Russia has always been an intermittent partner to the West, but it is not our enemy — prejudice is
‘Russia poses an increasing threat to the stability of the UK and is using all the sophisticated tools at its disposal to achieve its aims’.
These are the words that the director general of MI5 told the Guardian in an exclusive interview. It seems that our old enemy has come back and we should rearm in order to defend ourselves. The situation however, is arguably more complex than the simplistic view of Russia as ‘The Enemy’. Perhaps, from a Russian point of view, we are posing a threat to them.
Tensions between the West and Russia have increased dramatically since the Ukraine crisis in 2013. As a result, the relationship is experiencing the worst moment since the Cold War. Economic and political sanctions against each other and cyber attacks, have all been used as means by both sides to damage the other. Mass media in the United States and Europe keep focusing on warlike Russian policy. Besides, Putin is largely considered to be a dictator, who subjugates his own people in a country that does not have democracy.
Again, I would argue the situation is more complex than that. In fact, if we scrutinise things more closely and examine the geopolitical picture, we suddenly notice how NATO and the European Union, after the Soviet Union’s collapse, have expanded their areas to the very border of Russia. Moreover, Russia, because of its dimensions, has to deal with several powerful countries which include: China, Turkey, Japan and the US. The result is that a sense of insecurity is fostered when it comes to controlling and defending such a vast territory like Russia. In view of this, having buffer states has always been important for Russians to prevent potential invasions — especially from its Europe neighbours, where from Napoleon to Hitler there have always been attempts to conquer it. However, after years of collaboration between Russia, the EU and NATO, the crisis in Ukraine seems to have destroyed that peaceful relationship, bringing military tensions and a major political crisis.
For Russians, Ukraine is like an extended relative whom they will never accept as being pro-American — especially from a geopolitical point of view, which would give a great strategic advantage to the West. On a different note, despite the common belief which depicts Russia as a global military power, its defence budget is much lower than that of the US. It does not even have the economic resources to maintain a prolonged war, given that its GDP is even lower than the UK’s. Its population is also much lower than Europe’s or the United States’. During a recent show of strength with the Russian naval battalion passing the English channel, it revealed an outmoded navy.
However, Russia is not only a big country trying to survive in a jungle of lions; it is itself a predatory animal which could be dangerous. Like every country, it does things in its own interests. Though it is certainly not as powerful as it used to be thirty years ago, it still remains together with the US the most powerful nuclear country in the world, with more than 5,000 nuclear warheads.
So, does Russia want to conquer Europe or even defeat America? I doubt it. What would be the point? On the other hand, there are clear signs of defensive behaviour as a way of preventing the West from getting an advantage.
It is important to get an accurate perspective of Russia. It seems that we continue to know very little about it and judge it mainly according to our prejudices. This article is not a defence of Russia, but seeks to get the reader to begin asking some questions about our attitudes towards this country.
It may serve us all better to begin trading and collaborating with Russia as equals, instead of viewing it as a natural enemy. Russia is not a threat if we try to understand it; but it could become one if we keep getting closer to its border armed with nuclear missiles.