Have you heard anything about Ukraine, by any chance?
Have you heard anything about Ukraine, by any chance?
Offener Brief an Putin – Zu den russlandfeindlichen Äußerungen unserer Massenmedien und Politiker – NRhZ-Online – Neue Rheinische Zeitung – firstname.lastname@example.org – Tel.: +49 (0)221 22 20 246 – Fax.: +49 (0)221 22 20 247 – ein Projekt gegen den schleichenden Verlust der Meinungs- und Informationsfreiheit – Köln, Kölner, Leverkusen, Bonn, Kölner Dom, Kölner Polizei, Rat der Stadt Köln, Kölner Stadtanzeiger, Flughafen KölnBonn, Messe, Messe Köln, Polizei Köln, Rheinland, Bundeswehr Köln, heiliger Vater Köln, Vatikan Köln, Jürgen Rüttgers Köln, Radio Köln, Express Köln, Staatsanwaltschaft Köln, Kapischke Köln, Klüngel Köln, Schramma Köln, Fritz Schramma, Fritz Schramma Köln, Stadt Köln, Kölnarena, Oppenheim, Oppenheim Köln, Privatbank, Privatbank Köln, Sal. Oppenheim, Sal. Oppenheim Köln, WDR Köln, Oppenheim-Esch, Oppenheim-Esch Köln, Oppenheim-Esch-Holding, Oppenheim-Esch-Holding Köln, KölnMesse, KölnMesse Köln, KVB Köln, Ermittlungen, Kommune Köln, Dom Köln, Erzbistum Köln, Kardinal Meisner Köln.
In this sort of situation, one blows hot and cold in succession. A phase of de-escalation, at least verbal, appears to have been started by Vladimir Putin’s statement. He conducted an operation of ‘calculated posturing’, as the military says. What matters now is to define the axis of exit from this crisis. There is no longer any ideological or military reason for a new cold war in Europe. No-one has any interest in that. There is too much interdependence between us for not looking at the road for a durable resolution.
We are not taking that road currently…
From the start there was a big misunderstanding: the EU policy aimed at association with Ukraine, while raising expectations of membership, as Olli Rehn declared, cannot be realised in a sensible timeframe. Membership may not even be desirable. One should not have placed, and must not, place Ukraine in front of a manichean choice: either Russia, or the EU. That is an unsolvable dilemma for Ukraine, given her history. The reality of Ukraine is her diversity. In the East there are russophone populations, and in the West, uniate catholic communities, some of which were once part of Austro-Hungary. It is not sensible to expect a democratic equilibrium in Ukraine, with power alternating between East and West, as we have witnessed since 1991: Kravtchuk in 1991, Timochenko, then Ianukovitch. I see not reason why Ukraine could not become a federal state. It may be what Russia is leading at: that is no reason to disqualifying the proposal, if it makes good sense. As for Crimea, no-one could challenge that it is Russian, as the majority of her population. A substantial autonomy is in the natural order. As Charles de Gaulle once said: ‘There is no worthwhile politics outside realities’.
In your last book you wrote: ‘Without Russia, something is missing in Europe’…
Russia is a great European country. Her space stretches across Europe and Asia, but her people are unquestionably European. Something essential to our culture would go missing without the Russian novelists, Tolstoï, Dostoievski, without Tchekov’s plays, Diaghilev’s ballets, Tchaikovski’s music, Sutin’s painting. Moreover, France is well placed to know how much she owes to Russia: in 1914 we were lucky to have the Russian front buying us time to hold on to the Marne, and more so in WWII. We are in Russia’s debt for her immense sacrifices in breaking the back of nazi Germany. One cannot delete history at a stroke.
Is Russia a democracy?
