Today marks a special treat for the readers here, because it is the occasion of Lyttenburgh’s writing debut. Lyttenburgh first appeared here just about this time in 2010, as Carpenter117. I don’t know anything about him, I’m afraid, other than that he is Russian-born and lives in Russia somewhere. Whatever else he chooses to reveal is up to him. As I’ve mentioned in discussion, his English has improved tremendously, although it was always good; I first noticed him elsewhere, on Julia Ioffe’s old blog at True/Slant, which was later absorbed by Forbes. Mark Adomanis was a regular at True/Slant, as well. There’s just something about Ioffe’s patronizing condescension that winds Russians up, I’m afraid.
Today’s post deals with a somewhat higher authority, which is also prone to smug condescension far out of proportion to its own claim to authority – the European Council on Foreign Relations. They appeared in the pillory here not very long ago, as I recall, and I strongly agree that their demonstrated performance suggests decades, if not generations, of dedicated and enthusiastic inbreeding.
What do Russians really think about the way the western allies view them? About their patronizing pseudosympathy? Their one-upmanship snubs, like who doesn’t get to sit at the popular kids’ table at the high-school cafeteria? The outright fabrications as it needles Russia through its popular press while its regulatory councils take their own press’s nattering for gospel?
Pull up a chair, and let’s hear. Lyttenburgh? The floor is yours.
On Europe’s Phenomenal Arrogance
A lot of august bodies have decided to share their thoughts on the current vis-à-vis between Russia and what is colloquially known as “the West”. Most of such “musings” inevitably touches the subject of the current situation in Ukraine, due to it’s being a “hotspot” in the bilateral relations. Most often we are graced by some strongly worded opinions from the veritable Legion of the Free and Independent Western press (™), or it might be even a Deep and Thorough Analysis by this or that think-tank, NGO or research facility, sharing with the hoi-poloi of the world their convoluted (and, therefore, unquestionably true) findings on the nature of things they probably didn’t even have any previous personal contact with.
And then we have something… anomalous. And huge. I’m talking here about a report (well, “commentary”, to be precise) of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a rather self- explanatory name for an organization.
The picture below the title of the article shows Moscow’s Kremlin and the snow-covered streets of Moscow. Because –apparently! – it is always gloomy and snowy in Russia. How you gonna argue with such a paragon of Western objectivity on Russia’s portrayal as the Independence Day movie, where there is snow in Russia in July?!
You might say that I’m too nitpicky. Honestly, I’ll cease and desist the very moment the West stops this kind of petty manipulation of public perception of my country.
The article from the very beginning says what it’s about:
To get a clearer understanding of the situation it might be useful to start from the other end – not to ask if the sanctions work, but to first look at the nature of Europe’s problem with Russia and ask what it would take to fix it, or even whether it can be fixed by the West at all. That will allow us to see what role the sanctions can play in remedying the problem – and what the things that sanctions cannot accomplish are.
In short – this article is about judging Russia by the esteemed people of the EUrocracy, and determining – is it worthy of their “mercy”. The author asks her audience,
“Do we want Russia to leave Donbas? Give back Crimea? Do we expect a regime change in Moscow? Or do we want Russia to start behaving “as a normal European country,” i.e. one that tries to base its influence on attraction rather than coercion?”
with the straightest face possible. Suddenly, Russia became an object of EU decisions, as if Russia now is a member of the EU (it isn’t) or that the EU is some super strong, unified world power capable of really compelling Russia to do it’s bidding (again – nope).
Unfortunately, what follows is the author’s opinion on “the nature of our Russian problem”. The author had a mighty lot of predecessors willing to find a “final solution” for the “Russian problem”. This particular individual, elevated well above her station by the simple fact that she writes for the ECFR, does the most “professional” thing possible – goes full ad hominem not only against Russian president Vladimir Putin (KGB reference included), but to the Russian people as well. You see, for the author of this “commentary”, Russians are just “rent-seeking clients” mobilized against “enemy figures – real or imaginary”. The Russian system of education (in the Soviet era, second to none – now “thankfully” reformed by the West worshiping “democrats”) plus “the state-centric way history and international relations are taught at Russian schools and universities” has contributed to the fact that the EU is “having problems” with Russia.
As a person educated in Russia by the Russian system of education (including Higher Education) I can say that this kind of claim is inaccurate. In the Moscow State University (aka “Lomonosov’s”) our professors took a lot of effort to drive us to the “multi-vector approach” of the history and historiography, taught us of many existing schools of thoughts and research. No one indoctrinated gentle young souls into some Putin-worshiping cult. I can safely claim, from personal experience, that I was educated from a plethora of historical textbooks – including extremely “handshakable” ones, both in school (state run) and at the Uni. Still, I am who I am despite (and thanks) to everything that I’ve learned earlier. So, basically implying that the Russian state is “brainwashing” youngsters in the state-run higher education institutions is a big fat lie. One only need to look at MSU’s (of Lomonosov) Journalism department to see teeming masses of “handshakables” and “not-living-by-the-lie-ers” in the making.
