Anyone who follows the Western media could be excused for thinking Russia is a rampant, aggressive and expansionist power just waiting for a chance to reconquer its neighbouring state of Ukraine. The reality is that despite the occasional nationalistic posturing of President Putin, Russia has turned into a classical defensive status-quo power. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia has experienced a diminishing of its power and influence. It has struggled to keep a grip in the Caucasus and faces a radicalised Islamic movement that is far more formidable than any of the forces that directly challenge Western societies. And on its Western front, Russia feels threatened by political and cultural pressure from Europe. In such circumstances, it is understandable that many in the Russian elite feel as though the very fabric of their nation is fraying.
The main accomplishment of Western, specifically EU diplomacy in Ukraine, has been to force Russia further on the defensive. Russia’s intervention in Crimea is at least in part a reaction to what it perceives as systematic foreign interference in Ukraine. What did the EU expect would happen when it invited Ukraine to join its sphere of influence? As Professor Stephen Cohen noted, this dangerous conflict was ignited ‘by the EU’s reckless ultimatum in November that the democratically elected president of a profoundly divided country choose between Europe and Russia’. The West claims that we have moved beyond the bad old days of the twentieth century, when global powers sought to consolidate and dominate spheres of influence. And yet, since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a systematic attempt to move the Western sphere of influence closer and closer to the borders of Russia. The line that divided East and West has shifted from the middle of Berlin towards the Russian border. Putin may sometimes come across as insecure to the point of paranoia. But a Russian today would not have to be paranoid to think his nation is being encircled and slowly undermined by forces hostile to its existence. Western diplomats who fail to grasp Russia’s concerns are actually the ones who have lost touch with geopolitical reality.
The EU and the US act as if they bear no responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine and in Western-Russian relations. Possibly the West has deluded itself about global affairs to such an extent that it is oblivious to its own complicity in the current crisis. Such delusions mean that the normal rules that inform international relations have given way to shallow posturing and empty moralising, always with an eye to making an impact with the media. This corrosion of Western diplomacy represents a real danger to global stability. It also undermines the moral authority of democracy. At a certain point, the politics of double standards in foreign affairs will demean democratic ideals so much that even the integrity of democratic institutions at home will come to be undermined