For twenty two years Russia has been a state based on the rule of law, no doubt imperfectly so, but which comprises all the elements (necessary to) democratic development: political pluralism, freedom of expression – at least in the written press and on the Internet – elections that the opposition can win, as for example in Yekaterinburg, fourth city in the country, last September. The 1993 Constitution, still in force, has been adhered to; in France, twenty years after 1789, we had at least ‘consumed’ seven or eight (constitutions). One has to trust (the effects of) economic development, time, the rise of a middle class: democracy will develop from the Russian people themselves. The thesis of exporting democracy is dangerous: the ideology that states that the West must export its values, norms, standards, can only feed the lingering remains of the cold war. One always has to try and understand what’s in the head of ‘the other’: Russians believe that Westerners, particularly in the US, have not given up on ‘regime change’.
They haven’t forgotten Kosovo, Iraq, Libya etc. Russia defends her geopolitical interests, but she is not the USSR. That disappeared twenty three years ago. One must accept that each country evolves at her own pace and chooses her destiny. I always refer to Jacques Berque who said that every people must find in themselves, and in their motivations, reasons to borrow concepts that at first are foreign, but that those cannot be forced upon them.
Does Europe need Russia?
Since, on the other side, there is a project of euro-asian free trade, why not try and work this out in its entirety, from Brest to Vladivostok? That was the spirit of strategic partnership agreed between the EU and Russia in 2003: to create a vast free-trade area from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Since then there has been growth of interconnected interests: western investment, German and French, in Russia, as well as energy and industrial interdependence. One has to see how this can be developed further in a free trade space that must, of course, include Ukraine.
You have denounced also the ‘ambient Russophobia’…
Russia became a great country at the end of the eighteenth century, with Catherine the Great and Alexander I, as Napoleon found out at his cost. But Russia has long inspired fear. In Germany and the Anglo-Saxon world, there was political Russophobia, geopolitical rivalry between Great Britain and the Russian Empire, as shown in the nineteenth century by the war in Crimea and the ‘Great Game‘. Between the US and the USSR it was the Cold War, from 1917 to 1990.
Germany, in 1918 and 1941, was tempted to expand to the East, by pushing away the Slavs, an old pan-germanic thesis. That temptation has now fortunately disappeared and today German policies towards Russia are infinitely wiser.
In France there is an ideological Russophobia. It was defined in 1839 by the Marquis de Custine in his famous formula: ‘Siberia starts at the Vistula’. That Russophobia is deeply detrimental to the interest of our country, and to that of a peaceful Europe. In ‘Le monde’, for example, the historian Françoise Thom, wrote of a ‘civilisation choice’ about Ukraine: are we going back to Samuel Huntington‘s ‘clash of civilisations’ (1994)? If Bernard-Henri Lévy and a few others could resuscitate Joseph Stalin it would give them their ‘raison d’ être’!
How do you see Vladimir Putin?
After the economic collapse of Russia in the decade that followed the end of the USSR, when Russian GDP was halved, Putin improved that situation considerably (with average annual economic growth of 7% between 2000 and 2010). He has adopted policies that are socially appreciated. Paradoxically he has contributed to the rise of a middle class that is not particularly supportive to him. He has restored Russia’s international role. Russian public opinion appreciates him. In the main the French media project at best a reductive vision of the Russian reality. Certain things of course may shock us: gay propaganda towards minors is legally suppressed. This may be interpreted in many different ways. But we forget that thirty years ago, in France, interference with minors was more heavily sanctioned for homosexuals. That cannot be the sole benchmark to judge a country. Death penalty is not abolished in Russia, but there is a moratorium, and no executions. One cannot say the same of all countries, including some of our closest allies. A majority of the Russian people supports Vladimir Putin, and the opposition is divided. M. Navalny, leader of the opposition, received 28% of votes in Moscow.
Vladimir Putin likes to present himself as the inheritor of the European christian roots…
Are we in a confrontation between Eastern and Western christianities? In a poll, seventy four percent of Russians below the age of 30, were ignorant of the ‘filioque‘, the theological quarrel that led in 1054 to the schism between the Byzantine Church and the catholic Church of Rome. It was a question of knowing if the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. What surprises me is that 26% of young Russians still know what that was about! Russian society is more religious than ours: a simple walk though the basilicae of the Golden Ring shows the many worshippers, of all generations, praying fervently in front of the icons.