But the article is actually right in one regard – it admits the vast abyss that exists now between the Western perception of the current situation and the Russian one. The author is even sufficiently capable to articulate it correctly:
What makes the current standoff so tense and dangerous is not the reach of Russia’s territorial ambitions, as many suggest, but vice versa – the limited nature of them, and its psychological implications. Moscow sees itself as having given up everything: it has left Central Europe, it has left the Baltic States, not to mention Cuba, Africa and the Middle East, but now the West seems intent on ‘taking’ the last little bit that was left – ‘brotherly’ Ukraine. Of course Moscow takes it emotionally and tries to fight back.
But then, as tradition dictates, the author allows her own ideological bias to distort the rest of the narrative in what might have become an honest attempt to look at the current problem from both sides’ perspective:
The countries in Russia’s neighbourhood – in what one can call the Eastern Partnership area – received their independence semi-accidentally in 1991, when it was promptly hijacked by corrupt elites. Now, their societies are starting to mature and demand better governance, rule of law and more say over their countries’ futures. This manifests in a bumpy, but inevitable evolutionary process that the EU did not launch and does not control, but cannot do anything other than support. Moscow, on the other hand, is fixated on the elites it can control – and therefore bound to resist it. The clash is systemic, and likely to manifest repeatedly as long as the fundamentals remain unchanged.
Calling the multitude of processes that in the end resulted in the dissolution of the USSR “a semi-accident” is an admission of one’s ignorance about the history of every single country of the so-called “Eastern Partnership area”. The author also fails to mention that “societies” (the author obviously likes this term as much as she despises the term “the people”) in some of these countries indeed have found an answer how to reach a “better governance, rule of law and more say over their countries’ futures”. One only has to look at Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. And let’s not forget that Russia itself was “promptly hijacked by corrupt elites”. And what the EU “did not launch… but cannot do anything other than support” were the forces inimical to these governments, which managed, indeed, to bring better governance, rule of law (which was non-existent before) and more say over their countries’ futures (that’s it – they will have more say about it, not some “advisers” from Brussels or Washington).
And then the article lists all the reasons why the West won’t reach any agreement with Russia. The EU will continue to do what it pleases, not giving a damn about Russian concerns over “spheres of influence” because of “the OSCE charter, the principles of the Council of Europe, the founding documents of the EU and NATO and so forth”- even despite the fact that some members of Russia’s elite are indeed ready to strike a deal with them. This sort of sincerity is kinda refreshing, I must say. When a person speaking on behalf of the West freely admits that they don’t care about Russia’s opinion at all, that any real equal dialog is pointless, this sounds both arrogantly prideful and refreshingly new.
But the article also discusses some methods to “fix the Russian problem”! Once again, I’m reminded of some other high-ranking citizens of the “United Europe” of old, who had similar plans. But the new generation is much, much more merciful to the undeserving “lessers”:
Ideally, Europe would want to live next to a Russia that shares if not our values, then at least some of our interests, and uses attractiveness, rather than coercion to win allies and make itself influential. Some experts suggest that to achieve that, we need a regime change in Russia. This would be true if our Russia-problem was rooted solely in the personality of Putin and the nature of his regime – but this is probably not the case. Russia’s dominance-fixated mindset has survived multiple regime changes…
What is needed, therefore, is something much more complicated: Russia’s sincere and extensive rethink of the means and ends of its international behaviour. This is closer to an identity change, than to a regime change. And a lot trickier. While such things have happened in history, the circumstances that bring them about are generally unpredictable and tend to vary greatly – which means that this is not something that outsiders can easily bring about, and achieve a desired outcome.
One of the biggest reasons why Russians resisted so fiercely (and why the common people’s memory preserved it through generations) the many-faced West is because of its desire to “re-make” and “re-model” Russia into forms more suitable to the West. Numerous nomads from the East were up to the usual stuff – pillage, burning, slave taking. But they’ve never dictated to the Russians how they should rule themselves or how they must worship. Only the West did it and by doing it have forever earned the special degree of distrust – confirmed once again by this “commentary” of the EU institution, not intended to be read by Russian “savages” at all. While the author generously admits that “perhaps” Russia doesn’t warrant a “regime change” (which, you must understand, is sort of a norm for the Free and Democratic West – i.e. changing legally elected “regimes” for fun and profit) in Russia, she still argues for an “ideal” Russia without an independent foreign policy; she is arguing for Russia surrendering its security and economical concerns in the name of “appealing to Europe”. Oh, and she also dreams of a Russia which abandons any thoughts of allying itself with China because the EU are the good guys, and China is a “meanie”.
