Global Review had again the honor of interviewing Prof. Alexander Rahr, expert on Russian affairs, political scientist, member of the Valdai Club, Putin advisor for Gazprom to the EU about the 18th Valdai Club Meeting in 2021 in Sochi..
Alexander Rahr is an honorary professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations and School of Economics. He studied at the State University of Munich, worked 1980-1994 for the Research Institute for Radio Free Europe, the Federal Institute for Eastern European and International Studies. He was a consultant to the RAND Corporation, USA. From 1994 to 2012 he headed the Russian / Eurasian Center at the German Council for Foreign Relations. He then consulted Wintershall Holding and later Gazprom Brussels on European affairs. Furthermore, he was also a frequent guest of Putin as a conversation partner. Since 2012 he has been program director at the German-Russian Forum. He is a member of the Petersburg Dialogue, the Valdai Club, the Yalta European Strategy Network, author of several books on Russia.
Global Review: Dr. Rahr, before we come to the current 18th Valdaiclub, we wanted to address the two previous Valdai meetings about Central Asia and the Balkans. In Central Asia, the withdrawal of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan was foreseeable. How did Russia adapt to this and what role did Central Asia play at the Valdai Conference at that time. Have options been developed as to how one could possibly stabilize this crisis belt by means of the SCO or other means? Were there any programmatic and visionary ideas? Also with regard to China?
Dr. Rahr: First of all, I am pleased that I am able to report on the work of the international Valdai Clubs, which have existed for almost 20 years and which also include numerous other German political scientists. Russia regards the countries of Central Asia, which have been part of the Russian and then the Soviet empire since the 19th century, as important strategic partners. Nobody in Moscow wants to bring countries like Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan back into the empire. But it is important for Russia that these countries remain with Russia in terms of security policy and do not drift into a pro-NATO alliance. After the terrorist attacks on the USA on September 11, 2001, Russia granted the right to set up military bases against Islamist terrorism in Afghanistan in Central Asia. The supply of these military bases came from Russian territory, so good were the relations between the former rivals of the Cold War at the beginning of the century.
Today Russia is resisting US requests to set up American military bases or listening posts in Central Asia after NATO has withdrawn from Afghanistan. USA and Russia no longer get along. Moscow no longer wants to tackle the problem of international terrorism in the Middle East together with the US, but only within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In this organization, hardly noticed in the West, Beijing and Moscow play the leading role. All Central Asian countries except Turkmenistan are members of this security structure. At the meeting of the Valdai Club on Central Asia, a Russian expert complained that Central Asia is such an excellent place to pursue a common security policy with China, but that there is no cooperation with NATO in Europe, only enmity. At the conference it was discussed that the Shanghai organization could form the nucleus for a new collective security system for Asia. Afghanistan should be integrated into these security structures. The fact that a Taliban delegation is currently negotiating international recognition and economic aid in Moscow shows that the “moderate Islamists” could come to an understanding more quickly with Moscow and Beijing than with NATO, the USA and the EU. Today the Russians see in the Islamists a smaller danger than the possibility of a NATO encirclement from the south.
Global Review: The Balkans will remain a powder keg. Russia is accused of wanting to regroup this in favor of a Russian world and at the same time a “Serbian world” in cooperation with Serbia, at least to make further EU or NATO expansion impossible. There was an attempted Russian coup in Montenegro, now the dispute over the Serbian patriach in Montenegro, at the same time the Serbs threatened NATO in a 24 hour ultimatum with a war with Kosova Albania, which was initially de-escalated by the EU. However, very unusual. In addition, Putin supports the former head of government in North Macedonia, who was more pro-Russian. So far there have been ultimatums against Serbia from the Habsburgs or NATO and not the other way around. Are the Serbs so naughty because they had Putin’s support? The Kosovar Albanians apparently also want to provoke the Serbs and are also considering uniting with Albania, especially since Albin Kurti also has an Albanian passport and has already spread such ideas on Al Jazeera. In any case, there was an open letter from 300 intellectuals from the Western Balkans, who urged rapid EU membership, since otherwise these border issues would be resolved differently and the Balkans are in danger of getting involved again in conflicts like in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the EU has decided that the Western Balkans will not join the EU, as they no longer want any more authoritarian and unstable governments with veto power as Hungary and Poland, with the exception of Orban-Hungary and that they want an infrastructure program worth 30 billion euros in order to connect the Western Balkans to the EU and to counter Russia and China’s New Silk Road in the Balkans. How was the Valdai Club’s discussions on the Balkans and how was this seen by Russia?
