepared for it, we must be ready for it, and the Russian opposition must be prepared for it.
We in Lithuania are uniquely positioned – when the war broke out, the West began to listen to our views. On the other hand, we know how to work together with the Russian opposition.
At the moment, Western support for Ukraine is our main strategic objective. The West will support Ukraine even more strongly if it believes that Ukraine’s victory will also bring positive changes to Belarus and Russia. But if they do not believe this, if they think that Russia cannot under any circumstances become a democracy, if they believe that Russia without Putin will descend into bloody and nuclear chaos, the West may simply be frightened of the consequences of a Ukrainian victory.
So let us understand that our “Russian” psychological complexes, our loud statements about not believing in the democratic and common human perspective of Russia, about the fact that it would be best for Russia to collapse, are dangerous because we are already being listened to in the West.
We would help Ukraine much more if we broadcast to the West our belief in the possibility of Russia’s transformation if we started to implement such a strategy ourselves, if we worked even more intensively with the Russian opposition if we were concerned about how to open up more channels of communication with ordinary Russians, rather than how to close down the channels that are already open.
We are in the midst of major historical events. The Berlin Wall once fell. We had a hand in that. Now the “Kremlin walls” may come down: the walls of autocracy, kleptocracy, aggression and state terrorism. We have the potential to contribute to this too. But only if, as we did during the times of our Independence movement “Sąjūdis”, we act wisely and not just emotionally.
Emotions are sometimes a convenient cover for intellectual laziness. It is easier to condemn than to create anything else. Superficial populism is also possible on patriotic and geopolitical issues. Meanwhile, it is not populism that wins wars these days, but reason and wisdom. Let us wish ourselves more wisdom! Because we need it for our security!