By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

It is very thrilling to read the new book by Horst Teltschik, which gives a comprehensive, historical analysis about how the postwar relations between Russia and the West, evolved. (Horst Teltschik: Russisches Roulette, Vom Kalten Krieg zum Kalten Frieden, Verlag C.H.Beck, München 2019) The author pays  particular attention to the period in which the fall of the Berlin wall occurred, the upheavals in Eastern and Central Europe, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union and what tremendous diplomatic efforts were made from the side of Germany, the US as well as Russia to begin a new era of peace in the 1990ies.The high point as one can read several times in the book was the famous 1990 Paris Charter conference (CSCE) which set the framework for future constructive East- West relations, an all-European security architecture that must be used today as new starting point.

The author of the book is an expert who for almost two decades has worked as foreign policy advisor of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, being in the middle of the most unique historic transformation in Europe. The photos of the book illustrate the role which Teltschik personally played in negotiations with President Reagan, President George Bush, Russian President Gorbachev as well as with President Putin. Highpoints of such activities were the reunification negotiations between Germany and Russia and the meeting in the Caucasus between Kohl, Gorbachev, Genscher and Shevardnaze about the Russian troop withdrawal from the former DDR.  The center piece of the book is the “Paris Charter Conference 1990” which opened for the first time in history the perspective for an all European Security Architecture, a Common European House, where everybody could enjoy the same political and economic rights.

In 2001 Teltschik played a key role in getting the newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin invited to the German Federal Parliament, where the Russian President delivered one of the most farsighted speeches, based on a real vision about a future All- European Security Order and fruitful relation with Germany. As chairman of the prestigious Munich Security Conference (1999-2008) Teltschik invited Putin again to give a speech in Munich in the year 2007, an occasion, at which the President from a Russian point of view outlined all the obstacles that had come in the way for a blossoming relation between Russia and the West. He raised the alarm about the US increasing “unipolar” attitude that is casting aside Russia’s “legitimate security concerns” in respect to NATO Eastern expansion, the stationing of a missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. The speech, rather than being really discussed in depth in Munich, as Teltschik notes, was received with coldness and indifference by most conference participants and the line given in the German press was that his speech showed that we were back to the “Cold War.” (Josef Joffe, “Die Zeit”)

As Teltschik shows repeatedly however in the book, despite the fact that he didn’t agree with the way Moscow reacted during the Ukraine crisis (covert military support for Eastern Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimea etc.) he emphasizes as he did in his interview in Der Spiegel (9.3.2019), that Moscow‘s interests in essence are “defensive” and that their most essential preoccupation is “security.” He therefore repeatedly emphasized that “the present confrontationist policy of NATO must be urgently replaced by the capacity to make compromises and negotiation offers, if we don’t want to slide from a cold peace into a hot conflict.” Dialogue instead of escalation is needed, Teltschik demands and recommends that one must learn from those lessons that helped overcome the Cold war. He recounts the famous Bahr (Federal Minister for Special Affairs 1972-74) thesis “Change through Rapprochement” which was decisive for Chancellor Willy Brandt’s (1969-74) extremely successful “Ostpolitik” (this included the  treaties  with the Warsaw Pact states Poland and Czechoslovakia beginning seventies, the Grundlagenvertrag (basis of relations treaty) with the GDR and a treaty with Russia.

Teltschik adds at one point the famous speech of John F. Kennedy at the American University 10 June 1963 (after the Cuban missile crisis) which had brought the world to the abyss of nuclear war, where the US President warned of a nuclear total war as a totally senseless adventure. Directly addressing the Soviet Union, he stated that in history there never had been a nation that had to suffer as much as Russia did with 27 million people dead in the Second World War, with its industrial base as well as cities and villages ruined.  Kennedy expressed that both states would have mutual interest to build a just and honest peace and stop rearmament. Teltschik recounts that Khrushchev at that time had the full speech reprinted in the Soviet media. What followed were negotiations about the prohibition of nuclear tests.

In 1982 Kohl became Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. His security strategy was based on maintaining close relations with the US and NATO as well as friendly relations with France and integration of the European community. He was determined to further develop “détente policy with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact states” on the basis of the CSCE treaty and the Ostverträge.

Teltschik refers to the events during reunification and remembers vividly the discussion in the Caucasus (July 1990) between Kohl and Gorbachev. The discussion was about the modalities for Russian troop withdrawal from the former GDR territory. A several billion dollar credit was promised by Germany, for creating homes for the returning soldiers that were to dislocate within four years. Whoever wants to understand Russia today, must remember what Moscow accepted in 1989/90 and accepted peacefully and what concession the Soviet leadership was ready to make. It agreed to the opening of the central European border (Hungary) and didn’t militarily intervene. In acceptance with the Soviet Union Germany remained in the European Community and in NATO. 380.000  Soviet soldiers from GDR were to withdrawn; 50.000 Russian soldiers from Central Europe without one shot being fired, were leaving within four years, Teltschik comments in his book. At the Berlin Gendarmenmarkt Russian soldiers sang: “We came as enemies and we are leaving as friends.”

According to Teltschik one must imagine that in the end of the 1980ies and beginning 90ies the most “far reaching” disarmament and arms control agreements were agreed upon – in the area of nuclear weapons, conventional weapons and chemical ones including comprehensive inspection procedures. Then on July 1rst 1991 the Warsaw Pact officially dissolved. It did so peacefully and without any noise!

