As V. Putin continues with his threats, blackmail or trolling of Ukraine and the West, there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive understanding of reasons for such behaviour of the Kremlin, as well as of proper answers to the challenges created by such behaviour. I decided to bring my input into a discussion, in the form of “10 points for an answer.”
- Russia under Putin – new “sick man of Europe”: internal authoritarian weakness and external post-imperial weakness are the major features of the sickness. Their combination makes Putin behave in a desperate way. Internally, Putin is afraid of Navalny; externally, he is afraid of success of democratic Ukraine. People of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia are fed up with authoritarian regimes, kleptocracy, persecution of democracy and absence of the rule of law. Weakness and sickness of Russia under Putin comes from the authoritarian structure of the Kremlin power, as Putin is not able to modernise himself and to modernise the country.
- “Sick man of Europe” as a “military gendarme” in the post-Soviet authoritarian area – ironically, this way Putin is “creating” pro-western societies around Russia. “Gendarme’s” support for toxic authoritarian regimes in Belarus and Kazakhstan does not make Russia more popular in those countries. Quite the opposite. The war, which the Kremlin started against Ukraine in 2014 and which Putin now threatens to intensify, consolidated pro-western orientation of Ukraine and legitimises Ukraine’s struggle to strengthen its defense capabilities. Even neutral countries – Sweden and Finland – are pushed closer to NATO by the irrational behavior of the “sick man of Europe.”
- Future of democracy in Russia, not a dialogue with autocratic Putin, is a long-term goal for new security architecture in Europe. Democracies do not fight with each other. “Europe – whole, free and at peace” is possible only if Russia will transform itself into Democratic Russia. Investments of the West into dialogue with Putin will not make him a peaceful liberal democrat. Only our dialogue with the Russian civil society can assist Russia’s transformation to democracy.
- Authoritarian Russia under Putin is the biggest threat to geopolitical security of the European continent. NATO was created in 1949 as an answer to Stalin’s military threats to Western Europe. Putin’s military threats to Ukraine and to the West in 2022 are the only reason why NATO has to be expanded and strengthened. Only when democracy will prevail in Russia, will there be a real possibility to discuss new security architecture on the European continent.
- Strong and able to defend itself, Ukraine will deter Kremlin aggression. Political, economic or military weakness of Ukraine or of the West will provoke Putin for further threats and aggression. If the West wants to strengthen deterrence against the Kremlin, it should politically, militarily, economically invest into Ukraine. If a NATO membership action plan is still not decided, delivery of defense weaponry to Ukraine should be a top priority for all NATO/EU Member States.
- Integration of Ukraine to the EU is as important as integration of Ukraine to NATO. The EU is not strong in its “hard power,” but it is very strong with its “soft power” of integration. EU integration is the only way to create economical and political success of democratic Ukraine. As an answer to Putin threats, the EU should provide more ambitious and practical integration agenda for Ukraine (and the entire Association Trio), with the first intermediate stage based on the formula “everything, but institutions”: full integration into Single Market (https://www.ui.se//centrum-for-osteuropastudier/guest-commentary/the-future-of-the-eus-eastern-partnership-policy-everything-but-institutions/).
- Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine will be treated as international crime in a special International Tribunal. Putin needs to know in advance not only about very painful sanctions, which the West will implement against Russian economy and the Kremlin leadership if they will start military invasion of Ukraine. Putin also needs to know that such invasion will be treated as major international crime and that his personal legal responsibility will be investigated by a special International Tribunal.
- Threats to start a war is also international crime. The West should show in a very clear way that threats to start a military invasion is not an acceptable way to initiate “dialogue” on security issues. According to Western national criminal codes, a threat to kill someone is an offense, punishable by imprisonment. A threat to start military invasion and to kill a large number of people should be defined as an international crime.
- “Green Deal” as Achilles’ heel of autocracy in Russia. According to data of the European Commission, implementation of the “Green Deal” in the EU will cut gas imports from Russia by 60-70% after 2030. Such perspective will push Russia towards major structural changes in its economy. They can be achieved only with deep changes in the political architecture of Russian governance. If transformation to democracy will not happen earlier, than Russia will prove the formula for the post-Soviet area: no gas – no autocracy.
- Marshall Plan for a Democratic Russia: The EU, together with experts from the democratic society of Russia, needs to start elaborating a clear strategy of its future relations with Democratic Russia once the democratic transformation of Russia will happen. Such a relationship will cover a broad range of issues and reforms – starting from real cooperation on geopolitical security issues and ending with concrete instruments of free trade, free visa and assistance for modernisation. Such an EU strategy will be very much needed in order to assist young a Russian democracy to stabilise itself and not to fall back into the traps of nostalgia for the imperial past, nationalism, radicalism or populism, as it had happened at the end of 1990s and brought about the autocracy of Putin.
Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament, former Prime Minister of Lithuania