In his magisterial book “Europe”; Norman Davies writes, “Europe is a relatively modern idea. It gradually replaced the earlier concept of ‘Christendom’ in a complex intellectual process lasting from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries.”
Jean Monnet, the founder of the European Union said, “Europe has never existed. One has to genuinely create Europe”.
“For more than 500 years” continues Davies, “the cardinal problem in defining Europe has centred on the inclusion or exclusion of Russia. Throughout modern history the Orthodox, autocratic, economically backward but expanding Russia has been a bad fit.”
Nevertheless, Empress Catherine the Great announced in 1767 in St Petersburg that “Russia is a European state”. Dostoevsky, at the poet Pushkin’s funeral, eulogised Europe. “Peoples of Europe don’t know how dear to us they are.”
Muscovy has been an integral part of Christendom since the tenth century. Moreover, one can see that since Pushkin’s time Russia has created a larger part of the Western high cultural heritage than any other single European country and far much more than America. Think of the ballet (the best in the world by far) and the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres and their protégés from Nureyev to Anna Netrebko. Think of composers: Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. Think of the novel, poetry and drama: Tolstoy, Gogol, Chekov, Turgenev, Anna Ahmatova as well as Pushkin and Dostoevsky. Lenin identified closely with Europe. Only under Stalin did Russia move away from Europe. In more recent times both Mikhail Gorbachev and President Vladimir Putin have talked of wanting to belong to the “Common European Home”-- one day members of the European Union.
But it is not just Europe that should remember its profound relationship with Russia it is the US too. The US and Russia have been at peace for 200 years. Despite the Cold War a shot in anger has never been fired against the other. Throughout the nineteenth century Russia was America’s closest friend. It stood with the North during the Civil War and sent warships to prevent England and France from interfering on the side of the Confederacy. During World Wars 1 and 2 the US and Russia were allies.
It was not until the communist takeover that the US entered a long period of enmity with Russia, only interrupted by the need for an alliance against Hitler. After the war, the US was convinced Stalin had designs on Western Europe, although we now know there is nothing in the historical record to suggest he had. The West, in response to its own myth of the red menace, created a hostile military alliance, NATO. Russia was provoked to create its counterpart, the Warsaw Pact.
As Isaac Shapiro wrote in his seminal article in World Policy Journal, President Bill Clinton ignored the fact that the Soviet Union and communism collapsed from within.
“He treated Russia as a defeated nation that had no choice but to accept America’s ideas of what was in Russia’s best interests. The US exploited Moscow’s perceived weakness. It was the Clinton Administration that pushed Nato eastward up to Russia’s border”.
In 2001 President George W. Bush announced that the US would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Later the US signed agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic (since modified by President Barack Obama) to deploy anti-missile defences that could be turned against Russia, albeit meant for defence against Iran. At the debut of the Obama Administration the US made it clear that it wanted both Georgia and Ukraine one day to become NATO members. Russia understandably has considered all these as moves to weaken and encircle it.
When President Clinton took office 70% of Russians held a favourable view of the US. By the end of the millennium it was down to 37% and has continued to decline.
Less political and economic provocation on the Western side and more respect for international law on the Russian side could have averted the present Ukrainian imbroglio. At last this week Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be saying that Ukraine could be part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Community as well as having a trade pact with the EU -- the refusal to countenance this was the original trigger for the conflict.
The EU and the US should have used the days since the end of the Cold War to strengthen Russia’s place in Europe. They should have given Russia the support that they did to Germany and Japan after their defeat in World War 2. Russia is not an enemy but it is being fashioned into one. The West must halt the malicious side of its interference in Ukrainian affairs. The US and EU must work to create a Europe in which all countries can live in amity. And that means that those who believe in Monnet’s “creating” of Europe must include Russia.