Dr. Rahr: I am happy to be able to report on our Valdai Club Balkan Conference. It’s actually very simple. Russia sees itself again as a major European power and would like to take on its traditional role in the Balkans – as it did at the beginning of the last century. Unlike many Central Eastern Europeans, who are pushing all their might into NATO and the EU and want nothing more to do with Russia, the Serbs want to have good relations with both the West and Russia. Serbia will not join NATO in the foreseeable future, there is no consensus among the population for this. The memories of the NATO war against Serbia are still too present. This is essential for Russia. As long as Serbia stands outside NATO and is on friendly terms with Moscow, the strategically important Western Balkans will not become a NATO deployment area against Russia. That is how the Russian strategists see it. The Serbian politicians outdid each other at our conference in Belgrade in expressions of sympathy for Russia. Some called for even greater influence from Moscow. What the West does not understand: Russians and Serbs see themselves as Orthodox fellow believers. As for China, Russia wants to cooperate with China in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Russia supports the Chinese Silk Road Strategy because it is less of a confrontation for Moscow than the EU’s Western Eastern Partnership. The fact that the Western Balkans are not accepted into the EU because France does not want them opens up investment and development opportunities for Moscow and China in this region. In the next few years, maybe decades, the EU and Russia / China will fight fiercely for influence in the Western Balkans.
Global Review: The 18th meeting of the Valdai Club had the motto: “Global Shake-Up in the 21st Century: The Individual, Values, and the State.”. The first round was about how Covid and its effects should be assessed, also geopolitically, whether one might also have to be prepared for even worse epidemics in the future and how the world and Russia would have to adjust to it .. What were they essential positions?
Dr. Rahr: The COVID topic was the dominant one at this year’s Valdai conference. There were many good lectures on this subject, both from Russian experts and from Westerners. I particularly liked the sober analyzes of the British participants. They see the situation in a similar way as the Russians: the health of the population and protection from the pandemic are of course important, but not so important in order to sacrifice the economy. The Lord Mayor of Moscow Sobyanin said at our conference that temporary lockdowns have to be introduced to limit the number of Covid deaths in hospitals. But a broken economy as a result of the struggle with the pandemic would do more harm to the national interest. How do Russian politicians and experts see the overall situation in the pandemic. Putin’s scientific advisor said humanity would have to live with the pandemic for years. As early as next year, new highly dangerous mutants would come from Corona in the south of the planet and attack humanity in the north. New vaccines would have to be developed quickly. Then there is climate change. It would have devastating effects on Russia. The summers in Siberia would be warmer and longer in the future. The people living there are not prepared for these epochal changes in nature. The problem in Russia, and it was openly discussed, is the population’s unwillingness to vaccinate. Only a third of Russians are vaccinated, the rest distrust the Russian vaccine Sputnik V or vaccines in general. A majority feared bad after-effects from the badly tested vaccines. On the other hand, Russia seems close to herd immunity. Millions of Russians are considered to have recovered, millions have cured themselves at home without having given the authorities information about their illness. Basically, Russia is disappointed that the corona pandemic has not filled in the existing political and geopolitical rifts. The fact that travel has been damaged by the pandemic is seen as a huge problem. At the same time, I was personally amazed at the overcrowded passenger planes from Russia to Germany. Many Russians fly to Hungary and Serbia for vaccination tourism, get Pfizer vaccinations there and are thus allowed to move around the EU without any problems. However, you have to pay attention to numerous incorrectly issued vaccination certificates. Obviously, corruption is flourishing here too. The Russians no longer hope that Sputnik V will be recognized in the EU. They feel that their active substance is being opposed to bureaucratic hurdles by the EU bureaucracy.
Global Review: The 18th Valdaiforum quickly came up with the post-Covid world, the transition to a multipolar world, although some speakers saw this as being quite conflict-prone, not least because of the Sino-American conflict, and some also for Russia to act as a mediator between the Poles, especially China and the USA. But the question of the post-Soviet space soon came up, what it should look like and how it should look, how it should be designed and what mission Russia should have. There were also divergent views on this, including the role of Kaulasus, the Eurasian Economic Union and Turkey? After the increasing tensions with Turkey and the crisis between Iran and Azerbaijan, Lavrov proposed to establish an economic alliance with Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and possibly other Kauasus states. Which main positions can be identified and which are dominant or more dominant?
