Guest Post by Dmitry Orlov
Gabor Steingart, the the publisher of Germany’s leading financial newspaper Handelsblatt, just let loose with an editorial directly challenging Washington’s idiotic anti-Russian policies.
The appearance of this document is very timely: just yesterday Russia unleashed the first round of counter-sanctions, banning the import of foodstuffs from the US and the EU. These counter-sanctions are cleverly designed to cause pain in proportion to the level of anti-Russian activity of the country in question; thus, the three Baltic countries, which are virulently anti-Russian in spite of having large Russian populations and surviving largely through trade with Russia, face staggering losses, followed by equally anti-Russian Poland, followed by the rest of the EU, including poor Greece, which is friendly to Russia and should be considered collateral damage. The greatest beneficiaries of these sanctions are all those countries that opposed (11) or abstained (58) when the UN voted to condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea: they get to leapfrog over EU and US economically by exporting foodstuffs to Russia. Russia’s consumers and Russia’s agricultural sector are also among the winners: Russians will eat healthier food, with no GMO contamination, while profits that used to flow to the US and the EU will now be invested in domestic agriculture, making Russia more self-sufficient in food and aiding in the development of rural districts. Another clever element to these sanctions is that farmers tend to be politically vocal and influential. I see tractors clogging the streets of Europe’s capitals and dumptruck-loads of manure decorating the steps of government buildings before too long.
As to his diagnosis of Obama’s true motivation, I think he has it wrong. It’s not all about pleasing the Tea Party. They, and American voters in general, are irrelevant, it makes no difference who gets elected, and Obama’s policies are not Obama’s. There is a deeper reason why the oligarchs who own and operate the country formerly known as America are currently attempting to enlarge every problem they see, be it stoking civil war in Ukraine or provoking ISIS into attacking Americans: they are desperate to avoid a scenario where the US collapses on its own, with no external enemy to blame. Not only would it be just too humiliating, but also the population, suddenly brought out of its stupor, might turn on those actually responsible rather than helplessly blame some foreign scapegoat. Putin has to fit the bill, reality be damned.
Steingart’s editorial is full of appeals to reason, ethics, morality, and historical wisdom. But he is the publisher of a financial newspaper, and I suspect that he did some arithmetic prior to writing his piece, and that his motivation for writing it might be rather basic: he realized that Obama just took away his sausage. I hope that other Germans, and other Europeans, make this realization as well, and start behaving accordingly.
Below are the highlights, with a few comments of my own.
“Did it all start with the Russian invasion of Crimea or did the West first promote the destabilization of the Ukraine? [Actually, the Ukrainians have been busy destroying Ukraine for over two decades now, thank you very much. And even before then they were at it by crafting the ugly thing called Ukrainian nationalism. -D.O.] Does Russia want to expand into the West or NATO into the East? [Well, that's obvious; just look up “NATO expansion.” On the other side, Russia refused to give up its only warm water port in a historically Russian province peopled by Russians. -D.O.]
“If at this point you are still waiting for an answer as to whose fault it is, you might as well just stop reading. You will not miss anything. We are not trying to unearth this hidden truth. We don’t know how it started. We don’t know how it will end. And we are sitting right here, in the middle of it.” [Fair enough. -D.O.]
“Our purpose is to wipe off some of the foam that has formed on the debating mouths, to steal words from the mouths of both the rabble-rousers and the roused, and put new words there instead. One word that has become disused of late is this: realism.
“The politics of escalation show that Europe sorely [lacks] a realistic goal. It’s a different thing in the US. Threats and posturing are simply part of the election preparations. When Hillary Clinton compares Putin with Hitler, she does so only to appeal to the Republican vote, i.e. people who do not own a passport. For many of them, Hitler is the only foreigner they know, which is why Adolf Putin is a very welcome fictitious campaign effigy. In this respect, Clinton and Obama have a realistic goal: to appeal to the people, to win elections, to win another Democratic presidency.
