Putin and the End of Illusion

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Ever since Vladimir Putin first became Russian president in 2000, EU leaders have been unable to establish a long-term strategy toward their powerful Eastern neighbor.

The EU looked on as Putin invaded Chechnya just weeks after he entered the Kremlin. That part of southern Russia is now so combustible that if it does explode, no military force will be able to bring stability or peace to the region. It’s a cauldron waiting to boil over, and when that happens, it will have terrible consequences for the Caucasus and for Russia’s internal security.

When Putin seized the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia in a short war in 2008, European leaders again wrung their hands. Since then, Russia has established the facts on the ground. Georgia’s territorial integrity has been destroyed.

Moldova’s territorial integrity has been affected too. There, for over two decades, Russian-backed leaders in the breakaway region of Transnistria have done everything possible to undermine Moldova’s fragile democracy and its ambitions to move closer to the EU.

And now Crimea. Since February 28, this peninsula in southern Ukraine is under the de facto control of Russia. No matter how U.S. or EU leaders react, Putin will push to consolidate Russia’s grip on this strategic part of Ukraine. It is as if Putin is trying to reverse the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that Putin described as one of the worst tragedies ever to hit Russia.

It is time for European leaders to recognize that the age of illusions about Russia is over.

One of those illusions was built on the premise and hope that Putin would modernize his country. That is something that several European governments have longed for—especially Germany, but also Russia’s other Western neighbors, not least Poland.

For decades, successive German governments have reached out to Russia, believing that the modernization of the Russian economy would eventually lead to the creation of a modern political order where the rule of law would prevail. Yet Germany’s Ostpolitik, or Eastern policy, has failed, as Putin’s policies in Chechnya, Georgia, and now Crimea have shown. Surely, any believer in Ostpolitik must now admit that a major illusion has been shattered.

Europe’s other illusion was that Russia would accept the reunification of the continent. In fact, Putin has actively sought to prevent Europe from being reunited.

Russia has found it very difficult to accept that Poland, the Baltic states, and other former Soviet satellites have joined the EU and NATO. Repeatedly, Moscow has tried to undermine these countries’ self-confidence by imposing trade embargoes or by exploiting their energy dependence on Russia.

But Putin’s indiscriminate use of energy resources to retain the Kremlin’s influence over this part of Europe—especially his belief that Russia could charge prohibitive prices for the gas it supplies to the Baltic states—has backfired. Russian energy giant Gazprom, which used to be one of Moscow’s most powerful and effective foreign policy tools for cajoling its Western neighbors, is now in the midst of a major dispute with the European Commission over alleged abuse of power.

The EU and Russia are now engaged in a massive and dangerous struggle for Eastern Europe. Any illusions that Putin might allow the countries in the shared neighborhood to move peacefully toward the West have been crushed—thanks to Russia’s policies in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine (both before and since the 2004–2005 Orange Revolution), and elsewhere. Through those policies, Putin has tried to build a new Iron Curtain across the continent.

In the short term, Putin may believe he can achieve that, while convincing his people with his powerful and insidious propaganda and control of the media that he is simply protecting ethnic Russians living outside Russia. He can also establish facts on the ground in a way that neither EU nor U.S. leaders can counter with sanctions, boycotts, or other measures.

But sooner or later, even Putin’s own citizens will begin to question what Russia stands for under its current president.

 

 

Comments (45)

 
 
  • propTrader
    You have to hit him and hit him really hard otherwise he will not stop only with Ukraine, the genie is out of the bottle. Closing Bosphorus and Baltic Straits to all Russian ships, cutting Russian banks from the system, implying Mangnitsk act and widespread asset freeze for starters. US can expand licenses for gas and oil search and open new areas to operation, make OPEC to flow more oil in exchange for delivering Assad, grab their Tartus base in Syria and kick them out of MED which makes jihadists to flow to Caucacus and unleash the Chechen hell on them. This guy needs a tough lesson for dreaming to be the modern era Hitler.
     
