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Has The West Been Hypnotized By Russia?

  • Yelena Tregubova

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi

It would seem the West has still not fully understood the scale of the catastrophe the world now faces. It is not just Georgia that is at stake. By attacking Georgia, the Kremlin has essentially declared itself a new global aggressor, one with arsenals of nuclear weapons and vast energy resources. It is an aggressor that no country in the world seems able or willing to confront.

The clearest example of this new stand came when the deputy head of the Russian General Staff, Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a few days ago threatened Poland with nuclear destruction if it proceeds with its role in the U.S. missile-defense system.

You can only draw two conclusions from a statement like this: either Nogovtisyn has psychological problems or this has been the real, if hidden, position of the Kremlin, the General Staff, and the secret services for years. They have just been hiding under a civilized mask and waiting for the right moment to show themselves.

But when President Dmitry Medvedev said shortly afterward that "the military is correct regarding Poland," there could be no doubt that Nogovitsyn was speaking for the ruling elite. Or maybe there is some sort of dangerous psychotropic virus that is moving around Moscow at a tremendous rate and infecting people in various government agencies.

Infected By Same Virus

Even though the next day Russian diplomats came to their senses and tried to soften this position slightly, it was clear that Nogovitsyn had been infected by the same virus that had -- long before the Georgia war -- prompted high-ranking Russian military officials to threaten the West -- in true Soviet style -- with the possibility of basing nuclear weapons in Cuba.

Remember about a year ago this virus prompted then-Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare that Russia might target some of its nuclear weapons at Europe. And, before that, he said the collapse of the Soviet Union was "the greatest tragedy of the 20th century." That is, for Putin the tragedy is not the gulag, not the destruction of millions of innocent people in Russia and neighboring states, not the turning of neighboring peoples into slaves, but the fact that these outrages came to an end. And this position was not some sort of misstatement. And it is precisely this position that Putin -- who remains the main powerbroker in Russia -- is making real step by step on all fronts.

It seems absolutely surreal to me. I want to grab Europe's leaders and ask them: "You are being directly threatened with nuclear attack and all you can do is talk about your 'optimism' and some 'long-term partnership'!?!
Judging by the waffling tone with which German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Medvedev in Sochi on August 15 -- as if he weren't the commander in chief of a country that had just attacked its neighbor -- the virus can also strike foreign leaders traveling in Russia. Dismissing a war -- the dispatching of tanks and bombers into another country -- as a "disproportionate reaction" is simply turning one's head and pretending one just doesn't see.

It seems absolutely surreal to me. I want to grab Europe's leaders and ask them: "You are being directly threatened with nuclear attack and all you can do is talk about your 'optimism' and some 'long-term partnership'!?! What will it take to awaken you from your hypnosis?"

Germany and France, because of their soft position on Russia, bear the primary responsibility for the fact that the Kremlin dared to turn its back on international law and attack Georgia. That country's fate was not decided on August 8, but on April 3, when German and French leaders at the NATO summit in Bucharest -- enchanted by Putin's promises of good prices for energy -- blocked Georgia's and Ukraine's entrance into the NATO preparatory club.

Different Outcome

If NATO had decided instead to take Georgia under its wing in April, it is a sure thing we would not have seen what we saw in the last few months -- regular and unrelenting provocations against Georgia by the separatists, who are controlled by Russia's security services; the regular violation of Georgian airspace by Russian military planes; the "accidental" launching of Russian rockets onto Georgian territory (all of which was denied by the Russians, who claimed the incursions were just "Georgian insinuations" and maintained that Russia would never violate an international border); and the professional training of Abkhaz fighters by Russian military-intelligence specialists.

The Kremlin's blitzkrieg against Georgia was not a spontaneous decision. It was part of Putin's overall design, a fundamental and organic part of his ideology, as well as a natural yearning of the siloviki that form his entourage. The Kremlin had just been waiting over the last six months for the right moment, and it ramped up its provocations until that "right moment" appeared.

So, by taking away these bits of Georgian territory for its puppet regimes, the Kremlin has not only publicly punished Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (who at least resisted as much as he could), but world leaders as well. They spent the first five days of the crisis acting as if nothing terrible had happened and expressing their "deep concern." The action sent a message to all those who invited Putin and Medvedev to dinner like friends and who looked in their eyes and assured the world that these were people who could be trusted.

Now the masks are gone.

Medvedev -- the de jure head of state -- probably didn't even realize what he was admitting when he touchingly told journalists: "This tragedy glued us all to our television screens and the Internet. And I also, as an ordinary person, received some of my information from there."

Putin -- the real head of Russia -- has been very successful over the years at dealing with Western leaders in the style of a classical tempter. First, he seduced them all individually -- some with oil, some with gas, some with multimillion-dollar posts at Gazprom, some with promises not to make trouble in Iraq -- and then forced them all to turn their backs on the destruction of human rights in Russia. And now those same Western leaders have been trampled into the mud along with all their claims to be defenders of democracy and international law.

Want To Be Feared

The West seems unable to understand one simple thing: the Kremlin clan doesn't need to be respected. They want to be feared and they want money. That's all. It's that simple. Therefore any effort to end the conflict "in a civilized way" or, still worse, "through compromise" -- as opposed to through the plain language of harsh ultimatums -- will be seen by the Russian leadership as a sign of weakness.

The only weak point this new monster -- which the West has fed from its own hand over the last eight years -- has is that it is fantastically money-hungry. The only understanding of "civilization" that Putin's clan has is owning a home in London, yachts, villas in France or Italy, and improbably expensive art works. Civilization for them does not mean that you don't kill and pillage other people, even if you really, really want to. And it certainly doesn't mean working selflessly to pull your own country out of poverty instead of turning it into a colony for the extraction of resources.

Today the only language that will be understood in the Kremlin and could stop its aggression would be for all Western countries to stop buying Russian oil and gas. Followed by a ban on leading Russian officials and Kremlin-connected businesspeople from traveling to the West. I don't think turning off the Russian gas would be a disaster for Europe -- Russian gas makes up about 30 percent of German imports and 20 percent for France. It might be difficult, but it is really a matter of political will and a drive to diversify energy sources.

But judging from Merkel's meeting with Medvedev, there isn't much desire to get off Russia's gas needle. Western Europeans still haven't realized that such a needle at the mercy of the whims of an unabashed aggressor will sooner or later present a deadly threat to the West itself, and not just to its eastern neighbors.

If something categorical, decisive, and collective is not done immediately in reaction to Georgia, then the next logical step according to the logic of today's Kremlin leaders will be a more open alliance with the world's outlaw regimes and the real blackmail of the West with the help of Iran.

As far as the situation in Georgia is concerned, there can be no doubt that the Kremlin will continue its bid to remove Saakashvili. I don't think it was by chance that the tabloid "Tvoi den," which has a reputation as a place for Kremlin trial balloons, reported a fairytale about how Saakashvili tried to kill himself when the war seemed lost. The report included the somber prediction that he might well try again in the future. One Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was already removed through a mysterious death.

Yelena Tregubova is a Russian journalist and author of the 2003 book "Tales of a Kremlin Digger." The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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