If the Kremlin is really serious about political normalization with Europe and the removal of sanctions, it will find a way to work constructively with the EU to fight international terrorism.
A woman and children sit and mourn for the victims of the bombings at the Place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels on March 23, 2016. Photo: AP
The attacks in Brussels, the political capital of the EU and NATO, are not just another human tragedy that we face with depressing regularity. It’s an important symbolic event demanding that all members of the international community rethink the current political reality.
Heightened security measures taken in Brussels lately in connection with the arrest of one of the organizers of the Paris attacks couldn’t prevent the new tragedy. The explosions went off in the very heart of Europe. It’s obvious that the active strategy of fighting terrorism doesn’t work. New, extraordinary steps must be taken to change the situation.
For a very different take read: "Multiple explosions shake Brussels, leaving at least 28 dead"
On one hand, it’s hard for the Kremlin to keep from blaming the European leaders who brought the EU to the refugee crisis and horrible acts of terrorism with their shortsighted policies. It’s tempting to present sanctions on Russia as an example of political shortsightedness that prevents Russia and the EU from establishing a full-scale partnership to fight international terrorism.
But on the other hand, Russian politicians and diplomats cannot help understanding that gloating over security inefficiency are the last things Europeans want to hear from Russia. And by exercising such rhetoric, the Kremlin pushes the moment of political normalization and removal of sanctions even further away.
Europe today needs help, and overcoming the European crisis, not stimulating and encouraging it, is in Russia's best national interests. It's naive to think that the failure of the European integration project can somehow improve the prospects for Russia-EU relations.
What can Russia do to solve the problem of international terrorism?
Of course, only the political stabilization of the Middle East, and Syria in particular, can bring peace back to Europe. Russia, despite the announcement that it is removing its forces, keeps supporting the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and thinks that to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) it's necessary for the legitimate government to reestablish control over Syria. But will this conservative strategy really work?
Russia is betting on this strategy not because it's so sure in its effectiveness, but because Russian leaders are so sure that only such a scenario would allow Russia to retain its influence, its allies and its regional authority in the Middle East. Besides, it's beneficial for the Kremlin to uphold the idea among Russians that all evil comes from violent change of power and intervention of external forces.
There's no doubt that U.S. policy (and, partially, that of the European countries) in the Middle East led to the destabilization of the region. Of course, one could see a strategy of the West there, aimed at creating “controlled chaos” in the region, which is directed at Russia as well, as the Kremlin argues.
But a much more reasonable conclusion is that the policy of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East failed because of mistakes in the planning, very high expectations, and overestimation of powers. After years of dictatorship, Middle Eastern societies were on the brink of crisis, and it was mistakenly interpreted by the U.S. as readiness for democracy. The rise of terrorism was a result of wars and revolutions.
Today one can say with firm conviction that the old Middle East is no more existing, and that some new stable political configuration will eventually emerge from the crisis in the region.
One can only guess how long that process will take, but Russian policy can be an important factor in normalizing or worsening the relations. The Kremlin thinks that Russia will be a notable player in the new Middle East, thanks to its image of a “successful military state.” But, unfortunately, it's hard to believe in the pacification of Syria, Libya and other hotspots just because local terrorists will become scared of Russian military and aviation forces.
And if so – Russian diplomacy should create the environment for a real, not imitation, counter-terrorism partnership with the U.S. and Europe. It's time to put an end to political games and rhetoric like “we’ve suggested a coalition – they refused.”
It's necessary to evaluate soundly once again – without any imperialistic illusions and post-traumatic hang-ups from “losing the Cold War” – what Russian national interests in the Middle East are, in its relations with Europe and the U.S., and in contacts with the neighboring states.
Should we aim for reestablishing Russian influence in the Middle East, if the Middle East would be a perpetual fire that draws out national resources that are so needed within the country? Should Russians be taught the idea that the U.S and the West are their worst enemies? Is it beneficial to build relations with neighboring countries on the basis of constant mutual accusations and reprimands?
Who's the “main enemy” of modern Russia?
The desire to blame the U.S., called the “the main enemy” of Russia, for everything, makes Russian politicians make decisions based on myths constructed by its own propaganda, not reality.
The categorical pushing of the thesis that the U.S. ruined the stability of the Middle East leads to a wrong conclusion that to normalize the situation, the destabilizing factor should be removed – American influence, in all its different forms.
That's what all the resources of Russian foreign policy are aimed at: Russia is trying to use the indecisiveness of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration to fill the political vacuum in the region. Perhaps it's a great strategy from the point of view of political realism. But is political realism fit for standing up against the new challenge faced by humanity, the challenge of international terrorism?
Hasn't the time come for politicians (and most of all, Russian politicians) to understand that the recipes for providing international stability that used to work in the classical Westphalian system of international relations don't help against the emergence of new threats?
And a state that “defeated its enemies” and “strengthened its influence” by the standards of the 19th century only to become an international outcast in the 21st century, is seriously limited in resources necessary for successful step-by-step development. Moreover, such a state is under a constant terrorist threat.
Russian opponents of tough realpolitik insist that for Russia it's humiliating to be “number two” in any coalition with the U.S. and Europe. But at the same time they refuse to acknowledge the fact that economic backwardness and constrained development of political freedom is a much scarier sentence for a great state of the 21st century.
The “poor but proud” mantra may work in human relations. Maybe it even helps some politicians uphold their rating at a high level. But Russia, with its territory, resources and human capital can't feed its pride by propaganda tales of some type of “growing influence” in remote parts of the world, remaining at the same time a poor and technologically backward country with an archaic political regime.
And, most importantly, such Russia, which finds itself offended with the entire world, is not capable of participating in warding off new threats that require collective, coordinated efforts.
What should an international coalition do?
If we start from the position that the true drivers of Middle East destabilization were not the intervention of the U.S., but rather, inner conflicts within Iraq, Libya, Syria and other countries, then the guiding strategy of Russian foreign policy should be very different from simply fighting to decrease American influence.
Quite the opposite: Russia, the EU and the U.S. should act together to finish internal political transformations and socio-economic modernizations of Middle Eastern countries. Military actions should be reduced to a minimum, and preferably to cease at all.
It's obvious that such strategy can be successful only in one case: if the leaders of all the countries involved in the coalition could put fighting the universal threat of terrorism above the struggle for influence and national political ambitions. Until it happens, it's hard to expect that the attacks like the ones in Brussels will not happen again.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.