Hope in Europe
We’ve had many tough words for European Russia policy in the past few weeks, but that’s certainly not to say that all hope is lost. There are certainly women and men of conscience and courage in Europe, people who can remember their own recent history at the hands of Russian aggression, and who are calling for better policy.
And so it was last week that the EU announced a major new agreement to strengthen its ties with Ukraine and Georgia (as well as several other nations in post-Soviet space), a move that pokes a finger directly in the eye of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. The EU plans to provide over $800 million in aid over the next six years — and not just on general issues, but in a coordinated effort to secure energy supplies and prevent Russia from successfully weaponizing its oil and gas reserves. “We have been able to start the Eastern Partnership. That is a great victory not just for the countries themselves but for EU itself,” said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. EU leaders will hold summits every two years the members of the group, with the first one to occur next month. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hailed the announcement as “an important step forward [to create] stability and in the end prosperity for our region.”
That wasn’t all. The EU also announced it would spend 200 million euros on developing the Nabucco pipeline project, whose sole purpose is to circumvent Russia.
It’s only a start, of course, but it gives us hope. Maybe now at last Europe will get on with fighting a war Russia has been waging for years now. Europe needs to involve not only the EU but also NATO in direct and assertive steps to make clear to Russia that further territorial aggression in Georgia and Ukraine, or anywhere else in post-Soviet space, will be met with overwhemling military response. Europe has seen what happens when a feral, maniacal dictator is allowed to make such moves without reprisals, and it has suffered the consequences. Europe owes its children not to repeat the horrible mistakes of the past where Russia is concerned.
Russia now faces a massive recession which is horrific even based on what the Kremlin will admit; nobody will ever know how bad things really are, because the Kremlin simply won’t tell the whole truth. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that a window has opened and provided the West with the possibility to impose massive leverage on the Putin regime, which is duly chastened by the spectacular nature of its policy failure. A few years ago, blind Russia hubris meant it was virtually impossible to deal with the Putin regime through any means except blunt, brute force. Now, carefully executed “soft power” moves may well force Putin to back away from the worst excesses of his governance. If he does, that it turn will open a window through which Russia’s nascent opposition forces can jump, seizing back at least some semblance of real power that can balance Putin’s dictatorship and perhaps even unseat it.
If Europe does not want to create a scenario in which the U.S. is forced to intervene in European affairs, then it must handle those affairs itself. It would do well to listen to the words of American philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.”