By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost
This article has been updated since the time of its publishing.
Have you noticed the latest coming out of Eastern Europe—the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Czechs, and let us not forget the Ukrainians? Suddenly everyone thinks it is a good idea to begin shutting Russians, as in all Russians, out of Europe. That’s it: No more Russians in Europe because…because they are Russian. End of story, as some people like to say.
This is a sick business. There is a pathology at work in these proposals. We are listening to the utterances of desperate, insecure, frustrated people. I detect, beneath all the immediate animosity to do with the Ukraine crisis, a case of post-traumatic stress disorder lingering on from the Soviet era.
The last thing one wants to do with people who suffer pathologies is listen to them as if they are wise in the matters that disturb them. Yes, hear them out about their troubles, in these cases a question of collective psychology. We do our best to straighten them out so that they are restored to psychic health, to balance. But the sufferers of PTSD are not to be assigned the authority of wisdom as to the causes of their disorder.
Of course, the West being the West and Ukraine being a mess, we now listen to the Estonians and the others as if they know best about the Russian Federation and its people. So the idea catches on these past few days: Yes, let us keep Russians out of Europe, ordinary Russians who come to look at the cathedrals and paintings and have a French dinner and a snifter of Calvados.
As Volodymyr Zelensky, the great statesman of our time, put it in a Washington Post interview published August 8, “Whichever kind of Russian… make them go to Russia.”
What Big Volod says has to be right, of course, even if he wandered from television comedy into the Ukrainian presidency like a child lost in city traffic. If anyone has a sound, balanced idea of how to deal with Russia, it is Volodymyr Zelensky. Everyone knows this. When the Ukrainians boast, as they often do, that they consider Russians animals, not humans, we have to accept that they know what they are talking about.
To begin at the beginning, the three Baltics, Poland, and the Czech Republic had already stopped issuing their own visas to Russians at the end of July. Zelensky’s comments, to go by the chronology, appear to have given others on Europe’s eastern front the confidence to go for the all–Europe adventure.
The day after Zelensky shared his thoughts with the Post, Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister, came out with this: “Stop issuing tourist visas to Russians. Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right.” Two days later, toody-boom, as my father used to say: The Kallas government announced that it will cease honoring Schengen visas—which allow visitors to cross the borders of 26 European nations—in a month’s time. Marika Linntam, who directs the Europe bureau at Estonia’s foreign ministry, told Le Monde her government considers this “a moral issue.”
Linntam is certainly right about that.
The Finns immediately endorsed Kallas’s idea to press the rest of Europe to follow Kyiv and Tallinn and impose a European Union ban on Russians. Then the Latvians piled on. Jan Lipavsky, the Czech FM, announced a day later that he will take this proposal to a summit of EU foreign ministers at the end of this month.
In the infra-dig category, we have the Lithuanians. They are now considering legislation to deprive citizenship to naturalized Lithuanians who say favorable things or think favorable thoughts about Russia. This is in response to the news last week—horrible, horrible news—that two Lithuanian figure-skating stars, one Russian-born and naturalized, will participate in a competition to be held in Sochi, the Russian resort on the Black Sea.
Skating on Russian ice. Can you think of anything worse?
And do not assume you have heard the end of this. The Zelensky regime is now pressing the White House to sanction all Russian banks so that they are unable to do business more or less anywhere.
My mind starts to drift in the direction of Versailles, 1919, when the unwise prevailed in the crafting of an excessively punitive settlement imposed on the defeated German nation. Keynes had it right in The Economic Consequences of the Peace: Overkill is eventually detrimental to the overkillers.
These bans and proposed bans are not the acts of secure, confident nations. I do not think it coincidental that they are advanced as it becomes ever more obvious that the Kyiv regime is on a losing streak in its conflict with Russia and the West has misread this crisis top to bottom. Frustration and desperation are abroad, readers.
I leave it to lawyers to determine if these bans qualify as a case of collective punishment, which is, of course, against international law. But I don’t need no attorney to tell me Europe’s eastern flank is pushing a national character case against Russia. This is egregiously disgraceful.
I have written at length about national character analyses elsewhere. In brief summary, they hold that a certain people act because that is who they are and that is how they act. The Japanese invaded China in the 1930s because that is what the Japanese do. The Germans aggressed in the 1930s and 1940s because they are German and Germans will always aggress. The Ukrainian view of Russians is a straight-out example of the national character position.
The Biden regime loves to promote national character arguments, not least against Russians. It finds them very handy as it sustains the national paranoia and enthusiasm for a senseless conflict.
The net effect of national character arguments is the obscuring of politics and history, which are the true determinants of a nation’s behavior. And you bet the Europeans and Americans are now out to dodge the history and politics that produced the Ukraine crisis. This story goes back 30 years, when the Russians asked courteously that NATO not expand to its borders eastward in the post–Soviet era, and the West, overplaying its cards, swiftly broke its word on this point.
But no, NATO expansion has nothing to do with the Ukraine conflict, we can read in our press any day of the week. Why would anyone think that? It is all about who those Rrrrrussians are and what they have always been and done.
I have long thought a certain psychological disturbance has afflicted the former Soviet satellites and republics since the Berlin Wall fell. The madness of the east, I will call it. For very understandable reasons, they are unable to judge events concerning Russia soundly. A measure of irrationality colors their conduct of relations with Moscow. Their psyches bear deep scars.
It follows that the last people to turn to guide the West in its relations with the East are the East Europeans and those in the former Soviet republics. And it follows naturally that these are the first people the West Europeans and the Americans turn to as they shape the foreign and security policies that define their East–West relations. Those East Europeans, those Balts: They lived it, they were there, they must know.
Here I will note the Ukrainian case. We ought to keep this problem in mind as we take the measure of Kyiv’s conduct not only toward Russians, but also toward the 40-odd percent of Ukrainians in the eastern provinces who speak Russian as their first language. Those who consider them animals are not balanced people. I say this not to denigrate but in the interest of understanding.
The most regrettable, costliest case of the error the West makes in this regard concerns Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as Jimmy Carter national security adviser for four fatefully destructive years, 1977 to 1981.
Brzezinski descended from an aristocratic Polish family that lost everything when the Soviets took Poland into their sphere of influence subsequent to the Yalta Conference in 1945. He had seen plenty of the Nazis during the war, but it was against the Soviets that he developed a lifelong obsession. “The extraordinary violence that was perpetrated against Poland did affect my perception of the world,” he said in a reflective interview granted Al Jazeera in 2010, “and made me much more sensitive to the fact that a great deal of world politics is a fundamental struggle.” There you have it.
The worst moment in Brzezinski’s career came in late 1979, when he persuaded the persuadable Carter to back the mujahideen active in Afghanistan so that the U.S. could land the Sovs in their very own Vietnam. Do I have to finish the thought? This strategy indeed gave Moscow a bloody nose, while also giving rise to al–Qaeda, which gave rise to all those murderous Salafists active in Syria, which indirectly gave rise to the Islamic State, which gave rise to other savage militias such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and who can count the other movements elsewhere.
This is where relying on the judgment of a Russian-obsessed Pole got Jimmy Carter—and the rest of us, of course.
Now Europe’s eastern flank wants to punish the Russians again. Their perspective is, once more, deserving of the West’s understanding, its empathy even, as all who suffer forms of PTSD deserve the understanding and empathy of those around them. But their position is not. It is not deserving of the West’s support, reinforcement, and cooperation. It is deserving of the West’s rejection. It is deserving of the West’s sound counsel, if only the West had any sound counselors to offer.