Dmitry Medvedev and New Iron Curtain
“Do the Russians want war?” a Soviet-era song started. It went on o invite you to ask ordinary Russians – soldiers, workers, dock workers, fishermen, mothers, wives, sons of those who perished in the WW2 – whether they wanted war. The obvious answer was no.
Things may not be seem obvious today with a large number of Russians actually supporting the apparently warmongering mood of officials, as Russian tanks patrol Gori, and Sergey Ivanov describes the need for bombing in his perfect English accompanied by a wicked smile on BBC and CNN.
The unsophisticated Soviet-style propaganda heightened by hysteria on state-owned television broadcasts and billboards on the Moscow street that call for “Freedom of South Ossetia” and “you need it more than we do” statements with regard to WTO accession, might lead Europe and the US to believe that the Russians are their number three enemy and need to be punished for recent actions. Russian students with perfectly valid American visas are being turned away and sent back to Russia at US borders and there is talk of sanctions against Russians.
Is this the right strategy? Would sanctions against normal and civilised people help to resolve the conflict or even tone down official rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic ocean?
Although some would find it hard to believe, a significant proportion of the Russian people do not support anti-Georgian war, neither do they trust their leadership nor want to find themselves behind the freshly forged iron curtain. They believe in civilised values and are afraid of the new “Cold War” that many fear could result from the current conflict. While official sociological data may present overwhelming figures claiming all the Russians are as bloodthirsty as their leadership, the reality is more complex. Between large passive masses and an energised, but tiny opposition, there is a growing Russian middle class.
In May-June 2008 (two months before the war broke out,) the EU-Russia Centre undertook a study into the attitudes and feelings of well-off, educated urban citizens towards today’s Russia. We examined how the Russian middle classes perceive their country’s stability, security, rule of law and political process; we assessed their view of its place vis-a-vis Europe, its progress and problems; we posed certain behavioural choices in a variety of situations typical for Russia and its citizens; and, lastly, we considered their plans for the future.
While the study unveiled deep mistrust to the Western world with three quarters of respondents convinced that the West is likely to be hostile to a strong Russia, it also showed that less than half of Russia’s middle class believe in the much-vaunted stability of their country and of those over half see it as fragile, liable to change at any moment and under threat from a drop in oil prices or similar factors.
A central problem for the respondents is how to guarantee their own status, lifestyle, security of property and privacy. In many cases, this is so severe that many are considering leaving their homeland, or at the very least sending their children to be educated elsewhere. Half would consider moving abroad themselves – even if for a short period, (within the under 35 years group over 75% would consider emigrating). 63% want their children to gain experience an education abroad, while 35% would like to see their children live abroad permanently.
One cannot doubt that in the current situation, successful and well-educated middle class Russians are not feeling more stable or enthusiastic about their and their children’s future in Russia. It is not only them, but also international capital and managerial talent that is looking elsewhere, with RTS index at Moscow stock exchange falling following news first about Mechel, the war, and finally, Russia’s announcement of recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhasia independence.
These are all most recent examples of how over-reaction and the manipulation of Rule of Law has a tangible and damaging effect that will rob Russia of much-needed funding for its infrastructure as well as talent for its future development. It is important that the EU and the West speak with a single voice and insist that Russia must adhere to international law on Georgia. This is a matter, to of the rule of law. But we should remember that Georgia is not the only issue. There are other areas, too which offer a platform for discussions with Russia about the future shape of the relationship between the two blocs.
Does Mr. Medvedev want war? Hopefully not, as it will inevitably turn against his people and Russian future.