The truth is that Russia has an identity problem, now she has been pushed back to her sixteenth century borders, and that she sees NATO extended far beyond West Germany’s boundaries, contrary to the 1990 agreement. Russians remember that NATO wanted to include Georgia and Ukraine in 2006 – which France and Germany opposed. They consider that Russia’s status as great power would be threatened by NATO’s extension to these two countries. They probably exaggerate the threat, but they don’t enter easily into the western leaders’s reasoning. We have seen many of the same leaders, a few weeks back, posturing on Maidan square, making unreasonable speeches, and displaying themselves in the company of unsavoury characters. Was that sensible? The agreement concluded with Ianukovitch, countersigned by the three foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland, was then emptied of substance. And one speaks of interference!
You speak in your book of the inevitability of a ‘variable geometry’ Europe, as the sole solution to managing a Union of twenty eight plus countries…
Why not linking the Euro – as a single or common currency – and the Rouble: Europe represents more than half Russian foreign trade. We have a strong interdependence for energy and economic growth: few French citizens know that more than a million cars built in Russia, or a third of the total production, are made by French automakers. Few people are aware of the scope of investments in the Yamal peninsula to exploit natural gas. Those are considerable investments, in which Total, among others, has a stake. Russia’s is a resurgent economy close to us, with Moscow a mere three hours from Paris. French businesses in Russia do not wish for this crisis to worsen.
And the American alliance?
We must maintain our alliance with the US, but an alliance does not equate with subordination. The 21st century cannot be reduced to a confrontation between China and the US. It is desirable that Europe organises herself to exist by herself. One must think of a ‘variable geometry’ Europe associating different countries, each choosing how it converges its policies toward a common European interest.
For the past eight months Europe and the US have been negotiating a commercial agreement dubbed ‘Transatlantic Treaty‘, which aims at improving the conditions of free trade between the two Atlantic shores: do we have anything to gain from that agreement?
My fundamental criticism is that the Euro/Dollar exchange rate can vary in a 1 to 2 ratio. The Euro was at 82 cents in 2000, and $1.60 in 2006. So (in these conditions),what does the suppression of our custom duty (3 to 4%) and norms harmonisation mean?
Today the Euro is worth $1.40, a very high level for the French economy, which is not in (trade balance) surplus with the US like Germany’s. Behind that treaty is a US will to group all the countries of the Atlantic shores, as those of the Pacific, to isolate China.
There is then the will of some large multinational corporations to implant themselves in low-cost areas: Mexico, and even the US, for financial reasons.I cannot see what our country can gain from that.
What is your view of the sanctions decided last Thursday by the EU?
The European sanctions (against Russia) are a double-edged sword. They target all Russian nationals, contrary to the US measures targetted at the leadership, except Vladimir Putin… The only virtue I see is that they are easily reversed…
At the time of religious and murderous sectarian upheavals, in sixteenth century France, Michel de Montaigne retired to his estate in the Aquitaine to write his Essays. His reflections would take him on a personal journey of introspection, rather than an exploration of the historical reasons for the events of his time. In many ways we can be grateful for his decision: Montaigne legated to us a monument of European literature, and there were others, perhaps better placed, to chronicle the turmoil of his time.
Listening to some inept “bavardage” from French fashionably conservative commentators, on one of France main TV news channels, who were describing Russian concerns with the apparent take-over by fascists in the capital of the Ukraine, as “anachronism“, I wondered who was in fact living in the real world: them, evidently convinced of the justification of their statement (“fascism? Where? What?”), or myself, and no doubt thousands of other Europeans trying to make sense of the tragedy in Kiev and its consequences for the people of the Ukraine, and the whole of Europe.
