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Andrius Kubilius: This Is Realistic Future Scenario For Russia

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Andrius Kubilius: This Is Realistic Future Scenario For Russia
Andrius Kubilius
PHOTO: 15MIN.LT

The former Prime Minister of Lithuania spoke about the window of opportunity for our region.

What sanctions have not yet been used against the Putin regime? Do Russians believe Kremlin propaganda? Can Russia become a democratic state? The Charter97.org website talked about this and much more with MEP Andrius Kubilius, the former Prime Minister of Lithuania.

— You were one of the first politicians in Brussels who called for sanctions against Russian oil and gas. It was unthinkable at the time, but then it became the reality. Do you see any areas where to put pressure on Russia today?

— Indeed, after the war has started, nobody believed that the EU could impose sanctions — I remember the discussions in the EPP group. Then, we have managed to convince our group — it took some efforts. From that time onwards, the EU did an impressive job: 12 sanctions packages. Some sanctions are very painful. In some cases, Russia has quite an experience in circumventing restrictive measures. So, when you decide to impose sanctions it doesn’t mean that is all — this is a permanent job.

Last year, as one of my initiatives, we brought a debate in the European Parliament on sanction effectiveness. We also looked at what is missing. For example, we noted that LNG was not included in sanctions. Also, we spoke a lot about sanctions circumvention, both on energy exports, and on high-tech imports to Russia. It remains to be important, and permanent attention should be paid.

When you start to implement such kind of a big and very important sanctions package, you start to see what are your own institutional weaknesses. Sanctions are implemented by member states. It is not so easy to coordinate and to have the same supervision and intensity — this is a constant job. That is why in the new European Commission, it would be useful to have special Commissioner on sanctions, because that is a very important policy area. I am not saying that the Commission does a bad job, but because of the importance of the issue, it would be good to have two new positions in the Commission: Commissioner on Defense and Commissioner on Sanctions

— In overall strategy of defeating Russia, how important is the policy of maintaining sanctions pressure?

— Definitely, it is very important. We need to find how to diminish Russian capabilities to finance the war. From that point of view, sanctions, especially on export of energy resources, work. Now Russia gets income from export of fossil fuels all over the world: China, India and so on. It is two times less than they were getting at the beginning of the war but still, every day Russia gets quite a big amount of money.

Second, we need to keep sanctions on high-tech import in order not to allow Russia to keep its capability to produce modern weapons. We shall continue that. This is part of the overall strategy to defeat Russia.

— An instrumental for the fall of the USSR was the fact that at some point, Soviet people stopped believing in propaganda, "socialistic ideals", "bright future of communism" — people were just pretending. For example, to get to any university, you've got to be a member of the Lenin's Youth. At which stage do you see Russian people are now? Are they true believers in the "Russian World"?

— I would say, the best sociological opinion research was done with Prigozhin mutiny. As I saw, for people in Rostov — it was a festival for them. When Prigozhin was marching on Moscow, I haven't seen anybody, any kind of local communities preparing themself to defend the capital. You could see that people did not care about big ideological narratives, which Putin repeats again and again.

Even the war itself — with the exception of propaganda I do not see any big "patriotic" narratives "we shall defeat our enemies!" showing that people would be very much keen to defend their country — it is not such a case.

How long will it take for people to completely abandon ideological war narratives? It is difficult to predict. But for me it looks like Putin is not able to achieve genuine mobilization of the society. Through his propaganda he tries to show that the people are mobilized. But, perhaps, he understands himself that in reality this is not such a strong drive in society, as he was expecting.

— What about the persecution of the "Naked party"? Would you see it as part in the attempt to mobilize the society?

— Putin understood that this was a party of the elite. On one side, you have the war, Russian soldiers are killed in thousands, Russian mothers are starting to protest. And on the other side, Moscow elite makes this "party". Perhaps, he understood how big an irritant it might be to the society if people start to notice how close-to-Kremlin elite is behaving. That is why he decided to show that this is totally unacceptable.

— So, in your view, Russian people at large mostly just follow along? They are not true believers in "Russian World"?

— Yes. I do not see any signals that they are believers. Of course, some people are, but it is not like the whole society is living only with that idea.

