Through Ukrainian glasses: Russia is not at the border of but alien to Europe  

Ukraine is on the brink of war. Russia has deployed and is still keeping an unprecedented number of troops in the annexed Crimea and near Russian-Ukrainian border. Kremlin’s tone of voice is more assertive than ever before since 2014. In the meantime the EU is traditionally betting on a dual policy of carrots and sticks. Why Europe still holds the notion that a dialogue with Russia could lead to the desired outcome, which is having peaceful democratic Russia inside the European family? In truth, Russia is not and never was a part of Europe, states the Ukrainian philosopher Oleksiy Panych.

By Oleksiy Panych

Why European politicians stick so stubbornly to at least a phantasy of ‘dialogue’ and ‘mutual understanding’ with Russia?

Because a renunciation of this utterly disfigured ‘dialogue’ will ruin the hitherto stable world landscape they have accustomed to for at least the last 300 years – since the times of active return of Russian tsardom to European affairs and dynastic alliances.

An excellent description of this world landscape was given by Luuk van Middelaar in his ‘Alarums and excursions’ where he portrayed Russian president as one of the legitimate ‘dramatis personae’ at the European political stage: ‘Black sheep of Europe’s family, but family nevertheless’.

Fair enough?

Indeed, at least from the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century the belonging of Russia’s rulers to ‘Europe’s family’ was a self-evident dynastic fact. The October Revolution of 1917th introduced a sort of break, but the flood of Russian refugees penetrating almost all corners of Europe confirmed once again that it was a ‘scandal in the family’, not in the outer world (after all, Russian refugees are not Syrian – personally they seem to be in all respects ‘just like us’). If so, Europe seems to extend not only to Ural mountains (as it goes geographically), but all the way to Pacific Ocean. In fact, the idea is illusory (for the reasons I’ll explain below) but in many respects it is deeply reassuring.

Putin’s successful blackmail

Now Putin successfully blackmails European leaders by his seeming readiness to break off all relations with them if these relations will somehow constrain his actions – and they give way to him, step by step, because for them such a break would be much worse than even the infamous Iron Curtain. The Curtain, at least, divided European continent in half – so that on either side of it were some (right or wrong) European countries. Now the departure of Russia, e.g. from the Council of Europe  would immediately entail the terrible and biting question of the ‘eastern border of Europe’! Russia certainly lands up on the yond side of the border (and this is scary, although Putin’ seems to be quite ready for that!); all EU countries certainly remain on the hither side; but on which side are Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova?

Thus, European politicians are seriously frightened by the perspective of irreparable ‘loss of Russia for Europe’ on the spur of the unfavorable historical moment. They positively believe that this would be bad both for Russians themselves (as, indeed, they seem to be somewhat strange, but certainly ‘Europeans’), and also for Europe (first and foremost in terms of its geopolitical security). Russia’s return to the Parlementarian Assemblee of the Council of Europe (PACE) is the most illustrative case in question: top European politicians, led by Germany and France, agreed to waive PACE’s principles for a ghostly reason of ‘keeping Russian citizens under the protection of European law’ (ECHR), even despite the fact that Russia is the only member of PACE that does not recognize ECHR rulings automatically and can reject them whenever she pleases.

The bad news is that this expectable and easily understood position of the European mainstream political establishment is, in fact, fundamentally wrong and shortsighted.

A façade, no European essence

The main error here is to mistake Russia’s European façade for its true European essence.

It is a historical fact – much deeper than the last 300 years – that the body of Russian Empire (later also known as Soviet Union and Russian Federation) was formed as a cultural centaur. Its religious and artistic culture was successfully imported from the West (or rather South West), whereas its political and legal culture, since the times of Ivan I of Moscow (1288-1340) was successfully imported from Ulus of Jochi, also known as The Golden Horde – that is, from the East (or rather South East). The entire Russian history after that moment has repeatedly shown that this political and legal framework was and still remains quite suitable for territorial expansion with subsequent political control over the captured territories.

This ‘Eurasian’ duality never since escaped Russia and is quite visible in the political order of Russian Federation even today. To give just one example, Golden Horde’s baskak (khan’s local representative and tax collector) is functionally equal to the envoy from the President of the Russian Federation in a federal district, concurrently entrusted to head also the local tax administration. This means that behind the recognizable European façade of spiritual culture (which amounts to enigmatic ‘Another Europe’) lurks utterly non-European Russian statehood: in fact, a typical Eastern despotism that suffered partial destruction and territorial losses with each wave of its Europe-inspired ‘liberalization’.

Iron fist is alien to Europe

So, is Europe possible on the territories that currently belong to Russian Federation?

Generally yes (with possible exceptions). The local population is, to some extent, disposed indeed to European ways of living.

Is Europe possible on these territories insofar as Russian Federation remains a single country in its current borders?

No chance for that. To keep such culturally diverse territories under control, one still needs to rule with an iron hand. For this rule, true democracy and liberalism is a deadly poison.

Is it possible to have a ‘peaceful dialogue’ with this state? Again, no chance for that, because liberalization and democratization would put an end to not only Putin’s rule but this state as such.

That is why Russian despot in ‘Europe’s family’ is not just a ‘black sheep’ but a true Alien that has successfully penetrated inside the European body and now is deliberately ruining this body from within in order to protect his own rule from the poisonous Western influence.

However, recognition of this bitter truth entails also recognition of the inevitable perspective of large-scale future geopolitical cataclysm related to new and deep political reordering of this part of Eurasia. If a European politician will ever think of this option, his/her first predictable reaction will be: ‘Good heavens, let it not happen, and, if it ever happens, please not in my life!’

Entire Europe poisoned

On the other hand, by ‘not letting Russia go’, European politicians, despite all dosed sectoral opposition to its influence, allow the entire Europe to get poisoned (figuratively and literally) by Russian toxic political patterns, energetically fostered by Kremlin throughout Europe:

- wall-to-wall political fighting instead of compromise search (hence Kremlin’s support for both extreme right and extreme left movements in all European countries)

- political cynicism and domination of Realpolitik instead of value-oriented policy (the very tactics of having a ‘peaceful dialogue with cannibal’ at any cost successfully nullifies all basic European values).

Thus, either Europe will open its eyes to this bitter reality and refuse to accept the Russian ruler as ‘a black sheep of Europe’s family, but family nevertheless’ – or Europe runs the risk of betraying itself and suffering a major geopolitical loss just because of its recognition of the Moscow despot, in all his authoritarian rapacity, a rightful European.

A value-oriented choice would suggest the first option. The fear of consequences induces rather to risk the second one.

However, in this case Europe will not end somewhere between Vilnius and Moscow. It will end everywhere.

Oleksiy Panych is a philosopher and historian, living in Kyiv, Ukraine.