Interview with Dr. Alexander Rahr about the Ukraine crisis: Putin „doesn’t expect a Western No, but Western silence“

Interview with Dr. Alexander Rahr about the Ukraine crisis: Putin „doesn’t expect a Western No, but Western silence“

Global Review once again had the honor to have an interview with Dr. Alexander Rahr, Russia expert, political scientist, member of the Valdai Club, Putin advisor to Gazprom for the EU about the Ukraine crisis and related issues. Alexander Rahr is an honorary professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations and Business School. He studied at the Ludwigs-Maximilians-University in Munich, worked from 1980-1994 for the Research Institute for Radio Free Europe, the Federal Institute for East 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 on Foreign Relations. He then advised Wintershall Holding and later Gazprom Brussels on European affairs. In addition, he was also a frequent guest with Putin as an interlocutor. Since 2012 he has been program director of the German-Russian Forum. He is a member of the Petersburg Dialogue, the Valdai Club, the Yalta European Strategy Network, the author of several books on Russia.
Dr. Rahr at a meeting with Putin

Global Review: Dr. Rahr, the situation in Ukraine remains very tense. Putin not only continues to mass troops on the border with Ukraine, but now also wants to hold military maneuvers in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and  in the Persian Gulf with China and Iran. It looks more likely that he will continue to escalate and increase the pressure to negotiate, perhaps at the same time with a view to an Iran deal. You yourself, like General a. D. Domroese, assess that Putin will not invade Ukraine, that Ukraine will not become a NATO member for another 25 years and that Putin will turn to Asia and China in particular. This seems to be at odds as many fear that Putin’s ultimatum to the West, the US and NATO will force him to invade Ukraine in order not to lose face, while others generally question his intention to negotiate, and only do so see it as a logical next step in the expansionism of Russian neo-imperialism, which keeps creating self-made, constructed pretexts to expand its zones of influence, no matter what the West wants or wants to appease. How do you assess the situation?

Dr. Rahr: I’m not a prophet and I don’t know Putin’s true plan either. But I don’t think he’s a gambler. He planned the current conflict situation cold bloodedly. He also has a plan B. I won’t be answering your questions in western slang, but rather in the style of Realpolitik, which I love. Before our interview, with your permission, I made myself knowledgable in Moscow. I asked: So what does Putin want? My conversations were not fruitless, as you can see from the answers. Putin wants nothing less than to correct the „imbalance“ in the European security architecture. He plans to straighten out the European order. None of the former Soviet republics (apart from the Baltic states) may join the western NATO alliance, because otherwise Moscow sees its security interests under threat. Basically, Putin does not want to give up the traditional Russian sphere of influence to the West. According to the contract, heavy NATO war equipment should not be deployed on the former territory of the Warsaw Pact. What NATO verbally promised to Gorbachev in 1990, but never laid down in writing and later broke, is now to be contractually agreed between the West and Moscow. So far so good. Putin foresaw the West’s reaction to Russia’s demands. But he cannot and will not accept a loss of face due to a Western no. Nor is he expecting a western no, but on western silence.

In order to reinforce his demands, Putin has his “grande arme” hold maneuvers on the border with Ukraine. The West is raging, politicians and the media are reacting hysterically, but Russia sees that the Western threats have come to nothing. NATO, which just capitulated in Afghanistan after 20 years of war, could now have demonstratively accepted Ukraine and Georgia into NATO as a robust answer to Putin’s ultimatum. But she hasn’t. On the contrary: Germany and France are sticking to their veto against the accession of these states to NATO. Apart from the Americans, British, Poles and Baltics, nobody wants to see Ukraine in NATO. The price would be too high: a risk of war with Russia. Corrupt Ukraine is not worth that to the West. The US is pragmatic; they are sending out a clear signal that NATO will not fight for Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. Weapons are said to be delivered to Ukraine in isolated cases, but the West is divided on that too. There are supposed to be economic sanctions, but they hurt Russia less than they do the West itself. Moscow doesn’t believe that the West can be so suicidal as to shut Russia off from the SWIFT payment system. The West would then technically not be able to pay for oil, gas and raw material purchases in Russia – in view of the energy crisis in Europe, which is currently becoming more and more threatening, the West cannot afford to stop exports from Russia.