Dr. Rahr: I was impressed by the precise geopolitical analyzes at the Valdai conference. It is a real shame that Germany and the EU do not analyze and reflect accordingly. I am giving an example. The US political scientist Mearsheimer delivered a brilliant analysis of what the world order of tomorrow will look like at the conference. The US would continue to rule over Europe because the Europeans wanted it that way for a long time. A Chinese expert suggested a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing axis to the Europeans. He underlined that the world domination of the West was over after 500 years of colonial history, and that China would put its stamp of a „harmonious world“ on the world.
The Russians said they felt pushed out of Europe and were looking for an alliance of convenience with China. EU representatives looked weak in the discussion, were chatting about values, norms and multilateralism, but were immediately in trouble because the Asian participants demanded that the future world order should not be based on the old norms and values of the West. The Russians were asked whether they wanted to join NATO and the EU after all; because then everything would be fine. But Russia, too, wants a multipolar world order in which Moscow could be an independent pole. The EU seems to interest the Russians less today than the creation of a new Greater Eurasia with China, India, Turkey and Iran. When this was discussed, the eyes of the Russian experts glowed. As a trained historian, I was also electrified. I have acquired a great deal of knowledge for my future books and articles. Hard to believe, but at the end of the club meeting, Putin described Russia’s future world mission. He wants to preserve the old, traditional world of values, to build a defensive wall against western postmodernism. Russia wants to modernize itself according to its history and its mentality. Unfortunately, he saw no alternative to mutual deterrence in relation to the West at the moment. In the struggle for the new multipolar world order, Russia does not see itself as a mediator between China and the USA, but as an ally of China. In the South Caucasus, Russia would like to cooperate more closely with Turkey, which made some sit up and take notice. In Central Asia, China is Russia’s key strategic partner. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov also said something interesting. He said that the UN should continue to exist as a world government, but that the UN Security Council should be reformed. When asked whether Germany and Japan should finally become full members of the UN Security Council as G-7 members, Lawrov replied that Moscow was against it, because Berlin and Tokyo were too western, too pro-American and not independent. Rather, Russia is in favor of UN Security Council membership for Brazil, South Africa, India, perhaps Turkey (if Ankara would turn its back on NATO). The conversations were exciting! We want to hold a Valdai Club meeting in Berlin with German political scientists and politicians in order to take a closer look at the world of tomorrow. I am already looking forward to the discussions.
Global Review: Valdai had a round with Moscow Mayor Sobyanyin, who, alongside Lavrov and Shoigu, is seen as a possible successor to Putin. In addition, a spokeswoman surprisingly said that, if you look at their frames of reference, the West and the East are getting closer than they were in the 1990s, quoting the problems and visions of Moscow and mayor Sobayanin and saying that these would also be the questions of most large cities in the world. What was the content of Sobyayin’s lecture and how did the discussion proceed afterwards?
Dr. Rahr: The Lord Mayor of Moscow was rather tight-lipped when it came to big political issues. When asked about his presidential ambitions, he naturally did not want to answer that question. He talked more about the modernization of the main Russian metropolis, one of the most beautiful in the world. He said that they wanted to embark on the European modernization course, rely on a green infrastructure, along with ever better digitization. Today, bike paths are part of Moscow’s appearance, there are numerous green spaces and the historic old town is being renovated. Moscow, according to Sobyanin, is a hub between Europe and Russia, 90 percent of goods transport goes through the metropolis. Sobyanin was asked why Moscow would not give the poorer regions of the country a helping hand. Moscow would unite the value chains on itself. The mayor strongly disagreed. Russia needs a strong and shiny metropolis. Only a powerful Moscow could serve national state interests. One participant wanted to know what about the many migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia who made Moscow unsafe. Sobyanin said that in the West, migrants are fleeing to state welfare systems. In Moscow it is completely different. The migrants come as guest workers, willing to do the dirty work in the city that Moscow citizens rejected. And COVID-19? The mayor did not mince his words. Older people over 60 who would be at risk of serious illness if infected should self-isolate. But the life of the ordinary man must go on, the city’s economy must not collapse.
Global Review: Russia has invited the former US-backed Afghan President Karzai to the current 18th Valdai Club. What signal does it want to send? Because of its Muslim ex-Soviet republics, Russia seems to fear Islamization and is apparently not as euphoric about the Taliiban as Beijing, which hopes to be able to involve Taliban Afghanistan in a project of the New Silk Road, while Russia does not have such economic perspectives it could offert. Russia and China seemed to have high hopes for each other from the Taliban, as both, unlike the West, are not value-oriented, ignore women’s and human rights and hope for a Eurasian community with Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, similar to Samuel Huntington in his clash of Civilizations saw the coming together of authoritarian to totalitarian regimes of the East and the Muslim world. To what extent was this an issue at the Valdai club?
