By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Since the outbreak of the Skripal affair beginning of March 2018, a wave of hysteria has been unleashed by the UK political elite that has by now managed to drag the entire EU (and NATO) into joining the British accusation of Russian authorities, more specifically President Putin, for being behind the attempted nerve gas murder against double agent Skripal in Salisbury. The recent EU summit declaration (March 23rd) is an illustrative example for a hasty, flight forward attitude, since it gives unanimous support for the British line, namely that it is „highly probable“ that Russia was responsible for the nerve gas attack against former double agent Skripal and his daughter and that „there would be no other plausible explanation“ for it(!). Official statements from the Russian side included statements from the President, his Foreign Minister and Government spokesman who rejected British accusation as unfounded, nonsensical and deplorable. Despite Moscow’s request to the British Police authorities, to let them participate in the investigation and obtain samples from the supposedly used nerve gas Novochok (which Russia as a member of the OPCW is authorized to obtain) the British have refused any cooperation.
According to the British Professor Richard Sakwa – a Russia expert from the British University of Kent – who wrote a lengthy article for Valdai Newsletter, the murder attempt on Skripal and his daughter has devastating consequence on Russo-British relations. He underlined that the British have been keen to „internationalize the incident“ and have demanded expressions of solidarity from allies, by pointing the finger at Moscow and President Putin personally. Yet the whole thing, according to Sakwa, raises many troubling questions. Why would Russian authorities want to kill Skripal who since 2010 has been openly living in Salisbury? One should also take into account the timing: why two weeks before the Russian presidential elections, where Putin won a landslide fourth term?
According to Sakwa, there is “no doubt that the Skripal poisoning is a major incident that will resonate trough history…The only question is, whether the confrontation will dissipate as it did over Agadir 1911, or whether this is the Sarajevo slow burning crisis that could explode into flame at some later point. …Will it be another case of sinking the ‘Maine’ in 1898 or a Gulf of Tonkin incident 1964 which was also a ‘false flag operation’ but provoked the escalation of the Vietnam War? The West may be ‘uniting’ against Russia, as the ‘Times’ put it on March 16: but to what purpose?”.
Sakwa refers to a speech given by Jeremy Corbyn (Labour Party) who in an article in “Guardian” (March 16) noted that in his years in parliament “ too many times in an international crisis I have seen clear thinking overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgements… Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for attacking Libya, but it proved to be wrong.”
“The Game goes on” warns former Chairman of Munich Security Conference
The Skripal affair may just be the trigger for a larger (Great) Game between East and West – as a consequence of which mankind is set on a very risky and dangerous path. As former Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and advisor to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Professor Horst Teltschik commented in a recent article in www.focus.de: “The game goes on,” we are confronted with a game between East and West where it is “easier to talk about each other, rather that to talk to each other,” a game which is based on the logic: “If you hit me, I’ll hit you. If you don’t respect my interests why should I respect yours?”
In order to grasp the full dimension of what has gone wrong, one should look back to the past: In the beginning 1990ies, Teltschik comments “the Russian people had peacefully accepted the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the dissolution of the USSR into 15 sovereign republics and the withdrawal of 500.000 soldiers from Central Europe. This was not at all self-evident. At the same time several Disarmament and Arms control agreements were concluded, including a double zero solution for 500-5000 km range nuclear missiles: Strategic systems got drastically reduced; biological and chemical weapons were forbidden and destroyed.”
Over the following years, the West began to expand NATO and the EU up to the borders of the CIS States. “Could it be a surprise if the Russian government and Elzin expressed unease, and that Putin openly criticized this, and began to take measures against the military ‘encirclement’ of Russia? Russia’s security concerns with respect to NATO and the US should have been taken seriously from the beginning,” Teltschik emphasized, adding that what was really breaking the camel’s back was when the West began to discuss “to offer Georgia and Ukraine NATO and EU membership,” Russia’s response was war in Georgia followed by an occupation of the Crimea and military support for the so called people’s republics in Eastern in Eastern Ukraine.
According to the German security expert these developments could and should have taken a different direction. He referred to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl who – being conscious of the former USSR historical security concerns – “offered Moscow a treaty with clear security policy guarantees in April 1990. This so-called ‘Grand Treaty’ was signed and ratified by both governments in November 1990. In the same month, 35 State heads of states and government leaders of the CSCE member states met in Paris and signed the ‘Charta for a pan-European Peace and security order’ from Vancouver to Vladivostok. President Gorbachev spoke about the ‘Common House of Europe’ in which all states should enjoy equal security. There was the agreement to have annual Foreign Ministers conferences, review conferences at the highest level highest level, and to establish a conflict prevention center.” But this OSCE process was criminally neglected: “When President Medvedev in 2008 proposed some kind of contractual regulation treaty for the Paris Charta, there was no resonance from the West.”
In 1997 there was the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in which both sides officially declared that “NATO and Russia would not consider each other as adversary”, followed in 2002 by the founding of the NATO / Russia council. “These were successful steps but these initiatives were not used during decisive moments such as the Georgia and Ukraine conflict.” Even EU Commissioner Prodi’s proposal to negotiate a Free Trade Zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok didn’t find any echo in the EU. What followed instead was that “the US began to develop a missile defense system and stationed it in Europe. The promise of the US and NATO to include Russia into its development, was not fulfilled. This didn’t change either when Russia constructively cooperated in bringing about the Iran agreement and the destruction of Syria’s poisonous weapons.”
