Russia’s annexation of Crimea made Europeans suddenly realize that although the EU’s political model was admirable, it was unlikely to become universal or even spread to many in its immediate neighborhood, say two prominent analysts.
Russia has been searching for a new European order for over ten years, one that can secure the regime’s survival even after Vladimir Putin, according to Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard. But what Putin wants from the West is something that it is unwilling and unable to promise him, they write for the European Council on Foreign Relations:
In 1943, Joseph Stalin dissolved the Communist International to convince the Allies that his priority was the defeat of Nazi Germany, not the triumph of the Communist revolution. Putin has been hoping that the West would similarly end its policy of promoting democracy. …. Unfortunately for Putin, this is not something the West could either promise or deliver. There is no “Democratic International” that is spreading democracy in the way the Comintern supported international revolution – and what does not exist can also not be dissolved.
The annexation of Crimea showed that the West had got Russia wrong on a number of counts, Krastev and Leonard contend:
Firstly, Europeans had mistaken Russia’s failure to block the creation of the post-Cold War order as assent. They mistook weakness for conversion. After 1989, it was the Soviet Union and not Russia that embraced the European model. ….
Secondly, European leaders and European publics fell victim to cartoonish depictions of Putin’s elite. … Russian elites are greedy and corrupt, but some of them also dream of Russia’s triumphant return to the global stage. …The Russian elite, more than the European elite, tends to think about its role in history and to combine mercantilism with messianism. The nature of Putin’s revisionism was more profound than Europeans realized. ….
Thirdly, Europeans failed to appreciate the psychological impact of the “color revolutions” and the global financial crisis on Russia. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was Putin’s 9/11. Since then, the Russian president has viewed remote-controlled street protests as the primary threat to his regime. The Kremlin is convinced that all color revolutions in the post-Soviet space, including the protests in Russia, have been designed, sponsored, and guided by Washington. ….
Fourthly, Europe miscalculated the advantage of strength. Western analyses comparing the West and Russia were full of figures and graphics demonstrating the West’s advantages in economy, technological development, or even military spending. But while it is true that the West is stronger than Russia, Europeans neglected what David Brooks has called “the revolt of the weak”….
“The annexation of Crimea has forced the EU to confront the fact that its post-modern order is not going to take over the continent, let alone the world. It is clear that Europe is not going to remold Russia in its image – but nor can it accept a return to the balance of power or spheres of influence,” Krastev and Leonard write in “The New European Disorder”:
The EU must co–exist with its powerful neighbor, by deterring aggression, decontaminating the values-based institutions of the European space, and by cooperating with Russia’s own integration project, the Eurasian Union. This offers the best chance for shifting Russia’s activities from the military to the economic sphere.
The urgency for decontaminating values-based institutions comes from the growing popularity of Putin’s “sovereign democracy” among some in the EU. For instance, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently declared: “We are searching for and we are doing our best to find – parting ways with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them – the form of organizing a community that is capable of making us competitive in this great world-race.”15 For Orban, Putin looks strong and decisive and European democracies look confused. The EU must convince Orban that Putin’s model can work outside of the EU, but not inside it, and it is up to Hungary to make its choice.
The authors cite the United States’ relationship with China – two regions co-evolving and engaging with each other but with clearly demarcated red lines – as a model for a new EU relationship with Russia. The essay outlines a roadmap for rebuilding engagement with Russia by:
- Maintaining NATO as the major provider of credible security guarantees for the territorial integrity of EU member states.
- Considering the expulsion of Russia from “value institutions” like the Council of Europe to protect the liberal nature of the EU project.
- Engaging with the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union to acknowledge officially that Russia has the right to have an integration process of its own.
Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre of Liberal Strategies in Sofia, permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and a council member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum. His most recent book is Democracy Disrupted. The Global Politics of Protest (UPenn Press, 2014).
Mark Leonard is co-founder and Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He writes a syndicated column on global affairs for Reuters and is Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on geo-economics. He is author of Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century (Fourth Estate, 2005) and What Does China Think? (Fourth Estate, 2008).