Dr. Rahr: Unfortunately, ex-President Karzai did not appear at our Valdai meeting. He is said to be under house arrest in Kabul on charges of corruption. We thought that was a shame because he is a long-time member of the Valdai Club. As for the situation in Afghanistan, Russia fears a resurgence of Islamism there, which would seriously threaten Russia from the South. Putin said, however, that Russia had defeated Islamic terrorism at the beginning of the century and that the Taliban have so far been under control. At the same time, Russia understands that in the event of new extremist attacks from Afghanistan against the West and Russia, Moscow would have to take over the regulatory role of the Americans in the region. Russian politicians argued that the West should learn from its mistakes in Afghanistan. The West should show more humility, otherwise it would face the same disaster in Ukraine as in Afghanistan. The West should not accept Ukraine into NATO, nor should it try to westernize the Slavic Orthodox population of this country. In general, the West should no longer interfere in the internal affairs of other states. US President Biden had told Putin that he understood Russian sensitivities and the otherness of Russia. Nevertheless, for domestic political reasons, he must continue to protest against human rights violations in Russia.
Global Review: The withdrawal of the USA and NATO from Afghanistan was celebrated by Russia and China as the decline of the Pax Americana and the West. The Global Times even ran the headline: “Vietnam yesterday, Afghanistan today, Taiwan tomorrow” and Putin sent 100,000 troops to the Ukraine border and held the Sapad maneuvers with Belarus in a new dimesion of 200,000 troops, which put the US, the EU and NATO on alert. How do you, Putin and Lavrov, assess the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, also with regard to a transition to a multipolar world? Isn’t there a possibility that the West and the US will rise up again, as they did after the Great Depression in 1929 and after the Vietnam War under Reagan?
Dr- Rahr: I have disclosed my view of the world order of tomorrow in previous interviews with you. The world will be divided into three parts – into a weakened transatlantic bloc, into Eurasian alliances, and in Africa and the Middle East, Islamism will be one power. In my opinion, the West will remain united, but will no longer dominate world politics. Incidentally, China will not dominate as it appears today. All great powers will inevitably have to come to an understanding. What seems imperative for most of the participants in the Valdai Club is an orderly and not a chaotic transition to a multipolar world order. Putin told us that he had received a promise from all the heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council that they would meet and agree on the outlines of a future directed division of power and world order. The problem would be that the US really wanted to hold the meeting at home. Russia and China wanted to hold the meeting on neutral ground. Putin advocates Vienna or Geneva. One misunderstanding still exists. The Western states believe that the old Yalta order of 1945 dissolved after the end of the Cold war. The new European architecture is based on the ideas of the Paris Charter of 1990. Russia does not like this argument. Moscow has long since distanced itself from the Paris Charter. Putin envisions a further development of the Yalta order in line with the new realities. The permanent UN Security Council should expand from five to 12 countries, but the veto right of the strongest great powers should be preserved.
Global Review: One topic was Russia and the EU and how the two have drifted apart. What are the main reasons given and what are the consequences. And is there a possibility, after the New Green Deal and the decision of the EU, to envision a green and digital hydrogen EU and decarbonisation, to come together again with Russia or does this divide more? The EU and the German parties have declared that the EU wants to bring about a climate-neutral green hydrogen economy, an ecological and digital 4th industrial revolution in the EU. A green EU should thus serve climate protection and at the same time generate business opportunities in the billions and export markets, as well as strenghtening Germany and the EU as a business location independent of fossil fuels. This idea was not only the result of the Club of Rome, Greta, Friday for Futures or the Greens Those insurance companies that had to pay for the man-made climate damage, which Putin, unlike Trump, sees as man-made as he also signed the Paris Agreement were the first companies who addressed it, but the actual driving forces are corporations inspired by Schwab`s Davos Reset, Blackrock, Rockefeller, Soros, Elon Musk , Siemens, BASF and many other companies who are hoping for huge growth markets and a new business model that makes climate protection really profitable by means of a New Green Deal. And all parties and the EU with the exception of the AfD share this goal. Regardless of whether this is realistic, Russia will be confronted with these demands, as the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) has published a programmatic paper on a possible EU-Russian hydrogen technology cooperation. How do Putin and Russia feel about these EU goals and to what extent are cooperation possible and not? However, other experts see the skyrocketing energy prices as a strategy of Putin to sabotage and slow down the New Green Deal and to establish a gas monopoly in Europe by changing the EU legal framework.
