Author: Eduard Steiner
Published: REPORT. Magazine for Arts and Civil Society in Eastern- and Central Europe, November 2007

Fyodor Lukjanow (40) has been editor-in-chief of the political magazine “Russia in Global Affairs” that appears in Russian (every two months) and in English (every four months) since 2002. He studied German and simultaneous translation and at the beginning of the 1990s worked for the international Moscow radio station “Die Stimme Russlands” (The Voice of Russia), From 1994 to 1997 he was correspondent at the international desk of the newspaper “Segodnja”, from 1997 to 2000 of the newspaper “Wremja MN”. From 2000 to 2002 he was deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Wremja Nowostej”. Lukjanov speaks German, Swedish and English.

Eduard Steiner lives and works in Moscow as Russian correspondent of “Der Standard”.

The journal “Russia in Global Affairs” was founded jointly by the council for foreign affairs and defence policy, the Russian industrialists and entrepreneurs association, and the daily newspaper “Izvestija”.

Europe has miscalculated

An interview with the Russian political journalist Fyodor Lukyanov

When the British demand that Russia should alter its constitution so that it can extradite the murderer of the former KGB agent Litvinenko, then the UK is behaving in as authoritarian way towards Russia as Russia does towards Georgia. Are we seeing here a westward expansion of Eastern patterns and style instead of an eastward expansion of European standards?

With the EU membership of the CEE countries we are experiencing a very interesting moment in the history of Europe that has changed the political climate considerably. The new member countries fulfil the Copenhagen criteria, more or less, but the mental willingness of the political elite in these countries does not match the approaches and principles that are usual in Europe. Outside the old homogeneous mental space and the uniform system of coordinates with Eastern Europe – and with Russia or Turkey – countries have come along that live in a different historical time.

What is usual in Europe?

Part of the nature of the EU is that people wish to leave the terrible history with all its conflicts behind and no longer instrumentalise them for modern politics. Although no one can persuade me that Germany and France are really so reconciled, they still stick to a basic consensus.

Are you referring to the current political situation in Poland?

When Kaczyński explains that if it were not for the Second World War then there would be 66 million people living in Poland then that is the opposite of what Europe wanted to leave behind it. It is difficult to criticise the new member countries for this, as they go their own way and have their own history.On the other hand the new countries have brought to the EU a new understanding of solidarity. European solidarity means that, as they understand the necessity to move forward all members are willing to restrict themselves to some extent. The understanding of solidarity of the Baltic countries and Poland is as follows: when one member country is in conflict with an external power (such as Russia, for example) then the EU must support this member country. When Europe made Poland’s dispute with Russia over meat a matter for the EU the idea of European solidarity was given a new meaning.

With its behaviour Russia has offered several reasons for disputes.

Certainly, but the behaviour of the EU is a great temptation to the countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltic to use solidarity as a means. The paradox is that Poland achieved solidarity against Russia but itself does not even dream of contributing to solidarity within the EU.
 The new EU countries have changed the overall atmosphere in the EU, they have drawn Russia into European politics as they always engage Russia in some sort of dialogue, generally confrontational. And the involvement of Russia means that this historic moment is always strengthened, as Russia lives in a different epoch and does not understand the principles of modern European culture at all: the willingness to compromise, endless coordination and harmonising, the avoidance of conflicts. For Russia all this is absurd.

Would you say that when Russia and Europe talk about values, they understand the same thing?

One has to start from a conceptual framework, a joint set of definitions without which no interests can be discussed. Within the EU the Finns and the Greeks, no matter how different they may be, have a common understanding of how modern politics and a rule-of-law state function. When in Russia the talk is about values people immediately begin to expand the theme, to talk about a Christian Orthodox inheritance, a special Russian way. On the other hand for 300 years they have felt attracted by Europe and have then withdrawn again. It isn’t easy to resolve this ambiguity.

What about Europe seen from the Russian point of view?

Generally this view is influenced by a spirit of historical confrontation. When discussions about about Turkey’s EU membership started I read articles in the Austrian press about the Turkish sieges. After 50 years of a successful attempt at setting up an entirely new kind of politics Europe is at a loss about how to develop further. Even seven years ago the European model was seen an example for the world of the future, even in America. Instead of this we see remilitarisation, growth in the competition for energy, geopolitically things are coming to ahead, conflicts between religions, the emergence of new powers (China of course, but also Russia, Iran, Kasachstan). There are new theories about the chances of success of an authoritarian capitalism. Europe does not wish to and indeed cannot take part in this game, for (with the exception of Britain and Poland) no one is willing to fight in the Middle East or perhaps even the Far East. The question remains: is Europe still a model for the future or an oasis for a historic experiment, which -although successful is absolutely unusable in the world at large. In contrast to the many sceptics I believe that Europe can survive, it is a robust model.

Is the EU not perhaps the only adequate model of European integration?