     
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    • C.Niven replies...
      Hahahahahahaha,this is hilarious! The peak of the cynicism and hypocrisy!
       
       
    • No excuse replies...
      How dare are you to say things like this? Who are you to impose terrorist threat on the Russian citizen? Majority of them have nothing to do with this conflict and to be honest do not understand the reasons behind it in the first place. Life will teach you a powerful lesson for saying things like this. Pathetic and ill made comment.
       
       
    • katastrofa replies...
      Freeze all Russian oligarch's assets in the EU, esp. in the UK.
       
       
    • Mark replies...
      Absolutely daft to call Putin a modern era Hitler. Whilst this article makes some interesting points, the comparison with Hitler is really very naïve and unhelpful. Russia has been treated with disregard and has been ignored by the west. The USA has sought to control the middle East and Africa like the imperial power that it is with little attempt to work with Russia. If you push the great bear into a corner then it is bound to react and this is what we are seeing in Ukraine. It is not the start of any attempt like Hitler's to conquer the world, but it is indeed an attempt to become a world power again. They do want to hold on to their friends and the EU and USA have been appallingly stupid in continuing to push the lines back as far into Eastern Europe as we have done. Did we really think that they would sit back and go along with this neo-liberal agenda?
       
       
    • Spyro replies...
      I wouldn't go as far as to say he aspires to be a modern era Hitler, however, it looks clear that he is trying to rebuild what the former Soviet Union has lost in territory and expand the Russian global sphere of influence. I agree with hitting Russia hard, that is the only way to see a stand down. But there could also be a complete opposite reaction in the Kremlin to the closing off of Russian banks and trade
       
       
    • R. Federer replies...
      And that is exactly why i can not share common values with you guys any more. It is not about terror, it is not about human rights and humanity at all. It is all about political and capital interests. Like plague of locusts US falls over the nations in Irak, Avganistan, Lybia, Sudan, Serbia, Chile and all south America back in 60/70 and creates horror for decades. So in Ukraine. Two time in few years US actively backs state coup killing 80 peoples and expect what? That everybody around and especially in neighbourhood applaud.
      Actually if I think, as more as nations get rid of US influence as much those nations are successful (think of South America, China, Russia....).
      US opened Pandora box with Kosovo and now wanders. Such a grade of blindness, arrogance ant lack of self critics can not end well. In Russia nor in US.
       
       
    • Dr Bob Matthews replies...
      propTrader You really are delusional you obviously are an apologist for the USA, I would never have guessed.
       
       
    • Cane replies...
      You have to stop Russia, they wil maybe attack Irak, Serbia, Bosina, Lybia, Viatnam, Nicaragua, Panama eta...
       
       
    • FinlandKnows replies...
      @propTrader: As a European and a Finnish citizen, I can tell you that you don't know that you are not even close to knowing what you're talking about. We know our neighbour historically. Russia will not bend neither in front of EU or USA pressure. Russia is a rich country and if you are a trader of some kind, you should review your numbers. The US public debt is 17 Trillion USD vs. Russia 125 Bn USD. Add to this the Chinese debt the US owes them. China and Russia will stand together in front of the pressure. I am not saying it is right or legit, just calling you to land back on earth from the planet you're on at the moment. Watch it happen. Finland knows Russia better than anyone. 30% of gas exports to Europe come from Russia. Europe has little or no means of pressure no matter what the media says. Do your homework and start shorting the US dollar instead.
       
       
    • Maxim replies...
      @FinlandKnows of course Finland knows how Russia invaded their country and killed their people but I think you are too delusioned by the soviet propaganda that you are now defending what Russia did and is doing. One doesn't need to be a trader to see that finite oil and gas reserves and lack of industrial and competitive service economy are the biggest burdens on the future of Russia, no need to say about the effects of real rulers of Russia (a criminal oligarchy run by KBG politburo) on media freedom, free speech and human rights. Yet, with the advance technology of fracking bringing online vast segments of hidden gas reserves around the globe the picture is getting clear for Russia: a receding plebisciter autocracy in the East which sells natgas to N.Korea. Russia lost the cold war and will lose the economic war. And about China; if you read the history of China you will see that China is a preadator nation and the suitor for the economical/political power which Russia will lose gradually.
       
