One of the many sad things about the current poor state of Russian-Western relations is the crazy hyperbole being used by commentators on both sides of the divide, accusing each other of the most ridiculous actions and intentions. The degree of exaggeration has of late reached occasionally frightening proportions.
On the Western side, a couple of recent examples are an interview conducted by Ben Judah with former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorsky and an article by billionaire George Soros in The New York Review of Books entitled ‘Wake Up, Europe’.
Sikorsky, who has since had to retract some of his statements, remarked that in Russia the annexation of Crimea ‘was the moment that finally convinced all doubters and turned all heads. This was Napoleon after Austerlitz. This was Hitler after the fall of Paris. This was the moment that finally centralized everything into the hands of Vladimir Putin.’ ‘What is happening now is the full embrace of neo-imperialism,’ Sikorsky told Judah, who in turn added that ‘Fear has returned to Moscow. Paranoia has gripped Russian officials and business elites.’
Soros, meanwhile, writes that ‘Europe is facing a challenge from Russia to its very existence.’ ‘The Russian attack on Ukraine is indirectly an attack on the European Union and its principles of governance,’ he continues, ‘Not only the survival of the new Ukraine but the future of NATO and the European Union itself is at risk. In the absence of unified resistance it is unrealistic to expect that Putin will stop pushing beyond Ukraine when the division of Europe and its domination by Russia is in sight.’ In response, Soros concludes, Europe should understand that ‘All available resources ought to be put to work in the war effort even if that involves running up budget deficits. … It is high time for the members of the European Union to wake up and behave as countries indirectly at war.’
This is nonsense. The European Union is not at war, and European dominoes are not about to fall if the Ukrainian government does not prevail in its struggle in Donbass.
Alas, people in the West aren’t the only ones speaking like this. Many in Russia are too. Sergei Glazyev, an economic advisor to Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly expressed his view that the West is waging an undeclared war against Russia. ‘U.S. actions in Ukraine should be classified not only as hostile with regard to Russia,’ he writes, ‘but also as targeting global destabilization. The U.S. is provoking an international conflict to salvage its geopolitical, financial, and economic authority. The response must be systemic and comprehensive, aimed at exposing and ending U.S. political domination.’ In particular Glazyev recommends ‘undermining U.S. military-political power based on the printing of dollars as a global currency.’
Glazyev is not alone in propagating views of the latter sort. There is a common perception among Russians that the chaos created by Western interventions in countries such as Iraq, Libya, and Ukraine is not an unfortunate by-product of mistaken policies, but a deliberate objective. This is also a wholly incorrect view of the world. Stupid we may be, but Machiavellian in that respect we are not, especially as it is hard to see what real benefit we in the West would gain from creating disorder around the globe.
Were all of the crazy talk restricted to the fringes of public discourse, it would not matter. Unfortunately, important people with money and influence are perpetrating it, and proposing policies which if implemented would have highly negative consequences. It is time for everybody to calm down a little. Russia is not pursuing a new imperialism. Europe’s existence is not under threat. The West is not seeking the destruction of the Russian Federation. And less hyperbole would be better.