The 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, like the centenary anniversary of the start of WWI earlier this year has served as an opportunity for world statesmen to speak ceremoniously and with seeming gravity, to have their photographs taken at the site where history was made and generally to feel virtuous and superior to our dull forebears. However, in both instances the parallels between the sleepwalking of those forebears and the sleepwalkers reading the commemorative speeches tends to go missing.
Several recent publications dealing with the ongoing 25th anniversary break with the pattern of empty solemnity and faux lessons from the past. Perhaps the most impressive because the author was central to the creation of a post-Cold War order is Mikhail Gorbachev’s Speech to the New Policy Forum symposium in Berlin on 8 November published in The Huffington Post.
Gorbachev’s speech reminds us of the key understandings between Russia and the European powers that followed the fall of the wall and preceded the reunification of Germany: the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, the principal obligations of which, he insists, have been observed up to this day. He praises the wisdom of the leaders who brought this about, one of whom was of course Gorbachev himself.
Things went awry thereafter, i.e. after Gorbachev, in the 1990s when ‘’European and international politics did not stand the test of renewal, of the new conditions of the global world in the post-Cold War era.”
Gorbachev clearly lays the blame for the trajectory of East-West relations at the door of the West, who ignored the security interests of Russia. ’Euphoria and triumphalism’’ went to the heads of Western leaders. Gorbachev’s shortlist in the rising tension runs from the enlargement of NATO, missile defense plans, Iraq, Libya, Syria.
And yet while saddened, Gorbachev ends on a somewhat ebullient note. His search for a way out is directed at Europe rather than the USA. He insists that Europe has been the big loser from its confrontational stance against Russia, forfeiting its place as a global power broker as it sinks into regional military conflict. He calls upon European leaders to reflect and reverse course on their Russia sanctions. Most significantly he calls for renewed consideration of a new security architecture for Europe, making reference in passing to the initiative of Dmitry Medvedev during his presidency.
In the past few days, an essay by the President of the American University in Moscow, Edward Lozansky, has reviewed many of the same questions from the perspective of a former Russian dissident. In "The West’s Fatal Russia Mistakes, 1989-2014’ which appeared in Russia Insider, Lozansky calls out how Russians’ perception of the West has shifted 180 degrees from 1989, from glowing admiration and wanting in, to aversion and contempt due to 25 years of misdeeds and obtuseness of US leaders. He ends on an uncharacteristically pessimistic note, saying that the current policy of severe sanctions which amount to openly political, economic, and informational warfare against Russia create climate when a "totally unforeseen accident, a tiny spark can trigger a global catastrophe with predictably horrifying consequences.”
Meanwhile, a recent poll of its 29-man ‘Brain Trust’ by Foreign Affairs magazine with respect to whether the West is to blame for the current imbroglio with Russia over Ukraine imposes itself on our attention. The figures published byFA online on 11 November indicate a significant fault line in what we might otherwise consider a sheer rock face of anti-Russian thinking: fully one-third of the experts, including such well known experts like John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, Michael Mandelbaum, Jack Snyder, Dmitri Trenin, Robert Legvold, Robert Jervis, Stephen Kotkin, Joshua Itzkowitz Shifrinson, Jack Snyder, and Stephen M. Walt, dared to say that the West is to blame. In our present moment of stage one McCarthyism, their boldness commands respect as does the decision of the editorial board to release the stats.
My first question to the panel is, in light of the Gorbachev essay, where do we in fact look first for the solution to the present global confrontation, to Washington or to Brussels? Will Europe back down on sanctions first due to the harm they are causing its own economy and political fragility after 6 years of austerity? Will Washington be able to go it alone on containing Russia?
Secondly, given the FA poll results, is there some basis for expecting the Washington political elites to crack on the Russia question even without reference to Europe?
