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12 February, 2014

A Unilateral Cold War of Russia: Debating with a Euroliberal

What could be a proper metaphor for a unilateral war – the war that has been waged in the void and with much sound and fury, yet that has no real adversaries? The war waged by the self-chasing ghost? Or that by a Don Quixote stripped of any ideals of chivalry, and confined to the fight against a series of imagined phantom-enemies?

Not exactly. The war may be waged against oneself, one’s history, and past. A person, as we know, can be inadequate to the world. So, too, I add, can be a political regime shaped by a revenge-seeking and single-minded political clique. Once the flesh-and-blood foe is non-existent, we have to manufacture one – provided we cannot exist otherwise than through the war waged on phantoms of our imagination. If a regime cannot build and sustain its identity otherwise than through the ghost chasing, an enemy is supplied by the propaganda machine.

All I say here applies to present Russia better than to anything else. That Vladimir Putin and his clique fight the war lost by the Soviet Union is more than obvious. The French semiotician of Lithuanian background Algirdas Julien (Julius) Greimas once said that nothing can be more comical in intellectual life than to be a generation behind in one’s polemics and fights. What happens, then, if an entire state begins waging a war that has been finished a long time ago?

Russia tries to change the outcome of the Cold War by waging a new one. Yet this time the war is less global and more connected to overtly imperial concerns than to incompatible ideologies or clashing political doctrines. Russia hardly wants to change the world around it – it rather wants to dominate its former satellites and colonies by making them reject the idea of becoming part of the West.  

That Russia began its new Cold War against the West is rather old news – Edward Lucas has already warned us about it. Yet what remains underneath the new mayhem is the fact that this time the war is more or less old-fashioned in its content, yet absolutely novel in its form. In fact, it is a unilateral and undeclared cold war. Russia waged the war on its former breakaway republics and non-obedient parts. A unilateral war it is, as the West does not take Russia seriously anymore.

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I will never forget how hard I tried to push the Euroliberal No. 1, President of ALDE Guy Verhofstadt, in the beginning of my mandate as an MEP concerning the necessity, as I thought, to come up with the list of potential threats to the EU in terms of human rights violations, contempt for civil liberties and human dignity, and overt hostility to Europe as a political project. In doing so, I immediately switched to the political tune precious for the East European’s ear and heart – namely, that you Western Europeans still prefer to live in a beautiful fairy-tale refusing to open your eyes and come to terms with reality. You shamefully allow Russia to undermine the European project by blackmailing and intimidating newcomers to the EU and all Eastern European nations that seek decent and dignified life in the EU. That’s what I told him in a more or less courtly manner.

President of ALDE (the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the EP), just smiled, nodded, and uttered a brief phrase: “True, dear Leonidas, nobody argues with you that this is so. Yet you have to get rid of an old image of Russia, as I clearly see it now as a weak and noisy political entity.” These words call for a figure of speech, rather than a sheer affirmative answer.

C’est vrai et c’est faux. Right and wrong. True and false. The answer is correct, since Russia is just a shadow of the power it used to be in its former imperial incarnation as the Soviet Union. In the 1970s, the USSR and the USA were two superpowers that had their lion’s share in global power structure. In 2014, no matter what Vladimir Putin thinks, Russia hardly qualifies for the club of the most powerful and important states. It bears much family resemblance to the most corrupt African states becoming increasingly distanced from the USA and the EU.

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Whereas the former USSR – with its ideological charms and deceiving and seducing powers that captivated much of Europe and Latin America – seems to have been a Shakespearean tragedy, present Russia appears as a farce. It is a mafia state and a banal cleptocracy, instead of the former Jerusalem of the Proletariat or the proud heir of the Enlightenment project. The former USSR was able to fool millions of ambitious and dissenting minds, whereas Vladimir Putin’s Russia is capable of attracting/corrupting only a European political Russophile of Gerhard Schröder’s type or casting the spell on the far Right – the new useful idiots of the Kremlin now appear to be Marine Le Pen and her likes, instead of the folks of Lion Feuchtwanger’s or Jean-Paul Sartre’s cut.

So much for “yes” to Verhofstadt. As for “no” to his position, let me give him much credit for being able to correct himself. His position on Ukraine shows that the EuroMaidan has served as a wake-up call for the European political class. People got back to their senses clearly realizing that no matter how weak, inefficient, and noisy Russia could appear, it lends itself to evil harming and undermining the strategic interests and future projects of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Armenia. His uncompromising and principled stance on Russia, along with his respect for and sympathy to Ukraine, allows us to get a powerful voice to back Ukraine’s battle against the evil of banality.

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Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Ukraine fights not only for its soul, as Tim Judah aptly put it in his recent article on Ukraine. Ukraine fights for the soul of Europe opposing the evil of banality whose essence lies in exercising power for no meaningful reason and with no love for humanity.

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