       
  • Andre Teissier du Cros Comité Bastille
    ´Whoever is Russia's leader, all agree since Catherine the Great: Crimea is Russian and will stay Russian.
     
     
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    • Martin Nunn, Kyiv replies...
      WQhat complete Rubbish. On that basis most of Northern France belongs to the UK... and try telling the 1.2 million non ethnic Russians that live in Ukrainian Crimea that as of tomorrow they are now Russians
       
       
    • Adam replies...
      I'm fairly certain that there's an entire Tartar ethnic group that will disagree.
       
       
    • Putin Kaputt! replies...
      The same as Sochi, Abkhazia and Ossetia are Russians and should stay with Russia?!?!?!
       
       
    • SZ replies...
      Yeah, right:) We'll see about that;)
       
       
  • Christian Schulz
    If you think the Ostpolitik-shippers won't continue to preach "change through alignment" then you're an optimist. It'll be interesting to see whether this turns into yet another coalition argument in Germany, especially if the situation should spiral further out of control. If that happens I somehow can't see the transatlanticist wing of the CDU "sucking it up" for the sake of coalition peace.
     
     
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  • achosikha
    Russia - something that Western-minded analyst will never understand (((( assumption that Russian people will question Putin and later choose pro-Western leader who shakes hand with Obama or any other American president is one of the biggest misunderstanding of Russian nature.
     
     
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  • daytonohiovolunteer, Michael Howard
    If I were in the company of the persons making policy decisions about a modern Russia I would have repeatedly said that the politics would remain the same. The cash from oil and gas would rebuild their military and give Russia geopolitical leverage in foreign affairs. As the west grapples with austerity Russia gains prosperity as does China. They can grab with cash in their fists.
     
     
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  • worzi
    It seems to me he is uniting states that can't make it on their own
     
     
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  • John
    OK, let the people of Crimea decide. You know which way that will go....

    Kinda like what the US did in Kosovo.

    You Americans always seem to be the righteous ones, does it not ever occur to you that Russia has saved the Crimea?

    Obviously you watch too much Hollywood, where the Ruskies are always the bad guys.
     
     
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  • George@MTL
    I believe we need a Churchil yet again.
     
     
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  • Andrey Subbotin
    Any illusions that EU will allow the countries in the shared neighborhood to move peacefully toward Russia were crushed - thanks to EU support of west Ukrainian coup
     
     
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  • Martin Nunn, Kyiv
    Well written Judy, I could not agree more. Sadly the west tries to understand Russia and particularly Putin from a western moral perspective but the Russian machine is not based on morality and the rule of law it's based on power and nothing else. Putin is doing what he is doing now because he can and there is little the west can do about it without restorting to the same base level. Just as in 1939 when the world had to face up to the reality of fascism in Europe then so today we have to recognise the consequences of not taking action now. The only answer is the complete economic isolation of the Russian criminocracy as only then will the Russian people understand that today that if they want the benefits of the civilised world they have to play by the rules of the civilised world. Appeasment and cooperation are no longer options
     
     
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  • Carlos
    All this will lead to internal strife. Most Russians live as difficult a life as those in Ukraine and Moldova. I doubt they believe a war will make things better.

     
     
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  • Matthew
    USA and EU started this game, and now they wonder, because there is a reaction from Russia. Not more then stupid what USA and EU did.
     
