The British journalist Edward Lucas speaks on the need for Ukraine to choose between the Russian dictatorships of the law and the European rule of law.
For two decades now, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the USSR, the West has been trying to grasp the new geopolitical reality. Meanwhile, political history has constantly provided new food for thought. The concept of a new cold war between the West and Russia put forward in The New Cold War by Edward Lucas, a British journalist and an editor of The Economist, is one of such attempts. In his interview given to The Ukrainian Week the author speaks on his vision of the place that Eastern Europe, and Ukraine in particular, has on the European map. He is talking not only about the current international situation but also about civilizations in the classic, Huntingtonian sense of this word.
Mandelshtam’s Russia vs. Gazprom’s Russia
U.W.: You view Eastern Europe as a frontline in your book The New Cold War. However, many theoreticians and practitioners in international politics admit that the new division lines will be between the liberal-Christian world and the world of Islamic fundamentalism, while there will be none in Europe.
“Let me begin by saying that not all Muslim countries are fundamentalist. This issue is very often simplified. The countries where Islamic fundamentalism reigns do not like Wahabis, while the latter do not like Iranians. The world that is stereotypically defined in the West as the area of fundamentalist Islam is very heterogeneous. Indeed, we have serious problems with certain aspects of Islam. But this is not at all a new cold war. Why do I believe that Eastern Europe is a frontline of the new cold war? Because Russia is trying to restore and increase its influence. This is indeed a serious problem, because it shows revisionist attitudes. Russia does not like the 1991 agreements achieved after the USSR broke up. Russia is trying to change the rules of the game.”
U.W.: In your book you show that Russia and the West often mean different things when they use such universally used concepts as the state or a state official, i.e., they speak different languages, not in the linguistic sense but in terms of values. How, then, should dialogue be built between them?
“I would distinguish the ‘language’ and values of the Russian civilisation as such and the ‘language’ of its ruling regime. There is, for example, the Russia of Akhmatova and Mandelshtam. The West definitely speaks the same language with this kind of Russia. But we cannot speak the foreign language used by its ruling regime. We can, of course, rely on our individual notions. The weakness of our Western approach is that we always ready to speak, but we often have nothing to say.
“Ukraine has adopted from Russia the political tradition that rests on the dictatorship of the law, while this is something essentially different from the Western rule of law. We perceive the state as serving the interests of its citizens, while in the Russian tradition the state is perceived as a transcendent institution headed by a sovereign ruler. The Western state relies on the modern civic notions about its role and purpose. The closer we look at these notions, the more evident the deep differences between Russia and the West are.”
U.W.: You wrote many times that it is impossible to understand Russian politics without Gazprom. What is the current dynamics in the interdependence between the Russian autocratic political system and Gazprom’s energy dominance?
“This interdependence was and remains fully symbiotic. Sometimes it all looks as if Gazprom is the energy department of the Kremlin. Or vice versa, the Kremlin seems to be the political extension of Gazprom. These are the two sides of one coin. Like other large energy companies, such as Rosenergo, Gazprom is the black cash office for the Kremlin in which it employs its people and where it can always get money for various needs.
“The personal website of Boris Nemtsov contains a good deal of information about transactions carried out by this company’s top management, which is, in its turn, ruled by the top Kremlin officials. If the Russian media had at least a bit more freedom, they would have to sort out this situation and tell Russians what is really taking place. Average people do not alternative sources of information.”
U.W.: Do you believe that now Europe has a lack of fresh ideas in understanding its own realities? For example, there is a concept of Europe developing at varying rates, i.e., regions and countries are integrated into the overall European process to varying degrees. Meanwhile, such countries as Georgia and Ukraine have found themselves essentially outside these processes and conceptions. Aren’t new approaches due and even overdue?
“I believe that viewing Ukraine outside Europe in all its dimensions is simply ridiculous and absurd. Understandably, in present-time Europe all players cannot move ahead with the same speed. There is the Western European Union, the Schengen zone, and the eurozone. All of these are different European clubs with their own interests and missions.
“I believe that we cannot permit the new EU members to be left outside the main European clubs. It is very important that Slovenia and Slovakia joined the eurozone not so long ago. We hope that Estonia will soon be able to follow suit. One wants to believe that the Eastern partnership will be an efficient tool rather than demagoguery. I would be very happy if there was more freedom too travel in both directions across all of Europe, including Ukraine.”
U.W.: In your opinion, what policy should the EU pursue specifically on Ukraine at the present stage?
“The current EU policy is rather unfortunate. I believe that the EU wasted colossal opportunities. If it had started drawing nearer to Ukraine in a more active away right after the Orange Revolution, things would look better for both sides today. Above all, the EU has to apologise before Ukraine for wasting these opportunities. Furthermore, we need to develop the cooperation network and get European experts from a variety of fields involved in Ukraine, which would be especially useful in the Crimea.
“It would be good to achieve a more liberal visa procedure between the EU and Ukraine as soon as possible, but even if this is a distant prospect, the current procedure must be transparent and fair, rather than corrupt and inefficient, as it really is today. Ukrainian citizens have to be respected and treated with no less attention than others.
