Why Europe must learn to say ‘no’ to Russia

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Despite the EU’s strategic partnership with Russia, the bloc’s friendliness towards that country “does not inspire respect”‘ in Russian eyes, writes former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis in the summer edition of Europe’s World.

He expresses serious concern over the threat that Russia represents for Western democracies, arguing that the country may “use its energy resources as a tool in international power politics”. 

Landbergis – the first leader to hold office in Lithuania after it quit the Soviet Union – is convinced that Russia considers its partners as “an adversary to be outwitted, to be made to surrender” and warns of its ambitions to become “the dominant” if not “the sole” energy provider to the EU. 

Moreover, he claims that Russia is seeking to “undermine Europe’s proposed Nabucco pipeline” by “promising guaranteed supplies” to the Union. This is because he sees Nabucco as an “alternative to some of the present gas imports from Russia”. 

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not concerned with universal values such as human rights or the rule of law, Landsbergis claims. Unlike Europeans, “Putinists seek to persuade Western democracies that Russia is ‘new’, ‘liberal’ and ‘cooperative’,” he adds. 

Landsbergis believes that even though Dmitry Medvedev was elected president of Russia last March, “Putin remains the backseat driver”. 

Thus Medvedev’s “guarantee” of rule of law and democracy is not taken seriously, he says. To illustrate Russia’s non implementation of the rule of law, the author cites the example of the country’s banking system, investigating whether “the bank’s customers are properly treated”. 

Landsbergis refers to Russia’s Central Savings Bank, which “robbed the Lithuanian people of billions of roubles” after being “removed from Lithuania in 1990 as a punishment for claiming national independence”. 

Referring to last March’s cut of supplies in Ukraine by Russia’s Gazprom over a debt dispute, Landsbergis warns the EU about potential future dependency on Russian gas. Raising doubts about Russia’s overall reliability as a supplier, Vladimir Milov, the president of the Institute of Energy Policy in Moscow, warns that a “pattern is developing whereby every year one of Russia’s neighbours finds its energy supply cut off”. 

The analysis concludes by citing Milov: “There is a considerable chance that, at a minimum, there will be a crisis of liquidity in the banking system and, in the worst case, massive corporate default,” particularly by Gazprom and Rosneft. 

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