Conflicts Forum Weekly Comment, 25 July – 1 August


“There is a war coming in Europe,” he said: “Do you really think this [the Yukos ruling at the Hague] matters?”

(Financial Times, 28 July 2014, quoting a person close to President Putin)

The US Administration is expressing its deep satisfaction.  It has, after all — against the doubts, which continued until last week — succeeded in pushing a reluctant Germany into accepting sectoral sanctions on Russia, and to joining with the policy of pointedly isolating President Putin.  Here, it is correct to say ‘Putin’, rather than Russia – because plainly American policy-makers are thinking (again) that, through the ‘pain’ of sanctions and a besieged economy, they may induce the Russian people to abandon President Putin in lieu of a more comfortable, and pro-western Russian leader.  President Obama openly expressed a vicarious pleasure that he is “setting back decades of  genuine progress” in Russia, and has “made a weak Russian economy even weaker.”

And if Putin does not fall, then an Iranian-style containment will render the Russian President ‘untouchable’, and will circumscribe his ability to challenge the global order.  Europe will remain anchored to Washington.

Germany’s leadership of the EU, coupled with its deep ties to Russia, meant that it was the only European state that could thwart or contain the Anglo-Saxon rush to sanction Russia and demonise Putin. In an important way, sanctioning Russia is as much about the future of Europe (particularly that of Germany and its relationship to America) and the maintenance of US hegemony of the international order – as it is about the Ukraine or MH19.  But above all, it is a reassertion of American power, at a time of perceived weakness – rather as the Suez campaign was for the UK and France.

The winning over of Germany (at least for now), the imposition of sanctions, and indeed the management of the media over Ukraine and the downing of MH19 (the fore-staging of an outpouring of horrified humanitarian emotion as the means to psychologically drive out any real media questioning about what happened to the Malaysian airliner); and the use of this emotional contagion to vilify Putin as a ‘barbarian beyond the pale’– is nothing less than an admittedly impressive spectacle of American power.   It has nothing to do with ‘realities’ – as the letter from former US intelligence officers to President Obama makes abundantly clear.  We do not yet know who was responsible for MH19 — as US intelligence officials have now admitted.  It is a spectacle of power: simply that.

This last period essentially has focussed around a profound tussle in Germany over its German soul. Germany initially held the line against jumping too quickly to sanctions; but US direct pressures, and the matrix of indirect American influence that pervades, below the European surface, have – for now – prevailed.  The question is whether this marks a tipping point in European politics: Is this ‘Atlanticist’ victory over Russia sanctions merely tactical; or is it truly strategic?

It deeply involves the German soul: In the aftermath of two European wars, Germany desperately wanted to Gulliverise itself — to bind itself into that new ‘euro’ axis between France and Germany — so that that particular conflict could never erupt again.  And as a consequence, Europe’s center of gravity in the War’s aftermath then lay squarely along the shores of the Atlantic.  It could not have been otherwise: Germany had emerged from the war as a defeated nation, its industry smashed, and under occupation by the Allies.

The Anglo-Saxons tend to see this outcome (an Atlanticist centricity) as nothing more than their rightful due as ‘victors’.  But Germans know – in their soul – otherwise:  It was the Red Army, which for three years prior to the Normandy landing, had been fighting and defeating the Wehrmacht.  The Germans lost World War II at the Battle of Stalingrad, when most of the remnants of the powerful German Sixth Army surrendered, including 22 generals.

Nineteen months previously the largest invasion force ever assembled invaded Russia across a one thousand mile front. Three million crack German troops; 7,500 artillery units, 19 panzer divisions with 3,000 tanks, and 2,500 aircraft rolled across Russia for 14 months.  By June 1944, three years later, very little of this force was left. The Red Army had chewed it up.

It is this terrible shared history of millions dead on both sides that brought Germany and Russia closer together after the fall of The Wall (together with Russia’s readiness to accept German re-unification).  Germany wanted (more so than in respect to France) to bind the two great powers of Europe in such a way that war should not again become possible.

Germany has taken great pains since then to court Russia.  It has offered its industrial might and know-how to Russia to help with important Russian infrastructure projects and industries. Russia has accepted and appreciated those overtures.  Both states, with their industrial infrastructure decimated by war, have understood, too, the imperative that any industrial state must have energy resources – and understood too that America, after the first European War, largely had scooped up the main sources of oil, (and, of course, the international political muscle that came with it).

