Vladimir Putin has been declared a world pariah. This pariah aims to “conquer Europe”, primarily by financial and economic means. But European leaders remain vague in their statements and actions against the Kremlin, while Europe’s businessmen continue to buy Russian raw materials and thereby finance anti-European propaganda. This vicious circle needs to end.
“Do you consider Vladimir Putin a killer?” a journalist recently asked US president Joe Biden.
“Yes, I do,” Biden answered directly.
This event set world politics on a new level.
Previously, Western politicians had diplomatically refrained from such harsh definitions of the Kremlin’s leaders. But apparently its brazen interference in other countries’ elections, territorial annexations from its neighbours and the use of banned chemical weapons all eventually led the American president’s cup of patience to overflow. In fact, Putin has been declared a world pariah – on the level of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.
The European Union’s External Action Service actually agreed with Biden’s definition, but in softer terms. A spokeswoman for Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that Putin, as president, was responsible for “a long list of successful and unsuccessful assassination attempts against people who criticized what is happening in Russia, among them politicians and journalists”.
A Neo-imperialist Regime
Of course, the leader of any country is responsible for its state policy. But what countermeasures against the Kremlin’s policy are proposed by the EU’s leaders? For example, in February the heads of a number of Russian security agencies were included in the sanctions list, declaring them responsible for the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and a new wave of repression against Russia’s citizens. However, this decision is very reminiscent of a hypothetical situation—as if someone accused only a few of Stalin’s subordinates, rather than the entire Bolshevik regime, of the USSR’s aggressive and repressive policy in the 1930s, aimed at the global expansion of its totalitarianism.
The current regime in the Kremlin can certainly be described as neo-imperialist. But Putin’s imperial expansion has a very different nature from Stalin’s. Hence, those who oppose it should not be like the generals preparing for the last war. Direct military incursions (into Georgia and Ukraine) are extraordinary events, but still rare. The Kremlin fears a full-on collision with NATO. His strategy of “conquering Europe”, deployed since the early 2000s, is primarily financial and economic. With the huge amount of capital obtained from the then soaring world price of oil, the Kremlin is actively “investing” in European infrastructure, imperceptibly subordinating it by corrupting its key representatives.
The figure of former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is very indicative here. From 1998 to 2005 he led the strongest economy in the EU, but immediately after his resignation, in 2006 he went to run the shareholders’ committee of the Nord Stream company, and in 2017 was elected chairman of Rosneft, the largest Russian oil company. Thus, he became one of the main conductors of Kremlin influence in Europe, and his influential status as an ex-chancellor helps Rosneft to mitigate the European sanctions imposed on the company.
Also noteworthy is the personality of Schroeder’s deputy at Rosneft and managing director of Nord Stream, Matthias Warnig. He is a former member of the East German security service Stasi, who met Vladimir Putin in 1989, when the latter was a KGB agent in Dresden. So the personal connections of spies from the communist era and their multi-billion dollar deals in our time are surprisingly intertwined.
The Vicious Circle of Current European Politics
But no less surprising is the fact that the Europe’s current leaders—such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron—continue to persistently defend the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. At the same time, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken rightly warns that this pipeline “is a Russian geopolitical project intended to divide Europe and weaken European energy security”.
“To divide Europe” is not just a figurative expression. The paradox is that European leaders, while continuing to conduct their profitable “business as usual” with the Kremlin, are supporting by their own actions the Kremlin’s efforts to destroy the EU. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has already stated that, in the event of a crisis in relations with the EU, Russia will develop ties with specific European countries. This means playing on the contradictions between them. And European businessmen, in buying Russian raw materials, actually finance the Kremlin’s anti-European propaganda. This is the vicious circle of current European politics.
You can “express deep concern” as much as you like about Kremlin interference in the policy of other countries and human rights abuses in Russia, but if you continue to trade with Putin’s oligarchs, you will never stop them from entering the European market and trying to corrupt it from within. But judging by the statements of Josep Borrell, the EU does not intend to impose sanctions against these figures and investigate the origin of their capital in Europe, as Alexei Navalny’s supporters urge him to do, although such an investigation would be a very effective method of combating Russia’s neo-imperialism.
On 25–26 March, a virtual summit of EU heads of state and government will take place. Will European politicians decide to be more active in resisting the Kremlin killer?
Views expressed in ICDS publications are those of the author(s).