Sochi horse at the gates of the West

Posted: Paulius Gritėnas Date: 2013-08-19 09:45

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Russia is turning back to the mentality of the Cold War, says the president of the United States Barack Obama faced with the fact that the political asylum to Edward Snowden was given by the Russian authorities as well as other controversial news from Moscow that reached the world in the last few days.

The reactions are similar in the White House where the people were very determined to “reload” the foreign relations with Russia. However, it seems that all the symbolic optimism and hand-shaking with Sergei Lavrov is going to be replaced by serious diplomatic discussions. The West expected that the end of the Cold War will also mean the end of Cold War geopolitics in Russia’s thinking, unfortunately, they were very mistaken. Russia never thought that the Cold War was over in the first place. Hate towards Western states triggered by communism, the wish to have its own unique “Russian” path in the world politics, despair and geopolitical weakness resulted in a certain type of messianic view of the international relations which is still very much alive in the thinking of Russian political elite.  It is true that for some time after the Soviet Union broke Russia was not powerful enough to compete with the Western world, therefore, the illusion that Russia will be ruled with accordance to the Western cultural and social values brought through capitalism was made. However, when Vladimir Putin and other ex-KGB’s as well as oligarchs loyal to Kremlin came into power, Russia re-grouped and started a new game. This rhetoric of the Cold War which bothered Obama, of course, is not the same as missiles in Cuba in 1965, but it covers an even more dangerous game that Russia plays with the West.

The game has started when the foreign companies started investing in natural resources rich Russia. As Edward Lucas, a famous British journalist, has noted, some companies have quickly understood the rules of business in Russia and given a chance started defending Russia’s way of politics so they would be first at getting biggest investments. However, the time came when the interests of business and politics started to mix and such persons like Gerhard Schroder replaced his political ethics with greed related to Gazprom. It is not surprising that the economic relations and the need to secure investments make some companies or even individuals defend and advocate Russia on the international level. When Russia was admitted to World Trade Organization despite all the critique of harsh handlings of certain social situations, undemocratic actions during the elections, the persecution of political opposition, it became clear that the freedom of trade and profits are now a priority over the individual freedom and human rights.

Considering Russia as equal member of various international organizations and even considering its leadership reminds French comic Remi Gaillard’s short films in which he, dressed with sports costume, pretends to participate in the game like any other player. It is true though, that Russia is not being expelled from the game unlike Remi who is banned from playin once everyone understands he is a fraud. Moscow is usually reacting to critique quite calmly and counter-argued that in Russia they are free to do whatever they think is appropriate. However, this does not apply to newly adopted laws which restric the activities of NGO‘s, opposition and possibilities ofprotests – meaning any political acts that would shatter Putin‘s regime. The last homophobic law which caused many discussions and controversies means that you can be arrested and punished for any information regarding homosexuality has become the last stroke. English actor Stephen Fry has written an open letter to David Cameron and asked him to acknowledge human rights violantions in Russia and boycott the Sochi games because Olympic spirit is all about equality and Russia clearly is not. However, it is unlikely that athletes who prepared for Sochi for four years will consider withdrawing from competing. It is pity that morals sometimes are too expensive for the West.

The Sochi Olympics is one the biggest victories of Putin. He not only convinced the Olympic Committee that Russia is capable to organize the games but also that it would bring many benefits for Russian citizens. It is not hard to notice that Sochi Olympics in a way are very similar to the 1936 ones in Berlin when Adolf Hitler was determined to show the power and strength of Nazi Germany as a leader of the world. Putin sees Sochi Olympics in a similar way. The most expensive winter Olympic games in the human history must end with the triumph of Russia, Putin’s triumph, to be more precise, because he needs make the West believe that he is worth respect.  And it does not matter that Russia’s laws are becoming more “Russian type of democracy” and leaving behind those who do not agree with them. It is not only the question of homosexuals’ rights in Russia, it is the question whether Russia needs those citizens who think and act differently?

What does it mean for ordinary Russian citizens who grew up in communism and just recently got the first look at the West and capitalism? In the country which suffered many social catastrophes and revolutions and in which there were practically no periods of peace, and talks about civil society and freedom never had much importance, any stability and sense of power is more than welcome. It is similar to what new middle class Russians experience when on holiday in Turkey, Egypt and so on. They can feel like Germans or French in the same luxury hotels, eating at the fancy restaurants and bragging about their properties. For them it is the opportunity to feel proud of their country and believe that indeed Russia is special, therefore, it must take a special place in the world politics.

It is strange and horrifying but the growing belief that Russia is special and politically promising comes back to the intellectual thinking. Some members of the Lithuanian Parliament are openly saying that the laws in Russia are the ones to be followed and encouraged. They also say that the West is doomed and it will take us down too with its liberal values and propaganda. It is clear that not everyone is intellectually mature and such nostalgia only proves that. Fortunately, these words will remain unheard because the Baltic States are socially with the West and it never was under Russia’s influence culturally anyway, therefore, Russia can only terrorize them using the gas argument. And it is not going to last for long. The energetic independence of the Baltic States is increasing and it obviously bothers Russia that is going to be more aggressive towards them.

The Sochi horse is approaching and brings new democratic values of freedom, civil society and equality and it also makes the West revalue its positions as well. As Lithuanian philosopher Stasys Šalkauskis once pointed out, Lithuania is in the unique place between the East and the West, it is a bridge between the two and it only depends on Lithuanians whether the “information attacks” and provocations of Russia will be ignored and dealt with rationally and whether Russia will have the courage to continue disrespecting the West.  Recent events proved that Putin has surrounded himself and others with the spirit of the Cold War and revanchist aspirations and at the moment of weakness the West can expect Sochi horse at its gate.