Is it possible to have a dialogue with Russia from a position of strength, false accusations, infringing upon its interests, and openly interfering in its internal affairs? Lately, the topic of Russia seems to be a constant on high-level political platforms and the news feeds of leading media outlets in the West. As a rule, they all portray the country in a negative light: “Russia responsible for all the world’s ills”, “Russia attacks democracy”, “Russia meddles in elections”, “Russia violates international agreements”, “Russia has its history wrong”, and “Russia has the wrong leaders and they are mismanaging their own country”.
It is clear that this rhetoric is being dictated by the geopolitical interests of the US and its allies, primarily in Europe, who dominate the world stage. The negative tone not only reflects a long-held position with regard to an age-old adversary, but also the underlying historical hatred. Is it possible to take a different view of a country that occupies somewhere between a sixth and a seventh of the world’s surface with all of its resources and influence, despite efforts to take away the former and curb the latter? To paraphrase Madeleine Albright, it can hardly be used as a justification for hatred, but the logic here is quite clear.
Logic cannot replace truth, however. Needless to say, politics is blind to categories of thought beyond cold calculation and benefits. But truth itself does not depend on that. The true state of affairs remains unchanged, and the demand for truth among people in general is an absolute value. Therefore, the more falsehoods there are in official rhetoric, the more people want to know what they are hiding.
And here, the laws of propaganda can no longer hold back the inquiring minds of those who actually care what they are being told. Hitler is credited with thinking that a lie can be so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.
One can disagree with the political system in Russia or make loose assessments of its geopolitical interests, but to seriously argue that Russia is hatching plans for a military invasion of Europe is impossible. It does not make any sense. Just as the operation to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election does not make sense.
The kind of actions being blamed on Russia, such as hacking, are actually an attack by one country on another that would signify the outbreak of an all-out war. The fact that electronic devices and networks are being used to carry them out does not alter anything. Any government seeks to protect its sovereignty in cyberspace, too. And such attacks are clearly regarded as a direct military intervention with the right to repel it by all available means. Faced with such a prospect in an age of nuclear weapons, there can’t be many people willing to experiment for the sake of obscure goals.
In 2018, another shockingly false accusation was made against Russia by the UK over the staged Skripal poisoning. In a statement by the then UK prime minister, Theresa May, she uttered the notorious words “highly likely”, not brave enough “to distort the truth so infamously”.
The futility of accusing Russia of trying to assassinate the Skripals is glaringly obvious. Even assuming that Moscow actually did want to eliminate a former Russian military intelligence officer, why wasn’t it done earlier? In 2004, he was convicted of spying for Britain and, in 2010, he and others were exchanged for Russian citizens arrested in the US. Why keep someone locked up for all those years, specifically include him on the exchange list, then carry out an extraordinarily complicated operation to liquidate him? And what about the nerve agent that was allegedly used to poison Skripal? It is a chemical weapon. Were the Russian special services really unable to kill one person using a weapon of mass destruction? There is clearly something wrong here, either with the special services or the weapon or… it is difficult to add something.
And, finally, Russia is regularly accused of being undemocratic, of lacking basic freedoms, of violating human rights, etc.
You do not need to be an expert on Russia to see that modern Russia is one of the freest, most democratic countries in the world. And it is not just a case of outward appearances. Someone from the West is hardly in a position to point to the so-called alternation of power, corruption, or opposition activity. After all, Russia does not have the kind of political dynasties that the US has, where the Kennedy brothers were able to serve as president and attorney general at the same time, and where George Bush Senior’s son proved to be highly capable and followed in his father’s footsteps. Or Canada, where Justin Trudeau, the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was also able to occupy the highest position in government.
As for opposition, a state’s political process should not become the goal itself. The purpose of political parties is to serve the interests of the people, to try to make their lives better. But a token set of every kind of political party made up of professional politicians who have simply mastered the art of power play is not, or is no longer, a democracy. A country’s leaders must understand people’s needs, listen to their opinions, be more in touch.
Opposition parties and movements within Russia are engaged in political activities using the full range of possibilities, including those funded by the state. They exploit television and radio channels, the Internet and social media, and they hold offline events. Their activities are carried out absolutely unhindered, even despite the fact that many of their members are in contact with foreign non-governmental organisations and embassies, receive material and other support from them, and actively resort to involving an element of foreign and international influence over internal political processes in the country.
Thus, in May 2020, after considering a petition signed by members of the Russian public (headliners – former State Duma deputy L. Gudkov, former Russian Prime Minister M. Kasyanov and others) on an urgent legal review of “amendments to the Constitution and the procedures for their adoption”, the PACE Monitoring Committee decided to submit a request to the Venice Commission. This is the second attempt to involve the European advisory body in the anti-Russian campaign against amendments to the country’s basic law. Calls in the document’s comments for additional sanctions to be imposed on “individuals and organisations” are nothing more than an attempt to put pressure on the country’s electorate.
This is about the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The question of its amendment can and will only be decided by the people of that country. What does it have to do with PACE, Europe or America?
None of the Russian opposition members involved in this initiative are being persecuted by law-enforcement agencies. They are not being threatened. Isn’t that democratic? Perhaps, for someone in the West, it creates the illusion that Russia is weak. But illusions, just like dry logic, are poor travelling companions in a strategic dialogue between states, as has been shown in the examples above. Maybe the time has come to look truth in the face and try to respect the dignity and rights of one’s opponents.