“Angela Merkel can hardly claim these mitigating circumstances for herself. Geography forces every German Chancellor to be a bit more serious. As neighbors of Russia, as part of the European community bound in destiny, as recipient of energy and supplier of this and that, we Germans have a clearly more vital interest in stability and communication. We cannot afford to look at Russia through the eyes of the American Tea Party.
“Every mistake starts with a mistake in thinking. And we are making this mistake if we believe that only the other party profits from our economic relationship and thus will suffer when this relationship stops. If economic ties were maintained for mutual profit, then severing them will lead to mutual loss. Punishment and self-punishment are the same thing in this case.
Even the idea that economic pressure and political isolation would bring Russia to its knees was not really thought all the way through. Even if we could succeed: what good would Russia be on its knees? How can you want to live together in the European house with a humiliated people whose elected leadership is treated like a pariah and whose citizens you might have to support in the coming winter.
“Of course, the current situation requires a strong stance, but more than anything a strong stance against ourselves. Germans have neither wanted nor caused these realities, but they are now our realities.
“…nobody is forcing us to kowtow to [Washington's] orders. Following this lead – even if calculatingly and somewhat reluctantly as in the case of Merkel – does not protect the German people, but may well endanger it. This fact remains a fact even if it was not the American but the Russians who were responsible for the original damage in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine.” [And let's not forget the illegal government overthrow in Kiev and the hasty recognition and support of the unconstitutional new government by the West. -D.O.]
“It is not too late for the duo Merkel/Steinmeier to use the concepts and ideas of this time. It does not make sense to just follow the strategically idea-less Obama. Everyone can see how he and Putin are driving [as if] in a dream directly towards a sign which reads: Dead End.
“‘The test for politics is not how something starts but how it ends,’ [said] Henry Kissinger [..]. After the occupation of the Crimean by Russia he stated: ‘We should want reconciliation, not dominance. Demonizing Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for the lack thereof.’ He advises condensing conflicts, i.e. to make them smaller, shrink them, and then distill them into a solution.
“At the moment (and for a long time before that) America is doing the opposite. All conflicts are escalated. The attack of a terror group named Al Qaida is turned into a global campaign against Islam. Iraq is bombed using dubious justifications. Then the US Air Force [flew] on to Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
“The American tendency to verbal and then also military escalation, the isolation, demonization, and attacking of enemies has not proven effective. The last successful major military action the US conducted was the Normandy landing. Everything else – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan – was a clear failure. [To be fair, the invasion of Grenada under Reagan was a success. -D.O] Moving NATO units towards the Polish border and thinking about arming Ukraine is a continuation of a lack of diplomacy by the military means.
“This policy of running your head against the wall – and doing so exactly where the wall is the thickest – just gives you a head ache and not much else. And this considering that the wall has a huge door in the relationship of Europe to Russia. And the key to this door is labeled ‘reconciliation of interests.’”
“It is well-known that Russia is an energy superpower and at the same time a developing industrial nation. The policy of reconciliation [of] mutual interests should [apply] here. Development aid in return for territorial guarantees; Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even had the right words to describe this: ‘modernization partnership.’ He just has to dust it off and use it as an aspirational word. Russia should be integrated, not isolated. Small steps in that direction are better than the great nonsense of exclusionary politics.”
“Germany has waged war against its eastern neighbor twice in the past 100 years.”
“Of course, we who came later can continue to proclaim our outrage against the ruthless Putin and appeal to international law against him, but the way things are this outrage should come with a slight blush of embarrassment. Or to use the words of Willy Brandt: ‘Claims to absolutes threaten man.’
In the end, even the men who had succumbed to war fever in 1914 had to realize this. After the end of the war, the penitent issued a second call, this time to understanding between nations: ‘The civilized world became a war camp and battle field. It is time that a great tide of love replaces the devastating wave of hatred.’
“We should try to avoid the detour via the battle fields in the 21st century. History does not have to repeat itself. Maybe we can find a shortcut.”