The real threat from Putin is a military alliance with China and Iran against the West. The West hasn’t really got this bogeyman on its radar yet. So the Kremlin is assuming that the West will surrender its traditional sphere of influence to Russia without a fight. After Afghanistan, the West is about to experience its second Waterloo. If Russian demands are met, however, Putin wants to be reconciled with the West and work on a common concept of a common space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

Global Review: In an earlier conversation, you said that Lavrov would seek a confrontation with Baerbock if she acted too boldly and then ostentatiously end the conversation after 3 minutes. But that did not happen at the Baerbock meeting with Lavrov. Did Baerbock hit the right tone? Many commentators praised the fact that she had passed her foreign policy litmus test with Russia, while Focus, close to Burda, for example, criticized her for not saying everything explicitly and kept it secret, accusing her of not living up to her creed of dialogue and strength, accused her with appeasement in the style of Brandt’s policy of détente and demands „dialogue and pressure“ in the style of Helmut Schmidt by means of the NATO double- track decision. At the same time, an open letter from 73 Eastern Europe experts calls for them to “leave the German special path”, which exists for the authors since Brandt, Kohl, Schröder, Merkel and now the traffic light coalition. It is striking that the signatories are primarily experts from Eastern European institutes or the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is close to the Greens, or the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, which is close to the FDP. General ret. Domröse now repeated the accusation that was made against the previous open letter “Get out of the spiral of escalation! For a new beginning of relations with Russia” which had as only important signatories General ret. Naumann and a former high-ranking ambassador no celebrities: similar to the letter from Eastern experts: „It is interesting that the „top people“ are not there..A sort of jungle camp for B-celebrities to get some attention.“ . How do you assess the meaning of these open letters and appeals?

Dr Rahr: Federal Foreign Minister Baerbock ate a surprising amount of chalk before her visit to Russia. I heard that she was briefed before her trip not by her green advisers from Liberal Modernism, but by specialists from the Chancellery. The Russians were impressed that Baerbock honored the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier next to the Kremlin wall. Even more impressive was her statement that Germany would continue to be dependent on gas supplies from Russia. In Moscow, this is interpreted as encouragement for the Nord Stream and a sigh of relief. Moscow likes the fact that Baerbock, unlike Habeck, does not want to supply weapons of war to Ukraine. The Kremlin doesn’t care that some German media and the signatories of the letters critical of Russia quarrel with Baerbock. The calls for or against Russia are perceived in Russia, but the Kremlin is relying solely on Chancellor Scholz in its German policy, just as it used to rely solely on Kohl, Schröder and Merkel. Russia is hoping for more understanding for Russian security interests from Germany. It is believed that Germany under Scholz will return to the old Ostpolitik and will also put pressure on Ukraine to fulfill the Minsk agreements on the peace process in eastern Ukraine. As for the individual appeals in Germany, Moscow sees them as a spasmodic self-promotion of underexposed „experts“ who want to serve their vanities. You can be sure that in Russia I am emphasizing that these appeals are screams from civil society and therefore must be taken seriously.

Global Review: To what extent is the West actually united? At his meeting with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, Scholz no longer ruled out sanctions against Nord Stream 2, which now seems to be in line with the Greens. At the same time, however, the new CDU chairman and former Blackrock employee Friedrich Merz says that he rejects SWIFT sanctions against Russia, as this could throw the international financial markets into serious turbulence. US President Biden even said that there was no need to react to a small Russian invasion of Ukraine, which he backtracked on after severe criticism.

Dr Rahr: Russia took the West’s disunity into account. One sees the West in an acute phase of weakness. The transatlantic relationship was irreparably damaged by Trump: the USA and the EU are economic competitors. Moscow has not escaped the fact that sanctions have been imposed on EU members in the dispute over values between Brussels and the Central and Eastern Europeans. The German “green environmental and climate perestroika” sees Russia as a failure due to the emerging energy crisis. Some in Moscow see the Eurasian Union on the rise, including militarily, as in Kazakhstan; the EU, on the other hand, is in retreat and facing major insurmountable challenges, such as the migration crisis. One will agree with Biden, Scholz and Macron, they are willing to compromise and are not dogmatic. The belligerent liberal media are ignored.

Global Review: The German newspaper Freitag believes that both Biden and Putin have slumped in their population’s popularity and that both could need some foreign policy success. Since it is unlikely that the USA and NATO will agree to the security guarantees, General ret. Domröse suggests that both sides should advance talks on arms control and also CBMs (Continental Based Missiles). The Freitag author Wolfgang Michal proposes a new détente policy in which Baerbock and the Greens reinterpret Nord Stream 2 ecologically and Russia proposes a future modernization partnership for the delivery of green hydrogen to Europe, Germany and also the USA:

“Continue where Willy Brandt ended  The new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, would do well to follow the former chancellor’s policy of détente when dealing with Russia. Of all things, an ecological reinterpretation of Nord Stream 2 could help Wolfgang Michael | Edition 03/2022 123

The “sudden” confrontation between the US and Russia – almost eight years after the conflict in eastern Ukraine and Crimea was “frozen” – may have surprised many. Because so far the worst could always be prevented. The OSCE observer mission lurched from ceasefire to ceasefire violation, and the EU’s foreign politicians dutifully reminded them of the Minsk agreement, which must be strictly observed. The situation only worsened in the spring of 2021: Russian manoeuvres, American arms deliveries and Ukraine’s request to accelerate the country’s NATO accession process led to an escalation. Since then, warnings and threats have been issued and there has been talk of red lines that nobody is allowed to cross. Otherwise there is – war?