Dr. Rahr: Such a question can be answered extensively. You want to hear the Russian stance on climate and environmental protection. Well, it was given at the Valdai conference. Incidentally, I think it is important that we have had a good discussion of Russia’s views and interests on the Global Review website for a few months now. I hope that my Russian colleague, Dr. Vladimir Kulikow, who for many years organized the international forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” in Rhodes and precisely there initiated the Green Dialogue between East and West, joined our discussion. Well – Putin made it clear: climate and environmental protection are also high on the agenda in Russia. Russia’s carbon footprint is lower than that of other leading industrialized countries. But Russia, unlike the EU, will not put its efforts for environment and global climate protection by banning and excluding fossil fuels. Russia’s green strategy is aimed at enormous reforestation of the Siberian forests. Putin’s environmental adviser told us that Europeans disdain Russia’s green policy. Instead of senselessly investing money in wind turbines and solar roofs in the EU, the EU should contribute financially to the rescue of Russian forests, which could absorb huge amounts of toxic CO2. Russia distrusts the Western Green Revolution. Environmental and climate protection should be pursued in an evolutionary manner. All important states must be convinced and taken along, otherwise the Paris climate agreement would fail. Instead of a spacious, futuristic hydrogen strategy, Russia prefers to expand its natural gas partnership with the West. Oil and coal could be reduced, but not gas. Russia’s economy operates on gas and nuclear power, and it will continue to do so for decades to come. Russia believes that Germany and the EU will understand this winter that the radical energy transition away from all fossil fuels is unaffordable. Not only that: the high energy prices lead to production bottlenecks and the disintegration of supply chains in Western economies. Fertilizers that are produced using methane will be scarce as early as spring 2022, with devastating consequences for the Western food industry. Moscow is dismayed that Western politicians are so unprofessional and that they misjudge the situation.
Global Review: Global Review, together with the Vice President of the Club of Rome Germany, a member of Desert Tech and the forest reforestation program Plant for a Planet Frithjof Finkbeiner, has published a programmatic paper on a possible EU-Russia eco-cooperation on the website of the think tank of the Russian Foreign Ministry, RIAC, in which the reforestation and rescue of the green lungs of the planet and Eurasia, the Siberian forests as well as a cooperation in the Artics were proposed as focal points of the decarbonization and hydrogen and methanol technology cooperation. The link has since been deleted .The Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP) has now published a paper for a new German foreign policy, in which, in addition to its paper about a EU- Russian hydrogene cooperation, the question is also asked whether the EU and Germany are more likely to engage in a north-transatlantic maritime cooperation / confrontation with Russia over the Arctic or if he EU and NATO should go in or should take an Indo-Pacific orientation against China, although China has also published its own action plan for the Arctic. In addition, the EU has now announced that it will oppose all oil and gas production in the Arctic. To what extent is EU-Russia cooperation in the Arctic compatible with Russia’s concept of a resource empire, also with regard to exploration of the Arctic? And to what extent is Russia prepared to make compromises or to forego them, insofar as the USA and Canada are also holding back in this direction?
