Russia and the EU face values gap over Libya

The changes in the Middle East should force the West to reconsider its view on Russia.

Drawing by Niyaz Karim

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s dogged pursuit of a visa-free regime between Russia and the EU, as well as between Russia and the United States has many interpretations in the Western press, most of them not very flattering. From a “PR stunt” to a vehicle for Russian spy activity, Moscow’s suggestions in this sphere are rarely seen for what they purport to be—attempts to integrate Russia into the Western world. The Russian elite does want to integrate with the Western one—but, of course, not at the cost of losing power at home.  

Why is the view that the statements of Russian leaders must be assumed to have unpleasant subtexts so widespread in modern Europe? One possible explanation is the post-Soviet syndrome of the post-Soviet ruling elites in former Soviet bloc countries: Mart Laar, the former prime minister of Estonia, once publicly suggested his services as an “interpreter” of Russia’s true intentions at a joint conference of Russian and the EU leaders. The reaction of the Russian side to this offer was predictably negative. “We shall somehow try to make ourselves understandable,” replied Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine.

The legion of interpreters of Russia’s intentions has never lacked manpower or influence in the EU. But today it has a formidable adversary—the real threats afflicting Europe from other parts of the globe. A series of not-always-peaceful “revolutions” in the Middle East revealed certain challenges to the energy security of the EU that had never been discussed seriously. Instead, the EU summits have focused “Russia’s energy blackmail” and “the gap in values” between Russia and the space to the west of its borders.   

The destruction by the Libyan regime of its own oil infrastructure and the general unwillingness of the EU bigwigs to take real measures against manslaughter in Libya must play the role of a cruel eye-opener. The stoppage of the pipeline between Italy and Libya shows where the real energy danger is. The pictures of Russian and EU warships taking Russian and EU nationals on board while leaving Libyans to their own devices make the haughty talk about “gaps in values” somewhat irrelevant.   

Maybe it is high time for both Russia and the EU to take an unbiased look at each other and start acting where dangers are mutual. Strangely, this is more of a challenge for the EU than for Russia. Since the late 1980s, Russia has not pretended to be a model for anyone, and thus keeps a relatively low profile. The EU, as the “beacon of democracy,” has a more difficult task ahead: It is never easy for a beacon to turn some of its rays inward. The light may be blinding. It is so much easier to guess the contours of some more monsters between Smolensk and Siberia.

Dmitry Babich is a political analyst for RIA Novosti.

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