By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

At the beginning of this year this author had a discussion with former Slovak Justice Minister Dr. Jan Čarnogurský. He is one of the experts who since 2005 have regularly participated at the prestigious Valdai Discussion Club, which since 2003 brings together once a year leading security, economic and strategic experts from Russia, Western countries and Asia. In the interview Dr.Čarnogurský identified the Valdai Discussion Forum as a unique opportunity to have during several days open and frank dialogue: “Here not only the participants but also politicians can freely express their opinion”, Čarnogurský said and he further emphasized that “since the start of Valdai conferences Russian politicians have talked about the need to overcome the ‘unipolar’ structure of world politics. (…) The Ukraine crisis as well as the Syrian crisis has perhaps convinced the West that the unipolar position of the U.S. doesn’t exist any longer in international politics. Some global problems will not be solved without, and certainly not against, Russia and China.”

His evaluation should be taken into account when we look at this year’s 13th Valdai Discussion Club, which took place in Sotchi( October 24-27th). During the conference entitled “The Future in Progress. Shaping the  World of tomorrow” 130 participants from 35 countries discussed in a very intense way, which direction the present World Order will go: this included panels about the  Mideast, Europe, migration and the future of the world economy. During the panel “World Order – Quo Vadis”, experts such as US political scientist John  Mearsheimer, Russian Strategist Sergey Karaganov (Dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs of the National Research University) as well as Fu Ying (chairwoman of the Foreign committee of the People’s Congress of China) and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd discussed about the growing influence of powers such as China, Russia,  India and the U.S. in the future world, which was seen in contrast to Western Europe whose influence is shrinking.

A Philosophy of international development for the New World

During the three hour panel “A Philosophy of international development for the New World” Russian President Vladimir Putin entered into a frank dialogue with the audience offering a rare insight on how the Minsk II negotiations have been sabotaged since 2015 and how the US/ Russia ceasefire agreement got undermined in September by bellicose forces in the U.S.

The president spoke about a civilizational crisis which the world is facing right now and according to him the reasons for this are the chances that were missed 25 years ago. This was reflected in the attitude of some Western countries (in particular the US) which saw itself as “victor” of the Cold War and began to reshape the global political and economic order to fit their interest. “They chose the road of globalization and security for their own beloved selves, for the selected few, and not for all. The result is that the system of international relations is in a feverish state and the global economy cannot extricate itself from systemic crisis”, Putin said. Illustrative example for this were the decisions to launch airstrikes in the center of Europe against Belgrade (1999), followed by operations in Afghanistan, the Iraq war and the Libyan invasions.  Most of these wars, he emphasized, were conducted without a corresponding legitimization from the United Nations Security Council. “In their desire to shift the strategic balance in their favor these countries broke apart the international legal framework that prohibited deployment of new missile defense systems. They created and armed terrorist groups, whose cruel actions have sent millions of civilians into flight, made millions of displaced persons and immigrants and plunged entire regions into chaos”. In the same vein he saw the constant attempts to turn the OSCE, a crucial mechanism for ensuring common European and also trans-Atlantic security, into an instrument in the service of someone’s foreign policy interest. And finally the tremendous hype in the West about what he called the “imaginary “ and “mythical” “Russian military threat” (which is manifested in most absurd forms in the U.S. election fight) which Putin qualified as pretext to help beef up the defense budgets, expand NATO and bring its infrastructure, military units and arms closer to Russian borders. “They speak of themselves as defenders of civilization against the new barbarians.”

Lack of strategy and ideas for the future

According to the Russian president the underlying reason for the present crisis is a crisis of the “political elites” which are more and more “decoupled from the majority of their citizens who in turn feel that they have no real influence on power.”  “It seems as if the elites do not see the deepening stratification in society and the erosion of the middle class, while at the same time they implant ideological ideas that in my opinion are destructive to cultural and national identity.” He urged that it is necessary to return to the “solid foundation of international law and the United Nations Charter.”  Those universal rules would be necessary to include as many countries as possible in economic and humanitarian integration, guaranteeing their political responsibility and working to coordinate their actions while also preserving their sovereignty and development models. “We have no doubt that sovereignty is the central notion of the entire system of international relations. Respect for it and its consolidation will help underwrite peace and stability both at the national and international levels.”

