By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
During the last few days of he month of April 2018 a major conflict has broken out between the EU, France, Germany and the Vienna based IAEA on the one side and the US Administration under President Trump on the other. When French President Macron and Chancellor Merkel visited the US President in the US in the end of April, he publically reaffirmed his intention to “nullify” the existing agreement with Iran (JPOAC) on May 12th. And with the nomination of the American Foreign State Secretary Mike Pompeo, a new round of escalation has begun. This includes a statement by Pompeo which he gave at a press conference during his visit in Saudi- Arabia as well as a statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu two days ago on the Israeli State TV. Both politicians declared that Iran was “lying” and that according to new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran was secretly working on a nuclear missile program. The two politicians accused Iran of being an important “destabilizing” factor in Syria and in the Mideast region. The launching of rockets April 28, which were directed against supposed Iranian militia targets in Homs and Aleppo (it is suspected that they were carried out by Israel) were probably meant as a first warning shot.
The dramatic deterioration which occurs three years after the very successful Iran agreement JOACP has been worked out between the US, Russia, China, France, GB and Germany with Iran (2015), an agreement which was based on Iran’s commitment to drastically limit the enrichment of uranium, as well as to allow international controls under the supervision of the IAEA ,which was linked to the promise that sanctions would be lifted progressively. It seems that the Trump administration tries to use the „Iran issue“ as a new „big stick“ to bring Europe „in line“- while at the same time blackmailing EU leaders with a looming commercial war and while simultaneously threatening with a new round of military actions the Mideast. The real aim of this strategic gamble is to push Russia and Iran out of any future constructive peace solution in Syria and the Mideast.
It is interesting to note that the well-known US film maker Oliver Stone during a recent visit in Teheran criticized the recent US wars as “a break of international law” by stating: “The wars continue because America says that may be we will have chaos in Iraq, but this functions because if we create chaos in Syria and in Libya and have terrorists everywhere and huge refugee flows, this is alright. It’s okay if we destroy the Mideast.” What the neoconservatives did, he calls “creative destruction.” “We are lawless people and we do something which internationally is prohibited.”
How to get out of a new chaos and avoid a potential war
In this context one should look at a recent event which took place in Wiesbaden, where upon the initiative of the German Foreign Office and the daily newspaper Wiesbadener Kurier, on Wednesday 25th of April, a presentation was given by the German Ambassador to Moscow, Rüdiger von Fritsch. In a lively debate he discussed with the audience about the future of German and EU relations with Moscow.
Rüdiger von Fritsch, former chairman of the planning staff under former German President Rau (SPD), vice chairman of the BND, former Ambassador to Poland and since 2014 German Ambassador to Moscow, gave an interesting speech. The Ambassador who speaks fluently Russian and who is a great admirer of Russian culture as well as defender of a much more intensive cultural exchange between Russia and Germany (as he told the audience), gave a speech that on the one side expressed the typical German “Realpolitik”- as is known by the official line spread by the German Foreign Office. (F.i. Skripal case: “We have no facts but only ‘plausible’ explanations which justify the expulsion of diplomats”; Syria: “Russia is not doing anything to bring Assad to the negotiating table”; economic sanctions against Russia: “the only way to express decisiveness vis a vis Russia”). On the other side he emphasized the necessity to use “diplomacy” as a means to get out of the present conflicts, by underlining that present global challenges can and will only be solved by way of “peaceful dialogue with Russia.”
We need a multilateral order based on the principle of equality
Von Fritsch emphasized that the combination of “strong decisiveness” to not tolerate certain things – as was exemplified by the EU reactions to the Ukraine crisis 2014 and the simultaneous search for dialogue, is a way to maintain a “multilateral order based on rules, which is based on the principle of equality.” It became clear from the questions by the audience (250 people), that the majority was quite concerned about the future of German-Russian relations – and the economic sanctions against Russia. According to von Fritsch the Ukraine problem which broke out with a revolt 2014, followed by the Crimea take over and the war in the south-east of Ukraine is like at present the proverbial “elephant” which stands in the middle of the room. “Unless this crisis is solved constructively,” he said and he referred to a phone call which Chancellor Merkel just recently had with President Putin on this issue, there will not be any “progress in international relations”; he emphasized that this “elephant” is de facto blocking a decisive dialogue between Russia/ Germany and the EU.
