Monday, April 7, 2014

Window on Eurasia: West Fears Not the Enemy It Faces but that It Will Have Any Enemies at All, Besançon Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – The West has not responded to Russian aggression in Ukraine because the West has lived without an enemy for some years and thus fears having an enemy even when Russia or another country acts like one, according to the French historian Alan Besançon.

            In an interview with a Polish weekly on Friday, Besançon  says that the failure of the West to respond to Russian aggression in Crimea means that Moscow will feel itself free to move into other parts of Ukraine, Moldova, and Latvia, even though or perhaps especially because that Baltic country is a NATO member (

            Russia can do all this, in the French historian’s words, because “the Western world is a world without enemies. It is more afraid of having an enemy than of an enemy it has. [As a result,] it is powerless helpless before Russian force majeure,” and despite what Moscow has done, it continues to act as if “Russia is not an enemy.”

            Instead of repelling Russian aggression against Ukraine and ultimately itself, the West “prefers to conduct talks” with Moscow. This doesn’t bode at all well for the future. If NATO had wanted to react, it would have done so long ago.”

                According to Besançon, the dangers for Poland, the Baltic countries and Moldova are “completely real” because Moscow senses it can act without having to worry about the consequences.  “There are no serious armed forces” in Europe now, but worse there is a view there that “there are no opponent and no enemies. Everyone is a partner.”

            “And then suddenly on the horizon appears a Russian soldier,” he continues. “And a Russian soldier is ar eal one. He isn’t like European soldiers who take of children and help women out of cars. The Russian soldier loves to fight, to steal, to rape and to kill. Therefore Europe is in terror” because it can’t deal “with this enemy.”

            The West and particularly NATO must make it very clear that they will defend anyone who is attacked.  “This is especially important for the Baltic countries,” Besançon says, “becauase if Putin wants to go further than Ukraine, then in my view, he will in the first instance attack Latvia.”

            The reason is simple:  There is a significant ethnic Russian minority there.  Estonia and Lithuania are better placed in that regard and more united.  And if Moscow goes for Latvia, then, “Russia will use the argument that the Russian minority is threatened and that it is hurrying to provide ‘fraternal help.’”

            “That is a reliable and tested Russian method which has been used in the course of many centuries. And who in the West will die for Latvia?” Besançon asks rhetorically, adding that he can imagine “the reaction of Western politicians of various kinds” who will say “’We will not risk war for Latvia!’”

            “Europe has experienced two destructive wars and does not have any desire to take part in the next which could be much more terrible than its predecessors,” the French scholar says.

            How should Poles react to this “very pessimistic prognosis,” he inquires, and he answers that “you always have the opportunity to pray.”

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