Arkady Ostrovsky at Boris Nemtsov Forum, Brussels

November 25, 2016

“I think it hardly needs explaining in this audience that Russia’s actions have stemmed from fundamental weaknesses of the country both economic and political. I’d like to give you a quote:

“‘[At] the bottom of the Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is a traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. This thesis provides justification for that increase of the military and police power of the Russian state. Basically, this is only the steady advance of uneasy Russian nationalism, [a] centuries-old movement in which conceptions of offence and defence are inextricably confused.’”

I think this pretty accurately describes what’s happening with a view of those who [are] in the Kremlin. Trouble is, this was written in 1946 by George Kennan in his Long Telegram. Another bad news is that today we don’t have George Kennan and, what’s more, we don’t have the government in America, which is able to listen or understand the language which was used by Kennan in 1946.

We have traditionally viewed Russia as being separate from the West, as being an autocratic and weak country, and Putin being an outlier. That led us to the conclusion, which Boris Berezovsky has outlined, which is that Russia is not acting – or the Russian government is not acting in the interests of the country, but is governed by concerns of, and considerations of security of the ruling elite and their holding power.

That was opposed to the idea of European countries and the West more generally and America being governed by the long-term interests of their nations. Well, coming from Britain now, post-Brexit, and coming out of the US elections, this no longer holds true. Brexit was clearly damaging, and will continue to be damaging to the UK economy, and the policies which have been pronounced by Trump, and protectionism and isolationism and the scrapping of the transatlantic trade partnership deal, is going to be undoubtedly very harmful to America, but very perhaps helpful to the populists and the nationalists.

So we now live in a different reality, and that has to be considered when dealing with Russia as well. I think the issue of sanctions will come up very soon, given the new administration in Washington. They will not be able to be effective without America’s participation. But they need to be reviewed anyway exactly, because of the contradiction which remains at the core of the Russian system, and that is the contradiction between the advanced, modern, urbanised, educated class that is able to participate in the global division of labour, and the archaic, anachronistic state which tries to ignore the interests of global elite. As I said, this is not happening just in Russia but in Europe generally.

And the final point is that if the Western policy towards Russia will need to remain one of containment, which was outlined by Kennan, which includes both containing Russian aggression and, more importantly, beefing up [the] the political system of security and economy of the border states, in this case, Ukraine, and making a success out of Ukraine, this will demand a far greater commitment of money, political will, and time and management, [and] will remain the key to dealing with the Putin regime going forward.

And all our hope at the moment really rests with member states such as Germany, in particular, which does understand perhaps – one of the few European countries that understands that getting Ukraine right is not just the issue of good foreign relations, but it’s an issue of internal security, and European order, and the rule of law here. Thank you.”