Different perceptions about historical events during the last 30 years
The German Ambassador used the occasion to review the past 30 years by posing the question, what had happened that we experienced such a dramatic change in relations? He tried to explain the events of the past 30 years by looking at them from a Western, i.e. German perception, and a Russian perception. When the people in Eastern Europe became free, after the fall of the Berlin wall, they felt at that time that they had won the right to freely decide which alliance to adhere to (EU /NATO), he stated. At the same time the SU, a huge country which is rich in resources, collapsed, which also included the system of the Warsaw Pact. “It was a traumatic experience which was qualified by President Putin as the ‘biggest catastrophe of the 20th century’.” Faced with economic decline and a weakening power in the “concert of powers”, the idea prevailed in Russia that all people were leaving for the West. When the 2014 Ukraine revolt broke out, Putin convoked the National Security Council and announced that one should prepare for the return of the Crimea, which was followed by the Crimea becoming part of Russia and the military escalation in the South of Ukraine. Von Fritsch emphasized, that the West at that time underlined that it did not want to use force but that they needed to “react” to what they perceived as “a fundamental break of confidence” and that a “strong reaction” was therefore needed. So they imposed “sanctions” with the aim to show their own decisiveness while at the same time upholding the readiness for continued dialogue.
Where do we stand today in respect to the Ukraine conflict?, von Fritsch asked. With almost 10.000 people that died in Donbass and many wounded, this conflict has complicated “the international development.” He observed that simultaneously a “new trend” has emerged in the present world order (an indirect allusion to the situation in the US after Trumps election) which expresses itself in the form “my interest against the others.” The US chose this way by invoking a policy of “America first”. Von Fritsch used the example to make clear a basic principle in diplomacy, namely that instead of seeking to defend the “right of the stronger” what is needed is the “strength of law” which is based on the attempt to seek the advantage of the many. Hence he stated that there is the need for a “multilateral system” in order to multiply the “advantage of the many”. “Multi-polarity is a well proven instrument for maintaining the present world order. We need a new security architecture (not a new Berlin Congress, Helsinki II or a new Yalta), but a World Order based on equality of the law and multilateralism.”
While sanctions are chosen as a “policy instrument”, there must be at the same time a constant offer for dialogue, the ambassador stated. In the discussion with the audience he further underlined that Germany in particular is interested to maintain a “fruitful and durable dialogue with Russia”. “As diplomats we try to find solutions under worst conditions and to contain the conflict potential.” In his answer to a question he also criticized the recent US Sanctions against Russia which include sanctions against third states: These sanctions, he explained were passed by the US Congress under the title “Countering America`s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (2017). According to von Fritsch these measures are diametrically directed against the economic Project “North Stream II”, a German- Russian economic project which is based on the plan to build a second a gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea. He emphasized that he considered the US Sanctions as having the character of “punitive measures”.
The Ambassador furthermore underlined at some point during the discussion that Germany in particular should show interest for the “Eurasia Economic Union” and examine “to what extent the EU could cooperate.” He ended the discussion with a strong plea for a more comprehensive “Kulturpolitik” (cultural policy) of the German Foreign Office, since it constituted a “constructive” element in foreign relations. In order to give an example he referred to a recent Rainer Maria Rilke exhibition in Moscow (organized by Russia, Switzerland and Germany) as well as to the well-functioning German/ Russian Historian commission that has already edited three books which relate the history of the last 3 centuries. He reacted quite positively to a statement given by the chairwoman of the Pushkin Society and vice president of the Hesse/ Russia Cultural Association (HERUS), Clotilde von Rintelen, who reported about a very successful recent exhibition in St Petersburg – documenting the history of the famous Russian–Orthodox cemetery in Wiesbaden.