I was also reminded of Robert Gates’ scathing observations on the posturing of the British and French governments during the bombings of Libya. Germany, who refused to participate in the bombings, saved the day nonetheless and procured the missing ordnance!
“The blunt reality,” Mr. Gates said, “is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
The British and French media conveniently chose to forget those remarks, as, today, the mainstream, inclusive of Le Monde and the liberal press (Guardian etc.), and the same governments, hide behind the John Kerry’s creed about those “brave democrats in the Ukraine”, at no risk to themselves. Should the present crisis degenerate into a bloody conflict in Central Europe who will be paying the price?
That there are, of course, good reasons for Russian anxiety – meaning both for the government of the Russian Federation, and the large Russian minorities, and majority in the Crimean autonomous region, is beyond doubts. Those reasons, far from being anachronisms, are rooted in the painful memory of recent history, the realities of the last decades, the role of successive US administrations in fostering violent régime changes in countries deemed to be of strategic interest, from Chile in the 70’s to Afghanistan and Syria, and the betrayal of promises made to Russia and her reformist government at the time of the implosion of the USSR.
On the events that led to the ousting of the elected administration of the Ukraine, the tug of war between factions in favour of and against EU influence, and the nefarious consequences of IMF/ECB – driven austerity policies as experienced in many European countries, was a decisive confrontation. Some of us, in “old Europe”, are troubled as to why the “opposition” now in power in Kiev appears to consist solely of right-wing groups and a party whose claimed European aspirations are weirdly mixed with a nostalgia for an ignoble fascist past.
For sure, this is a complex situation, and that very complexity, may drive some of us toward retiring and writing fiction, if not “essays”, rather than trying to unravel the complexity. This would be a mistake. Many times in history, Europe, that is the community of people, and since the sixteenth century, states, had to pull back from the brink of annihilation. This was the case after the Thirty Years’ War that destroyed half the population of the German speaking lands. It was the case after WWII, when the USSR’s heroic sacrifices and US power rescued Europe from nazi madness.
Charles de Gaulle called for the formation of a “Europe of nations, from the Atlantic to the Urals”. His vision had the merit to recognise Russia as a European nation.
The dilemma now facing European Union’s leaders, regarding the Ukraine crisis, is less than enviable. While it is relatively easy, and so far free of risks, for the Washington administration to turn a blind eye on the disturbing evidence of the true nature of some of the components of the ‘régime’ now seemingly in control in Kiev – after all, the régime change has been/is generously funded, supported and encouraged by the nexus State Department/CIA/American ultra-right billionaires – the position of the Union, and above all, of Germany, can only be more nuanced.
Western Europe needs Russia, even more than Russia needs Europe; which is not to say that the current crisis is not damaging to Russian interests, now and possibly in the longer term as well. The fragile economic recovery in Europe, German-led and founded on the neo-liberal principles adopted by the EU and its institutions, most notably the European Central Bank, and the quasi totality of member states governments, could receive a death blow should the present confrontation turned into a ‘new’ Cold War.
Confronting the Russian Federation, for example in a futile show of unconditional support for what is effectively a right-wing, ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist pronunciamento, in the Western Ukraine, maybe ‘business as usual’ for the Cold Warriors of Washington, it cannot be to Europe’s interests, and certainly not to the interests of its peace-loving citizens.
The ignorance of recent history and geography, a constant and alarming feature of US foreign policy and ambitions, from Afghanistan to the Balkans, and part of the sinister inheritance from the ‘Raygun era’, does not wash in countries, including those countries issued from the implosion of the USSR in the 90’s, that were directly affected by WWII in Eastern and Central Europe. The grim statistics of casualties in the Ukraine and the whole USSR speak for themselves, and have never been forgotten, except by the hapless and US (mainly) Republican politicians. Anti-Russian and anti-semite pronouncements by the ‘democrats’, the proud fighters against ‘tyranny’, praised by Mr Kerry in Kiev, cannot over-impress those citizens of the Union, who do know some geography, and have a reasonably good understanding and memory of historical facts.