The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Gilbert Doctorow,
Gilbert Doctorow is a Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow
Expert Panel Contributions
U.S. Must Take Lead, Change Policies to End Crisis
By Martin Sieff
Martin Sieff is a national columnist for the Post-Examiner online newspapers and a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow
The real solution to the extremely dangerous global confrontation looming between Russia and the West must come from Washington. But the prospects for this happening in the foreseeable future are negligible.
Major European nations are much more susceptible to suffer unanticipated blowback from the economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union on Russia. This is likely to lead to intense pressure on the governments of Germany and France in particular to dial down their participation in the sanctions regime.
However, even if Berlin and Paris break ranks with the Brussels bureaucrats in seeking to improve relations with Russia, the most dangerous issues generating levels of hostility unseen since at least 1982-83 remain carved in stone.
First, the United States continues to funnel massive military support to the Kiev government of President Petro Poroshenko, even as it increases its military action against the civilian population of the two breakaway regions of Lugansk and Donetsk. Russia will certainly respond to the ever-rising civilian death tolls in those provinces – now around 5,000, with almost a million refugees fleeing into Russia – stepping up its own military support for the regions and taking more active operations against Poroshenko’s ramshackle army.
Second, the United States continues to deploy its Ironhorse armored cavalry force in the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as protection for these three highly anti-Russian states. However, the Baltic states are the historic invasion route north to St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, and well over a million people were starved to death their when the Nazi Wehrmacht took that very route to besiege the city in the fall and winter of 1941.
The fact that NATO forces are now deployed on the outskirts of St. Petersburg would have been inconceivable to any of the Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush administration policymakers who negotiated the end of the Cold War on the U.S. side.
Third, U.S. warships and aircraft remain deployed in the Black Sea in support of the volatile and unpredictable successive governments of little Georgia in the Caucasus. As long as they are there, potential flash point incidents with Russian naval air force units will continue.
The United States cannot hope to restore reasonable relations with Russia or to revive the US-Russian dialogue that is essential to both nations unless and until it unilaterally tackles these three core issues.
Fourth, the Obama administration should also launch a serious dialogue to share early warning space-based strategic intelligence with Russia to reduce the dangers of accidental thermonuclear world war. Russia’s failure to successfully establish its own space-based early warning system means that the world’s most heavily armed nuclear superpower is reduced to "only as far as the horizon” radar alerts to alert it of any potential preemptive first strike.
Serious figures ready to advocate such policies certainly exist in the United States. However, they are locked out of President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. His National Security Adviser Susan Rice has never shown the slightest indication that she even begins to understand any of these life or death issues.
Even worse, the results of the November 4 midterm congressional elections were a disaster for the President and his Democratic Party. The elections delivered the Senate into the hands of the Republicans who remain far more anti-Russian and a super-hawkish than the Democrats, and who seek to humiliate and pressure the president into a far more anti-Russian policy at every turn.
Rice’s ignorance and incompetence is replicated through the news producers and editors of the U.S. national broadcast and print media. No open debate and discussion on the different sides of the Ukrainian conflict is almost ever permitted to see the light of day. The president of Russia is routinely demonized in the most simplistic, cartoonish and ridiculous ways.
U.S. policymakers, pundits and media executives will have to wake up and grow up before there can be any hope of restoring the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship – the most important strategic relationship for the entire human race.
Russia –West Confrontation: Ways Out.
By Vladimir Golstein
Vladimir Golstein is the Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Department of Slavic Studies at Brown University. He was born in Moscow and emigrated to the United States in 1979
Washington appears to be in the driver’s seat in the Ukrainian conflict. That is clear not only from the rude comments by Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in the month before the overthrow of Yanukovich but also from the various initiatives that Washington continues to generate, including the most recent proposal to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons, or its effective veto on various sensible proposals coming from Russia, be it the November 2013 Russian offer of tripartite negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and EU, or the call for federalization of Ukraine, notwithstanding Europe’s apparent support for these ideas.