— Looking forward, how do you see the future of Russia? Will it be one state or several states? What the borders are likely to be?

— I think it is premature to forecast. I'm not so sure whether we are doing a good job if we are starting to discuss those issues.

I see there is a problem in the West: in some capitals, there is quite visible fear of unknown Russia. The logic is very simple: if Ukraine decisively wins against Russia and Putin's regime is defeated then the regime collapses. Then, the question with a big question mark is what is next, who is coming instead of Putin.

Many opinion papers are written where you can see a lot of worries about how Russia will develop if the Putin regime collapses. A new Prigozhin-type figure might come to power. There might be total chaos, turmoil, collapse of the state into small pieces. Then, the question is who is controlling the nuclear weapons. From that fear of a such possible scenario there comes a conclusion that maybe a decisive victory of Ukraine is not that much needed because it can create danger.

My view is very simple: we in the West need to speak loudly about the possibility of normal transformation of Russia when Ukraine wins and Putin's regime collapses. Transformation towards a more normal state is the scenario which we should discuss and we should invest into. In order to convince the West not to be afraid of Ukrainian victory and Putin's regime collapse, we need to work with the Russian opposition. We need to help them. We need to show that they have some kind of agenda for the future of Russia.

It reminds me the situation when we [Lithuanians] were fighting for our independence back in the 1990s and we were getting letters from "the big guys" in the West saying, "Don't rock the boat of the Soviet Union. Don't demand your independence. If you rock the Soviet boat too hard, Gorbachev power will collapse and there will be a big danger".

I am not the one of those who pushes the discussion into a possibility of Russia collapsing and breaking into small regional parts — it can happen, but it can happen on its own. There are regions which have different identities. Maybe, Northern Caucasus might decide to leave ‚ I don't know what they will do. But for us, it is much more important to show the possibility of the transformation of Russia into a normal country.

Development of the regions in Russia is very much on the agenda for the liberal opposition, which says that in the future political architecture of Russia regions should have much more real power. They call it refederalization of Russia. This is a realistic scenario.

— Stalin once said, "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?" One might ask how many divisions Russian liberal opposition got — let's say, Patrushev or Kadyrov certainly has got many more…

— Before the collapse of the Soviet Union all the power, all control of the military was consolidated in the Kremlin. One year before Gorbachev came nobody was forecasting that things could go into perestroika and democratization.

It is almost the same now: we cannot forecast how things will change. I see a window of opportunity very much related to the Ukrainian victory and then, possibly, collapse of Putin's regime. Then the political elite might decide that things should be changed. If Russia loses the war it also loses its posture on the global stage. These things can go in a very unpredictable way.

— Whatever the future configuration of Russia might be, some say that for the EU, for Lithuania in particular, the safest would be if Belarus became a member of NATO. What is your take on that?

— I was asked to write an article on the topic and Andrei Sannikov has published a book on that. Yes, I agree, absolutely. I see some kind of historical tendency: when the Soviet Union started to collapse, then democracy, Western, values, Euro-Atlantic Integration with states' membership in the EU and NATO started to move slowly from the western borders of the former Soviet bloc to the East. We [in Lithuania] were lucky to get that possibility much earlier. Now, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia are moving in that direction. Armenia is also starting to consider how to come closer to the EU. The same, I hope, will happen with democratic Belarus with regard to both the EU and NATO.

Even for its own sake, for Russia to be transformed, there should be no gray zones in between the Euro-Atlantic community and Russia itself. Zbigniew Brzezinski said that if Russia had an opportunity to rule over Ukraine, Russia would always remain an empire. If Russia loses such a possibility, then there are much more chances for Russia to develop itself into a normal country. Let's not allow Russian society again and again to face the temptation to expand their influence into some kind of territory size of Ukraine or Belarus.

When Russia becomes a normal country, then it will not be such a threat to the European security as it is now, and the European continent will come much closer to the dream of Bush senior: Europe whole, free and at peace.

If there will be no major security issues on the European agenda then the question will be what is the future of NATO, because NATO was created and still operates as a defender against Russian expansion and Russian imperialism. I still hope we will see Russia becoming a normal country – although much later than Belarus or Ukraine.

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