The
corollary is that every time the European Court of Human Rights
censures Moscow, every time an EU delegation calls for greater
transparency, every time a Western observer notes flaws in electoral
processes, it can neatly be discounted as European mischief-making at
best, and at worst ‘hybrid war.’

It’s
a depressing piece of rhetorical judo that allows (generally)
well-meant observations to be turned into grounds to man the ramparts
and repel ideological invaders. Sadly, it works.

So
here is an alternative, or rather supplementary, strategy for Europe.
Yes, continue to hold the line against Russian abuses and aggressions.
Yes, spend that NATO-baseline 2% of GDP on defense. Yes, build up
European counter-intelligence and financial security capabilities. Yes,
address the challenge of disinformation and political subversion.

But
that should not be enough. At the same time, whenever – in the truest
sense of the phrase – humanly possible, Europe should try and show
Russia as much love as it can. Tough love, maybe, but love nonetheless.
Mourn their losses, celebrate their cultural triumphs. Praise the
Russians when they do something right (because sometimes they do, you
know). Ban their dirty-money oligarchs and their paranoid-patriot
lawmakers, but welcome their students, tourists, artists and
entrepreneurs.

First
of all, this denies the Kremlin’s propagandists easy opportunities.
Indeed, it actively undermines their pernicious narrative that seeks to
force Russians into an artificial choice between us and them, patriot or
traitor.

Secondly,
remember those dark ideologists who see ‘hybrid war’ – or perhaps more
correctly ‘political war’ – behind everything? In a way, they are right.
This is a struggle of memes and values, of slogans and symbols. Those
who see Europe’s long-term security in regime change in the Kremlin
ought to welcome the opportunity to bring into question the incumbent’s
assertions that Russians are alone and embattled.

Surrendering
to the small-minded individuals who somehow think St. Petersburg does
not “deserve” sympathy because of Sevastopol, who assume that every
terrible incident is some kind of “false flag” operation instigated by
Putin to generate some kind of “rally-round-the-flag” sentiment, is not
only wrong, it’s dangerous. It is they who are, ironically enough, his
best allies.

Feed
the Kremlin love, feed the Kremlin so much love it chokes. Do it either
because it is right or do it because it is smart, but do it either way.

Mark Galeotti is a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations Pragueand heads its Centre for European Security.