By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
In light of the huge chorus of the Western Alliance that followed President Biden’s attacks against Russian President Vladimir Putin for having ordered the military intervention in the Ukraine, it is particularly important to draw attention on the major peace efforts which were courageously initiated by Pope Francis in a video conference with ROC Patriarch Kirill I on March 16th. Both Church leaders (the first encounter of that kind since their meeting in Cuba in 2016) discussed about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the “importance of peace.” According to a Vatican communique, the conversation focused “on the war in Ukraine and the role of Christians and their pastors, in doing everything possible for peace to prevail (…) We are pastors for the same holy people who believe in God, in the Holy Trinity, in the Holy Mother of God: for this we must unite in the effort to help peace, to help those who suffer, to seek ways of peace, to stop the fire.”
Pope Francis told the Russian Patriarch “that those who pay the bill for the war are the people, it is the Russian soldiers and it is the people who are bombed and die. (…) The Church must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus. (…) Our hearts cannot help but cry in front of the children, the women killed, all the victims of the war: War is never the way.” In a statement from the Russian Orthodox Church it was reported that the two parties had a detailed discussion “about the situation in Ukraine. That particular attention was paid to the humanitarian aspect of the current crisis and the actions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church to overcome its consequences.” It was reported that both parties stressed the “exceptional importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing their hope for the soonest achievement of a just peace.”
On March 23rd, addressing the faithful after his general audience, Pope Francis again reiterated: “with war everything is lost, everything! There is no victory in war: Everything is defeated!” He prayed as well for leaders to understand, that buying weapons and making weapons is not the solution to the problem. The solution is to work together for peace and, as the Bible says, to turn weapons into instruments for peace, and he asked those present to join him in prayer to Our Lady.”
It was furthermore reported by KNA (Catholic News Agency) that Russian Patriarch Kirill I had emphasized that between him and Pope Francis “there exists a high degree of agreement and understanding” concerning “the war of Russia against Ukraine.” On March 17th Metropolitan Hilarion, Foreign Minister of the ROC, who had been also present at the video conference, sent a letter to the European Bishops Conference (COMECE) demanding joint peace efforts to be taken by the respective churches and humanitarian aid for refugees.
Swiss senior diplomat Heidi Tagliavini about the need for diplomatic solutions
Top Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini who in Chechenia negotiated for the OSCE in the bombed Grozny and who in Georgia was Special UN Envoy investigating for the EU the causes of the Georgia-Russia war, and who co-negotiated and co-signed the Minsk agreement gave an interview to the Swiss Daily NZZ (March 24th).The interview was a useful reflection about her experience as a diplomat and it emphasized aspects that are very similar to what the experienced senior German SPD politician Klaus von Dohanyi has been reiterating in his book on National interests … in times of global Changes as well as in his recent interviews. Tagliavini in the interview stated that no matter who the adversaries in a war are, in diplomacy there is no such thing as “evil” versus the “good” personality (a Manichean viewpoint which US President Biden recently seems to fully adhere to). Tagliavini emphasized how important it was, to listen as mediator to both sides of the adversaries and that what was achieved in most cases was not a long lasting peace treaty, but “truce.” As a young woman she had studied in Russia for one year and her approach to solving problems of war and peace, as she put it, had always been a “cultural” approach combined with the capacity to be able to “listen carefully” to the other side. She mentioned during the interview that she had studied carefully Fyodor Dostoevsky and in reference to his famous novel Crime and Punishment and its main figure she underlined, that even if he had committed a crime, he at the end “repented.”
On the background of the war in the Ukraine, Swiss Colonel Baud develops his views
Another interesting insight was offered by Jacques Baud, former Oberst (Colonel) of the Swiss Army, economist and strategist, as well as book author and intelligence operative, who was interviewed by the Swiss website “Zeitgeschehen im Focus” (ZiF – Current affairs in Focus, made by a group of historians, financial, economic and other experts, committed “to careful and serious research,” according to their own account.) In the lengthy interview (ZiF Nr.4, March 15 2022) he described from his personal intelligence trained point of view, some key aspects that are necessary to understand the historical, political and economic background which led to the Ukraine war. Baud, who knows the Ukraine well, reported that he was participating as Swiss officer in a NATO task force, to fight proliferation of small weapons and that he had “patronized projects in Ukraine after 2014.” Because of his former intelligence activity he speaks Russian and claims that he has “access to documents which only a few people in the West look at.” When being asked how he perceived the situation in Ukraine, he, who himself is shocked by the war, answered that “There is a real hysteria. What disturbs me is that nobody wants to know why the Russians invaded (…) As a former chairman of “Peace policy and Doctrine” of the UN Department for peacekeeping operation in New York during two years (…), I always ask myself: How did it come to this point, that war is conducted?”