It is clear that geography is destiny and it is up to Europeans to try to solve the crisis now unfolding in the very heart of Europe. The US obviously has its geopolitical interests to maintain, but it has to let Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians solve this quagmire. As US trusted allies, Europeans have to ask the US to wait on the sidelines, or to use my driving metaphor – the US has to let Europeans get into the driver’s seat. After all, it was Europeans who had to deal with Russia for centuries.
I am sure this will happen eventually, but it appears to me that the US is not ready to be relegated to the backseat position on this or on any other issue right now. That’s called imperial overreach. Russia clearly has difficulties dealing with its lost status, but by the same token the US appears to have its own set of difficulties. In other words, in its need to assert itself in various conflicts and various parts of the world, Russia might act like a sore loser, but the US clearly failed to act as a gracious winner. It keeps on insisting on its superior status, on its winner’s rights to dictate and re-shape reality. In short, it demonstrates all the faults of winners –stiffened self-righteousness, arrogance, and failure to modify and change.
Of course, being the most powerful country in the world, the US can continue to run the show relying on its hard power, on its eavesdropping equipment, and on its bribing or bullying of European leaders. But this is the Soviet way, rather than America’s past reliance on the power of ideas and ideals. We know that the former Warsaw bloc eventually collapsed like a house of cards, because of the way the Soviet Union chose to rule. The countries that form NATO can very easily repeat the scenario of their predecessors in the Warsaw bloc.
European countries gravitate toward each other and this process is inevitable. Had the US continued to be a true leader of the Free World, the country that inspires the world by the care that it takes of its citizens, by its ability to control unruly businesses or financial institutions, by its courage and vision in confronting the world problems-- then Europeans would more than happy to follow such a lead. But with its victory in the Cold War, the US abandoned vision and ideals, resorting instead to raw power. By its equally aggressive defense of its geopolitical interests, which were challenged by the US for no obvious reasons except for the need to spread its own hard power, Russia has managed to call the US bluff. TheUnited States has to demonstrate to the rest of the world how it intends to lead: through its moral superiority and its vision or through its hard power and tired rhetoric. Common sense tells us that a system that relies on armies, bases, bombers, and spying on its allies coupled with dismissal of environmental, financial, or economic concerns of the rest of the world, stands in very drastic need of change.
Recent US policies are becoming increasing myopic and self-righteous, consequently, moral support for the US is diminishing. If people like me, who came to the US solely for the political reasons, and who have both benefited from and continue to admire the great American principles of liberty and fair play, begin to feel disappointment, if the countries which have always been staunch supporters of the US, be it Hungary or the Czech republic, are showing signs of independence – what about the rest of the world, including so-called Old Europe that has always been wary of US unilateral policies? Is it worthy to lose Old Europe, Germany and France in particular, for the sake of gaining Ukraine, a country torn apart by civil war, financial mismanagement and virulent nationalism? That would clearly be a Pyrrhic victory, if there ever was one.
Europe’s darkest hour
By Vlad Sobell
Professor, Political Economy New York University, Prague
The end of the Cold War offered an historic opportunity for Europe to finally end centuries of conflict that had culminated in the devastation of WWII and to start building what President Mikhail Gorbachev called our "common European home”. Communist totalitarianism had quit the world stage, and it seemed there were no obstacles to realising Gorbachev’s vision.
Alas, those of us who naively believed that we would proceed in the direction towards which Gorbachev had pointed were in for a rude awakening. Instead of negotiating a proper post-war security architecture – one in which all powers were treated as equal (and smaller countries were given a say over matters vital to their interests) – Washington opted for confrontation with a democratizing Russia. Sweeping aside Moscow’s understandable and legitimate concerns, it shepherded its obedient flock of NATO allies to right under Moscow’s nose, claiming that Russia’s objections were tantamount to neo-imperialism. Such claims served as justification for extending NATO’s protection eastward.