Dr. Rahr: This is exactly the question Putin was asked. The Russian president reacted as hell. The EU is not represented in the Arctic, not even there, that is a matter for the neighbors. The Northeast Passage in the Arctic runs along the Russian coast, Russia would decide who and how can participate there. Energy promotion in the Arctic is in Russia’s interest. All Valdai participants emphasized that the general world situation has worsened enormously during the pandemic. A new AUKUS military alliance is being established in the Indo-Pacific region, which means a second “Asian” NATO against China. The US wants to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO – and, if necessary, defend them against Russia with nuclear weapons. It’s crazy what’s going on. In the Arctic, NATO wants to prevent Russia from expropriating the raw materials of the 22nd century there and from further manifesting itself as an energy superpower. Basically, the West is driving Russia into the arms of China – with devastating consequences for its own security. Many ordinary Russians have told me in the last few days that they are afraid of a real nuclear war for the first time in their lives. I advocate more analyzes by Western and Russian experts on the danger situation; it is absurd to remove important posts from the websites. The Valdai Club called for an environmental and climate protection dialogue to be institutionalized, which could revitalize the old détente policy. Unfortunately, our liberal European ruling elites persist in the triumph of the “end of history” and victory in the Cold War. This blinds them and distorts their sense of reality. Of course, one must also criticize the Russian ruling elite at this point. They fall back on the positions and interests of the Soviet Union: everyone is against us, but we are stronger. Many Russians want revenge after the humiliating defeat 30 years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Global Review: If a Neue Ostpolitik/New East Policy would be possible, perhaps within the framework of a kind of former CSCE negotiation, where one would have 8 negotiating baskets including human rights, it would now be expanded to include a ninth negotiating basket on ecology and climate protection. If Ukraine were neutral and NATO and the EU were not expanding into the Russian area,would an ecological cooperation in combination with the eventual release of Navalny be conceivable. You and Hans-Dietrich Genscher brought about the release of Chodorkowsky. Would this also be possible today in the case of Navalny and if under what conditions.? Anna-Lena Baerbrock said that human rights are non-negotiable, although in the past they mostly were. Wouldn’t the eventual release of Navalny be a sign and concession from Russia for a Neue Ostpolitik/ New East Policy with the traffic light coalition? What minimum conditions, but not maximum conditions, would Russia have for a New East Policy/ Neue Ostpolitik with Germany and the EU, also with regard to China, with which it does not want to give up its ties as easily as Trump wanted to do with his G11? What could a real political compromise look like?
Dr. Rahr: Mr Ostner, of course Putin hopes that the new German government will take a friendlier course on Russia. The Russians could immediately make friends with a new version of Brandt’s Ostpolitik. I asked Putin about his assessment of the next federal government and did not get a bad answer. Putin wants to work together, not to fight. He sees Germany as a leading power in Europe. But the Russians also say: Germany is now moving to the left, the French after the presidential elections in May next year to the right. Poland is in a conflict of values with Germany, the EU is hoping for Orban’s election defeat in Hungary. Great Britain is developing into a competitor of the EU, since it will have nut much in common anymore. As far as Germany is concerned: the Russians at the Valdai Club were extremely irritated by the last statements by Kramp-Karrenbauer and Baerbock. Both are calling for a tougher pace towards Russia. I was approached by several high-ranking Russians about why these two women were introducing the new harshness into Russia policy. I mumbled something about unprofessional foreign policy, but I wasn’t very right about that. The Russian leadership believes that German politics has misjudged Russia as a great and creative power long ago. Hence the courage of many German politicians to hit Russia, you can leave it unscathed, on the contrary, you only get praise from the leading media for it. I cannot say whether Navalny will be released. I think – why not. Genscher did it right with Khodorkovsky. He met Putin three times in secret and told him: “I cannot say whether Khodorkovsky was legally imprisoned. I do not interfere in Russian law. But I ask you, Mr. President, to pardon Khodorkovsky. ”I have mentioned this practicable path several times in the German public, but it is completely ignored. Merkel made the mistake of putting the Navalny cause at the top of the bilateral agenda by demanding that Navalny be released. But Russia cannot lose face and say that its courts acted illegally. No, the new federal government must follow Genscher’s path if Navalny is important to them.
Global Review: NATO has expelled 8 Russian diplomats from NATO for espionage, decided on a new Russia strategy, which provides for the increased protection of the NATO air space, especially in the Baltic States and in Black Sea, and a security fund of 1 billion euros determined to be able to keep pace with all new weapon technologies. The lack of transparency of Russia, for example during maneuvers on the border to Ukraine and with Belarus, was criticized. In addition, the US Secretary of Defense has revived the discussion about NATO membership for Ukraine. It looks more like a further hardening of the positions And: Isn’t the discussion about a NATO membership of Ukraine coming at the wrong time?
Dr. Rahr: It is really a shame that hardly any Germans go to Valdai. Otherwise they would have felt the ominous atmosphere there. Russian experts are talking about a possible defensive war against NATO. Putin drew clear red lines at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO. Ukraine is in the area of influence of Russia. When the Soviet Union stationed medium-range missiles in Cuba in 1961, the United States saw itself just as threatened. President Kennedy was ready to start World War III to keep America safe. The Soviet Union withdrew the missiles at that time. The situation in Ukraine is similar. Missiles can reach Moscow in two minutes from the Ukrainian territory. Should NATO accept Ukraine into NATO despite Russian warnings (as the American Secretary of Defense recently suggested), one can be sure that the Russians will fight back massively. In 2014 they showed it in the Crimea and Donbas. I hate to repeat myself, but I have to do it: our problem in Germany is that we seem to underestimate Russia completely. We do not believe in the possibility of a real war, we do not take Russian security interests seriously, we believe that Russia will no longer be the Soviet Union and therefore weak and insignificant. A fallacy.