Contrary to the mainstream press outlets, Baud qualified President Putin as “neither crazy nor has he lost reality. He is a man who is very methodical, systematic, i.e. very Russian”, who is conscious of the consequences of his actions in Ukraine. He pointed however to some ‘paradoxes’ in the present situation, namely that “Russia still delivers gas to Ukraine, Russia didn’t stop this. They have not interrupted internet. They didn’t destroy electricity, utilities or water supply. Of course there are certain areas in which fighting occurs.” It is a different approach, as he emphasized, that the Americans had for example in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq and Libya. When western countries attacked them, they first destroyed the electricity and water supply and the whole infrastructure, hoping that the people would rebel against the government.
In order to describe the dynamic which led to the unfolding of war, Baud stated that things began to change when on March 24 2021(!) when the Ukrainian President passed a decree, that Ukraine intends to reconquer Crimea. “He (Zelensky) at the time began to move the Ukrainian Army to the South and Southeast, in the direction of Donbass. For one year there was a permanent build-up of the army along the southern border of Ukraine. That explains why end of February there were no Ukrainian troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border. Zelensky always stated that the Russians would not attack Ukraine. Also the Ukraine Defense minister confirmed this again and again. As well as the chairman of the Ukraine security council in December and January said that there are no signs for a Russian attack against the Ukraine.”
According to Baud, what shifted the entire dynamic was above all that there “was pressure from the US. The US has very big interest in the Ukraine. At that time they wanted to increase the pressure on Germany, to get away from North Stream II. They wanted that the Ukraine provoked Russia and that if Russia reacted to this, North Stream II would be put on ice. Such a scenario was also discussed at the occasion of the visit of Olaf Scholz in Washington (6./7.2.2022) and Scholz didn’t want to play along. That is not just my opinion there are also Americans who see it this way: The aim is North Stream II. One should not forget that North Stream II was built on the basis of German request. It is principally a German project, since Germany needs more gas in order to reach its energy and climate aims.”
Baud explained his view on the historical background: “After World War II the aim of the US has been to prevent that Germany and Russia (USSR) work more closely together. This despite the fact that Germany has a historic fear of the Russians. They are the two greatest state powers in Europe. Historically there were always economic relations between Germany and Russia. The US always wanted to block this. You should never forget that in a nuclear war, Europe would be the battle field. That means, in such a case the interest of Europe and the United States would not necessarily be the same … A closer relation between Germany and Russia would render the American Nuclear strategy useless”. Ironically, as Baud saw it, for the US, who always criticizes Germany’s energy dependence on Russia, Russia is the second biggest oil supplier to the US. The US primarily buy their oil from Canada, followed by oil from Russia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. I.e. the US are dependent on Russia. That also is true for rocket engines. This does not disturb the US. What disturbs the US is that the Europeans are dependent on Russia.
Baud qualified the problem for Russia in Ukraine as a “military strategic one.” He pointed to the US stationing of MK 41 missile defense systems in Poland and Romania. The US claims that they are purely defensive. “One can fire defensive rockets from these launching platforms, but one can with the same system also deploy nuclear missiles. These launching platforms are some minutes away from Moscow. If in a situation of heightened danger something happens in Europe and the Russians on the basis of satellite surveillance see that there are activities at the launching platforms and something is being prepared, would they wait, until possibly a nuclear missile is fired in the direction of Moscow? Of course not. There would probably be immediately a preemptive attack.”
According to Baud, the whole acceleration began, after the US left the ABM Treaty (Treaty to limit systems for deterring ballistic missiles). Under the rule of the ABM, Treaty the US could not have stationed such a system in Europe.
In order to explain the background, why Putin on February 27th 2022 put the nuclear forces on alert level I, Baud referred to the Munich Security Conference, February 11/12 and the speech that was given by Ukrainian President Zelensky, at that time being received with standing ovations. From the viewpoint of the Kremlin, as Baud saw it, what Zelensky said at that occasion was an “alarm signal” for the Russians. In his Munich speech Zelensky stated: “I am initiating consultations in the framework of the Budapest Memorandum. If they do not happen again or their results do not guarantee security of our country, Ukraine will have every right to believe that the Budapest Memorandum is not working and all the package decisions of 1994 are in doubt.” Baud commented that the statement of Zelensky was interpreted as a potential threat to the Kremlin. And in order to understand this, “one has to remember the 1994 Budapest agreement that dealt with the elimination of nuclear missiles from the former Soviet republics while keeping Russia as a nuclear power. Also the Ukraine transferred its nuclear missiles to Russia, and Russia in return assured the inviolability of Ukrainian borders. When Crimea went back to Russia, in 2014, Ukraine stated that they would not respect any more the 1994 agreement.”
