“It is urgent to revise our policy towards Moscow and to get rid of our illusions”

Tribune. Few major international issues elicit as much perseverance from Western leaders as the desire to establish a « reset » restart from zero – relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Whoever succeeds is convinced of making history. It is as a good Hegelian who thinks of the “sense of history” that Emmanuel Macron embarked on this race after the failures of George W Bush, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel.

But this umpteenth « reset », already tested for several months, seems to be irreparably affected by the poisoning in Novichok of the main Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny. However, is it possible to find common ground with Vladimir Putin who sees international relations as a zero-sum game and a succession of special operations? In the Russia-West relationship that the Kremlin considers from the outset as a confrontation, every concession, every attempt at dialogue is seen by it as an admission of weakness.

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The first reaction to the Belarusian crisis in the European Union (EU) paralyzed by the Ukrainian experience was to call on Russia and seek a constructive approach from it, de facto acknowledging its influence over Minsk. There followed the threat of Putin to send a “reserve force” to Belarus, and the poisoning of Navalny.

Russia a revisionist dictatorship

It is difficult to enter into a dialogue with one who responds with contempt with an outstretched hand. To think otherwise would mean that at best we still have not understood the nature of the regime in place. Putin’s Russia is not just an authoritarian regime. We have a long tradition of cooperation with authoritarian regimes, sometimes even with some (meager) results.

But today’s Russia is a revisionist dictatorship based on the search for external enemies to stay in power and we are the designated enemy. Besides, Putin is not Gorbachev, nor even Yeltsin. More than a statesman, he is a chieftain, as talented as he is ruthless, who has reached the top. Therefore, loss of power for him means death, perhaps even physical death, and this prospect fundamentally differentiates him from Western leaders.

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It is illusory to think that the rise of China will push Moscow into the arms of Europe. The tendency is rather that of a real rapprochement between the two authoritarian regimes. Russia is inspired by the model of the Chinese digital dictatorship, surveillance techniques, and their anti-Western political doctrines come together. We must therefore not take at face value what « liberals » Russians linked to power tell us during their visits.

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