The article is a true hodge-podge of some brilliant epiphanies (for a typical westerner) – when, say, the author argues that the West’s blind support or Yeltsin in 1996 in face of the possible “communist revival” has been unwarranted and even harmful. But then, unfortunately, the author decides to touch upon the subject of Western sanctions, and here we might glimpse the true attitude of “what it’s all about” concerning them:
This implies a wider strategy that consists of boosting the security of the vulnerable EU and NATO members, defending the independence and sovereignty of the EaP countries, and keeping sanctions until the conditions for lifting them – implementations of the Minsk agreements or settlement of the Crimea issue – are fulfilled…
… It is good that the sanctions are linked to concrete demands – return of Crimea and fulfilment of the Minsk agreements. This provides a relatively clear conditionality that Europe needs to stick to. While the Crimea-related sanctions will probably remain in place for the foreseeable future, as a settlement of the issue is not on the horizon, the Minsk agreements are supposed to be implemented by the end of the year.
This is very notable, because in just a few paragraphs a person close to the EU analytical stuff (at least) admits that:
- Russia MUST “return” Crimea to Ukraine
- b) Russia will be held personally accountable for any failures in implementation of Minsk agreement.
And despite the fact that the author tries to distract us with all her flowery words about “one does not need to make sanctions a ‘barometer’ of Russian behaviour in Ukraine” (because, As Everybody Knows It (™) – “Russia is waging a war on the territory in the territory of Ukraine, and about Zero percent of locals actual contribute to it”), while demanding that the EU’s policy “ must consist of a refusal to roll back sanctions before Ukraine has gained full control of its eastern border”. In short – the current Kiev government can do nothing regarding their responsibilities according to the Minsk-2 accord (with the blessing of the EU, it’s implied), but Russia must be held responsible for EVERYTHING. And be sanctioned appropriately, should it falter in its duties. After all, “sanctions should be a slow squeeze that gradually reduces Russia’s freedom of manoeuvre and thereby reminds it of its misdeeds and Europe’s displeasure.”
The conclusion of the article, despite the absence of any bellicose terms, reads (at least for me) as a declaration of War against Russia:
Europe needs to be aware that our problem with Russia is long-term and multi-layered. It is clear that the sanctions are not a miracle cure to fix it all, but they need to be a small part of a bigger strategy. They are instrumental in restoring our credibility and possibly fixing a few near- or medium term goals. Getting that right, however, is important, as credibility is something Europe badly needs if it wants to influence processes in the future. Hence the necessity of sanctions – despite all their limits.
Actually, the majority of politically aware Russians won’t find anything “revelatory” in this article. It’s been a “Punchinello’s Secret” that the EU will always skew more on the side of regime in Kiev while reviewing the “fulfillment” of the Minsk-2 resolution. The Official EU (as opposed to its individual members) will always see Russia as an aggressor and the guilty party by default. While the talks about “possible cancellation of sanctions” remain a sort of tasty carrot for some people (especially for some too eager to sell Crimea for a batch of the “true” Italian Mozzarella cheese), the fact remains – the EU will renew its sanctions against Russian at the end of 2015, no matter what.
The sheer gall of claiming that “…Europe would want to live next to a Russia that shares if not our values, then at least some of our interests, and uses attractiveness, rather than coercion to win allies and make itself influential” is astonishing. Since when did the so-called “United Europe” abandon the use of “coercion to win allies and make itself influential”? What has happened to the collective memory of the Enlightened Western Public (™) (Totally Entitled to Its Own Opinion Even Without Knowing A Thing) about the events that preceded the bloody coup d’etat in Kiev on February 22, 2014?
But, despite all its flaws, I actually like these kinds of “anomalous articles” that sometimes grace the pages of the Free and Independent Western Press (™). First of all – some admissions here signify that the so-called analysts in the West are not brain-dead and that they can still understand and articulate some basic things about Russia’s perspective, in the language probably accessible to the vast majority of their target audience. Second – the article is refreshingly honest about the West’s goals and objectives in the conflict with Russia.
Yes, there is some flowery prose here, but the core imperatives are hard to miss. And, yes, I’m using the term “the West” in rather broad definition here. Despite their best attempts to conceal this, it’s rather obvious for anyone with a functioning brain that the EU sanctions against Russia applied (as they claim) due to “the unlawful annexation of Crimea”, “support of militants in the Ukrainian East” or “Russia’s as yet unconfirmed (but we are counting on it anyway!) complicity in the downing of MH17” have nothing to do with any point of the Minsk-2 agreement. In fact, right after the signing of this treaty, the EU decided to prove to the Whole Civilized World that it didn’t bow down to Russia’s demands, and issued yet another batch of sanctions.
But for every Russian who will read this article (and believe me – there will be a fair amount of them), after they get the essence of it, they will realize that this is not some op-ed by the typically “handshakable” Western outlet, that this “commentary” had been published by the Powers That Be of the EU – and that everything written herein bodes nothing good for Russia in the foreseeable future, no matter what. Russians, being the citizens of Russia, tend to react very negatively to some Western countries’ decision to “deal” with them. And the reaction will follow. As it turned out, the Westerners of old (who also had some “long- term problems with Russia”) were truly… mortified by such manner of counter-reaction.