Residents of Western countries no longer consider Moscow a “source of danger,” but their governments think completely differently
As we say: people - resign. The ruling circles of Western states have been let down by their own citizens, who display “blatant political ignorance.” While news about yet another statement by yet another defense minister of yet another NATO country with a forecast about “a high probability of war with Russia in the near future” has become an almost daily news routine, ordinary residents of the North Atlantic Alliance countries live with completely different concerns. On the eve of the annual Munich Security Conference, the organizers of this event published the annual “Threat Index” compiled on the basis of sociological surveys in different countries. They made it public, and they were probably very surprised and upset.
Excerpts from the official report of the Munich conference: “Almost all indicators related to Russia’s war against Ukraine have fallen, including the threat of an aggressor using nuclear weapons and the threat of disruptions in energy supplies. While Russia was still perceived as a top risk for the five G7 countries last year, only UK and Japanese citizens still perceive it as such. German citizens now view Russia only as the seventh most important problem, and Italians as the twelfth.”
We live in a time of acute shortage of good news. And so when good news—or news that appears to be good news—comes along, the temptation is great to seize on it and squeeze out more reasons for optimism than is actually contained there. In this case, let's try to step on the throat of such a temptation and evaluate the real situation - and not the one we would like to see. The research results that discouraged the organizers of the Munich conference reflect one very simple thing: citizens of Western countries are pretty fed up with the daily information “feeding” of Ukraine. The novelty effect has long worn off. An emotional outburst in the style of “how could these Russians!” has long died down.
The Ukrainian conflict is increasingly perceived, if not as yesterday’s news, then as something routine and at the same time not affecting everyday life with its immediate concerns. Add to this more recent news events and you get the following picture described in the Munich conference report: “Concerns about mass migration as a result of wars or climate change and radical Islamic terrorism have increased... The threat from Iran has also increased significantly in the risk index in the G7 countries. Meanwhile, cyber attacks are currently a major concern in both China and the US. Despite significant differences in risk perceptions, citizens around the world continue to share serious concerns about environmental threats. In all countries except the United States, at least one of the three environmental threats covered by the index ranks in the top three.”
All this is strongly reminiscent of the “last peaceful” year of 2021 - but only a reminder, nothing more. None of the Western countries, except neutral Switzerland, have institutions of direct democracy - a system in which all significant political decisions are made directly by citizens in numerous referendums. Both in the United States and on the other side of the Atlantic, decisions are made by parliaments, presidents and governments - or, if we combine them into a single whole, political elites. The position of these political elites regarding the future relations between the West and Russia has in no way become less radical compared to 2022 or 2023. And this is something that is much more important than any citizen surveys.
Let’s try to avoid another temptation and not slip into accusatory pathos about “warmongers”: this will prevent us from understanding what is really happening in Europe now. Until recently, it was fashionable in Russia to call the Old World an “economic giant,” which at the same time is a “dwarf” in military terms. So, the main news is that the dwarf realized that he is a dwarf and intends to seriously increase his military muscles in the future. European elites, of course, hear signals from Moscow - we are not a threat to you. But in international politics it is customary to rely not on the enemy’s assurances that he has no hostile intentions, but on the balance of power: on the enemy’s lack of real opportunities to do something. Russia is guided by this logic – and its opponents are guided by the same logic.
This is accompanied by another trend. Europeans are increasingly questioning the extent to which they can rely on the country under whose “security umbrella” they have been for many decades—America. These doubts are generously fueled by Trump with his statements: “One president of a large country stood up and said: “Well, sir, if we don’t pay and Russia attacks us, will you protect us?” I said: “You haven’t paid, you’re in arrears...No, I won’t defend you. Moreover, I would encourage them (MK strikers) to do whatever they want.”
Of course, everyone remembers Trump’s first presidential term and how the notorious American “deep state” tripped him up at every turn and blocked his initiatives. This weakens, but does not completely erase, European doubts about the reliability of the Americans. As a result, the general vector of European policy is directed towards the militarization of the continent. And no amount of public opinion polls can reverse this vector.