By pushing for regime change in Russia, the EU Parliament has revealed how irrelevant & unreliable it is for the future of Europe

An explosive new report published by top EU foreign policymakers, which called for all-out efforts to change Russia's government, is the clearest indication yet that both the bloc and European political order are in dire straits.

The remarkable document, which even called for Brussels to set up its own propagandistic Russian-language TV channel, puts forwards a strange mix of aggression, self-righteousness and undiplomatic language. It shows just how quickly the EU is rushing towards total irrelevance as an unreliable actor.

Meddling from afar

Earlier this month, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament released a document that, at first, appears to be a parody of the ludicrous ‘Russiagate’ era we are living through. However, sadly, the joke is really on Brussels.

The EU applauds itself for having apparently “deterred the Kremlin regime” in Ukraine and proclaims it should now take the fight to Russia, by “containing President Putin’s war against the people of Russia”.

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How can unelected officials in Brussels and Strasbourg liberate the Russian people from the clutches of their own government, you may wonder? Well, they are advised to impose external governance on the country by demanding “conditionality in its relations with Russia by including in any dialogue or agreement with Russia measures aimed at protecting human rights and the holding of free elections.” In short, do what we say or else.

This implies that the EU’s moral authority, framed as unshakably linked to liberal democratic values, grants it the right to have almost unlimited political influence within Russia. But, of course, there is no question as to whether Moscow should be allowed to have influence beyond its own borders. Indeed, that inequality is entrenched in this document, with its insistence that Brussels should “eliminate Russian hybrid influences” from within, and cut reliance on Russian energy.

The document advocates the establishment of “EU tribunals” to pursue the “investigation of crimes committed by President Putin’s regime against the people of Russia”, which should report periodically to the supposedly morally virtuous European Parliament. To deliver this, the EU should, the report says, establish partnerships “with EU-based nongovernmental organisations such as Bellingcat.” Never mind that the investigative outfit is a British-based group, rather than an EU-based one. 

More importantly, leaks long ago exposed Bellingcat as a government-funded operation with dubious ties to intelligence agencies, which spreads disinformation against adversaries of the US-led NATO military bloc.

If these supposedly impartial investigators find irregularities with the Russian parliamentary elections in 2021, the logic goes, then the EU must deny the Russian government legitimacy. More specifically, it “must be prepared not to recognise the parliament of Russia and to ask for Russia’s suspension from international organisations.” These efforts at subversion are also to be complemented with the establishment of a “Free Russia Television with 24/7 airtime” to rally domestic audiences against their purportedly illegitimate government.

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With “democracy first” as the ideological battle cry to mobilize the West for a new Cold War, it is advised that the EU “establish with the US a transatlantic alliance to defend democracy globally” and “deter Russia”. This would, the authors say, require revising “investment support and economic cooperation projects, starting with a block on the Nord Stream 2 [gas pipeline] project”. The EU, they add, should also support Russia’s expulsion from the SWIFT payment system to cripple the country’s banking system.

While this might look like economic coercion against the Russian people, it is presented very much as a show of solidarity with them, as though people in Moscow and St. Petersburg are just sitting around, waiting for the EU to liberate them from their own government.

European order on the decline

In its early days, the EU embraced what could appear to be a benign doctrine about how Europe should be structured. Its scions proclaimed their intention to transcend zero-sum power politics by instead bolstering security and advancing democracy and human rights as a common good.

However, the robust liberal democratic standards of the EU were supposedly why Russia could not be a part of the new Europe, although every other country on the continent was supposedly eligible for membership.

The obvious question is how can the pan-European order be organised when the largest state in Europe is shut out if its main institutions? Brussels quickly turned to “external governance,” as Russia was expected to follow the decision-making of institutions where it is not represented. This is obviously all very undemocratic, but the EU has insisted its values-based policies make it a “force for good” that can simultaneously represent the best interests of the Russian people.

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However, the elevated role of democracy and human rights in international politics has not resulted in power politics being put aside. Instead, these values have become instruments of power politics. Liberal democracy is treated as a hegemonic norm and a tool for “external governance.” The EU and US can interfere in the domestic affairs of Russia, the thinking goes, but any Russian influence in the West is illegitimate. As part of these liberal democratic values, legitimacy has nothing to do with legality, and the “rules-based order” the West so often insists on has nothing to do with international law.

For Russia, it was always unacceptable to be treated as an unruly hinterland that needs civilising by the West, without being treated equally. Moscow has subsequently demanded that the subversion and interference into its domestic affairs must come to an end. Moscow also advocates that the EU returns to a system based on “sovereign equality”, which is the core principle of the pan-European order according to the Helsinki Act.

Moscow is working to counter what it sees as “external governance” on its territory by shuttering several “non-governmental organisations” with reported links to foreign governments. Russia has also diversified its economic connectivity and established a strategic partnership with China to immunise itself against Western sanctions for failing to accept “conditionality” for economic cooperation.

Is talking still worthwhile?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has previously said that he and his government see the EU as an “unreliable” partner. There is also a growing sentiment in Moscow that warm diplomatic ties with Brussels are meaningless and counter-productive as Brussels is only capable of speaking in the language of ultimatums and sanctions. It is hard to dispute this conclusion after this most recent tantrum from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.

The lack of original and strategic thinking from the European Parliament is rapidly making Brussels less relevant, as neither Russia nor any major EU member states can take this kind of position seriously. Nor can they bury the hatchet or rescue rock-bottom relations until they break out from it.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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