Liik: dialogue with Russia hindered by cultural differences and lack of common strategy
Kadri Liik, an expert on Russian domestic and foreign policy at the European Council of Foreign Relations, talked to an ETV weekly talk show, "Plekktrumm," about Russia and why the West needs a common strategy to come to terms with a country that is culturally similar in some ways but very foreign in others.
Liik said that it was necessary to have a long-term strategy for relations with Russia. Concrete aims should be stated for what these relations should be like in the future and how to get there, she said.
"We are protecting our truth and justice, our standpoints are morally correct, but we lack an understanding of what the resulting policies should be like," she said. "If I consider the EU, Germany is currently the only country focused on finding a comprehensive solution to the situation, everyone else just stands for their own personal interests, whether financial or moral. We must step away from those and decide what actually needs to be done."
She also talked about the dialogue between Russia and the West, or the lack thereof, being based on a series of misunderstandings.
"Angela Merkel famously said that Putin lives in his own world, and it's true. Russia's interpretation of the events of the past 20 years is very different from ours, and this disparity in views has never been openly discussed, especially not while Putin has been in power. When Putin assumed power it was said that his foreign policy was Bulgakov-like, in reference to the quote that one should never ask anyone for anything and especially not from those who are more powerful than oneself.
"And Putin never did," said Liik. "People saw that he didn't complain like Yeltsin used to - about things being bad and the west doing everything wrong. But in reality, it was all grounded in the fact that Putin had certain unstated assumptions and wishes, and those remain unanswered. The resulting tensions have come to the fore and blown up a number of times. I don't think it's possible to bring everyone to the same plane of information now. The differences are too great and it's very dangerous. Even if we are talk to each other, these differences would persist.
"The fact that Russia thinks that it needs to have a zone of influence and a kind of buffer zone of neighboring countries, that it believes it to be its God-given right, the right of all great powers - these thoughts have been part of Russian mentality for centuries. It's not something introduced by Putin or the communists, these are old beliefs," she added.
Liik believes that certain cultural traits would make Russia different from the rest of Europe even if it were truly democratic.
"I think what makes the relations so tense is that we always presume that we should get along with Russia, and hence the times that we don't seem so catastrophic. The cultural differences with China or Saudi Arabia are much greater but so much less emotional."
She also said that Russia itself seems to think that it is at war with the West and fears an attack. She brought the events of the night of December 4 as an example, interpreting them as Russia's overreaction to events in Chechnya.
"It showed that they got something very wrong and thought a different and a more large-scale attack has been launched on them. But I'm afraid that at some point they themselves will not attack the real thing, but something that goes on in their own heads, and this might be very different from the reality," she said.