     
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  • neutralObserver
    Russia's Putin is defending the interest of the country the way he believes most appropriate. Period.
    This means i.a. fighting eastward expansion of the NATO/EU.
    As regards Georgia, you might remembber that it was US protégé Saakachvili who started the war. Unfortunately for him, this turned out to be a very bad idea.
    Incidentally, the new Ukraine government is not the result of a democratic election, but of a putsch sponsored by the US (one more), and is obviously dominated by fascists.
     
     
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  • Moritz Steuber
    Germany's "Ostpolitik" has never had the (explicit) goal of modernizing Russia in any economic or political way. The two goals, starting with Kanzler W. Brandt in the late 1960s were a) reunification of the two german states and b) a political and cultural process of "Aussöhnung" - that is reconciliation between the german people and the peoples of central and eastern europe, in particular the polish people, as a consequence of nazi-german action in WWII. Part of b) was c) which was direct and indirect economic and political support for democracy movements in CEE.
     
     
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  • Freudian Slip
    The only time in history when Europe had been "united" was under Hitler, so I wonder what kind of "REunification" the author had in mind.
     
     
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  • sindibad13
    Wishful thinking perhaps!!Russia will surely endure a lot more than any western country. They're not powerful because they've strong military, the have strong military because they're powerful.
     
     
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  • Dr Bob Matthews
    A great pity then that the writer did not apply the same rules to the USA that has interfered in sovereign states, invaded on the pretext of WMD's forced regime change and destroyed countries and killed millions of civilians in their quest for oil, energy and supremacy. A very hollow and somewhat hypocritical viewpoint about a sovereign state protecting its interests, but to be expected from an apologist for the USA. Do as i say not as I do springs to mind when it comes to the warmongering USA.
     
     
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  • Anita
    Nice wording in the article - Putin is preventing reunification of Europe? I think Europe does not feel even a mile close to people of Crimea, Abkhasia, Ossetia or Moldavia... And for Russians these are compatriots since 75-years living together in Soviet Union, which undoubtedly was the worlds' strongest nation.
     
     
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  • Realist
    Do you realize how your words sound empty in many parts of the world after your aggressions in Serbia (1999) and Iraq (2003)? Pure hypocrisy!
     
     
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  • CRFrank
    I find it amusing that Russia describes its actions as protecting people from fascists and anti-semitic forces. Russia has an appalling record when it comes to anti-semitism, and when it comes to fascists Putin's tactics over the last few years are remisinscent of Hitler's in the 1930's, when Germany annexed Austria, carved up Czechoslovakia and demanded Danzig to link up with East Prussia - all done in the name of unifying and protecting Germanic peoples - much as Putin's land grabs have been for the purpose of unifying and protecting ethnic Russians. My fear is that the EU is completely unable to do anything (due to there being no real concensus among member nations how to tackle this) and so again, much like Hitler in the 30's, the dithering and hand-wringing of our lame-duck European leaders will simply embolden Putin - after all, if we let him get away with grabbing Crimea, why not the rest of eastern and southern Ukraine where large numbers of ethnic Russians live? And after that, why not the rest of the country, just 'to be on the safe side' - either absorbing it wholly into Russia (after all, the Kievan Rus are seen as the founders of Russia, with the Ukraine it's birthplace) or setting up a puppet state with a government loyal to Moscow? After all, what would be left of the Ukraine after a partial land grab would almost certainly be pushing even further into Europe's sphere of influence, with EU and NATO membership a real possiblity down the road - something Putin absolutely does not want. We are fast losing the opportunity to rein in Putin's Russia - and we may yet rue the day we let things go so far and so badly wrong in eastern Europe...
     
     
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  • Michael
    Shame to say but America has no spine.Putin will take everything back and show the world he is the leader.This is a person that you do not politically negotiate with.He is not scared to use force.Something our president does not have balls to do.
     
