fbpx

Of Respect and Belligerence

From the Financial Times:

Mr Miliband’s package is about the minimum the British government could countenance given Moscow’s disregard for the evidence amassed against Mr Lugovoi. In the short term, it is likely to attract nothing save Russian retaliation. The chill in Anglo-Russian relations may quite soon harden into a freeze. This, though, is more than a British problem. Russia’s new belligerence demands a response from the west and, above all, from Europe that is both coherent and tough. There is no need for histrionics. There is a pressing one for hard-headed resolve. A first step would be for the European Union to take off the rose-tinted spectacles that have persuaded some to cling to the idea that Russia is still on the path to democracy. There will be no such transition under Mr Putin or any chosen successor. European governments must abandon the delusion that they can guarantee their energy security by striking bilateral deals. They all end up losers as the Kremlin divides and rules. Nor can Europe contemplate anything resembling a strategic co-operation agreement while Russia blocks a settlement in Kosovo and seeks to bully the Baltic states. None of this precludes engagement, or co-operation on issues of mutual interest. Moscow has as much to fear from the nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would be likely to follow Iran’s acquisition of a weapon. Russia fears Islamist terrorism as much as does the west. It needs western customers and technology to exploit its energy resources. The west in general, and the US in particular, should be conscious of Russian sensibilities. I have heard several US officials say that, at the outset, Washington badly mishandled its plans for missile defence sites in eastern Europe. But sensitivity is not the same as granting Moscow a veto. The word you hear most often from Kremlin officials is “respect”. Russia must be afforded its due status. We must accept its place in the pantheon of great powers. Fair enough. But, with all due respect to Mr Putin, Russia will not gain the recognition it covets by crushing dissent at home and making enemies abroad. In the medium to long term it has much more to lose than to gain. Any objective assessment of the potential strategic threats to Russia locates them to the country’s south and east. The west, as Mr Yeltsin seems to have understood, is Russia’s natural ally.