Factor psychology in the build- up of relations

There is a second dimension which Teltschik adds as reflection in his book:  psychological truth. It means that diplomacy can only be successful, if the political, military and economic interlocutors are able to meet “personally” and build up personal relations and “trust”. Chancellor Kohl was such a personality, being able to openly discuss with Gorbachev, Reagan as well as with Putin. Without the psychological factor that offers “trust”, nothing really can develop Teltschik underlines. He points out that with the Paris Charter adopted 1990 in Paris, a fantastic vision for a future united Europe was developed. The fact that it was not implemented in the years after had to do according to Teltschik with the psychological factor of “overload”, the simple fact of having to deal with too many things at the same time, while time seems to be running out. He asks therefore why the historic chances were not adequately used by the leading politicians in Germany or Europe. Why was it, he asks repeatedly in the book, that the “unique” historic chance which was opened after 1989/ 90 that paved the way to the Paris Charter Conference in 1990 and its OSCE  and CSCE successor conferences in the following  years, that these chances to construct a “pan- European Security Architecture”   together with Russia were not taken? One factor which psychologically counts is “perceptions”, often based on prejudices: While Putin sees the West as one that has tried to “humiliate” Russia, not taking into account its repeated warnings and its legitimate security concerns, the West is almost obsessively following the line that Putin is to blame for everything “evil” that exist. There is prejudice in the West that Putin only pretends power and wants to split NATO. Such distorted perceptions are, as Teltschik repeatedly warns, very dangerous since they trigger a “spiral of mistrust that ultimately can lead to horrendous catastrophes and war.”

The Paris Charter and its missed chances

From 19 till 21 November 1990 all 34 heads of state and government of the CSCE states met in Paris and signed the “Charter of Paris for all of Europe”. It was a political declaration of intent. As Teltschik emphasized the signers declared that the age of confrontation and division of Europe had ended. In the future relations were to be based on “respect and cooperation”. States should refrain from threats and conflicts be solved “peacefully”. Cooperation and arms control and disarmament should be promoted. Therefore the intent was “to strengthen the political consultation process and expand cooperation.” This all with the aim to build a unified Europe: “The undivided and free Europe demands a new beginning,” the document stated.  It also underlined that the treaty on conventional forces in Europe and negotiations about Confidence and security building measures (CSBMs) should continue soon, as well as negotiations about a verifiable world- wide comprehensive prohibition of chemical weapons. There should be furthermore cooperation to eradicate terrorism and fight illegal drugs, economic cooperation and cooperation in the sector of energy, transport and economy and culture, including promotion of youth cultural exchange and education.  The heads of state decided also about new structures and institutions for the CSCE including regular meetings of foreign ministers, and Vienna was to become a conflict prevention center.

“The Paris Charter – what a vision! ‘I have a dream’… with these words Martin Luther King began his most famous speech,” Teltschik comments. A new path of history opened up which was promising, but this promise could not be fulfilled by itself but by the work of creativity and also sacrifice. No generation ever before had that chance to dream such a dream. There was the chance to realize the dream of a common, free and democratic Europe from Vancouver to Vladivostok.  For Gorbachev, as Teltschik states, “the Paris Act was the blueprint for the ‘Common House of Europe’ in which all inhabitants, including the Russians get the same security guaranteed in a newly developing European community reaching far beyond the European Community.” Yet, tragically the window of opportunity did not get used.

“The breakdown of SU and its empire, new crisis spots on the Balkan and last but not least the contemplation of one’s own navel in Germany, overlapped historical options, which had opened up.” The dissolution of Yugoslavia laid bare open all historic, ethnic and religious fault lines that were thought to have been overcome. Under Yeltsin’s presidential term, there was the complicated Russia “phantom pain” of a lost empire, while people in “Washington bathed in the feeling that they had won the cold war and treated Russia not as equal partner,” Teltschik emphasizes. “It was in those years that the germ for alienation was laid.” In Russia oligarchs became more powerful; millions of Russians lived in poverty fighting for their survival. The industrial basis shrank by 88%. Teltschik notes that “without realizing today the disastrous domestic development of the 1990ies in Russia we can’t understand present Russia.” Democracy and market economy did not lead to what was expected, to better living conditions.  On the contrary everything got worse. Democratization got translated into the “law of the stronger” and led to chaotic conditions. Hence the preference of the Russians for order and stability and Putin can only be explained on this background.

Russian perception

Russia’s strive for a collective security of all Europe is not just a different formula for the former Empire to keep its influence but it’s an expression of deep fears and historic experiences. Here is the point where today a new détente policy must start,” Teltschik comments and underlines that “the US, NATO and the West altogether, today have more reason for self- criticism than many want to realize.” The dissolution of Yugoslavia, the intervention of NATO and the bombing of Belgrade, the independence declaration of Kosovo (2008), the rapid expansion of NATO in the East and the EU, colored revolutions in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and Kirgizstan (2005)  have heavily weighed on the new foreign and security policy orientation of Russia after 1990ies. In addition the American intervention in Afghanistan and Iran and Western interference in Libya to bring about a forced regime change there had a deep effect on the original Western orientation of Moscow. The same effect occurred when the Americans cancelled the ABM treaty and pushed plans for missile defense in Poland, Czech Republic and later Romania, as well as NATO offering entry perspectives for Georgia and Ukraine.

Nothing has accelerated more today’s confrontation between Russia and the West than the growing “mistrust.” And with Trumps erratic policy a new phase has begun where a possible hot war may break out. Teltschik concludes his book by demanding that we need new summit diplomacy and the rebuilding of trust demands politicians who think “creatively” and have the courage for vision like those who made the Paris Charta possible. Germany, France and Poland -provided that there is after the next parliamentary election a clear change in Poland’s foreign policy-could become a motor for the development of constructive relations to Russia. It is recommendable to read Teltschik’s book, since it offers a rare insight given by a witness who shaped this fascinating period of transformation in Europe. For students who want to work with the book a register would have been helpful.


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