RIGA - Imperialism is a historical activity for Russia that has been going on for several centuries, so there is no reason to expect Russia to change in a few years - it will take decades, said Michal Baranowski, Managing Director of the German Marshall Fund's East strand, in an interview with LETA on the sidelines of the Riga Conference.
"The Baltic states and Poland, and obviously the whole European Union (EU), need Russia to really change, to get rid of the imperialist mood, not just change the regime," Baranowski said.
He pointed out that, unfortunately, imperialism is a historical practice for Russia, even over several centuries, and this is perhaps the first opportunity for Russia in a very long time to acknowledge the consequences of this imperialism. "Only after they have felt these consequences of losing the war in Ukraine will they be able to really understand these realities and change," the expert believes.
"The leaders of our region talk a lot about responsibility, about justice. Without that, Russia may stop for a moment, but it will not change. I think we can look at individual people through this prism, but it is difficult because you really have to look deeply to understand how well a person understands how far his country has gone in the wrong direction," Baranowski said, referring to the imperialist sentiment in Russian society.
He agrees that Russians outside Russia need to show that they are not only indifferent, but really do not support Putin's regime, given the gravity of the crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. "Of course, imperialism is the main test, maybe even more than anti-Putinism, although it is the main indicator," said the Managing Director of the German Marshall Fund's East strand.
He believes that the death of Putin or the fall of his regime will not be enough for change, rather Russia has to go through roughly the same thing as Germany went through after the Second World War.
"It would start with the defeat in the war in Ukraine. Very probably only in political terms. But I do not expect it to be something that takes years. At best we are talking about decades, because generations have to change. This country, our neighbor, has to digest all this," Baranowski said, adding that Russia has been imperialist for so long that imperialism is deeply embedded in its society, even in its culture and certainly in its politics.
Assessing what is happening in Belarus, Baranowski pointed out that, despite the relative calm, we should bear in mind that Belarus should be seen as part of Russia's military space.
"At the same time, Russia is also very occupied and I do not think it could take steps to replace [President Alexander] Lukashenko's regime. He may have succeeded in resisting the opening of a second front against Ukraine from Belarus, but his situation has not changed, it has only sort of calmed down," the expert said. "It is not a calm place, but unfortunately very stable in this respect. I do not see any signs that Lukashenko's regime is being destabilized."
Baranowski stressed that our policy must be supportive of Belarusian opposition leaders and civil society, but he called for refraining from trying to drive a wedge between Lukashenko and Putin by somehow trying to find some common ground with Lukashenko.
"Lukashenko has sat on the fence so many times in this game. There is absolutely no chance of him becoming democratic or pro-Western. He has Russian nuclear weapons, he has political prisoners, his regime is one of the most authoritarian in Europe. The only thing we can do is to support the opposition and civil society without making any deals with Lukashenko. Although this might take some time before we can reap any fruits", the expert summarized.