Russia and the West Are a World Apart
- By Gyorgy Schopflin Vasily Likhachev
- Sep. 01 2008 00:00
By Gyorgy Schopflin
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The events of the last few weeks have made it clearer than ever that Russia has no place in Europe. The invasion of Georgia, the disproportionate use of force, the presence of irregular forces, the looting and deliberate destruction of infrastructure and then the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as "independent" are all evidence of a Russia that is not European and does not want to be European.
Of course, what it means to be European has varied over time, but Russia has expressly flouted European values as they are understood by most Europeans. Russian spokesmen may insist that they are part of the common European home, but the way in which they want to furnish it is unacceptable to its other inhabitants.
The Russian answer to too many problems has traditionally been force. In the past 100 years, it has invaded practically all of its neighbors. What is puzzling about this is that Russia (while part of the Soviet Union) suffered dreadfully from violence in the 20th century, losing at least 20 million people. Yet despite this, it drew conclusions about the use of violence contrary to those drawn by Europe.
For Europe, force, if it must be used, is the very last resort and the other resources -- negotiation, discussion, debate, international organizations -- must be completely exhausted first. This commitment to nonviolent methods has become deeply embedded in the European mind-set, which is not the case with Russia. The Yugoslav wars were a vivid example, as most of Europe was opposed to the use of force to settle this conflict.
The recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia flies in the face of the position that Russia has adopted in international law with respect to Kosovo. It is a complete turnaround and marks a radical inconsistency, which may prove to be an encouragement for some regions of Russia that are less than delighted with Russian overlordship. Chechnya obviously comes to mind. Again, consistency and predictability are regarded as essential components of the present European order.
President Dmitry Medvedev has argued that the Russian intervention in Georgia was undertaken for humanitarian reasons, but that does not explain the ethnic cleansing of Georgians who remained in South Ossetia during the conflict. Besides, if Russia had been looking to bolster its European credentials in the southern Caucasus, it would not have used force at all, but would have sought to negotiate with the government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Negotiations, of course, were never taken seriously as an option for the Kremlin, which only goes to show how far Russia has moved from Europe.
The reality is that Russian tradition has little appreciation for the notion of equality of nations, which is the fundamental principle that governs Europe today. On the contrary, Russia believes in the hierarchy of raw power through which the Kremlin is trying to restore its status in the world. But the country's leaders have failed to understand that in the 21st century, violence is not the most effective means to attain that objective.
It is in this sense that the Kremlin's thinking and actions are so anachronistic for 21st-century Europe. Russia, which is still stuck in the pre-World War II era, has stood apart from the great European transformation that was instituted after 1945. After the end of World War II, three principles guided relations between European nations: There should be no more war in Europe, large states should respect the autonomy of smaller states, and power must be kept under strict restraints. The events of the last few weeks have demonstrated that Russia is moving rapidly away from the Europe that Europeans have painstakingly constructed over the last 60 years.
Gyorgy Schopflin, formerly Jean Monnet professor of politics at University College London, is a member of the European Parliament for Hungary.
By Vasily Likhachev
President Dmitry Medvedev's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is completely justified and logical. He made this decision to fulfill Russia's international political and legal obligations, achieve stability in the region, halt Georgia's military escalation, and address the humanitarian catastrophe in the conflict zones in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That step was legal and correct from every perspective -- historical, political, economic, legal and humanitarian. The main consideration has been to respond to the will of the people in those republics.
For many years, our leaders participated in negotiations between those territories and top officials in Tbilisi, relying on our own diplomats as well as those from the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But the events in August -- Georgia's aggression and U.S. geopolitical expansion in the Caucasus -- forced Russia to take appropriate and necessary measures. The Kremlin was the first to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia within the framework of international law.
It is only a matter of time before more countries follow suit. For now, however, the reaction of the international community to Russia's actions has been reserved at best and excessively critical at worst. Have purely political goals played any role in these responses? What could be the motives behind this attack aimed at the Kremlin? We see that the accusatory voices come from a broad array of NATO member states. The reactions have at times been biased, one-sided and seemingly Russophobic, but Russia will not tolerate attempts by the United States and its allies to constrain its foreign policy, nor will it allow the United States to encircle Russia with NATO members.
Russia's policy is to defend fundamental values and actions based on the principles of international law. It was Russia that rescued the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgian genocide.
When Medvedev recognized Abhkaz and South Ossetian independence, it was a big blow to U.S. global legal nihilism that Washington had practiced for so many years. Georgia's aggression against South Ossetia has proven to be a huge liability for the West because it showed President Mikheil Saakashvili's true face and his warped definition of democracy. It seems that Washington reached a pragmatic conclusion on this issue, seeing a need to turn the situation around quickly with a nonconfrontational approach.
It is now crucial that the United States and Russia work together to develop a new, constructive partnership. That relationship cannot be held hostage to the electoral ambitions and neoconservatives in the White House, who are largely responsible for President George W. Bush's foreign policy and dream of dominating the world. It would be useful to hold talks to discuss the fate of the world and its values, with the participation of Russia, the United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil and other countries. We need to establish mutual trust among all nations and actively safeguard and deepen that trust.
Now is the time for all states and peoples to consider creating a code of laws guiding the conduct of civilized states in the 21st century. Russia is already making its contribution to that process. One positive example is Medvedev's proposal for a new EU-Russia security pact. All responsible nations should unite around this vital diplomatic initiative.
Vasily Likhachev, formerly Russia's ambassador and permanent representative to the European Union in Brussels, is the deputy chairman of the International Affairs Committee in the Federation Council.