The Russia Policy Conundrum – Who Blinks First?
On 28 September the Netherlands’ Russia policy was debated in Parliament. This policy (updated most recently in the government’s ‘Russia letter’ of December 2019) boils down to a twin-track approach of, on the one hand, exerting pressure through EU sanctions and NATO deterrence and, on the other hand, identifying common ground dossiers and engaging in people-to-people contacts. To date, this long-standing policy has not led to satisfactory outcomes. The debate took place against the backdrop of a Clingendael opinion poll indicating that the Dutch public has different threat perceptions of Russia.
Anyway, the debate was rather uneventful and lawmakers focused mostly on topical issues such as the ongoing MH17 trial, Belarus, developments around Nagorno-Karabakh and the poisoning of Alexey Navalny. It may be a source of comfort that the Netherlands is not the only country struggling with its Russia policy. The list of accusations and grievances against Russia is growing, but its leadership flatly denies all wrongdoing and does not seem much impressed by Western responses which have not resulted in a change of behaviour. Under a veneer of unity, European countries are divided on Russia and the debate often hovers between two, typically Russian, eternal questions: kto vinovat (who’s to blame) and chto delat’ (what to do).
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