In today’s world Russia is a far cry away from its post-imperial ways. The fall of the Soviet Union represented chaos and social disappointment, while the damaged economy hit both the ordinary citizens and the country’s oligarchs.
What once used to be a mighty nation is now reflecting a trans-state with little international influence that is neither democratic nor fully authoritarian.
The world’s largest country is still undergoing the process of transformation from a Communist party system to a state of law and market economy. Many Russians favour the idea of non-western values, while at the same time support certain democratic principles. Moscow enjoys a personalised democracy, one which permits the unique conditions of the vast and diverse country, because after all it is one of a kind. After over 400 years of being a key player in global politics, Kremlin is growing nostalgic towards the idea of re-inventing itself. Despite much critique directed at its internal development, Russia’s role within the international community should never be underestimated. Just think about its vast nuclear power, presence in the space or its oil reserves and other natural and mineral resources.
For more than a decade, Russia’s politics have been dictated by President Vladimir Putin, who during his regime has re-nationalized private assets, limited freedom of expression and pursued an expansion of regional influence. This expansion has included the widely condemned annexation of the Crimean peninsula along with military intervention in the Ukraine. President Putin’s speeches often refer to the “Russkiy Mir” (Russian world), which in his mind entitle Russia to protect population groups found in neighbouring countries due to a shared language, history and culture. This sense of urge to become part of a broader Russian world is regarded by Putin as a legitimate right, thus defending Moscow’s recent actions in Ukraine as the right to self-defence. Russia is no longer regarded as just another passive spectator in an Anglo-Saxon world but an active participant in the global order.
Yet Moscow’s honest objectives lie beyond Ukraine’s border. Mr Putin’s diplomacy seeks Russian participation with other European powers on “an equal basis”, allowing Russia to have a say on issues regarding European security and economic affairs. Establishing a Russian sphere of influence directly opposing the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would enable Russia to internally unsettle European policies – thus further intimidating Europe and disuniting it from the U.S.
Many European leaders have chosen to ignore the wider implications of Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine. Some believe that it is purely an internal conflict solvable with Russia at Ukraine’s cost, but consequently fail to grasp the concept that Kremlin’s paramilitary intervention may be part of a game plan to overturn the post-1991 international order. The frozen conflict in Ukraine allows Putin to continue savaging chunks of Ukrainian territory, forcing Ukraine each time to grant political concessions as part of an armistice to stop the conflict. This has been Moscow’s logic ever since the armistice negotiations began.
In order to put an end to this destructive process, Ukraine needs more assistance from the West – mainly the U.S. The U.S. should return to the Geneva format of negotiations about the Ukrainian conflict from which President Barack Obama has critically withdrew. While President Obama has signed legislation authorizing military aid for Ukraine, little has been done to supply defensive weapons. Many countries, including Poland and Canada, have agreed to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons but are waiting for Obama to lead the way. Only Washington’s decisive leadership can save the future of fragile Ukraine and ultimately of the Euro-Atlantic community.
Despite losing its great empire, Russia should never abandon hope for that other Russia, and we must keep faith with the ones working toward this goal. That other Russia has been recently represented by the murder of Boris Nemstov galvanizing attempts to unite Putin’s opposition. According to a satirical writer, Vladimir Voinovich, instead of allowing Putin to continue with the bloody transformation, the revolution should instead “take place in people’s minds”. A novel line has to be drawn between creating a united country instead of a disillusioned empire, where a new dialogue with Russia’s neighbours will have to be developed.
The West needs to stop hoping that Russia might one day become westernised. Moscow has no intention of cooperating with the rest of Europe. For Russia the future is a pure extension of the iron curtain driven past. While the hostile Russia-West circle should at some point break, there is little hope for some love from Russia.