The Russo-German relationship coalesced, as it were, about this shared perspective of the importance of European energy non-dependency: When President Putin devised the strategy for Gazprom, he concluded that if America effectively controlled the main sources of oil then Europe – Russia– would try to control the main supplies of gas (the new source of energy, and of political influence).  Gazprom then aggressively set about acquiring the main sources of gas supplies in Asia.

The point here was that this project was conceived as a part of the ‘binding’ that would make war inconceivable – it was a Russo-German joint initiative. It came about through the cooperation of Hans-Joachim Gornig, who was a former vice president of the German Oil and Gas Industrial Company, and who had supervised the construction of the pipeline network of GDR, and its first head was Vladimir Kotenev, a former Russian ambassador to Germany (and with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joining Gazprom upon his leaving power in 2005).  All these links in turn, provided Germany with energy security through its direct link to Russian gas through its Nord Stream pipeline.

In short, the centre of European gravity has been inexorably moving eastwards, away from the shores of the Atlantic. Indeed, Germany’s journey might not have stopped there (Russia); but the journey held out the prospect (in Russian minds as well as in some German ones) of its extension through Russia to Beijing and to a Euro-Asian alliance that would at least ‘balance’ American power.  The ‘pivot of history’ is an old conception (first propounded by Mckinder in 1904), whereby whomsoever controls the ‘pivot’ (stretching from the Volga to the Yangtze, and from the Himalayas to the Arctic) controls more than 50% of the world’s resources, and therefore effectively the world.  (The US has been hostile for many years to any control of the Eurasian landmass by any one of these two powers, as well as to Germany’s dependency on Russian sources of energy.  The US would prefer Europe to import expensive liquefied gas from America).

How, then, can Germany now forget a Stalingrad etched into its soul, and embark on a course action that – with inevitable mission creep – may take Europe close to war?

Leading Russian analyst, Pyotr Akopov, is puzzled too:

“Moscow had hoped that the American ‘play’ of isolating Russia would become [paradoxically] the very catalyst to the emancipation of Germany [from US hegemony]. Certainly, nobody [in Russia] counted on any quick severance – Putin’s purpose, rather, was to achieve a conditional neutrality of Germany (and so of the EU as a whole), in the conflict between Russia and the USA [over the Ukraine]”.  

“For the sake of [EU non-alignment], Russia was ready to make substantial concessions – bar, of course, the surrender of Russian national interests.  But [through this route], both peace and a non-aligned Ukraine, quite possibly could have formed the basis of Russian-European cooperation over coming years – if only Europe were ready to abstain from the ‘pull-in’ of Ukraine to beneath the Atlantic umbrella.  Alas, both Brussels and Berlin were not ready to admit to the simple fact that Russia will not allow the secession of part of the Russian world – masquerading under the guise of euro-integration”. 

Is it then, game over?  Has Europe successfully been ‘pulled into’ the American initiative to install a pro-European, pro-NATO and rabidly anti-Russian regime in Kiev?  Time will tell; but Europeans are not simply ‘missing the plot’.  A leading US intellectual, Professor Wallerstein, has written (see Conflict Forum’s Weekly Comment of 18-25 July), “the United States is, and has been for some time, in geopolitical decline. It doesn’t like this. It doesn’t really accept this. It surely doesn’t know how to handle it, that is, minimize the losses to the United States. So it keeps trying to restore what is unrestorable – U.S. “leadership” (read: hegemony) in the world-system”.  The results of this denial (viz Obama’s West Point speech on American exceptionalism) have been distinctly messy; and often dangerously destabilising:  Europeans do ‘get it’ – and can see that Ukraine can be just such another messy, dangerous venture.

America is in decline and the global order is in trouble: In the 1990s, it may have been possible for Europeans to convince themselves that the ‘liberal order’ was embraced by most of the world; but not now. In reality, the global order is far removed from ‘liberal’ values.  It has been managed via soft ‘colour’ revolutions and coups, or through America’s unilateral ability to exclude states from the global financial system, or by manipulation of debt.  This simply is untenable as a mechanism for the longer run, and Russia, China and the BRICS are already building a parallel system.  In other words, the shift of the centre of gravity towards Eurasia has its own dynamic both in terms of global politics and of the locus of the remaining low cost energy sources. It is happening.  It is accelerating.  Ukraine will accelerate it further.  Germany’s acquiescence to Washington then, is more likely tactical than strategic: Germany probably will continue with the long game.

Putin will have warned Angela Merkel that such a fudge can lead to war – real war in Europe again; but evidently she thinks it can be averted, and somehow to find her way back to an engagement with President Putin. (It is not clear how.)