As a result “we find ourselves in today’s ‘game’, being played along the line whereby sanctions from NATO, the US and EU have been answered by sanctions from Russia.” The expulsion of Russian diplomats from the US was followed by a reciprocal answer from Moscow. The same game is played now between London and Moscow. Russian military maneuvers in the Baltic and Black Sea were followed by maneuvers from the US and NATO and vice versa. “Both sides have by now stationed troops along each other’s borders. German troops are today stationed in Lithuania at the Russian border. Are we really conscious about what this all means?” Teltschik asks.
One should add that the American Congress has voted in favor of a dramatic increase of America‘s military budget – up to 700 billion US dollars – while President Trump has announced the modernization and new development of nuclear weapons. The answer has been given promptly by Moscow. Also Russian President Putin outlined the development of new strategic weapon systems, while the Chinese President used the chance to announce an increase of China‘s military budget by 8,1 %.
The German security expert correctly perceives the presently unfolding dynamic as a dangerous path where things just continue to escalate. Something similar, as he points out, could be observed at this year’s 54th annual Munich Security Conference where reciprocal accusations were made by the American and Russian side; likewise accusations were coming from Poroshenko, Netanyahu and NATO General Secretary Stoltenberg. “Nobody however offered a strategy, how to initiate a political process and negotiations that would solve the conflicts. Nobody talked about the possibilities, how to end and limit with the help of Arms controls and Disarmament the present arms race.” Former NATO General Secretary Solana correctly observed with what ease all sides were talking about new nuclear systems, without taking into account, what consequences this all would have.
Sergej Karaganov: Preemptive Nuclear Deterrence
From a different point of view, Russian security expert Sergej Karaganov (Dean of the School of World economy and International Affair as well as Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy) presented an essay in “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” Mid-March 2018, in which he outlined what he considers a “Preemptive deterrence strategy”.
Preemptive deterrence strategy implies according to Karaganov the preemption of a massive attack by conventional aggression if it threatens the very existence of the country. “If nuclear weapons are used they will cause a global conflict, and yet they deter major conflicts that can escalate into a nuclear war.” According to Karaganov, NATO’s 78 day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 would be completely impossible today. “But back then, a decayed and weak Russia was not considered a state capable of using force. And NATO, hitherto a defensive alliance of democratic states, committed open aggression.”
While the US invested trillions of dollars into non-nuclear rearmament in the 1990 and 2000s, Karaganov argues that the achieved level of supremacy could not be converted into political and economic one. “Power expansion proved to be counterproductive as it not only brought terrible suffering to the countries attacked, but also seriously undermined the United States’ political, economic and moral positions in the world.” The West seemed to have regained supremacy in 1991-2007, “but as Russia grew stronger, the U.S. suffered a series of military-political failures, and the Western economic model revealed its weaknesses in 2008, global power distribution resumed, putting the West at an even greater disadvantage.” According to Karagnov, this recent development is one major reason for the “outburst of hostility towards Russia. It will take a long time for the West to adapt to the new situation where it no longer dominates militarily or politically, nor ideologically or economically.”
New arms race is a waste of money
Karganov makes reference to Putin’s Federal Assembly Address March 1st, 2018 in which the President said that Russia was ready to deploy or had already started to deploy a number of high-tech strategic and quasi-strategic systems, may portend one more function of nuclear weapons that is “preemptive deterrence of the strategic arms race. The announced systems – heavy missiles capable of attacking the US from any direction, nuclear powered cruise missiles and torpedoes with an unlimited range, hypersonic missiles, and maneuvering warhead – make the Americans’ quest for supremacy and invincibility completely senseless.” According to Karganov the “pursuit of military superiority essentially means wasting money and strength. The main argument, that these new systems can make America securer, provide political and economic advantage, and restore the hegemony it presumably had in 1991-2007, is gone.”
It would be better, Karganov argues, not to deploy them, if this can block in advance some of the aspects of arms race and encourage agreements to curb it. He expresses hope that “the measures announced by Vladimir Putin will prod American and other foreign elites into thinking realistically and getting ready to negotiate.” Even if he sees the US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty and rampant hysteria in America undermine any trust in its competence and ability to negotiate and honor agreements – yet he is convinced that it is “necessary to make a try. This would be better than waiting until the mounting mistrust, albeit contemptuous on our side, the emergence of new weapons and their acquisitions by new actors, and the absence of dialogue lead to a war that in all probability may put an end to mankind as we know it.”
There is another aspect which Karaganov brings into the discussion: “Russia’s readiness to deploy new, advanced strategic systems – announced by Vladimir Putin – means not only ‘preemptive deterrence’ to curb the arms race but also serves as a reminder to our partners that the 500 year long world dominance of Europe and the West has inevitably come to an end.”
Karganov’s argument follows along the line that while the US and to some extent Europe try to “reverse history” by basically unleashing a new Cold War, in order to regain the positions they have lost over the last several decades, it is essential to recognize that “the world has changed and the result will not be the same as before.” (…) “So instead of seeking revenge they will have to get prepared for living in a highly competitive but much fairer world and building a new global order for it to replace the crumbling one.” He nonetheless also concedes that Russia has “not proposed yet a new program to mankind, even though the need for it is quite obvious … The ruling elite in many countries are at a loss. Relations between the two nuclear superpowers Russia and the United States are worse than ever since the 1950ies and the Cuban Missile Crisis”. Yet there must be a promising picture of the world where everyone would want to live. Russia and China have proposed a big Eurasian partnership a “One Belt, One Road” and a “community of common destiny” which needs to be however specified and developed further.