Khodorkovsky at European Parliament: The Putin Doctrine and European Security

December 2, 2014

The following remarks as prepared for delivery by Mikhail Khodorkovsky before the European Parliament.


1. The system of Europe-wide security today is facing its most serious challenge since the end of the Second World War.  In essence, Russia’s open annexation of Crimea and its barely concealed annexation of a part of the territory of the Southeast of Ukraine are marking the end of the Yalta/Potsdam world order.

It can not be said that the 70 years that have passed since Yalta were entirely a time of calm, prosperity, and stability for Europe.  But not once in all this time did a founder-country of the Yalta/Potsdam system openly violate the main principle that had been laid at the foundation of the Europe-wide post-war consensus – war can not be a way of resolving territorial disputes in Europe.

It is not a matter of the fairness or unfairness of a concrete situation, but one of principle.  The Russian government has once again opened up Pandora’s box and unleashed a threat that has already laid waste to the European continent many times before.  Moreover, when it comes to the question of territorial claims, Russia is actually more vulnerable than other countries, not less.

It is symbolic that what began in Crimea is ending with Crimea as well.

The Kremlin leadership’s goal is far from geopolitically – it merely wants to return to a foreign policy comfort zone in which no external factors can be a threat to the regime’s existence.

The extent of the Kremlin regime’s hopes is a return to the Helsinki Accords, only without the third package.  This is an attempt to effect an overhaul of European history not from the moment of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but 15 years further back, an attempt to make adjustments to the policy of “detente”.  The Kremlin wants a simple thing:  to return to the policy of peaceful coexistence with total non-interference in its “internal affairs”.  Meaning that it expects recognition of the Kremlin’s right to do anything it wants in what it considers to be its “zone of influence”.

3. As old-fashioned as this doctrine may seem, it represents a serious danger for Europe.  Russia remains as before a country with a colossal military potential, sufficient to destroy all of humanity many times over.  In case anybody has forgotten about this, the Kremlin is ready to give a reminder about it today. The whole huge strategic military potentia, which is doubtless going to continue to exist for a long time yet, has proven to be under the control of people with an extremely low level of political and moral accountability.  A quick and easy way out of the situation that has emerged therefore does not exist.

4. Despite the obvious wrongfulness of the aggression perpetrated against Ukraine, Europe is going to have to look for a compromise in relations with the Kremlin regime, because the alternative to compromise is global war.  This is an objective reality that can not simply be brushed aside.  But, as a famous 20th century Russian political figure once said, there are compromises and then there are compromises.  A policy of “appeasing the Kremlin” – this is a path that will lead to a big war far more quickly than it seems to many European politicians and businessmen who are disposed to conformism.  It needs to be recalled that the crisis in the Ukraine is not only and not so much a local conflict, it is a compromising of the old policy in relation to the authoritarian regime in Russia.

5. A consequence of the crisis became the appearance of a new  hot spots on the map of Europe, for now limited by the boundaries of two oblasts in the Southeast of Ukraine.  But it carries a local character only under the political conditions existing in Europe at the given moment and under the balance of power that has emerged at the given moment between Russia and the West.  However, these conditions and this balance of forces are more likely variables than constants.

In the Kremlin and around the Kremlin today there are more and more people who are candidly counting on a rapid “demise of Europe” in consequence of a full-scale political and economic crisis.

In the Kremlin they are seriously hoping that, for example, Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU or the default of one of the Schengen Treaty countries will lead to the collapse of the Euro zone and to the appearance in Europe of acute contradictions along North/South and East/West fault lines.

In this case, every effort will be made to make sure that the dividing line of the political watershed will pass not along the course of the Northern Donets, but once again along the Vistula and the Oder.

6. The hawks in the Kremlin are not simply waiting for the crisis to happen in Europe.  They are prepared to actively contribute to its appearance, notwithstanding even the fact that the new world global economic crisis would be deadly for the Russian economy first and foremost.  Nevertheless, there is a great likelihood that under pressure from these people, the Kremlin is going to be shaking Europe to the best of its abilities.  Because inside-out Trotskyite ideas about permanent revolution are popular there once again – only now with an ultra-right, nationalistic tinge.  They dream of creating a new ultra-right International, which would unite all the reactionary, all the anti-liberal forces of Europe.

Truth to tell, Putin has already begin to wage a “big psychological war” against Europe, increasing his propaganda and agent-of-corruption influence here.

7. To curb such expansion will demand of Europe a serious mobilisation of forces.  This is a new cold war, and it is not something that will go away in one year.  The struggle that has now unfolded in the Ukraine is taking place not for territories, not for or against the restoration of Russia’s influence.  This war is not about Russia’s interests at all, it is about the interests of a group of people who have seized power in Russia.  This is a struggle for and against the principles of a rule-of-law state, for and against freedoms, for and against human rights, for and against European values.

