European Union: Feckless and Threat to Russia?

The European Union can’t be an ineffectual body and a threat to Russia at the same time.

Petro Poroshenko Donald Tusk
Presidents Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine and Donald Tusk of the European Council shake hands in Brussels, February 12 (European Council)

Peter Hitchens’ Saturday column in Britain’s The Spectator magazine is not unusual so far as Vladimir Putin’s apologists go.

It points out how Russia lost an empire after the Cold War and NATO expanded right up to its front door. Putin is not intent on restoring the Soviet Union, according to Hitchens. His nation is surely “too weak and too poor” to achieve that. Yes, Putin’s is a “sinister tyranny.” But so is Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s. Rather than suggest this should perhaps call Turkey’s European Union candidacy into question, Hitchens argues two wrongs ought to make a right and the West better overlook Russia’s blatant landgrabs in Ukraine, the shooting down of a commercial airliner by thugs it armed and its constant provocations in and around NATO airspace.

Hitchens doesn’t blame the “New Cold War” entirely on the West. He believes it began when Russia frustrated Western policy in Syria in 2011 by blocking a military intervention American president Barack Obama had seemingly no desire to undertake.

But that is about his only deviation from the apologist line. Russia supposedly spent the two decades after the end of the Cold War “sullenly appeasing the West.” When the European Union offered an association agreement to Russia’s former vassal Ukraine in 2013, it was perfectly “understandable” it should say “enough” and start a war.

If Russia was right to call European Union expansion to a halt, then surely the bloc is something of a threat to it?

But no. “Contrary to myth, the expansion of the EU into the former communist world has not magically brought universal peace, love and prosperity,” Hitchens points out.

Corruption still exists in large parts of the EU’s new southeastern territories and I am not sure that the rule of law could be said to have been properly established there. So the idea that the recruitment of Ukraine to the “West” will magically turn that troubled nation into a sunny paradise of freedom, probity and wealth is perhaps a little idealistic, not to say mistaken.

Quite. But then — what makes Russia’s refusal to allow Ukraine into this club “understandable” exactly? If European integration is of so little use, why was it right for Russia to draw a line in the sand?

Hitchens can’t have it both ways. Either the European Union is a powerful threat to Russia and its invasion of Ukraine can somehow be construed as self-defense. Or it is the feckless body he describes it to be and he needs to come up with a better excuse for Putin’s behavior.