By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Despite the fact that the Biden /Putin summit in Geneva (16th of June) didn’t lead to spectacular results, it has opened a new opportunity for constructive dialogue between the two superpowers. During two press conferences that were held separately after the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin and American President Joe Biden emphasized that the 3-hour long meeting took place in a “constructive and positive atmosphere.” This included the agreement to have their respective ambassadors return to service, as well as discussion about a whole range of diplomatic issues, including Afghanistan, Iran, the Arctic, Cyber Security, Arms Control, as well as human rights issues, in order to find a “common ground.” Putin used the term “strategic stability” in order to characterize which direction the dialogue is going. During his press conference he underlined that the US and Russia had a “special responsibility for the strategic stability in the world (…) We realize the responsibility and extended the new Start Treaty till 2026,” the President stated. When asked by CNN whether there was any “hostility”, he responded that “there was no hostility. Our meeting took place in a constructive spirit – with both sides trying to understand each other; (…) we agreed we would hold strategic consultations – such as for example on Cyber.” He also stated that the two presidents had discussed the “Minsk agreement” and characterized the American president as being “very different” from former President Trump, calling him an “experienced politician.”
Glimpse of Hope
According to Putin there was “a glimpse of hope on the horizon. We saw a glimpse of confidence.” In response to a Canadian journalist who had asked him what to tell the 9-year-old daughter about the summit, he stated: “Leaders meet and try to make the world more secure and a prospering place. They discuss about horrible weapons that can kill us; that nature and seas have to be clean, that everybody has food and when kids grow up that they will be healthy.”
In a separate open- air press conference, US President Biden underlined the importance of having had a “face to face meeting with the Russian President. President Putin and I share the unique responsibility to shape relations which have to be stable and predictable,” Biden stated. “We meet to have some basic rules and to cooperate for the benefit of the world. The issue is strategic stability- i.e. to launch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue.” One concrete area of cooperation which he singled out, was the “dialogue about Cyber Security.” He reported that they both had agreed that certain infrastructure (i.e. 16 critical infrastructures in the US) should be off limit to attacks. “We agreed to task experts in both countries.” He also reported that they had drawn a list of humanitarian aid needed for the Syrian people and had agreed to work on Iran. Concerning the Arctic- rather than having confrontation, they had discussed that there should be cooperation, the US president reported, i.e. make sure that the Arctic is a free zone. The president underlined the “importance of defending human values,” which according to him, is part of the “American DNA.” What concrete results will come out, he said, will have to be judged in 6 months from now and he added: “The last thing Putin wants is a Cold War.”
The Geneva Summit is in sharp contrast to the NATO heads of state meeting, which took place June 14th in Brussels. In the 80-paragraph long communique that was issued – what is striking is that future plans for modernizing NATO, an agenda entitled “NATO 2030. United for a new Era”, will be based on a radical “systemic competition” between on the one side NATO and on the other side big powers such as Russia and China, which the communique particularly singled out as “systemic” threats. The communique stated that Russia’s aggressive behavior poses a threat for the security of the Euro-Atlantic region (3) and is contributing to “instability along NATO borders and beyond,” (11). They give a long list of Russian rearmament of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, which- if compared to US expenditures from 2021 -30 in the dimension of 634 billion Dollar -is ten times less, according to a strategic expert Jürgen Wagner (22. June 2021). (Wagner observes a “strange alarmism” exhibited by NATO during the summit which is ridiculous. While in 2021 military expenditures of NATO member states amount to 1,174 trill Dollar, Russia spent just 61,7 billion Dollar.) A major focus of the communique is also China. It points out that “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behavior presents systemic challenges to the ‘rules- based international order’ and to areas relevant to Alliance security. We are concerned by those coercive policies which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty.” (55) It was stressed that “in the future they will cooperate more closely with the Asia-Pacific Partners, in “promoting cooperative security and supporting a ‘rule-based Order’.” (73)
Commemoration of the 80th anniversary of invasion in Soviet Union
On the 22nd of June there were remembrances held in Russia as well as in Germany, in order to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the German invasion in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. At the occasion of an exhibition which was opened at the German- Russian Museum Karlshorst under the title “Dimensions of a crime – Soviet Prisoners of War during World War II”, German President Frank Walter Steinmeier gave an outstanding speech, in which he described the German Invasion into the Soviet Union June 22nd 1941, as an “act of German barbarity. It cost millions of human lives, laid waste to the continent and – as consequence – divided the world for decades.” On the other side he paid tribute to the excellent exhibition which had been compiled by a group of German, Russian, Ukrainian and white Russian historians since the 1990ies, in order to tell the unknown history of 12 Soviet war prisoners from the war.
