What, Lenin asked memorably, is to be done? His answer - to create a lethal and disastrous communist empire - was a bad one. But as the West grapples with a Russian regime that is at least in part nostalgic for the Soviet Union, the question is still a good one.
The problem is that Russia is behaving badly enough to be a worry, but not badly enough to focus our minds. Russia is a repressive regime. But it is not bad enough to enrage our liberal consciences, and, in truth, many of our own allies behave worse. Russia's ancient nuclear bombers play silly games near British airspace; one of its submarines surfaces in the Irish Sea. But that is just tiresome Kremlin chest-thumping. In a real war, the Russian navy with its 20 or so seaworthy ships would probably be at the bottom of the sea within minutes. Russia vetoed sanctions on Zimbabwe and wants to sell advanced weapons to Iran - but life goes on. In short, Russia's actions are irritants, not alarm signals.
So the easiest thing is to do nothing. Whitehall mandarins argue that Russia is like a troublesome adolescent, simply flexing new muscles and trying to get the outside world to take it seriously. After the chaos and humiliation of the '90s, is it not surprising that Russia, now a prosperous and stable country, wants to rub in the fact that its days as a basket case are over? Maybe the West has overdone Nato expansion in Russia's historic backyard; certainly it is time to call a halt. The best thing to do is to take the long view, not to overreact, and to wait for a middle class to develop inside Russia. Sooner or later, Russia will become just another normal country that we can do business with - a sort of cold, muddy, nuclear-armed version of Brazil.
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