Worse, after having burnt its fingers in Georgia (where the Russian army swiftly repulsed a treacherous and deadly attack but refrained from occupying the entire country – thus amply demonstrating Moscow’s aversion to neo-imperialism), Washington zeroed in on Ukraine. This time we, Europeans, have a simmering but bloody military confrontation at the heart of our "common home”. We are witness to terrorized Ukrainians massacring one another in their thousands in our immediate neighbourhood. And this is being allowed to happen not in the interests of us Europeans but of that self-proclaimed "exceptional” democratic power across the ocean. The truth is that, far from caring about us, the Great (self-appointed) Protector is interested first and foremost in pursuing its agenda of preventing Russia and the EU from developing closer ties and creating a stable and secure environment in Europe. The Great Protector is cynically playing with our lives and fates, risking a nuclear stand-off with potential unthinkable consequences.
But I don’t blame Washington. The US elites are simply doing what is in their nature – what they are doing, in fact, elsewhere around the globe. Which is to create chaos and mayhem in what may be the blinkered belief that they are doing so as part of a great democratic project. Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do (perhaps) . . .
No, I don’t blame Washington. The main guilty party is we, the European electorates. It is we who have put into office figures who are not worthy of the calling of leaders but who have huge responsibilities. It is we who passively watch overpaid Brussels bureaucrats as they collude with a dysfunctional, rampaging foreign superpower as it mercilessly pursues its agenda against European interests and, indeed, against Europeans. And in the east of the Continent, it is we, the confused chauvinistic public, who embrace the crude disinformation that it was Russia and Russians alone that ran the Communist regimes. This is a lie that absolves us of our own responsibility: we all participated; those regimes would not have been able to function had it not been for the passive and/or active support of the vast majority.
But it gets worse still. The campaign against a truly united and stable Europe would have no muscle were it not driven by a melange of dark forces of the kind that we believed, in the wake of WWII, had been forever banished to the margins of civilized society. We naively thought that the sacrifices made by our fathers and grandfathers in WWII were necessary to defeat such forces and we took it for granted that our leaders would ensure that Nazism remained once and for all in the cesspit that had spawned it. We adopted the faith that the common anti-Nazi struggle was underpinning a united Europe, giving substance to the Franco-German reconciliation on which the European Union was built.
Many are now debating whether Kiev’s new pro-European regime is neo-Nazi or just what it is exactly. Here I will say simply that the Ukrainian regime and its Western sponsors can give the lie to such debates by taking the following steps:
1. Carry out a proper, open and scrupulous forensic investigation into who was behind the sniper shooting on the Maidan on 20 February;
2. Carry out the same type of investigation into the tragic events in Odessa on 2 May;
3. Investigate in the same way the causes of the MH17 tragedy on 17 July;
4. Explain why the Ukrainian army needs to indiscriminately bombard cities such as Donetsk and Luhansk and why all fellow citizens opposed to the coup d’etat are dubbed "terrorists”
5. And, finally, publish true and verifiable information on the number of casualties in the ranks of the Ukrainian army.
For me, whether Kiev and the West are prepared to take such steps is a litmus test for how they will uphold the noble European values in whose name they claim to be waging a campaign against Russia. Unfortunately, I am sure that neither the Kiev regime nor its Western sponsors will submit to that test. Instead, our democratic European values will continue to be trampled over.
An overview from Sharon Tennison:
Current decision makers in Washington and Brussels can not be counted on to reach solutions independently of each other. They need each other to survive.
Europe will tank with political unrest before European heads of state will dare go against current Washington policy makers. We need to know from Snowden what do NSA and Washington neocons have on Merkel and other European heads of state that they continue to go against their own business-people’s needs and interests. These sanctions could easily be political suicide for them.
My overarching concern is the "Invincibility” factor with current Washington policy makers which could easily move into action and make the decision to go nuclear. Their behaviors are being driven consciously and unconsciously by envy/jealousy, fear, revenge and hatred. This is obvious from their continuous vicious commentaries, repeated character assassinations and deadly actions. Countries, like human beings, get caught up in psychotic behaviors and then drive their masses into herd mentality to carry out their bidding. The 20th century was full of such cases. And here it is cropping up again in the 21st century.