Since the country’s reunification – Einheit – Germany has been looking increasingly toward the Esat, and to those countries, Poland, the Tcheque Republic, Slovakia, the Baltic nations, that have sought and embraced Union membership. This has been concomitant with a growing and healthy cooperation with Russia, which is not limited to natural gas and oil. It will take more than a few bellicose statements from Washington DC to reverse that position.
It remains that a diplomatic and long-lasting solution must be found. Futile threats of sanctions won’t help, and may just prolong the crisis. The neo-nazis in Kiev must be dealt with, the genuine democrats supported. Peace and civil society must be reasserted, and an agreement sought and negotiated that respects the European aspirations of the western majority, while preserving the sensitivities of the Russian and Russian speaking Southern and Eastern regions.
One could dream that a Federal European Union, doted of truly democratic institutions, and freed from undue US interference, would be better equipped to achieve this.
The recent turn of events, in the Middle East, and now in Eastern Europe, appears to signal a resurgence of what used to be called the Cold War (not everybody agrees). This is not the only blast from the past. Looking further back, the reappearance of armed neo-fascists thugs, with appropriate logos, in the streets of Kiev, like that of similar ghosts in the wake of the destruction of the Yugoslav Federation, is a reminder that those forces are far from dead. For many of us, convinced “old Europeans” – with still a good memory and some knowledge and respect for history – our concerns are exacerbated by the apparently irresponsible rhetoric proffered by the European Commission/Nato/US White House nexus. If it is true that the right-wing “revolutionaries” in Kiev are funded by a mix of shadowy – as ever – US agencies, and right-wing US billionaires, then what on earth is the EU doing blowing on the fire? What is the strategy of the German government towards those events? Who are the proxies? And in whose interests is the legitimate government of the Ukraine toppled?
I mentioned the Middle East. There, from Algeria to Syria and Iraq, from Egypt to Bahrain, the nefarious combination of US intervention – assassination by drones and shipments of arms to the local dictatorships – and Saudi funding (and even direct armed intervention as in Bahrain) can only be described as counterrevolution. Thus we have been witnessing the funeral of the Arab Spring, that never was.
What is the common thread through these events? Is it sufficient to invoke the on-march of neo-liberalism and CIA plots? In a recent article on the LRB blog James Meek evokes the steady progress of “Russian-sponsored territories” from Georgia to the Crimea. Writes Meek:
“The territories contain large populations who, with varying degrees of justification, objected to the governments handed them in the post-Soviet order of newly independent states. The Slavs of Transdniestria feared Moldova would force them to speak Moldovan, and would unite with Romania. The Abkhazians wanted greater autonomy within, or independence from, Georgia. The South Ossetians, historically close to Russia, feared being cut off, within Georgia, from their northern kin in Russia, on the other side of the mountains.”
Is a similar process about to take place in Crimea? Evidently Russia did not sponsor the Kiev uprising, but what about the fears and concerns of the mainly Russian population of the Crimea? Those thoughts bring us back to what preceded WWI: 1913. What happened then? Is it wild extrapolation to compare the present situation to that created for Austria-Germany-Russia-Serbia, and the others, before 1914?
In “The Sleepwalkers, How Europe went to war in 1914”, Christopher Clark asks: “… we need to do more than simply revisit the sequence of international ‘crises’ that preceded the outbreak of war – we need to understand how those events were experienced and woven into narratives that structured perceptions and motivated behaviour. Why did the men whose decisions took Europe to war behave and see things as they did? How did the sense of fearfulness and foreboding that one finds in so many sources connect with the arrogance and swaggering we encounter – often in the very same individuals?”
Should we be asking those questions now?
