GUEST COMMENTARY BY AEJ HONORARY PRESIDENT OTMAR LAHODYNSKY (ENG translation)
Vladimir Putin’s new empire
The Russian president is tinkering with expanding his sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
The Soviet Union collapsed 30 years ago. On Christmas Day 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation as president and had the red flag taken down from the Kremlin. As early as December 8, representatives of the republics of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine had negotiated the treaty for the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in a state-owned forest hotel in Belarus.
Gorbachev had tried in vain to save it with a new model of the state. The Ukrainians in particular had previously voted more than 92% for independence in a referendum. The three Baltic states and Kazakhstan also no longer wanted to dance to the Kremlin’s tune.
Four of the last living signatories of the Soviet Union’s dissolution treaty took part in a seminar at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna last November. The old gentlemen still showed emotion: the USSR had been a great country. Only Russia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Gennady Burbulis recalled the crimes committed in the totalitarian state. But the treaty had prevented civil wars that usually break out when empires collapse.
The treaty stipulated the territorial integrity of the new republics. The distribution of the nuclear weapons that were later handed over to Russia was also discussed at that time. However, this was not fixed in the treaty until the Budapest Memorandum in 1994, when Russia, the USA and Great Britain promised Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine that they would respect their state sovereignty and existing borders in return for their renouncing nuclear weapons.
It was Russian President Vladimir Putin who broke this agreement in violation of international law by annexing Crimea and supporting the rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Putin also mourns the end of the Soviet Union, which he described back in 2005 as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. Above all, he wants to deter Ukraine from further rapprochement with the West using menacing troop deployments.
With a catalogue of demands on NATO members, Putin has further built up the threatening backdrop and something made negotiations with the USA more difficult. And with his support for anti-European right-wing populist parties, he is also undermining EU unity.
Politicians who call for more dialogue with Putin overlook the Kremlin leadership’s repeated rejection of such initiatives. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for example, downright humiliated EU foreign policy coordinator Josep Borrell at a press conference in Moscow last February.
Putin is tinkering with the expansion of Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. At the same time, he is becoming more and more authoritarian, poisoning opposition members or locking them up in prison. Now the respected human rights organisation Memorial has been dissolved. The EU should arm itself against new attacks from Moscow – through trolls, fake news and interference in elections.
♦ Original article in Wiener Zeitung
♦ Lahdynsky article 28/11/21 Three men in a snowy forest 30 years ago