Commentary: Urgent letter to the Russians
“We are writing this open letter to you, the citizens of Russia, to offer you our perspectives, as leaders of the European Union, the United States, Canada and Japan. We are addressing you in the hope that you and your leaders will return to the mutually profitable policies that we had hoped would make you our partner in the global economy. ...”
This is the letter that should have been written weeks ago. Indeed, the world’s economic leaders must write it immediately — if they expect to have even a chance of heading off the prospect that war will soon erupt on Europe’s eastern front, in eastern Ukraine.
The writing of it doesn’t require an act of penmanship — but leadership. And just this once, the leadership must come from Europe, not the U.S. president alone. But don’t hold your breath while waiting. Europe’s leaders, from Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, have shrunk before our eyes and shirked their responsibility to lead in a time of extreme crisis. (Neville Chamberlain, call your office.)
With Russia’s troops massed at the Ukraine border, Europe’s leaders must now tell Russia’s citizens what they urgently need to hear — in the hope that it may not be too late to do any good.
“... We hope you and your leaders will urgently return to the insightful policies you were pursuing as this year began. Your path seemed destined to bring to you, your children and ultimately your grandchildren the long-term prosperity that comes with the responsibilities of long-term global partnership. It is not too late — if Russia returns to the leadership path that produced Sochi’s successful Winter Olympics and had many of us, the leaders of the G-8 nations, looking forward to returning to Sochi at your president’s invitation. ...”
Instead, Russia’s aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine forced the United States and Europe to order economic sanctions that target a few wealthy, connected Russians. But the sanctions are limp (“calibrated,” President Barack Obama calls them). Europe’s leaders lacked the backbone to stand and act firmly. They sent precisely the wrong message to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Why did Europe’s leaders fail to lead? And why is it urgent that they lead immediately? The answers can be seen in a quick glance at the big picture. It is, actually, two paint-by-the-numbers pictures.
The Lack-of-Leadership Picture: (A) 370 — that, in billions of dollars, is how much trade the European Union nations do with Russia each year. (B) 26 — that, in billions of dollars, is the trade the United States does with Russia annually (no wonder Obama finds it so much easier to apply tough economic sanctions against Russia for its reckless military threats and actual aggression in Ukraine). (C) 25 — that’s the approximate percentage of fuel that the European Union countries get from Russia. (D) 33 — that’s the percentage of natural gas that Germany gets from Russia via the pipeline that runs through Ukraine.
The Urgency Picture: (A) 71 — the percentage of Russians who said they now “trust” Putin’s leadership, according to an independent poll published last week in The Moscow Times and other news outlets. (B) 51 — the percentage who now say Putin had made Russia a “great, respected power.” (C) 36 — the percentage of Russians who held that view just one year ago.
Europe’s titular leaders, being professional politicians, know that with numbers like that, Russia’s president will never stop posing as a leader by threatening to catapult Europe into the sort of un-shirted hell Europe hasn’t seen since the dark old days of the early Cold War. So they must lead Russia’s citizens by at least making the truth real and palpable. Only then can there be a chance that Russia’s people can influence their leader to act in the name of prosperity — by returning to the prosperous path of peace.
“... Just weeks ago, Russia and its citizens seemed destined to be entering a new era of prosperity, propelled by new job-creating global investment that would result from two successes as our hosts in Sochi. Sadly, Russia’s aggression against its smaller, military weaker neighbor halted that. The world sees it not as an exercise in power but in bullying — acts that surely do not represent the best of the Russian people. We do not want to see Russia become isolated from the prosperity of the growing global economy.
“We are reaching out to you to make clear that your progress and prosperity is not just your dream. It is our dream as well. But only by walking the path of peace together can we make our mutual prosperity a reality.”