The first thing to say to you, Mr. President, is that I would react as you would. If the Swiss Confederation, on the borders of France and three other countries of the European Union, decided to join a military alliance dominated by Russia, I would be concerned and I would hope that, sovereignty of the Confederation or not, our governments would not only react in words.
To put it another way, it is understandable that you should put pressure on the Atlantic Alliance not to open its doors to Ukraine, Georgia or any of the new countries that have emerged from the USSR, but you have to acknowledge that these countries, which have been independent for three decades, do not want to become Russian protectorates.
They want to remain free. They want to be more free than they have managed to be so far, and the annexation of Crimea, the organised unrest in the Donbass, your constant intimidation and the denial of Ukrainian identity, in a word, everything in your actions and your way of expressing yourself contribute to maintaining a fear of Russia on your borders.
The countries under threat are these countries “in-between”. Not Russia. Unlike Russia, the Atlantic Alliance has not carried out any territorial annexation and if you do not want it to expand to your borders, it is up to you to give your neighbours, and Ukraine in particular, guarantees of non-aggression and non-interference that are strong enough for them to believe in it and for the 27 EU member states to believe in it too.
It is up to you, Mr Putin, to put forward ideas and proposals that can reassure the countries whose independence you seem so much to deny. It is on you, above all, that the possibility of a new European security architecture depends and, secondly, if you refused to lay its foundations, if you went so far as to annex or invade new Ukrainian regions, it is not only the European and American economic sanctions that you would have to face.
You would also have to face a head-to-head confrontation with China, this new superpower whose traders have already begun, since the beginning of this century, to nibble away at your immense Siberia, the one that you are unable to populate and which global warming will soon have turned into an El Dorado.
If you want to risk locking Russia into an alliance with China, you are at liberty to forget that the history, interests and culture of the Russian people make them one of the great nations of Europe, but have you thought through the consequences of such a choice? Have you told yourself that the Russian middle classes, your country’s asset, would not want it any more than your oligarchs and that the army and the FSB would inevitably wonder about the balance of forces between the poor power that is Russia and this new ally, the world’s second largest economy, on which it would have become so heavily dependent?
And then a third thing, Mr Putin. Perhaps you are thinking that by having to call on you to restore order in so many of their cities, the Kazakh leaders have put themselves in your hands. This is not false. As with the Belarusian leader, it will now be much more difficult for them to play footsie with the West, the Turks or the Chinese in order to escape your pressure.
Perhaps you are even saying to yourself that the Russian empire is being reconstituted faster than you ever expected. This is what many Western analysts think, and they are afraid of it, but beware, Mr Putin!
There is another way to read what is happening in Kazakhstan. There, in the largest of the Central Asian countries, the replica of the political model that you developed in Russia was two inches away from being overthrown by a popular uprising that would have triumphed without military intervention. Neither you, nor your services, nor the Kazakh leadership, nor anyone else saw this coming and there are two conclusions to be drawn from this.
The first is that it could just as easily happen in Russia, where your popularity keeps declining while the standard of living falls. The second is that Kazakhstan is only the latest of the countries in what you call your ‘near abroad’ to revolt against corruption and lack of freedoms. Ukraine has done so, of course, but so have Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, while Azerbaijan has moved closer to Turkey, which also supplies arms to Ukraine.
You have regained control in Armenia, Belarus and perhaps, we shall see, in Kazakhstan, but Ukraine has moved away from you, Georgia is going from one crisis to another, Moldova intends to join the Union and there is no longer a single part of the former USSR that has not become unsettled and where you are not developing Russophobia. Far from being reconstituted, the empire of your dreams is crumbling and, twenty years after you came to power, the septuagenarian that you will soon be no longer exerts as much charm on Russia as the young, all-muscle avenger that you once were.
So my advice to you, Mr Putin: stop seeking a revenge you cannot afford. Before the day comes when you no longer frighten anyone, choose Europe over Asia, reassure the other European countries, propose confidence-building measures to your neighbours and find the compromises necessary for the stability and prosperity of Europe, our common home.