Tedo Japaridze: West needs to give up fear

It is often said of President Putin that he is a master tactician but not a strategist. I understand this to imply that he can make the most out of today and does not have the foresight to predict the consequences of his actions. Well, that is not entirely accurate. President Putin uses the military the only way the military ever works: to determine the circumstances that will define a future negotiation. So, Putin is what we make of him.

If Washington, Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and London articulate fear, then Putin has won a strategic victory.

In my mind, the question is whether Putin’s brute force will be allowed to determine our future. Profiling Putin’s mental state is futile; if the Russian President was open to psychological support, he might not be leading a country as a ruthless dictator, but someone else would. No man should be given so much power because it is detrimental to their mental state. But this discussion has no substance; what is important is whether the Russian Bear will be allowed to bully first of Europe or maybe the entire Collective West.

Washington should rethink its priorities because the issue at hand is not geographic, even if it is geopolitical. The question is no longer “the Atlantic or the Pacific” but whether there will be anything left of the system we now recognize as “global governance”: the internet, the global market, and human rights regimes are devolving into separate and irreconcilable ecosystem with no normative guarantee. There is no “Great Wall” of the West to retreat behind. If Washington retreats that will be a strategic choice that will dilute its power beyond recognition. If Washington does not share its power with Europe, its power will be inconsequential.

Now, we should reflect on the substance of this rhetorically evocative affirmation “We are all Ukrainians!” If we are, we then need to think as Ukrainians. For Ukrainians, the question is how long this pain will last, and what will be left of their freedom. People in urban centres will go without electricity, communications, and perhaps even food. Ukraine’s children will not feel secure, will not go to school, and a whole generation will be marked by the fear of loss and the terror of destruction.

That is a fear Georgians know only too well. But it is not Georgians alone: Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians have this fear ingrained in them. European know only too well the fear of Russian tanks and what these can do to a generation.  And we should draw a line in the sand and leave fear behind us, as Europeans.

Fear is like smoking. The only way not to fear, is not to be afraid. We need to have the courage to imagine a future without fear, in Europe, otherwise “Europe” means nothing.

It is understandable that Europe fears the prospect of another devastating European war. But fear is contagious. If Europe sinks into the fear of Russia, peace and war will increasingly look similar. Russia’s demand for “breathing space” – a Near Abroad – feeds on fear, which is detrimental to the health of every democracy. Russia can ask for more countries, more limitations to freedom, more guarantees that the Kremlin’s ability to be the bully of Europe will go unpunished and unchecked. With care for the Russian people, we should stand up to the bully as what today is about the influence and dominance in the “Near Abroad” would be expended in distorted imaginations towards the “middle abroad” or maybe even further.

Westerners need to help Ukrainians not to fear: to be generous with assistance for the refugees that choose life anywhere rather than an existence in fear; to support those who prefer to die rather than live in fear; and they need to look at Georgians – and each other – and find ways of standing together so that their peace is not defined by fear. If fear defines the substance of what it means to be European or Westerner then Putin’s regime has won. And that will be the defeat of every Westerner that has every worked for peace since 1945 on both shores of the Atlantic.  

Tedo Japaridze is a former Ambassador of Georgia to the United States, a former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Georgian Parliament, a former Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime-Minister of Georgia. He was also national security adviser to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. This blog represents his personal opinions.

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