Please understand me correctly. I am by no means praising Russian politics here, as I am often falsely accused of. I will only explain Russia’s sensitivities and options for action, if you will – our old and new opponents. Russia does not want to establish the Soviet Union, but it does want to maintain a security zone between itself and the West, i.e. not allow NATO to expand to include post-Soviet states. German and European Ukraine policy must be fundamentally reconsidered. We must try to bring Moscow and Kiev into a trusting conversation; In the end, Russia has to re-sign the old Bucharest Memorandum with the security guarantees for Ukraine, and Kiev, for its part, should return to neutrality and no longer aspire to join NATO.
Global Review: Russia has now withdrawn from the dialogue with NATO. Carnegie believes that Russia no longer wants to speak to the Europeans, sees them as pure window dressing of US power and wants to speak directly to the US as the real power. While direct links between the US SACEUR and the Russian General Staff are maintained, other channels are not used. Russia also intends to expand the Normandy format (France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine) to include the USA, as the Europeans do not expect any further progress. What role can the EU and Germany still play after this Russian decision?
The question of the real power of Europe has been asked of us, Westerners, by the Russian side all the time. Putin also asked again and again: are you now a tail and an appendage of the Americans, or do you want to become autonomous in security matters. If the first is true, we Russians will only talk to the Americans through you and lose no more time for discussions about “values”. Or you Europeans will become autonomous, then we will talk openly again about the concept of a new security architecture from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Russia can very well envision a partnership between the OSCE and the Eurasian Union or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But unclear signals came from the Europeans at the Valdai meeting: Yes, the EU would like more autonomy, even its own European army. But no, Europe cannot compete with NATO. The Russians only shrugged their shoulders. Incidentally, the Russians believe in all seriousness that NATO, as Macron once said, dies brain-dead. The Anglo-Saxons would – as I pointed out at the beginning of the interview – manage the Pax Americana worldwide with the new AUKUS security structures. I do not believe that NATO can be revitalized by admitting the Western Balkans, Ukraine and the countries of the South Caucasus after the bankruptcy in Afghanistan. But obviously Kramp-Karrenbauer and Baerbock have a completely different opinion.
Global Review: What about arms control negotiations? Russia and China are testing hypersonic weapons and other new weapons technology, reports appear in Western newspapers that China is building ICBM silos to increase its strategic deterrence, as well as testing anti-satellite weapons. The US has withdrawn from the INF treaty and the Open sky treaty as well as other treaties. In view of AUKUS, China speaks of the danger of a new arms spiral. Was this a topic at the Valdaiclub and if so, how was it commented on?
Dr. Rahr: Russia is waiting for offers from the West for a new disarmament dialogue. Moscow calls on the Europeans to become more involved. At the moment there is nothing concrete on the table. In Moscow, however, they are hoping for constructive suggestions from an SPD-led federal government; here they rely on interlocutors like the SPD parliamentary group leader Mützenich. In the initial negotiations with the US, the Russian line is unclear. Does Russia want to involve China in nuclear disarmament or not? Putin says the decision rests with the Chinese alone, and they don’t want to. The USA seems to want to push ahead with its military modernization first in order to get Russia bakrupt by an armsrace. Reagan had success with it in the 1980s. Security expert Karaganov said at the Valdai meeting that Moscow would not fall into this trap a second time. Russia no longer relies on parity with the USA, it no longer needs that for self-defense purposes. But the Chinese hypersonic weapons are fueling the arms race. Moscow seems to be leaning back, they even have this new branch of arms in their arsenal. The US knew. The great powers are also heavily arming themselves in cyberspace. A disarmament initiative should take place there.
Global Review: In the brevity of the interview, we cannot present the full breadth of the participants in the Valdai Forum and their debates. So we wanted to ask which contributions you found remarkable and possibly innovative. Global Review noticed, among other things, an explosive mixture, namely between Karaganov, who has a clear Eurasian orientation, is advocaing a much closer alliance with China up to joint military strategies and a military alliance and now also discovered the ecological question, albeit under nationalistic auspices and on the basis of a resource empire, advocates more dachas and reforestation and disaster control measures than actual climate protection, and John Mearsheimer with his offensive realism, who wants to reverse Kissinger’s engagement with China and anti-Russian attitudes, as he believes that China is the main enemy and that Russia is itself in the medium and long term feels threatened by China and will move towards the West and the USA, provided that the West sets the right incentives. We would also be interested in what positions the Chinese representatives took and what other contributions you found to be outstanding.
