While Europe slept
The sleep of reason brings forth monsters, says the Spanish proverb, which is also the idea behind Goya’s etching from his Caprichos cycle. The sleep of Europe’s reason brought forth a monster in the Putin regime of the current chief of the Kremlin. That was almost directly the thought voiced recently by Swedish ex-Foreign Minister Carl Bildt in an interview with Radio Liberty.
Bildt said that “Brussels was somewhat asleep at the wheel when Russia started its actions against Ukraine.” The attempts by former foreign ministers of Sweden and Poland, Carl Bildt and Radek Sikorski (the ones who initiated the Eastern Partnership project) to shake the leaders of the EU into wakefulness appear to have been in vain.
Francisco de Goya metaphorically explained that “fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters…” And this perfectly fits the description of Europe-Russia relations, which have led to the tragedy in Ukraine, as the untouchable Putin decided to play a game of redistributing global power. Europe as a single political force was asleep, and is still not fully awake. Meanwhile, the Putin regime has been masterfully shaping European fantasies about Russia, not sparing huge budgets and not abstaining from bribery. Hundreds and thousands of experts, diplomats, spies, and scientists have been shaping loyalty among Europeans toward the present-day Russia, often giving it a financial basis.
When it was impossible to bribe someone, energy blackmailing was used. Putin has long been using Russia’s new geopolitical weapon - Gazprom - to maintain and even increase his influence in Eastern and Central Europe. Promotional offers to major partners - energy giants from Germany, France and Italy - were repaid by the loyalty of these countries’ political elites to the Kremlin. Those EU countries (Poland, the Baltic States), who understood the threat from Russia were directly threatened with Russian military intervention or sabotage by Russia’s secret services.
Thus, in the past decade of Putin's rule, U.S. influence in Europe was blurred, as many formerly prominent supporters of U.S. policy in the EU (e.g. the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and others) began to openly support Russian politics even in the wake of all the crimes and barbarism committed by the Russian Federation over the last year.
But along with U.S. influence, Europe’s fragile unity was also blurred. And it is becoming increasingly weaker with the inclusion of new member states and the division of EU representatives into those of “old” and “new” Europe. Russia has managed to infect the European Union with the “splitting virus” manipulating it with the support of European right-wing forces, flirting with the southern EU member states (especially Greece), corrupting the European elite at all possible levels and preparing it for internal conflict of “all against all.” The sleep of Europe’s reason has had a lot to do with producing the monster of Putin's regime and now Europe doesn’t know what to do about it.
It’s no surprise that Poland and the Baltic states, who have the tough luck of being Russia’s western neighbors, and also the UK, most soberly and reasonably assess Russia's actions in Europe. It is very sad though that the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, where people have felt Russia’s “brotherly love” in full force during the Soviet era, remain largely loyal to Putin's regime. At the same time, London’s leading efforts to shape the European agenda of opposition to Putin shows that Britain in many ways remains Europe’s key leader, even with the ever-growing risk of seceding from the EU.
But what about Germany? Angela Merkel, according to Germany’s former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, assumed the role of a diplomatic leader, pursuing the idea of solving the problem of Putin by diplomatic means. But unfortunately, the problem can’t be solved solely with diplomacy. It has gone beyond the framework of political agreements, and is now jeopardizing further existence of the whole of Europe (just listen to some remarks by Putin's propaganda masterminds on possible preemptive nuclear strikes on European capitals).
The problem can only be solved by a complete pacification of Russia (by a mix of economic, financial, political, military, and information means) and by its further disarmament. Is Europe ready, and especially Germany, to finally wake up, push away the phantoms of its dreams, and soberly assess current reality, developing concrete steps to fix the mess?
There is no final answer yet, but there appear more arguments about the need for the EU’s awakening. The signs of awakening may be, for example, the creation of the EU Energy Union, which may finally spell the end of Gazprom as a Kremlin geopolitical weapon. Or the transition of the Baltic states and Poland to LNG supplies. Or the real strengthening of EU’s eastern borders with new military units from NATO countries. Or the revision of EU defense policy. Equally important is the real economic isolation of Russia as a really "active medicine." The start of withdrawals of European corporations from the Russian market promises to be quite exciting, as well as the consequences of this process.
Europe faces a choice today of either falling back to sleep, letting Russia trick it (and Russia is ready to give up its last resources to achieve this, even at the expense of all of its citizens) or really waking up and starting to engage actively in reality, eliminating the consequences of the destruction caused by the chimeras dreamed up in the sleep of Europe’s reason.
Roman Rukomeda is a political expert