The model is not being questioned, but it has exhausted its potential. At the moment new countries cannot take over this model. And Europe cannot take in all who want to join. Ukraine has made gigantic efforts to break away from the Russian sphere of influence. The Orange Revolution took place under the buzzword of the European election. And when democracy won, Europe closed the door. And so the problem began in Ukraine, which now doesn’t know what direction it should take.

Do you see the closer approach of the neighbouring and the new EU countries towards the USA as justified?

As far as Poland and the Baltic countries are concerned this has nothing to do with difficulties with the EU but with the fact that these countries are fixated on the security problem, due to their fear of Russia. They are completely convinced that only the USA can guarantee their security. They don’t trust the Europeans, as they feel they have always been betrayed by them and, quite simply, because they see the state of the EU as regards the military. Nor do they believe in NATO, which can’t do anything without the USA. Therefore they will use every available means to draw the USA into European politics.

You say that the elite of the new EU countries differs in mental terms from the old one. Did the latter neglect to prepare itself?

Western Europe underestimated the influence that the expansion would have on Europe. In 2003 people thought: what demands can these countries make, when they are so weak that all of them together have only the same economic strength as Holland. Europe miscalculated by measuring everything in terms of the gross national product. There are other things that are far more permanent and that do not depend on the quality of life. Poland is of course the key country because it is relatively large and has the psychology of a former major power.

Europe miscalculated emotionally, Russia perhaps pragmatically?

To me this seems to be the case. But there is more: naturally Russia is a key country. If the relations between the EU and Russia had developed differently there wouldn’t be such problems with Poland and the Baltic states. And here we come to a question of principle, that is the politics of the West after the fall of the Soviet Union. In fact there were two models. The first, to put it somewhat crudely, was a second Marshall plan with expansive, widespread financing of the reforms. The other model would have been not to get involved. An intermediate model was eventually chosen with widely advertised financial help and the influx of endless numbers of consultants and specialists. The result was that the amount of aid was far too small to exert any serious influence, but yet too large to be ignored.

What does the West mean for a Russian today?

The feelings are mixed. The generation that grew up in the new era sees the West in a different, although not necessarily better, light than the Soviet generation. The young think in a more Western way but like 300 years ago. Hard rationalism and mercantilism combined with aggressiveness, a certain brutality, individualism, profit-oriented thinking and social atomisation. In everyday life and in foreign policy. I don’t see the Russian policy as post-imperialist but pre-imperialist. After the losses we are starting again anew. Politicians want to be actively involved in world politics but are not willing to accept any responsibility. Russia wants to be part of the world economy but not to be bound by certain rules. I have the feeling that physically we are living in a country at the beginning of the 21st century, have a 16th century mentality and a strategical way of thinking (geopolitics, alliance of powers, multi-polarity, all unions only temporary) like in the 19th century.

And the ideology is determined by religion?

What else should determine it? Here the social doctrines don’t function. They dont exist. With the collapse of communism the idea of social justice vanished. As for modern ideas about the order of society – we haven’t reached that level yet. Religion and traditionalism are not only returning here, but, in different forms, throughout the world. This is a reaction to globalisation. After pragmatism and market terminology, follows moralisation.

Is the West still attractive for the Russians?

As regards the standard of living yes and as an example of correct and efficiently organised states and also as a social model. However only few understand what the Western model really means, as unfortunately we are returning to a traditional matrix of paternalism. And most people don’t know what the western lifestyle really looks like, as they don’t have a passport for travel abroad. The traditional Russian idea is that everything is better in the West. The traditionalist says that we should not try to imitate, as we cannot possibly succeed. But now the dominant feeling is that we are self-sufficient, that we know and can do everything ourselves and need nothing else.

America is more respected, as it is more decisive and asserts itself even in difficult situations whereas Europe just discusses?

Naturally. We and the Americans live in a similar system of ideas. America, too, is a country that is oriented primarily towards power and strength – in the broader and not just in the military sense. With a military budget of 700 thousand million dollars America is the greatest motor of militarisation in the world. We understand this. In contrast we don’t understand all these European subtleties and details. America, China, Russia – these are the countries that live in the world of realpolitik. We Russians understand that we are far weaker than the Americans but we try to compensate for this. We want to act like the Americans and to only observe those agreements that are advantageous for us.

By and large the outer border of the EU runs along the line that separates Roman Catholicism from Orthodoxy.

Well, with the membership of Bulgaria and Greece not entirely. The problem with expansion is not the Orthodox religion but Islam. And the eastern border of the EU is not a religious but a geopolitical problem. Even our revisionists do not want to get back the Baltic countries. But we regard Ukraine and Belarus as our countries. I really can’t say where these countries will be in 50 years time. Two years ago I would have said that Russia’s borders were fixed. Now everything seems possible again and not because Russia has grown so strong but because I see that other powers cannot take hold of these countries. In Central Asia the situation is different, with the involvement of China and Islam naturally. But take Moldavia for example: it really could be that this country will vanish if Romania issues passports in all directions. To preserve its existence as a state Moldavia must mobilise all its strength to involve the economically stronger Transnistria. As always, everything happens in a strange and unexpected way. I cannot fully exclude that in 50 years time the map will look very different to today.