Minsk II and the Syrian ceasefire

One should particularly pay attention to what the Russian President said concerning the recent “Normandy Format” conference in Berlin (including the signers of the Minsk II agreement to settle the Ukraine crisis, such as Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine). The Minsk II agreements (February 11 2015), the president explained, were based on the agreement that  “thirty days after the signing of the Minsk agreements Ukraine’s Rada must adopt a resolution outlining the geographical boundaries of areas where the law on the special status of these unrecognized republics would become effective immediately.” Despite the fact that the resolution was adopted and passed by the parliament of Ukraine, making it a viable legislation and a key element for a political settlement, “after passing this resolution Ukraine and its Parliament adopted an amendment, a paragraph to Article 9 or 10, which said the law would take effect only after municipal elections in these areas. That once again postponed the law’s enforcement (…) and this was done without consulting anyone, least of the unrecognized republics.”  The result was that in Paris the Ukraine President did not move and things ended in a dead end, Putin underlined.  “In this situation everything could have ended then and a year ago in Paris, but Mr. Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister suddenly proposed a compromise. He suggested that we agree to have the law come into force on the day of the local elections in these regions, temporarily, and have it come into force permanently after the OSCE recognizes the elections as having taken place in accordance with OSCE rules. I expressed my agreement and said we would settle the matter with Donetsk and Lugansk, which we did.”

Again the Ukrainian President Porochenko in Berlin suddenly made the attempt to change this proposal in the last moment, already the result of a compromise. “We thus found ourselves back in the same crisis we had in Paris a year before.” Putin underlined the positive role which the German Chancellor played since “she found arguments to persuade everyone present that we could and should keep to the agreement we reached and said that it was not possible to change what we’d already agreed on a year later or we would never reach an agreement.” In principle, as he put it, “a lot was achieved in terms of ensuring security. We reached agreement on nearly every point.”

The other major bombshell which the Russian President had dropped was when he gave his personal insight into how the ceasefire which had been negotiated between Russia and the US in September and reaffirmed between Putin and Obama, had suddenly been sabotaged. Putin recalled that he had a “very important conversation” (with Obama during G 20- EH). “There was indeed talk on the lines that Russian and Syrian aircraft would cease their airstrikes against terrorist targets in Aleppo until the healthy opposition forces could be separated from the forces of Jahbat al Nusra (…) It is not secret that our American partners promised to do this.(…) The question was raised again during our meeting in China. Yes, my American partner President Obama did indeed propose separating these different forces once again. But he insisted that we must first declare a D-day, cease hostilities, stop the airstrike and then within 7 days they would take on the responsibility of separating the moderates from Jahbat al Nusra.”  Given the confidential character of the talks, said Putin, he would not make all details public. But the fact remains. “Instead of separating the Jabhat al Nusra terrorist from the healthy opposition, our American partners broke the ceasefire themselves (…) The ceasefire was declared on September 12 and on the 17th the American Aircraft carried out a strike against Syrian troops and this was followed by an ISIS offensive. We were told that the strike was a mistake and that the ISIS offensive was only a coincidence. Perhaps this is so, but the ceasefire was broken and we are not to blame for this.”

We were forced into a rearmament course

There were various questions raised from the audience pertaining to Russia’s status as a nuclear power. He emphasized that the US by having broken several arms control agreement has forced Russia into an arms race. This relates to the recent decision by Russia to “suspend” the agreement concerning the disposal of plutonium; according to Putin the US did not meet its obligation.  “Without any prior coordination with us the US made a unilateral announcement that they would not dilute their weapon grade plutonium but would ‘store’ it in some beds and so forth.They retain the return potential; the plutonium could be returned and re-enriched at any moment.” Similar problems he saw in the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty, which forced Russia to upgrade their “complex of assault system”; the same with the INF intermediate range land based missiles. “The treaty did not include ‘medium range sea and air based missiles’ and air and sea based missiles were not affected by this. The Soviet Union simply did not have them, while the US kept them in service.” Nevertheless, as he stressed,   Russia “will honor this treaty. All the more so, since as you may be aware, we now also have medium range sea and air based missiles.” Russia will handle its role as nuclear power responsibly and a specific part of Russia’s role in global affairs today is based on the vision that “we expect it to promote an extensive Eurasian partnership which promises to evolve into one of the formative centers of a vast Eurasian integration area”.

Wiesbaden, November 2016


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