In his TV address on Monday evening, Vladimir Putin made it as clear as he did in his essay last summer: He does not accept the status quo that has prevailed since the Soviet Union dissolved itself as agreed by the Soviet republics. Accordingly, the international law principles of sovereignty and territorial identity have no validity for the resulting states. This probably also applies to the three Baltic states.
Putin accuses all Soviet leaders from Lenin to Gorbachev of having enabled regional self-interest and nationalism, and thus the destruction of unity, by organizing the Soviet Union into constituent republics.
However, in his speech, it is also clear that he means the unity of the old colonialist tsarist empire. He sees himself in the historical role of restoring this empire. Since this is an almost sacred mission for him, he considers the ideas of decolonization, the right of self-determination of international law, the right to national identity, and democracy and freedom to be malicious or, nevertheless, dangerous instruments that stand in the way of this mission.
Tsarist Russia, like many other European states, has systematically pursued colonial policies since the 16th and 17th centuries. However, it made sure that these territories were permanently incorporated into a territorial unit with the Russian Empire.
Do not repeat past mistakes
The lies and accusations in his speech served only for propaganda, especially in Russia itself. That Ukraine was a corrupt state ruled by oligarchs – is he thinking of Russia itself? That foreign powers were holding a puppet government, preparing to build a nuclear bomb, and carrying out genocide against Russians in the Donbas or Odesa – Putin wants to give himself an alibi for the current deeds. This also applies to the accusations against NATO, which had not permanently stationed troops and heavy weapons in the new member states before the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014.
I think we should take Putin seriously, we should not just dismiss his statements in the sense that he is not going to do it in the end. This mistake has been made too often in history. I don’t want to write a psychogram of Putin, although it would be very interesting.
In any case, he sees this old empire as having a claim to power beyond it. Hence his demand for zones of influence outside Russia’s borders. In other words, including the states of Central and Eastern Europe that were under Soviet rule until 1990. And all this is justified by Russia’s need for security.
If every country in Europe justified revisionist claims to power with history and a need for security and also used military threats and war to enforce them, Europe would be back in the first half of the last century.
Consequences for the West
The EU, internally in particular, but also the order of Europe since the collapse of Soviet rule over parts of Europe, assumes that lasting peace is guaranteed by territorial integrity, full sovereignty of states, and close economic relations.
Putin has probably never fully accepted this status quo. Above all, however, he realized that he personally could not survive in the peaceful competition within the framework of this status quo. Economically and socially, he has failed. Helmut Schmidt’s word about the Soviet Union as Burkina Faso with nuclear weapons still applies. Because of this failure, Putin cannot afford a constitutional democracy because he and his kleptocratic elite would be swept away by his own citizens. A successful Ukraine would be a disaster for him.
What consequences must this have for the EU and the West:
1. NATO is experiencing a renaissance and must be credible in its desire and ability to protect all members.
2. The EU must finally – complementary to NATO – increase its own foreign and defense policy capabilities and do so drastically by exploiting all synergy effects and improved decision-making structures.
3. The EU must consistently use the means and funding opportunities of the internal market, trade policy, also politically, to make states in the neighborhood successful. This also applies to Ukraine.
4. The EU energy union must become a reality.
5. Since the policy of change through rapprochement has failed vis-à-vis Putin, he and especially his oligarch clique must immediately face the full consequences of his actions.
6. The offer of the USA and NATO for disarmament negotiations, which must also deal with the Russian missiles in Kaliningrad, has not deterred Putin from aggression.
7. Putin has not taken up the EU’s offers to support Russia’s economic development within the framework of partnership and modernization agreements.
Vladimir Putin can obviously no longer be deterred from war.