The president recalled the story of one soviet prisoner of war, Boris Popov, a 19 year old soldier, stationed a few kilometers from Minsk, and young infantry man, when the invasion began. He was captured in the very first days after the invasion and brought to a first camp -Drosdy, five km north of Minsk, a prisoner-of-war camp outside. Steinmeier quoted from the Deutsche Wochenschau broadcast which at the time was showing a “vast patch of land, surrounded by barbed wire, on which thousands upon thousands of Soviet soldiers and officers are crouching in the dust or standing in sweltering heat. Boris Popov is somewhere among that crowd of young and middle -aged men. We hear the narrator of Deutsche Wochenschau say the following: ‘The faces of these Subhumans are characterized by rapacity and murderousness.’ What we actually see in these images are the faces wretched by hunger and thirst, of utterly exhausted prisoners.” Ten thousand prisoners fell victim to the so-called “Commissar Order” in Drosdy alone. Supposed “political commissars” of the Red Army were in line with orders from the Wehrmacht, not to be treated as prisoners of war, but rather to be “summarily executed.” (Popov died June 20 2020)
Steinmeier was adamant in his description of the German invasion: “What now came to pass, what began on June 22 1941, was an unleashing of hatred and violence, the radicalization of a war that culminated in the madness of total annihilation. From day one, the German military campaign was driven by hatred, by anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism, as well as by a fanatical racist doctrine against the Slavic and Asian peoples of the Soviet Union. (…) Those who waged this war killed people in every imaginable way, with an unprecedented degree of brutality and cruelty. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers fell, starved to death or were shot dead during the first few months of the war alone, in the summer of 1941. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in Ukraine, in Belarus, in the Baltic states and Russia fell victim to bombing attacks or were relentlessly hunted down as partisans and murdered. Cities were destroyed and villages burnt to the ground. (…) At the war’s end, the death toll of the peoples of the Soviet Union numbered some 27 million. Twenty-seven million people were killed, murdered, bludgeoned, starved or left to die as a result of forced labor by National Socialist Germany. Fourteen million of them were civilians. No one had to mourn more victims in this war than the peoples of the Soviet Union. Those who go to its theatres today, who encounter people who bore the brunt of it, will be reminded of 22 June 1941 – irrespective of whether there is a day of remembrance or memorial or not.”
Steinmeier called for a much more passionate remembrance noting that “we Germans have taken a long time too long, to admit this fact”, namely that the shadow of this cruel war hangs over us to this very day. (…) “Only those who learn to understand the traces of the past in the present will be equipped to help shape the future which avoids wars, rejects tyranny and makes possible peaceful co -existence in freedom.” What we have in common, he said, is that we “remember not by turning our backs to the future. Rather, we remember by looking ahead and shouting out loud and clear: never again should there be such a war!”
Putin calling for a new spirit of cooperation in Europe
Similarly strong was also a recent guest column that was written by Russian President Putin for the German weekly “Die Zeit”. The focus was the idea of a “shared future”.
Referring to how 80 years ago, on the 22nd of June 1941, the National Socialists – after having conquered all of Europe- invaded the USSR, he emphasized that “for the soviet people this was the start of the ‘Great Patriotic War’, the most bloody of its kind in the history of our country. Dozens of millions of people died. Economy and culture suffered immense damage. We are proud about the courage and steadfastness of the heroes of the Red Army and of the workers at home, who not only defended the Independence and dignity of their fatherland but who also saved Europe and the world from enslavement.”
After the fall of the wall and the reunification of East and West Germany (1989/1990), Russia had hoped that the end of the Cold War meant a victory of all of Europe; that the dream of Charles de Gaulle was to be fulfilled and a unified continent would become reality, and this less geographically from the Atlantic to the Ural but rather cultural and civilizational from Lisbon to Vladivostok. “Especially in this sense in the logic of shaping a great Europe, which is held together by values and interests,” Putin stated, “Russia wanted to build its relations to the Europeans.” Deplorably this great vision was not realized, Putin noted, because the North Atlantic Alliance began to expand in the East.
In respect to his own vision of future cooperation in Europe, the president underlined that the entire post-war history of the Great Europe showed that “prosperity and security of our common continent are only possible by collective efforts of all countries, including Russia. Because Russia is one of the largest European States, and we feel our non- separable cultural and historical links with Europe.” He stated that Russia is open for a fair and creative cooperation, which means our idea, “to create a common cooperation and security zone from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which could include different integration formats, including European Union and Eurasian Economic Union. I reiterate again: Russia pleads for the reconstitution of a broad partnership with Europe (…) Our common aim is to secure the security of the continent without separating lines and a common space for equal cooperation and collective development based on the prosperity of Europa and the entire world.”