Dr. Rahr: I think in the past questions I have already told your dear readers a lot of interesting things about the course of the discussions on the Valdai Forum. Incidentally, I also process the results of the conversations in my books. May I refer to my new book: “Arrogance. How Germany is losing its reputation for the Russians „. The title may seem provocative, I apologize for that. Of course, the book not only presents German mistakes in dealing with Russia, but also vice versa. You want to know the Chinese positions at the Valdai Club? Well, the Chinese participants are speaking more and more openly in Russia. They warn the West against attempts to divide Moscow and Beijing. They rely on economic cooperation with the EU. The opponent is America, the idea of Chimerica is over. On the other hand, the Chinese are betting that the US will finally accept China, after all the Chinese have always been a world power, except for the last 400 years of history. China is set to overtake the USA economically in 2025. I ask, Mr. Ostner, for your understanding that I have to obey the Chatam House Rules that apply to the Valdai Club, otherwise some people will get angry with me. I am allowed to provide open information about the content of the conversations, but not directly assign it to any person, otherwise the Valdai Club will lose the label of a confidential “Russian Bilderberg Club”.
Global Review: As a climax, what was the subject and main content of Putin’s and Lavrov’s speech and how was it discussed? Have there been any clearer statements about Russia’s mission in the 21st century and the post-Soviet space? Could you provide a more detailed summary of the speeches and also add your own assessment?
Dr. Rahr: Putin’s speech is published on the official website of the Kremlin. Everybody can read them. Lavrov statements are subject to the Chatam House Rules. What I can say is that Lavrov is disappointed with the West, please. He will never admit his own mistakes. Above all, he was disappointed in Germany. Because after the annexation of Crimea, Merkel set the spiral of sanctions against Moscow in motion. I asked Lavrov about his assessment of Baerbock, our future foreign minister. It seemed to me that he would like to get to know her. He said Russia needed clarity – where does Germany stand. Does Germany want cooperation or tough dialogue and confrontation. Putin and Lavrov know that Germany is important for all of Europe, what is decided in Berlin is implemented in other EU countries in terms of foreign policy.
Now to Putin. I’m not giving away a secret when I say that the Kremlin chief gave a great speech at the Valdai Club on the ideological and civilizational differences between Russia and the West. Some traditionally oriented political forces in Europe will agree with him here. Putin massively attacked “gender madness” and “moral imperialism” as well as “liberal value fetishism” in the West. He rhetorically asked what crazy adventure the West was throwing itself into with its new religion. Russia would be home to the real Europe of values at home – above all the protection of the family. Hardly any newspaper in the West commented on his speech. At the Valdai Club there were discussions about whether the Central Eastern European countries like Poland would gradually move towards Russia and away from the EU. The Central Eastern Europeans, someone said at the Valdai meeting, had freed themselves from communism to the West. When they arrived in the West, they initially saw Russia as the constant aggressor. But now many Central Eastern Europeans understood that they had come under an ideological dictate from Brussels – a new Brezhnev doctrine of the West. They want to get out of there again and could soon find their way back to Russia. What was particularly impressive about the Valdai Club this time? Not just the beautiful landscape – mountains and sea – at the conference hotel at an altitude of 1200 meters. It was the many conversations with completely different people. I talked for a long time with the former Iranian foreign minister, who welcomed joint talks between Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia to create a common economic area in the Caucasian region.
A European standing next to them just shook his head: the Eastern Partnership of the EU was responsible for this. The Americans were very interesting, not just Mearsheimers. Such types should also be invited to the German think tanks more often. The US experts said that the US did not want to forgive the Russians for Ukraine, but rather for their interference in the 2016 presidential elections. It does not matter whether such interference has taken place or not. That would be a deadlocked American narrative that could no longer be shaken. Oh yes, the appearance of the Russian cinema director and husband of Xenia Sobchak, Bogomolov, was extremely interesting. He is considered to be the new guru of the Russian mission in the world, according to the earlier writings of Dostojevsky. His anti-Western manifesto is booming in Russia. According to Bogomolov, the West is collectivist like the old Soviet Union. In the West, people would be forced to think in unison. In Russia people are like they used to be in the free West: individualistic, sometimes rebellious – but free to think and act.