So what are the neocons, Republicans and Democrats, most fearful of? Loss of American hegemony, first and foremost …. not being the #1 hegemon in the world. They see that we are a nation in decline and it most likely will continue. They don’t know what to do about it. This has to be frightening. What have other nations throughout history done as they began sinking into decline? Most over-extended themselves, created wars, and attempted unsuccessfully to recover their past glory. What are we doing?
Washington policy makers fear Russia will take America’s place as the world’s next hegemon, though this is not an intention of Putin or the Russian population. Regardless of how many times Putin and his team discuss the need for a multipolar world and "every nation being sovereign," this notion has been totally rejected by Washington. They see an exceptionally bright leader in his prime in Russia, and a country rapidly coming out of its dark night and assume they intend to become the next hegemon. They envy and covet Russia’s subsoil riches and sufficient oil and gas to keep Russia running for decades. What do human beings and countries do in such cases? They project their "shadow," (the unacceptable behaviors they have done and are still doing) on their target. In later stages, they will do anything to destroy the perceived villain. So it is, we are seeing these well-documented behaviors being played out in the highest offices of our land.
Part of me understands why Washington is fearful and consumed by ill will. America is mired in national debt and much of the world no longer trusts us. Policy makers know if America becomes "one of several nations" making major decisions in the world, America’s life style will in time become quite different. This will eventually have considerable impact on America's economy, unemployment levels and our financial institutions. We will have to develop values other than constant consumerism.
We are fragile as it is now. Can you imagine what would happen if the military industrial complex wasn't getting contracts, and workers were being laid off by the thousands in the 45 states where the production has been carried out for decades? Further, if a lot of the world trade goes off of the dollar, as Russia and China are now planning (in order to deal with the sanctions), our American financial systems could go through a grave shaking. The world system itself is unstable today due in part to our 2008 financial crisis which quickly traveled abroad and countries haven't recovered.
This means that Putin and Russia, the pushers of the multipolar world (that hopes to solve problems rather than fight wars), are a gargantuan threat to current Washington policy makers. No wonder they are demonizing them both, applying increased sanctions to strangle them economically, tampering with world oil prices to destabilize their chief export which supports their national budget, and lastly trying to find ways to push Russia into a war in Ukraine to then have an all-out war with them. This in itself is insanity. The two countries have essentially the same numbers of nuclear weapons and air power.
The question is where will it end?
Will Washington policy-makers gamble on a first-strike nuclear war to prevent personal and collective loss of power and halt U.S.' decline? If so, Russia will respond in kind …. which could leave the earth as a cinder traveling in space with no living thing on it. This could happen at any time. It’s well known that today both nations have long-range bombers with nuclear weapons on high alert in the air at all times, in addition to submarines loaded with nuclear missiles in the waters all over the planet, plus ICBMs in silos. We need to be praying there will be no accidents, let alone intentional firings.
I assume the reason that Putin has been so forthright in flexing Russia's military muscle in the past couple of weeks is that he wants Washington to see clearly that Russia will meet them head on if they gamble on a first strike. He is acting with foreboding and logic.
I formerly saw hope on the horizon. Today I do not see hope absent some totally out-of-the box event forces decision makers to come to their senses.
Something at a totally different level needs to be done quickly. For instance, Kissinger might convene a first-ever "World Elders Speak to the Nations of the World” and promote speak-ins on "The Future of the World” across America in strategic cities and in Europe, carried by the latest technologies. Or another out-of-the-box possibility lies with Gorbachev, for whom Americans still have a soft spot in their hearts. Invite him to come to America to speak with Americans, to give joint presentations with Kissinger, Ambassadors Matlock, Pickering and Collins to the American people in strategic areas outside of Washington. This type of diplomacy could be carried out in numerous venues. It is critical to break out of the normal channels which will not change.