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Europe needs to take Russia Seriously

For far too long Russia has been able to get away with whatever it wants in Europe. I know first-hand the threat posed by the Russian Federation and of what happens when the West does not take a strong enough stance.

In 2008, my own country of Georgia was invaded by Russia. They claimed that it was in order to restore peace on the border in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but in reality, it was Russia that had created the problems. They fabricated violence in the region in order to justify their own invasion and used the full force of the Russian military along with a state-orchestrated full-scale cyber attack. For Georgia, we are not in a cold war but facing against a real aggressor.

To this day Russian troops still occupy South Ossetia and Abkhazia and by doing so they prevent us from being able to pursue our true dream of joining NATO and the European Union. It was no surprise to us what they did in 2014 in Ukraine as they were simply replicating a formula that worked on us.

And just as in 2008, today the European Union has not taken a hard enough line on Russia. The problem perhaps lies with the fact that to those in the West, Russia is a distant threat. However, the Kremlin does not view the world in this way. That’s why they authorised the attacks in Salisbury in the United Kingdom against their former agents. It’s why they are able to send troops to Syria. It’s why they are backing the regime in Venezuela. Russia has global ambitions.

Now more than ever, we need the Western allies to recognise the threat posed by Russia to our way of life. For years now they have been getting away with subverting democracy across Europe, spreading fake news, and attacking our freedoms. They may not launch direct attacks as they have done in Georgia and Ukraine, but they’ll find other ways of undermining the fabric of the country, including the support of corruption and kleptocracy.

In Poland, they have spread disinformation related to coronavirus and about the governing Law and Justice Party. In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania they inflame racial tensions between the ethnic Russian minority and the rest of the population, in an attempt to break down the cohesion in the country.

In the Nordic world, they spread anti-NATO propaganda to try and subvert the debate on membership in Finland and Sweden. In Germany, they spared fake news related to migrants in order to fan the flames of xenophobia in the former East.

Russia has been working under Europe’s nose for years and the West has failed to respond. There have been important but not sufficient political steps like recent NATO enragements, but it’s time that the West woke up to the near and present danger that is posed by the country before it is too late.