At the height of the Cold War, in 1974, Franz Schurmann, a respected Professor of Sociology and History at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of the already classic “Ideology and Organization in Communist China”, wrote “The Logic of World Power“. This masterly dissection of US Foreign policy, of the role of the imperial presidency, and of the significance of the nuclear arms race, remains to this day one of the most cogent analyses of the Cold War viewed from a US perspective.
The book subtitle was, aptly: “An Inquiry into the Origins, Currents, and Contradictions of World Politics”.
In his forward, Schurmann explains that he started writing the book in 1965, “when American planes began the bombing of North Vietnam.” He died in 2010, having had the time to see to the end the Vietnam tragedy and what Giovanni Arrighi would later consider “the signal crisis of US hegemony”. However his starting point was the observation that “since the end of World War II, the prime mover on the world scene has been the United States of America.”
Forty years later, in September-October 2013, the New Left Review, arguably one of the few remaining independent observers of world politics left in the English speaking media, published a two part study by Perry Anderson, “American Foreign Policy and it’s Thinkers.” In 2009 Mr Anderson gave us “The New Old World“, an unforgiving account of the origins and evolution of the European Union and its undemocratic institutions. “The New Old World” is indispensable reading for anyone who wishes to understand European current politics, and the logic of the US – European conundrum.
This new study will equally become a must read, not only for students of US Foreign Policy history, but for whoever wishes to follow up on Schurmann’ magisterial analysis, forty years later.
For the US are still the prime mover, despite all the disasters, despite the illusions of generations of prophets of doom and gloom for America’s role in the world. What was the logic of world power then, still is. Now, as then, the genesis of the new world order has US foreign policy as it’s midwife: in 1970, it was the onset of the final struggle with the USSR, the collapse of Keynesian political economies, and, soon, the rise of capitalist China, under the cloak of communism; today it is the seemingly unstoppable spread of neoliberal austerity policies in all western economies, on a backdrop of ever closer violent uprisings and local conflicts, and, still, the spectrum of conflict with China.
Schurmann wrote: “What began to wane in the late 1960s, clearly in relation to the Vietnam war, was the American Empire.” And indeed this relative decline has continued (as seen in the “longue durée”), but the reality of our world is that the logic of power is unchanged. Anderson shows that the fundamental logic of the Cold War had little to do with a “soviet threat” (for the USSR was at the end of WWII an exhausted and ruined country, contrary to the US who had hugely benefitted from the war and had been untouched by it), but rather the continuation of a bid for sustained US political and military dominance, unchallenged at the end of World War II, and with it, an economic order far remote from the official “free-world” propaganda.
Anderson observes on what was to follow, on the conclusion of the Cold War:
“In the Cold War, triumph was in the end complete. But the empire created to win it did not dissolve back into the liberal ecumenism out of whose ideological vision it had emerged. The institutions and acquisitions, ideologies and reflexes bequeathed by the battle against communism now constituted a massive historical complex with its own dynamics, no longer needed to be driven by the threat from the Soviet Union. Special forces in over a hundred countries round the world; a military budget larger than that of all other major powers combined; tentacular apparatuses of infiltration, espionage and surveillance; ramifying national security personnel; and last but not least, an intellectual establishment devoted to revising, amplifying and updating the tasks of grand strategy, of a higher quality and productivity than any counterpart concerned with domestic affairs – how could all this be expected to shrink once again to the slender maxims of 1945?”
It did not and it won’t. Despite the disappearance of the USSR, despite many localised conflicts and their costs, the logic is unchanged.
Reflecting on the dilemma, under Nixon, of US policies over Vietnam in 1970, Schurmann wrote: “but the nuclear chess game was not compatible with either popular sovereignty or parliamentary rule. As it was, the President preferred to appeal to the bottom over the middle. He spoke to what he felt was the majority’s opposition to any American defeat, appealing to their nationalism… Like any President, he had to go to his constituencies when he faced a great crisis within his bureaucratic ranks and ask for their support.”
God bless America.
Image: Ilka Hartmann Photography