Kant vs Machiavelli in Russia’s near abroad

The much-awaited Vilnius summit has ended in a whimper, following quite unexpected U-turns, events which confirmed suspicions of Russia’s intentions within the former Soviet Union. While the Eurasian Union may not be an effort the reconstruct the Soviet Union per se, it does fit into a broader attempt by Putin and his Siloviki entourage to limit, and, where possible, reverse the effects of the ‘geo-political catastrophe‘ that was the collapse of their former empire: writes Foreign Policy Center analystKevork Oskanian.

Russia’s project is, of course, mostly presented through the economistic language of neo-liberal rationality, combined with references to a common history and shared culture. No twenty-first century state could openly use geo-political argumentations to foist top-down integration projects onto its neighbours….

This is, ultimately, the reason for Brussels’ inability to counter Moscow’s sticks-and-carrots approach in its former dominions. Europe’s project is driven by a soft-power logic, led by a cumbersome civilian bureaucracy, and co-ordinated among 28 member states with at times diverging interests. Moscow’s, on the other hand, is very much based on hard-power rationality, driven by an elite many of whose members were formerly associated with those institutions of a single power best versed in the arts of coercion, of deterrence and compulsion (coercive diplomacy).

“As a result, the interaction between Brussels and Moscow surrounding the Eastern Partnership has become something of a dialogue of the deaf and the blind; put differently, Europe speaks Kant, while Russia speaks Machiavelli, and both these languages seem mutually incomprehensible,” he contends:

In terms of capabilities, the various former Soviet states’ vulnerabilities to Russian pressure were pointed out extensively in a previous post…..For the European Union, the Eastern Partnership is clearly more about creating a zone of stability in its immediate environs rather than providing a direct stepping-stone to membership; while desirable, the process remains optional, and certainly not central to its purpose or identity. The European Union is currently confronting multiple internal crises; but save for some embarrassment, an end to the Easter Partnership would not be seen as presenting it with a direct existential threat.

“Moscow holds the advantage in hard-power terms, while the European Union has very little leverage as it stands,” Oskanian adds:

Europe stands before a choice: learn to counter realist geo-politics with realist geo-politics, or continue its fatalistic reliance on soft power alone. Considering its institutional character, and its continuing energy dependence on Russia, a shift towards the former would seem unlikely in the short term. The alternative is to rely on the European idea’s powers of attraction, which have, incidentally, driven hundreds of thousands to rally on the streets of cities throughout the Ukraine, and beyond, during the past week. There is, however, a reason why ‘soft power’ is called ‘soft’, and attraction alone may very well not suffice to save the Europe’s floundering Eastern strategy.

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