Europe’s Russia Problem

NEW YORK – How should Europe react to the rise of a hostile Russia on its eastern flank? Different countries have reacted differently, influenced by their historical experience and their economic interests. Yet it is essential for the European Union to develop a unified policy, reconciling these divergent national interests and attitudes.

Europe cannot afford not to resist Russia’s geopolitical aggression, and it needs to be unified to have any chance of success. Yet, the unified European policy must not be purely geopolitical, because if it were, the common interest would not be strong enough to override national interests. Russia could divide and conquer as it is doing already.

In purely geopolitical terms, Russia holds the stronger hand. Europe’s superiority lies in its values and principles as an open, democratic, peaceful, prosperous, and law-abiding society. These values hold great attraction for the people in the former Soviet Union—and that includes the leaders as well as the masses, in spite of the fact that the West did not back up its values and principles with deeds in the past. As a result, admiration of and aspiration to European values is mixed with disillusionment and resentment, and the Putin regime has been able to gather enthusiastic support by baiting the West and scoring well in the geopolitical game.

Nevertheless, Russia remains susceptible to Europe’s allure. Historically, Russia always aspired to be part of Europe, and the Putin regime recognizes that it would pay a big price if it sought to return to the Soviet Union’s isolation.