The round table “Central Europe in the Kremlin’s ideology”, organized by the Free Russia Forum, was held in Warsaw on May 29. Participants included co-founders of FRF opposition politicians Garry Kasparov and Ivan Tyutrin, Russian publicist Aleksandr Morozov, Russian and Ukrainian journalist and media manager Yevgeny Kiselyov, editor of the Ukrainian news portal “Khvylya” and political expert Yurii Romanenko, Ukrainian political technologist Oleg Medvedev, Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov, former deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Maksim Reznik, professor at the University of Warsaw Tomasz Grosse, professor at the Center for East European Studies in Warsaw Witold Rodkiewicz, famous Polish historian Andrzej Nowak, Russian and Ukrainian politician and public figure Ilya Ponomaryov, historian, journalist and film director Grigory Amnuel, activist and journalist Andrei Kalikh, and representatives of public, media and volunteer organizations that support Ukrainian refugees and Russians who left the criminal Putin regime in Europe.
“For Putin, Russia’s western border runs somewhere beyond Dresden”
There was discussion, of course, about what plans the Kremlin has for Central and Eastern Europe – this topic dominated. And, as we can see, the Polish experts and guests from the Czech Republic and the Baltic states were of great concern.
“For Putin, Poland is “our backyard”. He has been making this clear for a long time”, – said Professor Andrzej Nowak of the Jagiellonian University. – “Our backyard” is like Mexico for Americans. That is, we won’t annex you, but we won’t let outsiders in. Putin has a different understanding of Central Europe. Not the way we do. For him it is Germany. Well, maybe France. That’s the Central Europe he can still reckon with. Although there are threats against them too. But he won’t look back at Poland or the Czech Republic. We have to understand that we are dealing with a distorted vision of the world. Thus, Germany for Putin is not the source of Nazism, but the victim of Nazism. And the “most Nazi” countries are Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Ukraine. Therefore, Putin’s regime is our common threat”.
Ukrainian political consultant (and advisor to Petro Poroshenko when he was president) Oleg Medvedev recalled the recent story of the 17th century map that Putin brought by the head of the Russian Constitutional Court Valerii Zorkin and where the Russian dictator absently failed to see Ukraine, signed as “Ukraine, land of Cossacks: “It is worth noting that on this map many current states were absent. Including Russia in its present borders. Perhaps only the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was. What does this say? That he can get into his head to invade somewhere just on the basis that many centuries ago such a country did not exist”.
“For Putin, Russia’s western border runs somewhere beyond Dresden, where he served as a KGB resident in his youth”, – says Medvedev. – And if he had had a certain flush of candor, he would have said that Dresden is a subject of Russian interests”.
Will the bunker dictator be deterred by the fact that both Poland and the Baltic states are NATO members? It’s not a fact – the round table participants agreed.
“Exchange Washington for Tallinn”
“When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and ignited hotbeds of war in Donbass, I talked to many people in the U.S. who held high positions in government”, – Yevgeny Kiselyov recalled. – And I asked: what if he had decided to take a piece of Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia? Putin doesn’t consider Ukraine to be a state – he’s said that many times. But he also sees these countries as the ugly offspring of 1989–1991. And my interlocutors responded: “Yevgeny! Do you really think that we are ready to trade Washington – for Tallinn?”. So it’s a question of whether NATO would apply Article 5 if Russia were to show aggression against a NATO state. And I am very much afraid of not guessing the answer…”.
Polish political analyst Marek Menkiszczak believes that if Putin feels that defeat is near and cannot be avoided, he may take the most dreadful measures to escalate. And Central Europe should be ready for this.
“While some NATO countries are afraid of escalation, escalation is in full swing”, – Kiselyov noted. – Look at what is happening in Kyiv: a monstrous, the largest drone attack in the entire war! On peaceful cities and residential districts. Isn’t it time to think about what could have gone wrong?”.
According to Oleg Medvedev, who came to Warsaw from the Ukrainian capital, Ukrainians are confident that they will endure and withstand. But the people have fears that over time the West will help less – this is confirmed by the polls of focus groups.
If Ukraine is left alone, everyone will lose
“I’ll ask a scary question. What if Ukraine is left alone?” – Kiselyov asked. “Then everyone will lose”, – replied Medvedev (whom the witty media dubbed “Medvedev of the healthy man,” since Putin has “Medvedev of the smoker”).
