N. Peter Kramer is EU correspondent for the European Business Review. The following was sent exclusively to EurActiv.
"No, I am not a supporter of Putin. Let me start with that. But what surprises these days is the return of the Cold War approach of Russia by journalists, think-tank people and… politicians. The most exaggerated example is, without any doubt, Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, now leader of the third biggest group in the European Parliament, the Liberals.
His prompter is a former Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kristiina Ojuland, outspoken anti-Russian, who even for most Estonian politicians is too fanatical on it. The day after the elections, easily –as expected- won by Vladimir Putin, Verhofstadt was already present in Moscow for talks with some of the Putin opposing movements (probably not with the ‘old’ communists, Putin’s biggest opposition) and the next day he organised a kind of hearing in the EP. Ms Ojuland stated that ‘the EU does not need to provide the scene for any further photo opportunities for Mr. Putin’. Hearing that, the Russian President-elect must have been shocked …
Ironically, many Russians, including both those on government and those in the protest movement, see the EU as an unprincipled power in decline. Russia likes to think that the EU is not at all the democratic and ‘clean’ paradise it is pretending to be. Member states Bulgaria, Romania and Greece (at least in the past) are not showing a kind of public governance that could be a great example for other countries.
It is not that long ago that Berlusconi was a respected member of the EPP, the biggest political group in the EP. Look at the eurozone in complete disarray. What to think of ‘Brussels’ pressure on governments to keep citizens out of the loop by not holding a referendum, to postpone elections or to accept a technocrat as prime-minister? The EU should put its own house in better order, for example by resisting the ‘Putinisation of Hungary’. Konstantin Sonin, a Russian opposition leader, said: ‘doing something with Hungary is the best way of helping Russia. In Hungary they are doing what Putin did in the last two years’. By the way: the Hungarian prime-minister Orbán is also a respected member of the EPP!
Now experts advise the EU to refrain from counter-productive loud support for the Russian opposition movement and not to intervene too obviously. Russia is not Egypt or Libya! Comparing the Arab spring with what is going on in Russia is a mistake, certainly in the eyes of the Russian demonstrators. They hope on a better result than in Libya where the revolutionaries are killing each other or Egypt where the army is still holding the reigns, showing that Mubarak was not more than their marionette. The only similarity is the use of social networks and modern electronics.
After the March 4 elections, Putin is certainly weaker than the Putin from before. But he is still not weak! Don’t forget that the enormous Russian middle-class is not poor. They didn’t forget that it was the young President Putin who cleared up the mess made by his predecessors Gorbatsjov and Jeltsin, and brought them finally prosperity.
The economic situation in Russia is not (yet) bad for most of the Russians; the grow perspective is higher than in most of the EU member states and there are still natural resources, oil and gas, the EU needs to survive and not to go down in the cold. On the other hand, the end of Putin’s reign is closer than the start of it. The question is what after him. Neo-communists? Still an important and growing political factor! The young protesters? Whatever they are standing for in six years. On verra!
For now, I am looking forward to a great picture of Kristiina Ojuland and Vladimir Putin (with his jacket on)."