Has the Skripal case – the poisoning in England by chemical nerve agent of a former Russian double agent, with collateral casualties – led to a snowball effect of a kind of anti-Russian hysteria in the West?
One is led to that question when reading an editorial of the Spanish daily El País. The author is worried about the prospect of the building, “under the auspices of Russia”, of an “anti-European European Parliament”, following the May 2019 elections; something that could “lead to five years of chaos in Brussels “.
According to the Madrilenian journalist, the Russian “technological device of interference … has helped to destabilise, among others, the United Kingdom of Brexit, Italy of the Northern League and Spain of the crisis Catalan independence”. Are we dreaming?
Catalan independence and the Northern Italian League prospered long before Vladimir Putin entered the Kremlin. They were already very powerful in 1996, when Westerners massively financed the electoral campaign of Boris Yeltsin, before turning a blind eye to his fraudulent re-election as president of Russia.
As for Brexit, its main cantor was Boris Johnson. It is difficult to find a foreign secretary as anti-Russian as he is. If the European Union does not work well today, the fault does not lie with the “bad” Russians! It lies squarely with Europeans themselves.
It has also been said that Donald Trump’s accession to the White House was attributable to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But are the Russians responsible for the political frustration of American white workers? Is it they who suggested to the United States an electoral system where one can become president with three million votes less than his adversary?
We have to see things as they are: the professional career, notoriety and political ascendancy of Donald Trump are essentially American phenomena. And the fact that he remains popular with the Republican electorate has nothing to do with Moscow.
Russia is not a lamb. But it is ridiculous to turn her into the scapegoat of all our troubles. Is this merely an attempted strategy of maintaining Western influence in the manner that the West has always behaved towards the East?
With a weakened economy that is relatively less important than it was at the time of the USSR, Russia is trying to maintain its place in the world with the means that remain at its disposal: nuclear power, the ability to project forces abroad, and cyber-influence, where the Russians have trained their digital weapons against their Western inventors.
In the age of globalisation and global social networks, it is difficult to escape the wars of influence of one society over another. Moreover, distributing political propaganda on a social network, even if it is outside one’s own borders, is not illegal.
Did the Russians deploy extensive digital efforts against Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign? Yes, it’s undeniable. Did this tip three key states against her? It’s debatable.
Let us proceed with calm reason towards the “democracy” that is Russia. Russian democracy is far from perfect, but we must avoid throwing it into the arms of the Chinese. Let us help Russia join the “European Common House” (Gorbachev). Did the Kremlin order the very visible execution of a GRU (Directorate of Military Intelligence) officer who sold the name of dozens of his comrades? It’s very possible.
Corruption has reached such a level in Russia that the Tsar may have wanted to send a clear message: the most cruel fate awaits traitors, wherever they hide.
But this incident should have been dealt with at a lower level. It’s a serious problem that it has turned into a lasting diplomatic crisis. It is dangerous that the perceptions between Westerners and Russians are hardening. It’s unfortunate that the black veil of paranoia has descended to complicate the issues.
Putin is paranoid when he believes that the West deliberately hatched the Colour Revolutions against the Russian state in the former Soviet republics (the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Tulips in Kyrgyzstan in 2005, Maidan of Kiev in 2014).
These revolutions were spontaneous and not the result that some secret decision between Washington, London and Paris. That Western political structures have continued to encourage them is a different matter.
Westerners are paranoid when they believe that Russia is at the root of their current great political ills. Russia merely pokes that which is already hurting.
We must deflate this double paranoia.
This article was first published in Le Figaro.