The presidents of Russia and the USA are demonstrating strength because things are not going so well domestically at the moment. The citizens of both states are dissatisfied. The Russian economy has been stagnating since 2014, there has been no structural change, and Vladimir Putin’s austerity policy is affecting broad sections of the population. In addition to this there are the effects of the corona pandemic and currency devaluation. Similarly in the USA: The transformation of old industries is being slowed down, real wages are falling due to rising prices, and soon a million Americans will have died of Corona. Approval for Joe Biden has fallen from 55 to 39 percent. So Putin and Biden urgently need success.

The rattle of war is meant to rally the renegade patriots behind their presidents again. It’s absurd retro theatre: superpower posturing like it was in the 19th century. Can Annalena Baerbock, the new climate foreign minister, play a major role in this antiquated performance of old men? Can she play at all? Don’t worry: she will. And she will achieve more than her predecessor Heiko Maas.

The new federal government would like to tie in with Willy Brandt’s social-liberal policy of détente: „Dare more peace policy“. 50 years after the Nobel Prize and the natural gas pipe deal with the Soviet Union, that would be the right answer. But can the government pick up where Willy Brandt left off? At the time, public opinion was in favor of detente. Liberal media fought for it, intellectuals supported it. Today, agitators who confuse values-based with weapons-based politics dominate. Relaxation supporters have a hard time there. One only has to take note of the accusations of appeasement SPD politicians have to listen to when they demand that the Ukraine conflict not be confused with the Gazprom pipeline. They see their commissioning as a confidence-building measure, just like Willy Brandt did in 1970 with the natural gas pipe business.

Nord Stream 2 could be the start of the great ecological transformation: Because Russia wants to use its huge energy capacities to produce hydrogen for the European economy and send it through Nord Stream. With technical help, it could also be green hydrogen. Would Biden and Putin be won over to this “change through rapprochement”? Why not. Despite all the „tough“ sanctions, the US is now buying more Russian oil than ever. Hydrogen in the future. The terminals for this are currently being built. In the face of such challenges, war over NATO is an anachronism.

What do you think of these proposals? But would they be able to replace Putin’s demands for security guarantees in the medium and long term, or would the conflict just be postponed a little bit?

Dr. Rahr: A policy of détente, albeit in a new green dress, can bear fruit. Baerbock has understood that international climate and environmental protection can only take place together with the largest country in Europe, namely Russia. If Germany wants to, Russia can also send blue hydrogen to Europe via the two Nord Stream pipelines. This business could become just as lucrative as the gas business in the future. Russia wants to continue supplying Europe with raw materials, but the European customers of Russia are now facing greater competition from the Asians, who are particularly greedy for Russian raw materials. The „pivot“ to Asia is Putin’s greatest diplomatic achievement. At the Valdai Forum (which is criminally neglected by the German media), he once said that in its history Russia had never integrated itself with Asia, neither in terms of security policy, nor economically, nor ideologically. Russia had always only oriented itself towards Europe , but always got an aggression from the west. Now Russia would distance itself from Europe and make itself the co-architect of an Asian world order. Russian experts are certain that Asia will soon be superior to Europe militarily, economically and ideologically (national rather than liberal values). And Putin wants to anchor his country on the right side. The US and the EU are becoming increasingly dependent on trade relations with Asia. Under China’s leadership, a new world financial system is emerging in Asia to replace Bretton Woods. A war between Russia and NATO would indeed be an anachronism.

