Edward Lucas intends to issue a wake-up call. His book's urgency is fulled by the belief that, while the Russian bear has been sharpening its claws, the West has slept. Our first mistake, he argues, is ever to have regarded Russia as "normal". Our second has been to take our eyes off the ball, so obsessed with the "war on terror" that we have failed to understand the implications of Kremlin policy and pronouncements, as personified by Vladimir Putin.
Taken together, the elements Lucas identifies as comprising the Kremlin's menace to Russia provide strong evidence for his case. They include the curbs on free speech and fair elections, and possible involvement in the murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko. Most worrying is the reintroduction of enforced psychiatric treatment of dissidents. If most people support Putin, so goes the argument, those who disagree must need their heads examining.
If the "old" Cold War involved the threat of nuclear annihilation, the "new" one is centred on energy. Europe is already dependent, to a greater or lesser extent, on imported gas from Russian pipelines. The future problem may not only be a hostile disruption to supplies, but also that Russia is likely to need to keep more gas production for itself.
The Kremlin is impatient. Lucas convincingly argues that a version of Soviet history is being peddled that glorifies the Soviet Union, rubbishes the Yeltsin years and denigrates the West. In a new teachers' manual, Stalin is presented as a great leader who had to take a few harsh decisions. The book comes with Putin's blessing – unsurprisingly, given its assessment of recent years, when "practically every significant deed" is connected with him.
Putin's popularity at home demonstrates that the majority of Russians do not necessarily share some of the values that we take for granted. A fundamental difference in attitude has been highlighted by the Litvinenko affair, with the implication that the old adage still stands: "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." During the 1990s, the few who knew how to take advantage of a collapsing economic system transformed themselves into super-rich oligarchs, while average workers saw the roubles in their pocket crumble to dust.
Is it any wonder if the stability that Putin has brought is now valued so highly, and if the freedom to spend and travel matters more than the freedom to dissent?
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