THE RUSSIAN ENIGMA
Consider now the third wall of the triangle, Russia, historically (in modern times) and geographically nearest to us. The nearest always looks biggest. These days the budget of the Russian Federation compares to that of Poland or the Kingdom of the Netherlands. But what are we in our miserable poverty to do with distant kingdoms?
Broadly, Russian history exhibits periods of outwardness and emulation of Europe (Peter the Great, Gorbachev, Yeltsin) alternating with times of retreat and self-isolation (Lenin, Stalin most of all, Putin).
The geographical withdrawal of the past half-century, beginning with Yugoslavia, Austria, then the Central European countries and finally the Baltic countries and Ukraine, is clear, but the question remains whether Russia will completely depart the European project (in the sense of application of the standards the EU is introducing both internally and where possible on its periphery), and whether it can leave the project without accelerating its collapse and post-imperial political stagnation in the forms as offered by Vladimir Putin.
Has Russia's decay come to a halt? This is the question for all of us.
Nobody should expect any good outcome of this process. The post-imperial structures Russia heads - the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Economic Community, the Common Economic Space - are falling apart right before our eyes and the chain of "color" revolutions is proof.
It is more and more clear that Russia is unable to draw its own boundaries because it hasn't yet defined what Russia is, where its borders are, and how it sees its own future. Nevertheless, the people have faith in Vladimir Putin. Except for a few odd groups of "new outcasts," society has picked no fights with him. It has accepted him. Yeltsin's models of Europeanization didn't fit. Everything came down to mere corruption.
Putin, instead, offered Russia an old imperial trench coat with either a Nicholas I or a Stalin-Dzerzhinsky cut. The choice is not in favor of freedom but of russkoye gosudarstvo ("a Russian state"). The gosudarstvo is back, and freedom by force of habit has to retire to the kitchen.
Many people like this development. And not only people in Russia, but also others who are pleased to see what looks like a powerful player filling the geopolitical hole in the east of the continent. Geostrategists far removed from the issues of freedom in the great eastern empires (China as well as Russia) have begun to talk of the "return of Russia" to Europe (for instance, Emmanuel Todd in Après l'empire).
Rather than Russia joining the European project as a means of expanding freedom, though, they talk of Russia being brought on board as a resource pool. In other words, Russia is given a role something like that of Saudi Arabia. It does not matter what type of regime rules as long as it diligently supplies crude oil. This is the policy that has been always pursued by old imperial America. But does this policy become post-modern Europe?
This is the question for the Europeans. They have to decide what their greatest concern is: the Russians themselves and the status of freedom in Russia or Russia as a state and an energy supplier. Then comes the question whether neo-imperial Russia is really capable of ensuring a long-term, consistent supply of energy resources and security in the east of the continent.
ANALYSIS: by Taras Voznyak, Editor in Chief I (Yi), a Lviv-based journal of politics, philosophy, and culture Transitions Online (TOL), Prague, Czech Republic
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