     
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  • Morgus Guy
    I think, it is time the West must stop its hypocrisy! They supported the overthrow of the elected President in Ukraine, they destroyed Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, etc! By miscalculation, they sowed their propaganda on regime change in Ukraine and forgot the Guy in charge in Russia is Putin who showed the West he may be better than them! Let him add Crimea to South Osetia and Abkhasia. Remeber the West started it by awarding independence to Kossovo without the consent of Russia. Imagine the US, UK, France,... talking of sovereignty!! Irak, Afghanistan...weren't they sovereign States? Myself I was surprised by living colonisation in 21st Century!! What about Palestine? US will veto its statehood...why? My be Putin showed the West they are not the sole to whatever they wand and wish in the world today!!! Let you live the hell you've been inflicting to the world!!
     
     
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  • Abbasid Prince
    Much of the West's rhetoric is actually toothless. In terms of economic sanctions there is not much that can be accomplished considering Europe's reliance on Russian energy resources and the Germans are inclined to still apply Ostpoltik.

    The world is no longer Uni or even Bipolar- it is tripolar. America still has a global reach and China's influence also extends to Africa thanks to heavy investment in that part of the world. Russia is the other major player and losing Ukraine is unacceptable to them as it is central to the makeup of the Russian sphere of influence. Ukraine leaving that sphere would have been a massive achievement for the West. But Putin was never going to allow this to happen proper, it would be such a symbolic loss for Russia.

    The EU is disunited and the UK remains the principle player in allowing the EU to remain so fragmented by opposing EU policies that advocate further unity. It has one foot in Europe yet will always follow the American line and is suspicious of Europeans on the continent.

    It is also in China's interests that Russia comes out strong in this situation. As the saying goes, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
    Having a stronger Russia working in tandem with China against West foreign policy is in the interests of both Eastern nations. Take Syria as an example (a nation ow destroyed) - 10 years ago American and Nato power would have intervened in the Syrian conflict. That is no longer possible due to the opposition by Russia and China who are strong enough now to work against any perceived threat of Western intervention that would result in another key nation falling under the Western Sphere of influence.
    No one liked the Cold War but people had to accept that was the status quo at the time. I'm sure no one likes the uncertainty of the times ahead (the Syrians are already suffering) but it is the status quo we will have to accept. The three powers will have their own spheres and will act to ensure that both their sphere is not infringed upon and, if they can do it, ensure their rivals sphere is not further increased.
     
     
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  • RonJames1980
    I do not like what is happening in Crimea now. But Russia has a point: West created the Kosovo precedent. Turky is occupying Northern part of Cyprus for decades (!) now.

    The solution? Well, I guess the best to do now is to have a UN brokered referendum. Crimea can gain independence but not join Russia.

    And then ... PLEASE support democracy and freedom in the new Crimea!
     
     
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  • Bicarbonate of Soda
    I totally agree with the view that Putin must be stopped; the justifications re ethnic Russians in Crimea and the rest of the Ukraine are spurious. (FWIW, ethnic Germans were a majority in the Sudetenland, but that didn't justify Chamberlain's supine response). However it is odd that you talk of European "reunification". Unless we consider the Romans, Europe has never been unified (and likely never will be). (I discount Napoleon and Hitler as only partial and short-lived unifications).
     
     
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  • Unclevodka
    The only snag is that Putin's citizens are not going to question what Russia stands for. Putin is actually very unpopular in Russia (judging by Odnoklassniki polls and conversations I have with them), but have no illusions, Russians all fantasize about sending the tanks back into Eastern Europe. I go there frequently and speak the language fluently. They all lament the fall of the Soviet Union and the diminution of their territory, preserving an iron belief that all the Slavic peoples love them.
     
     
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  • A former russian enemy of Putin
    It is fairytales you tell us! There was not a democratic change in Urraine, it was a coup cynically supported and financed by EU and USA, you have been trying to tame a nation you consider to be a russian bear. If it had happened somewhere else you would have never accepted such revolution. You are liars swaying public opinion and have never wanted good for Russia, how does a bear feel when forced into the cage?
     