8. Is there hope of being able to effectively deal this threat?  There is, and it stems from the very nature of the Russian bureaucracy, which is on the whole rational and apolitical.  There are many people in the Russian establishment who are sober-minded, think rationally, and on the whole are oriented at European values.  But today these people are being forced to submit to a political will that has been formulated by a criminally corrupt minority whose only goal is to hold on to power.  The majority in the Russian elite understands perfectly well that the Kremlin’s course today is leading the country to catastrophe.  This majority is the restraining premise that must not allow Russia – and the whole world along with it – to slide into the abyss.

9. Today, when a neo-totalitarian regime has factually established itself in Russia – a regime in which there is no place for anyone who thinks differently – confusion reigns in the midst of the Russian opposition, because mechanisms for the opposition to legitimately come to power at the given moment  do not exist.  However, the goal of the existence of the opposition in Russia at now consists not of coming to power – such a goal is unattainable for now – but of serving as a restraining factor for the reactionary forces that are prodding the Kremlin, along with other things towards global confrontation.  How balanced both the domestic and the foreign policy of the Kremlin will be depends in large part on how big and how organised this opposition is, on how principled a position it will be able to take. Today the opposition in Russia is fighting not only for Russia, but for all of Europe.  It is precisely for this reason that its efforts deserve to have serious support.

10. So what, then, can real Russian patriots who do not agree with the “Putin doctrine” realistically expect from Europe?

It would be desirable if Europe’s policy were:

a) intelligent;

b) honest;

c) differentiated.

11. When I say that Europe’s policy has got to be intelligent, I mean, first and foremost, realism in understanding the fact that Russia and Putin are not one and the same thing.

That is, sooner or later Putin will be gone, but Russia will remain and it is going to have to find a place in greater Europe.

Perhaps the phenomenon of Putin actually emerged, while we ended up where we did, precisely because this place was not determined quite the way it should have been after the fall of the Berlin wall.  That is, the question needs to be broken up into two parts:  Russia and Europe – that is one thing; Europe and Putin – that is something else.

12. When I say that the policy has to be honest, I am urging that we not resort to simplifications, painting life in Russia in black-and-white colours -often in a caricature style.  I am likewise urging that double standards not be applied in relation to events taking place in Russia, and in both directions at that:  when Russia is forgiven things that would never be forgiven to anybody else, and, when Russia is denounced for things that are normal for others.

13. When I speak of a differentiated approach, I mean, first and foremost, that sanctions, for example, need to be both intelligent and honest.

My friends, who also oppose Putin’s regime, convince me not to speak against sanctions because they believe that this is what restrains the aggressive behavior of the Kremlin today. I agree with this but I consider the application of sanctions against Russia as a country to be a big political mistake.  Sanctions against the Russian economy seems senseless to me.  The logic consisting of the premise that if life gets worse for the Russian people they will understand more quickly just what bad rulers they have elected seems absolutely unsuitable to me.  Whatever short-term (and highly doubtful) effect may be attained in the short run can be compensated many-fold by strategic minuses in the distant future.

The Russian people must not be pushed away from Europe.  But it is necessary to be much tougher in everything that concerns targeted sanctions aimed against corrupt officials, law-enforcers and their business partners.  Yet very little is being done now in this area.

14. Accordingly, three most important practical questions arise:

1) Notwithstanding all the sanctions, cultural and scientific exchange and assistance in education and in bringing up the new generation can not suffer.

It does not matter what noble motives this may be by guiding those who are proposing to introduce restrictions and prohibitions in the field of culture, education, or science, cultural ties between Russia and Europe must be protected.  And Kobzon has the right to participate in them too, by the way.  Let him re-educate himself by looking at Europe:))

On the contrary, we need to promote the growth of scholarly and cultural exchanges.  This is the guarantee of the future victory of the European choice.

2) The Russian opposition needs to be protected from persecution in Europe through Russian political manhunts.

 As the world discusses sanctions, Putin is welcoming the head of Interpol in the Kremlin and, in essence, thanking him for assisting in the struggle against the opposition.

Corrupt officials, barely concealing that they are agents of the secret police, use stolen money to hire the best European lawyers to attack human rights advocates.

European courts matter-of-factly agree to hear falsified decisions of Russian courts that are merely the sword of a repressive system.  This takes place even when other courts of European countries have already spoken, for example, with respect to a question of extradition.

3) A wall needs to be put up against the corruptional activity of the Kremlin regime in Europe.

It is unacceptable when the rulers of a de facto totalitarian state practically openly finance their supporters here, in Europe, with money stolen from our people.  This not only undermines your unity, it also creates absolutely the wrong impression of Europe in the eyes of the Russian liberal opposition.  If everything can be bought, then where are the ideals for the sake of which we are wasting our lives?

15. I know today’s regime is not eternal.  It probably has no more than 10 years left, and maybe even much less.  How much damage it can cause in this time and what will come after it depends on our joint efforts.