Oleksiy Panych, professor of philosophy, columnist and member of the Ukrainian Center of PEN International
Russia and European Security
Which Strategy Is Best for the West
Security issues have changed
drastically since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Read our analysis to
IS THERE STILL A PLACE FOR RUSSIA IN EUROPE'S
Speaking beside the German
chancellor in early April, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proclaimed that "the Europe we knew just six weeks ago no longer exists: Putin's
invasion strikes at the very foundations of the security of our
continent." The Prime Minister's statement showed that a long and profound
process has begun to reconsider the very foundations of European security. What
was this Europe that no longer exists? What were the foundations of its
security? Should they be reconsidered, reformed, or simply reinforced? Is it
still possible to make Russia an integral part of this security architecture?
questions are of urgent practical importance. However, the only path to
reaching practical recommendations runs through understanding some key points
TWO SYSTEMS OF EUROPEAN SECURITY
Generation after generation,
European politicians had assured themselves that there could be no peace
in Europe without Russia. Many
of them sincerely believe it even now. In fact, this mantra dates back to the 1815 Congress of Vienna, which
laid the new foundations for pan-European security after the defeat of
Napoleon. Its core idea was that of a "Concert of Europe" based on a
"conflictual balance" between the "Great European Powers,"
The seeds of an alternative and far safer system of European security would
not sprout until 1951 in Paris with the formation of the European Coal and
Steel Community. The "conflictual balance" was replaced here by
economic interdependence — so deep and pervasive that any war between the
interdependent parties became unthinkable.
However, this new system of European security did not include Russia.
Moreover, due to Russia's hostility to the West, this new system had to coexist
until 1991 with the previous one, reduced to a simple "balance" of
Moscow and its involuntary satellites aligned against NATO and the Western European
economic bloc that would eventually become the EU.
WHY ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE FAILED
In 1991, this bifurcated model of European security seemingly came to an
end with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and then the Soviet Union itself.
European politicians naturally invited Russia to join the new system — if not
fully (after all, Russia was not a member of either EU or NATO), then as much
as possible. Thus Europe after 1991, in fact, had more
than one security system but less than two separate ones: there was "strong"
economic interdependence inside the EU and "weaker" economic
interdependence between the EU and its eastern neighbors, first and foremost
We all know that Russia eventually rejected this system in order to return
to the previous model: NATO/EU vs. Russia and its allies. All that is left to
consider is why this happened, and whether it could have been otherwise.
I'll mention just two major
reasons. First: having lost the Baltic countries, Ukraine, and Belarus — which
had included Moscow's most westernized imperial subjects — Russia after 1991
remained with a less-westernized population (with partial exception of Moscow,
St. Petersburg and a thin layer of intelligentsia elsewhere) than it had ever
had after its westward colonial expansion from 1676 (the colonization of
Central Ukraine) to 1815. This alone greatly facilitated its return to what
Martin Malia in his 1989 book Russia under Western Eyes described
as "Oriental despotism" in the style of Tsar Nicholas I and Stalin.
Second: after 1991, the Russian ruling elite soon discovered that the new
European security architecture did not guarantee the security and territorial
integrity of Russia itself. In fact, the spread of Western liberalism in Russia
was poison to the Russian state because it still remained imperial, having
subordinated and re-baptized as "Russians" numerous peoples
(Chechens, Tartars, etc.) which had wanted independence from Russia as soon as
they saw even a flicker of a chance to do so. (And why wouldn't they? They are
no more "Russians" than Ukrainians or Lithuanians were before 1991.)
Thus, the harsh geopolitical dilemma which stood before Russia was to
either (1) accept the new European security coupled with Western liberalism and
meekly tolerate the further disintegration of Russian statehood (starting from
Chechnya onwards), or (2) switch to internal and external aggressiveness,
restore the previous system of "conflictual balance" in Europe, and
thus regain its major role in European security (neglected and rejected by the
West when dealing with the Balkan crises of the 1990s). The rest of the story
is well known.
The major failure of all Western politicians from 1991 to 2022 was totally
overlooking this dramatic dilemma of Russia's ruling elite. They kept involving
Russia into the system of economic interdependence with the stubborn
expectation that this was the only way forward. They did not want to accept the
fact that since 2000 Russia had been playing a totally different game, deeply
rooted in Russia's internal political problems. This Western myopia has led to
a number of bloody consequences, which reached their climax in the horrific
assault Russia launched against Ukraine on February 24. This was the
self-deceiving Europe that "existed just six weeks ago" in the words
of Boris Johnson, but hopefully "no longer exists" now.
NO PEACE IN EUROPE WITH RUSSIA
For the West's strategy of today and tomorrow, the most important lesson is
this: this geopolitical dilemma for Russia will not disappear, with or without
Putin. It will persist as long as Russia maintains its current imperial
territory, with various peoples and regions kept forcefully inside only by
combination of petrodollars and brute force.
That is why the 'no peace in Europe without Russia' mantra must be replaced by a sober recognition of the
opposite: there will be no peace in Europe as long as Russia exists as a single
state ruled from Moscow. The model of European economic interdependence has no
place for Russia as a "great power" in the outdated and unstable system
of "conflictual balance." On the other hand, Russia cannot content
itself with peaceful "westernization" based on economic
interdependence without compromising its own statehood — as shown by the 1990s.
THIS LEAVES THE WEST WITH ONLY THREE STRATEGIC
"punish" Russia, but also help the Russian ruling elite to survive
the sanctions and preserve the Russian state as it stands now. However, this
will entail gradual restoration of Russian aggressiveness just as inevitably as
it was restored in interwar Germany — for the reasons explained above.
Russia with sanctions until various centrifugal forces prevail and cause its
ultimate, rather chaotic disintegration. Obviously, this option could be just as dangerous as the first.
the true democratization of Russia — that is, the planned and controlled
transformation of the Russian imperial state now
formally called "Russian Federation" into a number of smaller
political entities with more homogeneous populations and scopes of interests,
which would have a real chance to establish themselves as democratic nation
states (possibly cooperating under the umbrella of a certain
This last option seems to be the only one that can truly provide a
long-term peace in Europe.
May 4, 2022