     
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  • Maxim
    You guys still think that Russian people don't want this and it is only government manipulation. Just go through some popular Russian social media websites and see how they are swarming with "innocent" Russians who are eager to go to war with Ukraine which would cause millions of innocent Ukrainians to die. What do you expect in return? Mercy? Putin has nearly 70% popular vote for his war according to a recent poll and you are talking about humanity here. This is in fact cynicism and hypocrisy. Real terrorists are not Chechens, it is the Russian Army who destroyed their country and broke their society by killing hundreds of thousands of them.
     
     
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  • James Siever, Munich, Germany
    The play, which is currently being staged by Putin on the Crimea, should seem familiar to the West. Then it was "counter-revolutionaries", from whom Czechoslovakia had to be protected in 1968, now there are "fascist gangs" who seized power in Kiev, and against them the Russians in the Crimea must be "protected" through a military occupation of Crimea. Those who stand up like the Ukrainians on the Maidan for Europe's values such as freedom, human rights and democracy, and who defy Russian pressure are called by the Kremlin "fascists". Again, this is a bad tradition of Russian propaganda from Soviet times, true to Lenin's philosophy that you accuse your opponents of what you are doing yourself! The real fascist of our days is actually Vladimir Putin. And he acts according to the same screenplay as Adolf Hitler did in the Sudeten crisis of 1938. Hitler marched into the Sudetenland to free the Germans living there from the "Czech yoke" and to get them under the "protection of the Reich". This led to the destruction of Czechoslovakia, and was also the prelude of the beginning of World War II one year later. Unfortunately, this was even legally sanctioned by the Western powers with the Munich Agreement. Hopefully the West has learned the lesson: any aggression against the territorial integrity of another state must have consequences for the aggressor, otherwise it causes further aggression. And the now de facto Russian annexation of the Crimea is - as also the Russian occupation of the Georgian region South Ossetia in 2008 - an aggression against the territorial integrity of Ukraine and in flagrant violation of the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, by which Russia had confirmed the affiliation of Crimea to Ukraine. Putin conducts power politics in the same style as the Soviet Union in the 20th Century or the imperialist tsarist empire in the 19th Century. Who, like Putin, ignores international law and agreements has certainly disqualified himself as a strategic partner for the EU. And the cynical and brutal way in which Putin treats the Ukraine, awakens bad memories of Stalin and Hitler. Putin's Russia departs, at least for the time being, from the circle of civilized nations. It should now feel the consequences. Sanctions such as the exclusion from the group of G8 or the withdrawal of visas for functionaries of the Putin regime are the least that the West now owes the Ukrainian people, as well as themselves and their values.
     
     
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  • TT
    "Europe’s other illusion was that Russia would accept the reunification of the continent. In fact, Putin has actively sought to prevent Europe from being reunited."
    "Reunification" of the European continent? "Prevent Europe from being reunited"? When has Europe ever been unified as a political or national entity?
    European political history has been one of states acting in their self interests, and seeking to expand their spheres of influence. Wars have ensued. At the moment, a group of European countries acting in their self interests under the umbrella EU and NATO are looking to expand even further east towards Russia.
    I think the first illusion here is the belief that such an expansion could continue without Russia feeling threatened. The second illusion is that there can be a united Europe without Russia. For good (literature, fight against Napoleon, Nazism etc) or bad (communism (but perhaps the Germans can take the blame as well for this loopy idea) and Stalinism), Russia is part of Europe culturally and politically.
     
     
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    • arte replies...
      TT- You are self contradicting - you say "Russia is part of Europe culturally and ..politically - so can you please define who exactly in Russia will feel threatened once Ukraine joins the EU and NATO? And another thing - don’t teach young people quasi-history - when it comes to Stalin's "devotion" to fighting Nazis, don’t forget to add about the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact my dear and what this mass murderer did on 17 Sep 1939 and later during the war decimating Polish top intellectuals, military, doctors etc etc. And your darling Putin still is unable to apologise for. For shame.
       
       
 
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