And here is the point: Obama has his tough sanctions; but will it stop there?  Will the demands ‘creep’ to Putin having to acquiesce to watching helplessly, as Kiev bloodily suppresses the resistance in Dunbass (and in other provinces)?  And having got that, will it stop there? Or, will the demand then ‘creep on’, to insist that Russia must give up the Crimea?  President Obama may think it will never go that far.  Angela Merkel may think so too.  But some in (and out) of the Administration would like it to go precisely that far.  Does anyone  really believe that sanctions will bring President Putin to his knees, or bring Russia to submission?  Why has Obama changed so radically from his position when he “rubbed his Republican opponent Mitt Romney’s nose in the dirt by ridiculing his contention that Russia constituted the biggest geopolitical threat for the US in the 21st century”?  Is it all just domestic expediency?

Here is how the Russian President’s Economic Adviser assesses the dangers.  Please note that this is not intended to imply that Sergei Glazyev was speaking for President Putin;  his comments, which clearly are personal, and reflect a deeply felt and Russian perspective, were made during an economic ‘round table’ at the Moscow Economic Forum on 10 June, and are paraphrased: video (with English subtitles) here:

“Regarding the policies of Kiev, let me say this: Kiev clearly is pursuing a policy of genocide to eliminate the population of Dunbass [see here for an example]. It is destroying its social infrastructure; it has smashed Europe’s finest airport (a major infrastructure project); they have destroyed hospitals, kindergartens and schools.  The fate they are preparing for the people of Dunbass is serfdom – an end about which they make no secret; Just listen to Kiev’s ideologues such as Liashko. Poroshenko’s position is not significantly different.  The people are being woefully exploited economically too – with a view to facilitating the conditions that will enforce the Dunbass people to leave – to become refugees.

Obviously the US is fully controlling Kiev, controlling Poroshenko personally, and pushing the government to pursue this war against Dunbass – to the very end. No limits: Using all means until resistance is eliminated.

Why is time not on our side?  The Americans have set a course of militarisation of the Ukraine, the construction of an amenable dictatorship and a total mobilisation of the [Ukrainian] people against Russia.  Though the population is not enthusiastic about such a mobilisation, consider these dynamics: In December 2013, there were 2,000 fascist militiamen in Kiev; by February 20,000; May 50,000; and by the summer there will be 100,000.  Soon the army’s mobilisation will be half a million men.  Military equipment is being released from storage.  The Ukraine once possessed a large army, which is being resurrected. Armour and tanks are being taken and re-habilitated from storage (this is not a difficult job); the same is happening with their aviation: It is being rehabilitated in Odessa.

Their goal is war with Russia.  That is not something we can just sit out.  Having lost Dunbass, we will also lose the peace.  The next target they will declare will be the Crimea.  I’m not joking: the Ukraine will be pushed brutally into a war against Russia under the pretext of Crimea.  Poroshenko has said this. Nuland said clearly in Odessa that they expect Ukraine to go to war over the Crimea [emphasis added].  This Armada of half a million men will invade the Crimea.  There should be no doubt.  Churchill once said: “You were given the choice between war and dishonour:  You chose dishonour – and you will have war”.

We are talking here, of modern war – which doesn’t mean sending our tanks into Kiev. But we have the right under international law at least to stop the genocide.  All that is needed is to close the airspace; and to use the same mechanisms to shut down the heavy weapons, which are being used against the people: as the Americans did in Libya.  And as a result, the Libyan regime was unable to fight.

We still have the chance to do that.  Half a year from now that chance will be gone.  Lugansk and Donetsk have established two parliaments and authorities uniting the two republics.  Kiev’s refusal to negotiate with them stems from Kiev’s lack of independence.  It is a US vassal; and therefore it is important that we identify Ukraine clearly as occupied territory – occupied by the US.  Once we start using the correct frame of reference, it becomes clear what we must do.  We should encourage the other regions not only to join the Federation; but also to liberate themselves from this occupation”.

Glazyev’s conclusion is that all the evidence suggests that America deliberately is trying to provoke a military confrontation between the Ukrainian armed forces, and Russia. This will end with war, he says. “European War”, he predicts.

Since these comments were made, we should note that the Dunbass militia have had a number of successes in foiling Kiev’s military operations.  The latter have little to show for their endeavours during July (aside from taking control of Slavyansk from which the militia made a tactical withdrawal), and in consequence have been resorting to ever-heavier weaponry against civilian targets.


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