Invade Ukraine to make Russia great again?
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In the light of the current Russian invasion in Ukraine, we should keep our eyes on the East. International political and economic alliances have always been essential for nation states to ensure stability and foster prosperity. Regional economic and military alliances became inevitable after World Wars, especially for Europe where interdependence of states was higher than e.g. in the USA.
Western European countries found a civilized form for their mutually beneficial cooperation, it is called European Economic Community (EEC). This – in the last seven decades – formed into a diverse European Union among 27 states including several post-socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Hungary is one of them. Right after World War I, on the East, traditional Tzarist Russia was replaced by the Soviet Union (1922). It started to oppress and embrace the Eurasian, and Central and Eastern European areas after World War II. The Soviet Federation was not a result of a natural development of countries’ constitutional existence, neither a mutually beneficial cooperation. It was created and ruled by force, first within Russia after a bloody revolution, and later, via its imperial aspirations that used its huge headcount advantage to oppress and invade others, forced them to apply its Marxist ideology and destroy the oppressed’ cultural values until they turned into a socialist-communist melting pot that was intolerant to any diversities. Aggression, threats, the prospect of the use of nuclear devices, intrigue and deception have always been features of Soviet-Russian modus operandi. Even if the Soviet Union signed the 1945 United Nations Charter declaring that the UN intend to “develop friendly relations among nations based on the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”, after World War II, they interpreted it in their sui generis manner. When regimes changed in the 1989-1990 waves across Europe, Moscow had to accept that self-determination of nations is not equal to the Russian interest sphere drafted arbitrarily by the Russian leaders who wished to dream about resuscitate the Soviet Empire. Treaties functioned to close wars and keep dominant aspirations within legal frames, in a civilized way.
When the Soviet Union slowly collapsed, states gained back their sovereignty, autonomy, cultural and social identity. Millions received back (or experienced for the first time) their intellectual sovereignty and personal freedoms (freedom of speech, opinions, expression, assembly, religious freedoms, just to highlight the most immanent ones).
The international community welcomed the “new” democracies and applauded their “adulthood”. Central and Eastern European states enjoyed their adulthood, regained sovereignty, independence from the absurd Soviet dictatorship and, finally, started to operate in the international playground. Hungary – just to highlight its forward-looking attitude – pressurized it’s wish of belonging to the West. Contrary to the current Russian leadership’s interpretation, it was not the West that crossed the former Soviet borders, but the East fled to the West through the first gap that had emerged.
In the light of the current war in Ukraine, we must interpret the last century via a different filter. When the Soviet Union was established, its ambitions were obvious. Western Europe and the USA were busy with themselves and slowly, by the time the world realized, the Soviets had already ruled half of Europe and a significant part of Asia. Three decades ago, the Soviet Union collapsed, and a new world order was formed with the dominance of the West. Russia’s invasion today is an attempt to ‘make Russia great again’. That is, to rebuild the Soviet Union and restructure its former interest sphere. Illegally occupying and controlling Crimea and Donbas in 2014 was one way towards the restoration of the former Soviet Empire. The means of reaching it are reminding us to the former ones applied by the Soviets: occupation, aggression, illegal annexation, and ruling by the absurd Marxist ideology. The establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) by the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union (signed on 29 May 2014 by the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, and came into force on 1 January 2015) was another significant sign of the uprising of the “Soviet Union, 2.0”. Even if the EAEU is seemingly a Treaty-based and legally formalized cooperation copied several elements of the EU, we can see the obvious signs of the Russian empirical aspirations in it. Winston Churchill worried about Russian imperialism back in 1942 when he warned: “It would be a measureless disaster if Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence of the ancient States of Europe.” Unfortunately, the shadow of Russian barbarism has returned, so we better keep a careful eye on the East before it is too late.
Lilla Nóra Kiss is a postdoctoral visiting scholar at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, Virginia. Lilla participates in the Hungary Foundation’s Liberty Bridge Program and conducts research in social media regulation. Formerly, Lilla was a senior counselor on EU legal affairs at the Ministry of Justice and she has been a researcher and lecturer at the University of Miskolc (Hungary), Institute of European and International Law for five years, where she taught European Union law. Lilla obtained her Ph.D. degree in 2019. The topic of the dissertation is the legal issues of the withdrawal of a Member State from the EU. Her current research interests cover the legal dimensions of Brexit, the interpretation of the European Way of Life, and social media regulation in the USA and in Europe.