Garry Kasparov, co-founder of the Free Russia Forum, is also convinced that what is happening in Ukraine now is not just a war between Russia and Ukraine. “If you listen to Putin’s propagandists, they all keep saying: Putin is at war with NATO. Not with Ukraine, but specifically with NATO. And… it’s true. Putin is at war with the principles on which both NATO and the entire Free World are based, and in a war of principles there can be no negotiations. Any negotiations and entreaties to exchange the territories of Ukraine for some kind of peace along Putin’s lines are criminal. Only the liberation of the entire Ukraine, including Sevastopol! Payment of reparations, prosecution of war criminals – and nothing else. The heroism of Ukrainians today saves the world”.
“If for Europe it is “never again”, for Russia it is “we can do it again”
On the causes of the war, why Russia, after being among the countries that defeated fascism, adopted it, also talked about.
“The current Russian elite is hostage to the mythology, the lies that we have been indoctrinated for decades through history textbooks, – says Garry Kasparov. – Take, for example, the attitude toward World War II, which in the USSR was called the Great Patriotic War. The Soviet Union stubbornly ignored the fact that Stalin was just as much the instigator of the war as Hitler. And the West, alas, accepted this assessment. One can understand the psychology of Putin’s elite just by assessing World War II. If for Europe it is “never again”, for Russia it is “we can do it again”.
Polish professor Tomasz Grosse sees the reasons for the aggression in Russian imperialism, which is imposed and reinforced not only by the Kremlin, but also by the military-industrial elite and the Orthodox clergy. “While the military is creating the myth of a second world army, religious circles are building a line between Orthodoxy – and the “godless Latin molester world”.
“I don’t understand where they got this second army in the world, – Kasparov sincerely wondered. – And did they ask the Chinese, by the way – about the second army?”.
In the opinion of the roundtable participants, not only Putinists are infected with the imperial virus, but also the liberal Russian politicians who can’t even pronounce “Crimea is Ukrainian” without swallowing. And they categorically do not want to admit guilt for the fact that Putin’s regime has turned into the monster it is in Russia.
“When criticizing the West for its inconsistency, one should not forget that these Western concepts – that business as usual, that regimes can normalize through open trade relations – were largely fueled by the part of the Russian opposition that said: well, sure, democracy is so-so, hybrid, but you understand that Putin will never cross red lines? – remarked Garry Kasparov. – Eight years passed between the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine! And all this time Putin’s propaganda was preparing Russia for a full-scale war, while the Russian liberal community was convincing the West that nothing terrible would happen. Not only that: today, when the war has been going on for eight years, they refuse to acknowledge their responsibility and try in every way to get away with it. And they are very unhappy with Ukraine’s policy towards Russian culture and the Russian language”.
“They sincerely believe and directly call Putin a loser”
Is there any salvation for Russia – from the abyss into which it has fallen with Putin?
The panelists were unanimous: it is democratization. Let it be even forced. But this is possible only after Putin’s Russia has been defeated militarily. “Today, the Russian oppositionist is the one who brings Ukraine’s victory closer, – says Ivan Tyutrin, co-founder of the FRF. – And I personally know regular participants in Free Russia Forum events who have raised and spent millions of dollars on both the humanitarian and military aspects”.
“There will be no consensus in Russian society about the war, even after it is over,” former deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly Maksim Reznik stated. – There will still be people who will think: well, we would have shown everyone if it weren’t for our Kremlin thieves! But look what’s already emerging.
In the past we have seen what is known as Volodin’s formula: “There is Putin – there is Russia. No Putin – no Russia”. It seems to me that now a different consensus will take shape. By a different formula: “There is Putin – no Russia. No Putin – there is a chance”. And here is where the attitude towards Putin can paradoxically unite two absolutely opposite strata of Russian society. On the one hand there are Protestants, anti-fascists, anti-Putinists, as you like. On the other is a party that for some reason is called ultra-fascist or turbo-patriots, although it seems to me that if they are patriots of anything, then only of their own skins. Like Prigozhin. But this party is ideologically formed, grew up on blood and war, and its representatives sincerely believe and directly call Putin a loser”.
According to Reznik, the members of the so-called elites are not capable of waging any kind of war, including civil, because they are focused on stealing rather than on war: “They live by their own formula: rob in Russia and spend in the West”.
Will Putin sit in his chair at the unhealthily long table after his military defeat? And if not, in whose hands will power end up? This, too, was talked about.
“Mishustin is a possible option”, – pondered former Russian Duma deputy and now, for the Kremlin, hardly a major terrorist, Ilya Ponomaryov. – He’s a competent manager, and he doesn’t look like a cannibal. But he is a man who turns a blind eye to cannibalism. And that is even worse”.
“What do you think of Prigozhin?” – Yevgeny Kiselyov asked, laughing. “Anything is possible in our life! – Ponomaryov joked. – I remember him as a waiter…”.
Zorii Fain’s photo report from the round table can be seen here.
Videos of our speakers’ presentations you can find at Free Russia Forum Youtube channel.