Four Takeaways From the Conference “Russia after Putin”
Another Russia is possible: On 5/6 June, representatives of the Russian opposition and the EU discussed the perspectives of a post-imperial and democratic Russia. LibMod Director Ralf Fücks summarizes the four key takeaways.
This meeting sends a clear message to the Russian people: A military defeat in Ukraine and the fall of the Putin system will not lead to the downfall of Russia – on the contrary: Putin is ruining the country and a better future will only start with democratic change in Russia.
At the same time, this is an important message to political leaders in the West: Don’t be afraid of regime change in Russia. Putin’s downfall must not lead to chaos and an even more revanchist and dangerous Russia. A different, post-imperial Russia, one that is no longer a threat to its neighbors and to its citizens, is possible.
We can’t foresee the way how the Putin regime will finally end. But history and political science tells us that totalitarian regimes seem quite solid until the day they crumble, and political change in Russia usually comes quite unexpected, but then with high speed. That is why we need a convincing vision for Russia’s future as well as for the future of European-Russian relations.
How to get rid of the Putin-regime? For the time being, the only convincing answer is: By a crushing defeat of the Russian invasion in Ukraine. For centuries, Russian elites have been looking down on Ukraine as an appendix of their empire. But now it turns out that the hope for democratic change in Russia depends on the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people. This, by the way, is also the litmus test for Russian democrats: It is not enough to be against Putin – it is about supporting Ukraine to win.
Of course, a military defeat in Ukraine is only a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for democratic change in Russia. What is needed are efforts of the democratic opposition and civil society in Russia, independent media as well as support from the West that should welcome every step towards the rule of law and democratic freedom in Russia.
The West should also support Russia’s democratic transformation economically: with a conditional easing of sanctions, the prospect of access to the European single market, and a “Russian Green Deal” that flanks the transition to a post-fossil economy.
But what about the West? Garry Kasparov asked for a “collective Churchill” in the West, a firm determination to stop Putin’s imperial mania and to enable Ukraine to win this war. Well said! In fact, we still have a lot of work to do to convince our political leaders that there is no room for compromise with Putin anymore.
Up to now, the number of arms supplied by the US and to a certain extend also by Germany and others was quite impressive. But in order to push back the Russian troops behind Ukraine’s borders, the West must step up its efforts, including a significant number of tanks, long range missiles and aircraft. The more decisive Western support, the shorter the war and the fewer lives will be lost.
We should be very clear regarding the outcome of this war. Any peace arrangement must be based on the full territorial integrity and political sovereignty of Ukraine, the prosecution of those responsible for Russian war crimes and the financial compensation for the damage done to Ukraine. This should be the non-negotiable triangle, a yardstick also for the gradual lifting of economic sanctions.
We cannot spare Russia a defeat in this war and the lifting of its imperial curse. But this war is not about humiliating Russia or bringing it down on its knees – it is about defending Ukraine’s existence as a free and independent nation, defending the European order and defending the basic principles of humanity: Don’t kill, don’t rape, don’t take away what is not yours.
We should ask all Russian citizens to look in the mirror: who do you want to be, in which kind of country you want to live? You and your children deserve a better future, and European doors will be open for a peaceful and democratic Russia.
As frightening as the reality is today: A better Russia is no phantasy. It is a realistic option, and we should do everything we can to take advantage of this window of opportunity by supporting Ukraine and the Russian democratic opposition.
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