Is Russia dangerous?

Is Russia dangerous?

Mainstream French media often rely upon the perception of global politics, which is mostly based on the, so to say, “western” kind of a paradigm. Reading Le Figaro in the morning, while drinking cup of coffee somewhere in the countryside of Normandy, you will easily find out Putin “used” chemical weapon in Syria (and our Ministry of International Affairs would be the first to blame Russia for it!), Russian Army is about to invade some Baltic state country, Crimean people are being persecuted for everything (especially – those who we call Crimean Tartars), and the mere Presidential election in Russia has been corrupt and “stolen”. And, yes: here, in France, we have heard about Skripal case (and we hope this is to be investigated just and thoroughly), we are pretty sure RT is sometimes bias, but is this all, what we should know about Russia?

Russia has largely been demonized by mainstream French media for quite a long period of time. And when I hear somebody being “demonized” I ask myself a question, whether it’s fair or not and make an attempt to understand both sides. That is how I got to the conference of French Communist Party. The party organized round table conference and invited political scientists, who expressed their opinions on global agenda in generaland on Russian agenda in particular. I’ve always been interested in politics, so I spend great time there, and this is what I’m going to tell you about in this article.

Andriy Manchuk, Ukrainian historian and journalist, chief-editor of Liva.com.ua electronic newspaper told the audience a number of interesting things. To be honest, sometimes I read this newspaper via browser-translator, since I’m interested in “left-wing agenda”, and I find it good source of information even on some French topics. For instance, Mr. Manchuk told the audience about frightful results so-called “Euromaidan” of 2013-2014 led in the context of Ukrainian inner and external politics, because that was not true people’s revolution, but rather was a state coup directed by the oligarchs, who came into power afterwards. Those oligarchs relied much on the support of right-wing paramilitary groups, so these groups became the main actors of “Euromaidan”. Anticommunism and nationalism, as well as anti-socialist reforms, thus became the main ideological vectors of new course in after-Euromaidan Ukraine.

Then, Mr. Manchuk paid attention to the fact that such politics led to the upheaval in the South-East regions of the country, where people tend to support pro-Russian course and felt pretty convenient with the “previous” political regime. They also understood how close the economies of Russia and Ukraine were, so that was not a surprise at all, when drastic change of the course affected them personally. Ukrainian economy, mostly built back in the Soviet era, is now in ruins: all the spheres of it, starting from car industry to aerospace industry, couldn’t survive such sharp turn. High rate of inflation is also a factor of Ukrainian economy going down.

So, was Russia an enemy of Ukraine before “Euromaidan”? Of course, not: Russia used to buy Ukrainian products and was the main trade partner of the country. Is Russia an enemy of Ukraine after “Euromaidan”? The answer is the same, since Russia is still important trade partner of Ukraine. Ukrainian products, most of which are pretty outdated, basically can not compete against European products, so, despite officials in Kyev say the country is in “the state of war against Russia”, Russia still helps Ukraine very much. Bad thing radical groups of Ukrainian people, such as “Pravyy Sektor” will always consider Russia and Russians enemies of the Ukrainian state, no matter what.

Moreover, saying that existing social system of Ukraine is “rudimentary” and “Soviet”, demolishing it, Ukrainian officials strike at millions of ordinary Ukrainians, and that also was one of the main theses of Mr. Manchuk’s speech. Sometimes these anti-social reforms are conducted by foreign “specialists”, who are invited by Ukrainian government. Those “specialists” know nothing about the country they are going to work in, neither about the history of it, nor about real socio-economic situation there. Ukraine has converted to “satellite-country”, it’s now completely dependent on the funding from the U.S., European Union and many western economic institutions. Ukraine has already got the amount of debt not just one following generation of Ukrainians will have to pay off. Almost 80 % of Ukrainians live below the breadline, Ukraine after “Euromaidan” is one of the poorest (if not the poorest) countries in Europe. So, shall we still call Russia an enemy of Ukraine?

Some journalists and political scientists (especially, here, in France) might say: “well, this is what transition from the autocracy to democracy looks like, just wait a little bit, and everything is going to be normal there, in Ukraine”. Unfortunately, this also doesn’t seem to be fair, since Ukraine is not gaining, but rather losing most of its freedoms nowadays. Hundreds of people have been arrested for the last three years, left-wing parties have de-facto been declared illegal. Ethnic minorities’ schools are about to be closed according to the latest law (starting from 2020), some minorities even experience “pogroms” and other kinds of discrimination. This certainly is not the way European democratic country should look like these days. Should Russia be blamed for it as well?

Francisco Wurtz expressed the opinion in the support of the organization of new channel of communication between Russia and EU, that could also be named, “Helsinki 2”. This platform would help Russia and EU understand, hear and respect each other better. What we see nowadays, according to Mr. Wurtz’s opinion, is that Europe should also be blamed for the current crisis in its relations with Russia, because NATO still tends to expand to the East, and its non-expansion was one of the key issues back in the beginning of the 90’s, when Warsaw Pact organization was about to be dissolved. Seems like NATO and EU have just deceived Russia, and now call that country an enemy? It simply doesn’t make any sense.

And, of course, not only Russia, but President Putin is being constantly demonized as well. However, as Olesya Orlenko told in her report, Putin came to power in the year of 2000, because the regime of oligarchs’ rule, established in Russia shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union, couldn’t reform itself, so he was needed. Putin managed to find compromise between different political parties and structures, and this still keeps him in power. Moreover, Putin solved a number of socio-economic and political issues (for instance, he victoriously ended the war in Chechnya), so the standards of living of ordinary Russians have improved dramatically, and the positive changes are still visible. Olesya has also paid attention to the fact Russia is always open and ready for the international dialogue, and, actually, that by imposing sanctions on Russia, politicians in the West thought it would affect Putin’s popularity among Russians, but the effect achieved had been strictly the opposite, so he won latest Presidential election with impressive result. The sanctions themselves seem to be much more harmful to us, Europeans, than to them, Russians. Olesya Orlenko also agreed with Mr. Wurtz, that the expansion of NATO was a big threat for Russia as well, so the whole external policy of Russia is “provoked” by the mere fact of this “uncontrollable and unstoppable” expansion.

Why should we do that? May be we, Europeans, should better learn from Putin and Russia, rather than blaming them for everything? May be Russia is not that dangerous, but we, Europe, pose much greater threat to that country?

These are the questions I’m going to think about next time I’ll be drinking coffee in the countryside of Normandy, while reading Le Figaro in the morning.

Pierre Bergeroo