Russia cannot be excluded from Europe
Bradley Blankenship
Ukrainian border guards watch as a special vehicle digs a trench on the Ukraine-Russia border close to Sumy, Ukraine, December 21, 2021. /CFP

Ukrainian border guards watch as a special vehicle digs a trench on the Ukraine-Russia border close to Sumy, Ukraine, December 21, 2021. /CFP

Editor's note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The ongoing Ukraine crisis is revealing fundamental divides within Europe, particularly as it relates to the worldview of individual states. The EU's two premier economic powers, France and Germany, are urging a European solution along with other countries while others, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe with a history with Russia, are urging a transatlantic response. 

There is also a noticeable spectrum between those states that are hoping for a diplomatic solution and those that are opting for military intervention, with both of these spectrums over-lapping rather neatly. That is, the transatlantic camp is leaning to the side of military options while the European camp is leaning on diplomacy. 

This is rather interesting because it reveals some fundamental conceptions from these countries about Europe and what that means in practice. Fundamentally, the discussion boils down to whether or not Europeans consider Russia to be a part of Europe. 

Anatol Lieven, a senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and a former journalist for Time magazine in Europe, wrote a piece for Time published on January 25 explaining a bit of the history of this discussion. 

The transatlantic position that envisages NATO's expansion aimed at establishing a "Europe whole and free," which is itself a perennial violation of verbal security guarantees given to Moscow from the West, implies excluding Russia from the European community and from having a role in Europe. 

This is "a matter of deep offence to Russians, and Russian liberals in particular, especially since this Western rhetoric was imbued with the assumption (a racist one, by the way) that the word 'European' equates to 'civilized.' And that Russia isn't part of that idea," Lieven explains.

Moreover, I would add that NATO's exclusionary stance in Europe toward Russia, which plays on these colonialist attitudes, is crucial to completing a key objective for Washington's geopolitical ambitions: Containing the rise of China. 

As A. Wes Mitchell, former U.S. assistant secretary state for European and Eurasian affairs, explained in an August 2021 piece for The National Interest, a two-front war with Russia and China would be unwinnable so the U.S. must find a way to stagger its confrontation with both. 

The flags of the European Union and Russia. /CFP

The flags of the European Union and Russia. /CFP

He explained in the piece that the U.S. should deal a catastrophic blow to Russia's influence in Europe and force its ambitions east. "Simply put, the goal should be to alleviate America's simultaneity problem by giving Russia incentives to be less of a European power—and more of an Asian one," he wrote. Mitchell's essay was based on a report he wrote in 2020 for the Pentagon. 

This is a strategy that is unlikely to work in practice for many reasons, but mainly because the China-Russia strategic partnership is too important for both countries and because Russia is a pivotal part of Europe. 

Not only is it literally part of Europe and most of its population lives in the European part of the country, but Russia and the EU are economically intertwined. Russia is the EU's fifth-largest trading partner; at the same time, the EU is Russia's largest trading partner, as well as a major source of investment and technology. 

Likewise, all of European history would not be complete without Russia. Today, there are people-to-people and cultural exchanges with Russians in the EU providing an important role for society. 

To be sure, there is a growing conception on the other side that Russia is distinct. Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted that Russia is a "distinct civilization" from the rest of Europe. A poll from March 2021 by the Levada Center also found that a majority of Russians don't see their country as European. 

Russia is massive and spans across Eurasia, so it makes sense in that way, but the poll also indicates that a minority – only 12 percent – feels Russia is treated with respect by the West. It's for this reason that one can only conclude that Russia's perception of separation from Europe is a reaction to Western aggression – not an end to itself. 

Countries pushing for a European solution obviously see the absurdity in expelling Russia from Europe. It does not make sense on its face, and it makes less sense when such a hardline position is emanating primarily from Washington, e.g., across the Atlantic. Russia does not "deserve" a role in Europe; Russia is an extricable part of Europe. That's it. 

On the other hand, those countries which are putting forward the transatlantic position, based on colonialist attitudes and false consciousness, are being played. 

Washington is simply using Europe as a playing field for its ambitions without engaging these countries as actors with their own interests. Just look at how the Czech Republic is backing America literally to the hilt, yet Washington hasn't had an ambassador in Prague for a year despite calls from the Czech side. That is not respectable, "civilized" behavior by any account.

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