When discussing EU-Russia relations this week, European leaders should remember what the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell saw first-hand on his disastrous trip to Moscow in February: that we will face one Russia at a time. more aggressive.
The two main reasons for this aggression are locally sourced and no amount of appeasing Moscow will change them.
First, when Putin lamented the demise of the Soviet Union, it was not rhetoric: he really has a mission to restore as much of the late Empire as possible, whether through propaganda, corruption, or brute military force. The independence of the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and the EU itself stand in their way; hence the past conflicts and the future conflicts.
Second, the regime is gradually losing support at home and they know it. More aggression abroad and repression at home is the regime’s attempt to appear stronger than it is and to subdue anyone who opposes it. The truth is that Putin’s promise to restore the Soviet Union, which worked for the older generations, doesn’t work for the younger ones: those who grew up with vaguely Western ideas like citizens who have rights, the government that exists to serve the people (not the other way around), and the laws that apply to everyone. Ideas that the Russian government itself has preached (although much less practiced).
People in their 30s and 40s, who don’t remember much or anything about the Soviet Union, only saw a decline in quality of life (and income) over the past decade. Services and infrastructure, which tend to compare to Europe, are miserable. It’s no wonder when so much public money ends up in sticky private hands. No nostalgia project will make up for these real-life problems.
All of this discontent fueled the latest protests in support of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, as well as the example of his personal courage. Returning to Russia after an assassination attempt knowing what lies ahead has become a game changer for many.
It is clear that the Kremlin will try to scare those who demand an end to looting and anarchy. However, each blow that the regime deals to one of its critics unleashes a wave of solidarity and support in society. When they were first fined under the Foreign Agents Act, NGOs were able to raise funds for hundreds of thousands of rubles in days. Even in the face of extreme hostility from the state, independent media has enjoyed a boom recently, with viewership, subscriptions and donations rising amid protests.
Europe therefore needs a two-way strategy on Russia: offering solidarity and a helping hand to the growing number of disgruntled Russians who want to make their country a more just, democratic and peaceful place, and be prepared to confront the Kremlin with determination. . systematically punishing their aggressions and their oligarchic facilitators.
On the solidarity side, this means increased support for Russian civil society and independent media, as well as student exchange programs.
Despite the relentless attempts of the Russian state to repress civil society, it continues to provide services with great skill and confidence, helping those in need, whether they are the homeless, victims of domestic violence or political prisoners. This dynamic and courageous part of Russian society deserves our support.
The Russian government has tried to isolate the education sector from the rest of the world, but we can offer student exchanges. The more young Russians have the opportunity to experience Europe first-hand, the greater the chances of having a peaceful relationship with Russia in the future.
Not only are Russian independent media growing their national audience, they are providing a crucial service to Europe by collaborating with their Western peers in cross-border investigations uncovering Kremlin money laundering schemes within Western financial systems and assassination attempts. in Europe carried out by the secret of Russia. services. Such an incredibly brave job needs more support.
When it comes to sanctions, the EU should do what the Russian opposition has been asking for a long time: hit the Kremlin’s money and weaken its kleptocratic networks. The Kremlin runs a complex network of companies and individuals, many of whom will pose as private entrepreneurs in the West while remaining closely integrated into the Kremlin’s authoritarian structures.
Cracking down on the Kremlin’s dark money isn’t just the right thing to do; it is also the best protection for Europe itself, as all the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine the EU are based on these shady money flows.
By following this two-pronged approach, we will help Russian society to overcome difficult times ahead, to maintain our dignity as a community of values, and to enhance our own security from aggression.
Why would bowing to a fossilizing autocracy be a better option?
Rostislav Valvoda is the Executive Director of the Prague Civil Society Center.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism