Russia is not going away. We need a strategy

This is no time to worry about Russia. Ukraine is fighting for its own survival and for freedom everywhere. All efforts should therefore go on raising money for humanitarian relief, educating foreign public opinion, pressing Western governments to supply arms and munitions, and in other acts of solidarity.

That argument is tempting. But it is wrong, writes Edward Lucas in Europe’s Edge. Ukraine’s torment is largely the result of Western strategic failure. First, we misunderstood the Soviet collapse. Then we missed the stench of imperialism and authoritarianism hanging over the supposedly democratic and friendly new Russian state. We also ignored (chiefly because of greed) the corruption and gangsterism. Our approach was based on wishful thinking and implemented with stunning complacency.

Western countries should not make that mistake again. We need to set goals and priorities. We need to work out what sacrifices and risks we are prepared to take over the coming months, years, and decades. We should have done this in 1991. We should not delay further.

The shorthand term for our goal should be decolonization. Rather than narrowly focussing on “regime change” or the personality of Vladimir Putin, all outside countries dealing with Russia should hold this long-term aim in mind. Russia will be at peace with itself and its neighbors only once it ditches its imperial mindset, with its dire effects on both the state’s relations with its own people and on its treatment of its neighbors. Repression at home and aggression abroad stem from the same approach, which prizes power and glory over legality, liberty, dignity, and consent.

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