“We should also develop cooperation in education: Ukrainian students need to have widest opportunities for studying in Europe. Cultural and humanitarian cooperation is as strategically important as its political counterpart.
“Personally, I call on Western European officials to establish contacts with Ukraine in the most active way. They need to come to Kyiv, Lviv, and Dnipropetrovsk and engage in real meaningful dialogue. Within five years a new generation of politicians may emerge in Ukraine whom Brussels will trust. Ukraine is a true challenge for Europe, in a positive sense.”
U.W.: Could you please comment on the statement that Ukraine is interesting to the EU inasmuch as it can be a positive example of democratization for Russia?
“Of the countries outside the EU, many European politicians are interested in, above all, China and Japan. Ukraine does not ever come into the focus of their attention. Meanwhile, some of them fail to understand the danger that comes from Russia and believe that it is moving in the right direction. They fail to see that this is a ‘political Chornobyl,’ a polluter of political air in the nearest neighbor countries.
“It would be hard to formulate the essence of the Russian Empire better than it was done by Zbigniew Brzezinski: with Ukraine, Russia is an empire, while without it is merely a country. The West has to help Ukraine write and realise its success story, which will keep it from turning into a semi-colony.”
Europe’s energy attitudes
U.W.: You say that the EU countries have ultimately failed to create the Common Energy Market. Meanwhile, Russia’s energy dominance is constantly increasing. What are the root causes behind this failure?
“The weightiest cause is Germany’s influence on certain countries. It is now promoting the Nord Stream project. Austria supports the South Stream project. On the other hand, gas consumption in Western and Central Europe is going down. If such project as Nabucco is implemented, Russia’s weight will decrease. However, the disturbing fact is that Gazprom has real influence on Germany’s and Austria’s policy.”
U.W.: What are the prospects of alternative energy production in Europe in the context of my previous question about the Common Energy Market?
“This is a question primarily for scientists. I can only speak about how it all fits with the general logic of the energy sector’s development in the West. Wind and solar energy, for example, is very expensive. It is a lot simpler and cheaper to use energy that is concentrated to begin with. The energy of biomass is promising in this respect. In general, the future belongs to new energy-saving technology. Today only science fiction authors write about the prospects of alternative energy better than journalists do.”
U.W.: Is the international consortium that involves Ukraine’s gas transportation system (GTS) only a question of time? What does it look like from the Western standpoint?
“Ukraine’s GTS is in poor technical condition. It urgently needs investments, which are unlikely to come from Russia. If a transparent system of transit is created and the consortium’s revenue is indeed spent to further modernise Ukraine’s GTS, it has big prospects and is advantageous for Ukraine. Ukraine’s GTS is constantly deteriorating, and this problem needs to be addressed, of course.”
U.W.: In March–April 1933 the truthful testimonies of Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge about the Holodomor in Ukraine were published in Great Britain. However, they were ignored by everyone, both politicians and society. How aware is Britain now of its fatal disregard?
“Spreading the knowledge of the Holodomor and this awareness are still a problem for Great Britain. Very few people know at least something about it. Unfortunately, too few visual pieces of evidence have survived, and there is a lack of films about it.
“The contemporary audience acquires information in the best and fastest way via visual presentation. We know so much about the Holocaust partly because there are many different kinds of information. The most important thing is that the truth about this tragedy started to reach public awareness when many of its eyewitnesses were still alive. Meanwhile, Ukraine experienced five to seven years of bloody totalitarianism after the Holodomor, and real research into this tragedy started only after 1991. Imagine how little people would know about the Holocaust if it had been hushed up until 1990.
“I have reservations regarding the application of the term genocide to the Holodomor. But this does not change anything. It was one of the most horrible tragedies in the 20th-century history of humankind. Nevertheless, there are other tragedies the truth about which was concealed for a long time, for example, in Polish history (Katyn) and Russian history (the starvation of Russian peasantry to death in 1932–33).”
U.W.: What is the interdependence between the results of the presidential elections in Ukraine, on the one hand, and Russia’s relations with the West, on the other? How much do they strengthen or weaken Russia’s position?
“Despite all challenges and complications of your presidential campaign, the West maintains a lively interest in its results. Another thing is that, in spite of widespread antipathy regarding Viktor Yanukovych, it has to be taken into account that the economic interests that back him are not oriented towards Russia. If Mr Yanukovych was supported by a Russian businessman, such as Oleg Deripaska, there would be more reasons for anxiety. Meanwhile, he is backed by Ukrainian business interests. He is also supported by Russians who live in Ukraine, but this is something altogether different that the Kremlin’s support.
“In fact, the worst thing is that Russia, I think, does not have the slightest desire for Ukraine to be successful. Meanwhile, Mr Yanukovych is precisely the candidate that is unlikely to make it successful, because he is not focused on carrying out reforms. He does not have a reputation of being a consistent pro-European politician. In this sense, he is indeed advantageous for Russia.”
Edward Lucas is the Central and Eastern European correspondent for The Economist, and the author of the bestseller New Cold War (2008). This interview first appeared in The Ukrainian Week. Photo credit: AP Photo.