The Trauma of Russian Independence

Clown World cannot abide Russia because Russia has escaped the satanic chains that bound her, while her European diplomats have lost the art of diplomacy for which they were once famous:

Dominic Lieven, a fine British scholar of the Russian Empire’s origins, wrote that the Russians were the only people Western Europeans had to deal with who were capable of fighting for their special, independent niche in the modern world with boundless courage, perseverance, and self-sacrifice.

Consider these words – we are the only civilization against which the West has attempted to act aggressively, and failed to achieve its goals. All the rest – the Great Empire of China, the ancient civilization of India, and many others – were unable to withstand the decisive thrust of the West, which for 500 years had been expanding the frontiers of its power by fire and sword. They were beaten, even if they were able to restore their statehood after some time.

Our country was never defeated. But let’s try to put ourselves in the Western Europeans’ shoes and understand their emotional state. For centuries, they have been living with a trauma called ‘an independent Russia’. However, we ourselves have never had the opportunity to understand what it is like to have a permanent enemy that can never be conquered.

So, when the USSR suddenly collapsed in 1991 and the unified state disintegrated, Western Europe found itself in a situation it had never experienced before. Overnight, the most unfulfilled wish of generations of European politicians and military leaders came true. All by itself, without a decisive military clash, and with the Russians’ full of desire to join the ‘European family’, even as pupils. Such a shock could not pass without serious consequences for the psyche of the statesmen and ordinary citizens of these Western European states.

Their entire foreign policy culture was based on the fact that Russia would never be pushed around or told what to do. Suddenly, the West felt it had won the Cold War without firing a single shot. In a state of fantastic emotional upheaval, the Western Europeans began to build relations with Russia as if it had finally been defeated. For several years, Moscow accepted the rules of the game that the West imposed. It took into account the wishes of the Western Europeans in the economic sphere and developed its foreign relations with an eye to how this would affect the main goal – which was gradual ‘integration’ with the EU.

In the new circumstances, the bloc found itself in the position of a demanding teacher, offering numerous ‘partnership’ programs with two simple objectives. First, to secure the interests of Western European business and make the Russian market even more open to it. Second, to ensure that Moscow was complying with its instructions.

European diplomats became equally demanding teachers. For several generations of EU ambassadors in Moscow, the main task was to monitor how well Russia was honoring its many commitments. As part of this ‘honorable’ mission, a tradition of communication with Russians at various levels has developed. And while there have been talks at the level of heads of state or foreign ministers, there has been no trace of normal diplomacy below that level.

EU ambassadors did not simply become the executors of the will of their masters back home (which is perfectly normal) – they gradually became technical workers entrusted with the task of observing Russia and pointing out errors in its behavior.

And the level of their intellectual ability was no longer measured by their competency in playing a subtle diplomatic game. The main measure was the degree of hysteria with which they pushed through a very simple agenda. All the more so as their individual will and intelligence were increasingly integrated into the system of rules and requirements common to all NATO and EU representatives abroad.

As a philosopher wrote in the last century, “in any collective, individual agency becomes the servant of the collective interest.” And gradually, we should add, it disappears in the sense that is a sign of agency in the first place – the ability to analyze a situation independently and to make decisions. This problem has become so total for Western European diplomacy and politics that it has gradually ceased to be noticed.

All the more so because European politics was also changing rapidly. Having found themselves, through no fault of their own, in the position of ‘winners of the Cold War’, Western Europeans felt a deep sense of moral superiority over the whole world around them. Except, of course, towards the Americans, who they are simply afraid of. We have repeatedly seen examples of the European Union interfering in the purely internal affairs of key partners such as China, or the still-very-friendly India. Not to mention states of lesser size and importance. Last year, for example, French President Emmanuel Macron made a scene with the Brazilians over their treatment of their forests.

The behavior of European leaders like Macron, Merkel, and Boris Johnson does often strike one as significantly out-of-touch with basic reality. When they talk about “defeating Russia” or “sanctioning China”, it makes one seriously wonder if they are even capable of basic math, let alone capable of understanding that the balance of power is no longer in their favor.

What the author gets wrong is that while Russia was never defeated by the West, it was defeated by a foreign power when the Bolsheviks took power in 1917, by the same power that rules over Ukraine and is at war with Russia today.

UPDATE: This recent demand by the European Parliament should serve to demonstrate the cartoonish extent to which the European leaders are overestimating their influence.

On Thursday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Moscow to send back 91.5 metric tons of gold and cultural artifacts that were exported to the Russian Empire in 1916-1917 by Romania.

I’m a little disappointed that the Russians merely rolled their eyes and told them, explicitly, “to fuck off”. I think it would have been much more amusing if they’d simply pointed out that the sanctions being applied by the European governments render any such transaction impossible.