There are, however, plenty of other reasons for Europe to watch Russia.
Kremlin’s warfare against European countries through direct attacks and through covert influence operations should be a concern to all leaders in Europe. Instead of calling for softer policies on Russia, we must demonstrate real leadership and stand up for our values of freedom, democracy and rule of law.
The Putin regime has dissolved democracy and rule of law in Russia.
We have seen many cases where the regime has imprisoned or murdered political opponents and journalists.
Oleg Sentsov launched a hunger strike for being a political prisoner. Sergei Magnitsky died for his investigation into Kremlin-linked corruption. Boris Nemtsov for his belief in democracy. Anna Politkovskaya for her independent journalism. The Russian regime even attacked the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with nerve gas in an EU member state.
All these individuals are part of a broader pattern of Russia’s development under Putin.
The Chechen war. The war against Georgia. The invasion of Ukraine. Russian troops in Transnistria in Moldova. Military participation in the warfare against civilians of the Assad-regime. These unscrupulous acts show the regime’s disrespect for human lives and international law.
An attempted coup in Montenegro. Disinformation, cyber-attacks and destabilisation attempts towards European countries. Military practices in the Baltic Sea region. Money laundering, financing of extremist parties in Europe and an assertive energy policy.
Russia wages war at all levels. Nothing would make the Kremlin happier than a weaker European Union.
Against this background, it is unbelievable that some leaders in Europe are calling for softer criticism against Russia and fewer sanctions in order to “improve relations”.
Russia’s policies completely disregard the spirit of good neighbourly relations.
The way to improve relations is not to make concessions to an aggressive Russia, but for Russia to stop attacking European democracies, withdraw its military troops from neighbouring countries and fulfil its Minsk obligations. Then we can build a mutually beneficial relationship based upon common principles.
In the meantime, Europe must strengthen its military capacities as well as its societal resilience, to be able to meet the current and future threats.
The EU and its member states should impose sanctions, inspired by the Magnitsky legislation, which would allow the freezing of assets in European banks for individuals who have committed severe human rights abuses. Such actions would target the elite whom Putin is dependent on and they would not affect the Russian people negatively.
In the European Union, we must complete the energy union and stop the political project Nord Stream 2 in order to secure energy independence.
We also need to strengthen our cyber defence and resilience against propaganda.
It is extremely worrisome that the Kremlin narrative has found its way to established European politicians who should know better. Whilst the extreme left and the extreme right continuously repeat the Kremlin narrative and praise the regime, us in the centre – be it centre left or centre right – must stand firm against Russian influences.
The Russia of today is run by a regime that puts might over right.
Vladimir Putin had since long secured his re-election by hindering potential opponents and with democracy losing. By increasing support for democracy, civil society and independent journalism in Russia, and build people-to-people contacts, we can build closer relations between the peoples of Russia and of Europe.
But Europe should never allow ourselves to become victims of the Kremlin.
We need to realise that we are operating in a long-term non-military conflict. We need a Russia policy based on reality and based on the threats we are facing.
We should not give Putin the success that he seeks in weakening the Union. In a world where autocrats are gaining more influence, the European Union must remain a strong defender of freedom, democracy and rule of law.