PARIS – Confronted with Russia’s reassertion of its imperial tradition and the deceptive methods and reflexes of the Soviet past, how should Europe respond? Should it give priority to “the value of geography” or to “the geography of values”?
Those who opt for the former do so in the name of short-term “energy realism,” arguing that it is vital to reach an agreement with Russia because Europe lacks America’s shale gas and oil. According to this reasoning, the United States can live without Russia, but Europe cannot.
Moreover, for the realists, America’s defiant behavior toward its oldest and most faithful allies – reflected in the recent surveillance scandals implicating the National Security Agency – has discredited the very idea of a “community of values.” If America no longer respects the values that it professes, why should the European Union lose the goodwill of the Kremlin in the name of upholding them?
Such realists also claim that by aligning the EU’s positions with those of NATO, Europe has recklessly chosen to humiliate Russia – a useless and dangerous course of action. The time has come, they say, for a policy that reconciles historical and geographic common sense with energy necessity. Europe’s future is inexorably linked to that of Russia, whereas America has turned its back on Europe, out of disinterest if not disillusion. The commemoration of a glorious past – the 70th anniversary of D-Day – cannot hide the diminished present: Though Europe may try to diversify its energy resources, it cannot do without Russia in the foreseeable future.
Why, the realists ask, should one die for Ukrainians who are even more corrupt and much less civilized than the Russians themselves? Ukraine had its chance as an independent state and failed, the victim of its political elites’ venality. It is time to close this unhappy parenthesis.
This vision is not theoretical. It can be found, in various guises, throughout the EU, on the right and the left, and in all professions. The perception of relative US decline and the EU’s deepening loss of confidence in its values and model seem to legitimize a stance that is built in many cases on the remnants of older anti-Americanism.
The other path, which emphasizes the geography of values over the value of geography, was the one chosen by the founding fathers of the European project and NATO. According to this view, failure to recognize Putin’s imperial designs would heighten the risk of Europe falling prey to a non-benevolent form of dependency.
For Europe, to heed the siren song from the East – a melody of complementarity between Russia’s strategic power and the EU’s economic power – would be akin to paying the Mafia for protection. How could a club of democracies be entirely dependent for its security on an authoritarian power that openly despises their “weak” political systems?
It is no coincidence that this Russian discourse opposing democracy, immigrants, and homosexuality should find support among the EU’s most conservative, extremist, and nationalist parties. By contrast, the strength and attractiveness of the EU model depends upon its democratic nature. Europeans who have stopped dreaming about Europe, who take peace, reconciliation, and above all freedom for granted, do not realize what is at stake.
To embrace an “energy raison d’état” that leaves Europe dependent upon Russia for about one-third of its energy resources would be suicidal. Alternatives do exist. Europe can say no to the Kremlin and Gazprom if only it has the will to do so.
The only possible policy that can be both realist and dignified consists in a combination of firmness and resolution to set limits to Putin’s Russia. It is precisely because America is no longer what it used to be (having done too much under George W. Bush and too little under Barack Obama) that Europe’s values-based alliance is more indispensable than ever.
It is these values that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and motivated the demonstrators in Kyiv to brave the brutal Ukrainian winter outdoors on the Maidan. From Asia to Africa, people seem to have a much better understanding than Europeans of the significance of European values. You just have to listen to them praising the continent of peace, reconciliation, and even relative equality (compared to the US).
For the EU, the choice has never been clearer. If it is to survive and prosper, it must set the geography of values above all else.