The dangerous logic of Russian revanchism
Archived Articles 21 Oct 2009  EWR
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Andres Herkel

The beginning of autumn brought a number of waiting periods in the field of foreign policy to an end. The positive outcome in the Irish referendum was certainly something we had looked forward to, as failure of Europe’s major joint project is something we must certainly prevent. Fragmentation is dangerous and in the worst case scenario could leave us without the united support of Europe.

The European Union fact-finding mission’s report on the Russia-Georgia war did not bring any surprises. Both Moscow and Tbilisi interpreted the report in their own favour, and no matter how thorough it might have been, nothing could keep it from being used for propaganda purposes. It could actually be said that a propaganda war was waged over the report for some time before it was released. The report was going to come out one way or another, and undoubtedly it was not possible for the mission to avoid the subject of what Saakashvili did wrong. Yet it does not also sidestep the fact that there was consistent pressure from Russia whose aim was to provoke Georgia until the last straw was reached.

At the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe we went as far as we could along the path to applying sanctions on Russia in connection with the war against Georgia. Poland and the Baltic States appeared to form somewhat of a distinct bloc, but if we look at the voting results, we actually see that they did not depend so much on the country of origin of any of the representatives but had more to do with everyone’s own individual decision. The call to continue “dialogue” seemed somewhat mystifying given that Russia has not complied with a single PACE requirement and only one Russian delegation member was present during the debate.

Recently, I read Tony Judt’s interview with Radio Free Europe. Judt is one of the best known historians of our era – his Postwar: The History of Europe from 1945 praises Estonia’s economic reforms among others – and now he is explaining how the West is going to be distanced from the Eastern European positions. Judt wants to understand a Russia that has lost such extensive historical areas of influence. The interview contains many interesting but inaccurate comparisons, such as how Americans would feel if they lost Texas and California and if their past leaders were labelled criminals, as people say about Stalin. I would like to add the historical truth that, under Stalin’s rule, a huge number of crimes against humanity were committed. Therefore, condemnation of Stalinist crimes is of utmost importance, especially in the Russian Federation.

Analyzing the reasons behind the situation, Judt notes quite correctly the overly rigid positions of Germany and France with regard to Turkey, which have forced an influential country closer to Russia’s fold in its search for strategic partnership. I would add to this a number of mistakes that are not favourite topics in the West. A big factor that led to the current situation is the fact that Russia was granted free rein for unchecked military action and human rights violations in Chechnya. The other key point is that Georgia was not given a NATO Membership Action Plan, which was followed by an explosive increase in the number of Russian provocations last year.

We are standing face to face with acquiescent or even vocal acceptance of Russian revanchism. PACE session two weeks ago produced one memorable moment: Olena Bondarenko of Ukraine put a vote on an amendment proposal that Russia must revoke its law allowing the use of force for protecting its citizens beyond its own borders. To which Nataša Jovanovic, deputy speaker of Serbian parliament, declared that Russia was once more a great power and it must have such a right (!) In terms of rhetoric, this was a relatively extreme case, but what is astonishing here is the acknowledgment of how the balance of power has changed: it is becoming all the more plain.

Unfortunately the West is not very conversant in the logic of Russian revanchism, which is the following: the more concessions they make to us, the more we will demand!

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