Global Review: In the West and in Germany there have always been Russophile and Russophobic tendencies. Gerd Koehnen describes this in great detail in his book „The Russia Complex“. Many German educated citizens are lovers of Russian classics, literature, music, they know and appreciate the Russians as good MINT logicians and chess players, and vice versa as a brutal breed of people, as backward. Marx, for example, saw Asian despotism in tsarist Russia and feudal China, and Wittfogel, with his hydraulic social model, also saw centralist despotism that played into the hands of communism and later authoritarianism. It is true that many leftists in the West saw the communist revolutions in Russia and China as a liberation from precisely this Asian despotism, in the industrialization under Stalin and the victory in World War II over Nazi Germany as a historic modernization and civilization mission. Also as the grail castle of a new internationalism and the proletarian world revolution. Nevertheless, Chiang Kaitschek already said that Stalin and the Russian communists were only red tsars with new Russian neo-imperialism, which he justified with the fact that despite the Mao Stalin Pact and COMECON and Warsaw Pact, Mao China and Eastern Europe were not themselves incorporated as part of the Soviet Union , as Trotsky hoped, but the Sovjet Union was limited primarily to the areas of the old tsarist empire. Under Hitler, Russophobia and anti-Slavism in the West and in Germany also took on the racist-liquidational form of the minor Slavic subhumans, who were not industrially murdered en masse like the Jews in the Holocaust, but during the extermination campaigns and when treated as prisoners of war or forced labourers hardly inferior to the treatment of Jews and Sinti and Roma. Putin, like Serbia’s president, often talks about the „Russian world“, the „Serbian world“, the Russian or „Slavic soul“, Slavism and a Slavic union as the core of a Eurasian Union. To what extent do you think anti-Slavism and Slavism are still present on both sides?

Dr Rahr: What I appreciate about Global Review are the in-depth questions. The questions are not aggressive, as is usually the case in the German media. I don’t feel like I’m being interrogated at Global Review. Yes, anti-Slavism and Slavism in their new forms must be discussed. Slavism has not changed noticeably over the centuries in Eastern Europe. It is a disguise of nationalism, visible in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, but also Poland (which denies its Slavism but thinks Slavic deep down). In Russia, I personally don’t like the new symbiosis between Russian or Slavicism and Stalinism. Russian society has renounced communism – Marx and Lenin have become completely insignificant, the October Revolution has long been forgotten. Instead of socialism, capitalism prevails in Russia. Not forgotten, however, is Stalin’s victory over Hitler – who turned previously backward Russia into a superpower, into the ruler of half of Europe. Other peoples are afraid of the new Russian great power narrative. But allow me to also comment on anti-Slavism. It exists in Western societies, where one feels morally and civilizationally far superior to the Slavs. The west-east wedge is a historical fact. Germans look up to the French and British, Poles and Russians are constantly being lectured. An understanding and reconciliation between Germany and Russia remains to be seen. But what if you don’t want it at all? Germany likes to build a common European house with the French and Italians, but when a Slav enters, people turn up their noses. In my last book, Presumption. How the Germans are losing Russia,” I put forward the delicate thesis that Germans cannot forgive the Russians for May 8, 1945. The German capitulated gracefully to the American and the British; before the Russian barbarian, that was the worst shame for the Germany of that time. No wonder the mainstream media ignores my book. I would wish that Germans and Russians could put the problems of the past behind them through a rapprochement in the Petersburg dialogue.

Global Review: Also, if Putin sticks to this Slavic world, how much can he grow beyond a regional power, how much can this even become Eurasian? Or is Putin relying on a kind of universal “post-liberal conservatism” that is creating a common international community of values of non-liberal, authoritarian states across nations and internationally from Trump-USA to Xi-China, Erdogan-Turkey, Bolsonaro-Brazil to Orban-Hungary? But wouldn’t this be the hope for a universality of a post-liberal value conservatism that promisesto ignore the international interests and differences of the countries, be it cultural, economic, political and geopolitical and is also a kind of new international globalization fantasy under a different name? Can nationalists create an International of nationalists and a new world order, or rather a new world disorder? And while one may be theoretically united on family values and against liberalism and LGBTIQ’s rainbow colors, so on all other geopolitical issues of real concern? And once liberalism has been eradicated, will the unity among the then authoritarian states also break down?

Dr Rahr: The world is facing a turning point. The West’s monopoly position in the global order no longer exists. The West is shrinking, not yet economically, but politically. The liberal idea is no longer an anchor of the future multipolar world order. Does that mean an end to the Enlightenment, freedom, individualism? Not at all. Russia and China are freer than they have ever been. At the same time, however, one has to admit that the idea of freedom in the West has suffered from the pandemic. Perhaps liberal democracy has suffered irreparable damage from Corona. At least I hope not. The new multipolar world order will first go through a process of chaos. The birth defect of this order is that we do not build the new necessary multilateralism together with Russia, China, India and the Islamic states, but see these poles of the new order as disruptive factors. And Russia and China no longer accept the arrogance of the West – and are attacking the Western order just as we are attacking theirs. System competition is not a bad thing in history as long as it does not degenerate into war. I believe that the current conflict between the West and Russia should be seen from this perspective. This includes the fact that we now have to correct the European security order, by consensus and not through war. If we don’t do that now, future generations will suffer a new Cold War. Russia is not as weak as we think in the West. Yes, Russia overestimates itself, but it doesn’t want war with the West. Let me end cynically but with realpolitik: do we want to jeopardize a possibly more contemporary reorganization of European security because of Ukraine?

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