Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, and Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Russia in Global Affairs, talks about whether the West’s démarche will become a new Gavrilo Princip assassination for the world.*
The governments of two dozen Western countries have practically simultaneously announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats. They have thus expressed solidarity with Great Britain, which has accused Russia of poisoning former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.**
The U.S. has expelled 60 diplomats, Ukraine has expelled 13, and some European countries from one to four Russian diplomatic officials. Of course, the expulsion of a few people might seem more like a symbolic gesture. Yet, it’s necessary to understand that such an en masse, coordinated action on such an issue – which, strictly speaking, has nothing to do with the majority of the countries that took part in the political initiative expelling Russian diplomats – is an unprecedented thing. The fact that the U.S. expelled almost three times more diplomats than the victim Great Britain makes one wonder who’s the primary director and beneficiary of the new crisis in relations between Russia and the West.
The fact that several EU countries — Austria, Slovakia, Cyprus and Greece — declined to take similar measures doesn’t change the overall picture. If, let’s say, Italy had joined them, it would have said something. Italy has always been the most authoritative among the countries that come out in favor of dialogue with Russia, and it reacted extremely negatively to the sanctions war. But this time, apparently it was explained to Rome just how important it was to demonstrate solidarity.
In essence, Europe was forced to support the “party line” in a case that’s still anything but clear cut. So it’s possible to talk about the success of the U.S. and Britain in consolidating Europe on an anti-Russian basis.
Unfortunately, it’s too high-profile a move for everything simply to calm down and return to normal. Most likely, Moscow’s response will soon follow. Washington is already reacting to it: Washington has said that a response by Russia would be taken as an escalation. In essence, we can now officially acknowledge that we’ve entered into a period of a real cold war, with all the attendant consequences.
However, this cold war has an important difference from the previous one. Forty years ago, although Europe was a reliable U.S. ally, all the major European countries — France, Germany and Italy — nevertheless pursued their own policy line and had room to maneuver. Now the Old World is submerged in its numerous problems, and in foreign policy, follows the U.S. lead rather less willfully.
Moreover, the current conflict will unfold largely on the economic—and not the military—plane. It means sanctions, right up to and including extremely tough sanctions like those against Iran, and cutting Russia off from major markets and capital. This tactic is not without basis, because unlike in the days of the Soviet Union, our country today is part of the global economy, and every such blow can’t help but impact us.
Tension is also rising in the area of public opinion. The image of Russia as a rogue nation is gradually being created. In the speeches of many leading British and American politicians, Vladimir Putin is presented practically as the new Saddam Hussein, with some obvious adjustments for the scale of the state he leads.
As a consequence, many Russian-European strategic projects — Nord Stream 2, for example — are at risk of breaking down. Although Germany’s own interest in the pipeline’s realization remains, in an atmosphere of universal hysteria in which Moscow is accused of every sin, and comparisons between Russia and Nazi Germany are heard in the British parliament, it’s hard to imagine that the routine process of negotiating a project with the Kremlin will continue without hindrance.
How can Russia respond? We have practically no means of pressuring Western countries economically – with the exception of energy supply pressure, but that would be to our own detriment. A demonstration of military power, on the other hand, is available. This leads to a situation where Moscow highlights military themes. The moves by Western countries in response, which defiantly expand the military contingent on our western borders, don’t improve the situation.
As a consequence, the military threats associated with the Cold War are slowly but surely returning. Time will tell how events develop going forward. And it won’t be long – everything is developing much faster now than it did before.
*Editor’s note: Gavrilo Princip was a Bosnian Serb member of a Yugoslavist organization seeking an end to Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914, triggering World War I.
**Editor’s note: The GRU or Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye, is the main military foreign intelligence service of the Russian Federation.