The Washington Times: Another litmus test for transatlantic resilience, September 5, 2018
Conventional wisdom has it that symbols in politics matter. History tends to repeat itself, especially if we fail to learn its lessons.
August is rife with tragic historical anniversaries which remind us of the lessons we have not learned: Ten years of the Russian aggression against Georgia; 50 years since the Soviet tanks crushed the peaceful protests in Prague; 79 years since the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that sealed the fate of millions of Europeans and turned the peaceful lands into “bloodlands,” to borrow Timothy Snyder’s phrase.
While the horrendous lessons of World War II and the urge to ensure “Never again” gave rise to the institutions which are at the core of the our world today, such as the North Atlantic Alliance, or NATO, (and the European Union), the more recent events demonstrate we are still failing to hold the perpetrators to account.
Let us look back at Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. The late Ronald Asmus called it “The Little War That Shook the World.” But did it shake, really? Unchecked in Georgia, Russia cynically and illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and stirred up a bloodshed in Donbass. Now Russia is taking further steps by taking over control of the Azov Sea — as if these were Russia’s backwaters. While in Georgia, Russia’s creeping occupation and de facto annexation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia continue.
Furthermore, in spite of Russia’s continuous blatant violations of the U.N. charter, the basic norms of international behavior and its own international commitments, the ranks of those who advocate for the need of a new policy toward Russia and see in it a valuable partner in tackling the complex multiple challenges the world is facing today, are growing. The Kremlin, in turn, is happy to manipulate those revisionist moods toward a new “reset,” with damaging consequences for the West and all that we stand for.
Unless we cure our naivete toward Russia’s intentions and behavior and begin to see things as they are — and act accordingly — we are bound to end up with history repeating itself, with more countries crippled and human destinies destroyed. We simply cannot afford to let this happen.
The democratic community condemned Hitler and his crimes against humanity. Yet we have failed to condemn Stalin and his crimes. As a consequence, Molotov’s specter continues to haunt Europe (and the world), looking for his new Ribbentrop.
To get out from this vicious circle, we should adopt a three-pronged strategy.
First, we should never shy away from seeing and naming acts of aggression and the aggressors for what they are. The late Sen. John McCain never doubted about how the current administration in Moscow should be approached. The best tribute we can pay to this great patriot and stalwart defender of democracy and freedom would be to follow in his steps.
Second, there should be no relaxing of Russia’s policy. We should rather expand our sanctions for Russia’s aggressive behavior than seek ways to relax them. The Magnitsky Act needs to be expanded, including its adoption at the EU level. Our response to the attacks and malign activities — be it chemical attacks on our soil; disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, or attempts to interfere in our elections and manipulate our societies through propaganda campaigns — must be swift, united and hit our adversary where it hurts.
Third, we must support the Euro-Atlantic choice of our Eastern European partners, most of whom are still facing attacks from the Kremlin regime. In spite of the difficulties and sacrifice that Russia’s aggression imposed on those nations, they are standing steadfast by our side, fighting together with the allies on the most difficult missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, and paying the ultimate price for defending our common values and goals.
We stand on the eve of the new political season which will be another litmus test to trans-Atlantic unity and resilience.
Linas Linkevicius is the Lithuanian minister of foreign affairs.