What prompted Putin to militarily intervene then?
On 24 of March 2021 Zelensky passed the above mentioned decree – which means he intends to reconquer Crimea. He made preparations for this. What one could see, according to Baud, is that the Ukrainian army got strengthened in the Donbass area and pulled together on the Southern direction of Crimea. The Russians all saw this. At the same time NATO in April 2021 conducted a huge maneuver between the Baltics and the Black Sea, which terrified the Russians. Then September 2021 Russia did its exercise “Zapad 21”. At the end of the maneuver some troop contingents remained in Belarus; these were troops from the eastern district. What was left was material to be used at the beginning of this year 2022 in a huge maneuver that was planned together with Belarus.
What happened in February 2022?
According to Baud, a qualitative change occurred at the end of January 2022, when the situation seemed to change: “it seems that the US had talked with Zelensky, because then a change occurred. Since the beginning of February, the US said, again and again, that the Russians were about to attack.” Antony Blinken spoke in front of the UN Security Council and developed how such an attack would occur. He said he knew this from the intelligence services. According to Baud this is like the situation 2002/2003 before the attack against Iraq. Also here they supposedly based their statements on intelligence service analysis. This at that time wasn’t true “because the CIA was not convinced of the presence of weapons of mass destruction. Rumsfeld didn’t base himself on the CIA findings, but on a ‘confidential group’ within the defense ministry that had been created just or this, in order to circumvent the CIA (!) (….)Blinken did the same… All which Blinken said, came from a group which he had called within his own department, the so called ‘Tiger Team’ and the scenarios presented didn’t come from intelligence service information. So-called experts have invented a certain scenario, based on a political agenda. That way, a rumor was created, that Russia would attack. Joe Biden hence said that Russia would attack on the 16th of February. When asked where from he had this, he spoke about good intelligence service (not including CIA or national Security Agency).”
On February 16th according to Baud there were violations of truce along the Contact line in Donbass. As he recalls, there were explosions especially in the area of Donetsk and Lugansk. This is only known “since the OSCE in Donbass did make protocols. One can read it on the OSCE daily protocols.” Baud reported that with the artillery fire becoming stronger and stronger, the administration of the two republics began to evacuate civilian population and bring them to Russia. Sergey Lavrov in an interview spoke about 100.000 refugees. In Russia they interpreted this as a preparation for a large scale offensive.
This action by the Ukraine Military had triggered everything. At that time it was clear for Putin that the Ukraine wanted to conduct an operation against the two republics. On the 15th of February the Duma had adopted a resolution that suggested recognizing the two Republics. Putin didn’t react to this, but when the attacks became stronger, he decided February 21 to realize the demands of the parliamentarian resolution.
But he not only helped the two republics, he attacked the whole Ukraine. His aim was to go for the maximum option, stating that his aim was the “de-militarization” and “de-nazification”.
In order to shed some light on this, Baud stated, that this is not just some Russian invention: there are strong units of right-wing radicals, operating in the area. “Aside the Ukraine Army which became very unreliable, there are since 2014 strong paramilitary forces, including for example the Asov Regiment. But there are many more groups that are under Ukrainian command and not all consist of Ukrainians. “The Asov regiment consists of 19 nationalities, among them French, even Swiss”. It’s a Foreign Legion; “the origin of these groups,” according to Baud, “go back to the 1930ies. In the Second World War the Germans worked with right-wings extremists like the OUN from Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian rebellion army and others to deploy them as guerilla against the Soviets. The geographical center of this right-wing resistance was in Lwiv, that’s in Galicia. After the Second World War, USA, France and GB realized that the OUN would be useful and supported them in their fight against the SU.”
Sabotage of Minsk agreements I and II
Another important aspect that led to a deterioration of the situation in Ukraine, according to Baud, was the sabotage of the Minsk Agreements and the helpful hand from some in the West in all this. In September 2014 the Ukrainian army had a bad conduct of war, even if it was advised by NATO, Baud recalled. They had to agree to the Minsk agreement at that time. It was a treaty agreement between the Ukraine Government and the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, with European and Russia Guarantee powers.
When the democratically elected President Yanukovych was overthrown, the new provisional government, coming from the nationalist right-wing, immediately as first act, as Baud reported, a change of law about the official language in Ukraine was implemented. This change of law led to a storm in the Russian speaking regions. In all cities of the South, in Odessa, Mariupol, Donetsk, Lugansk and in the Crimea huge demonstrations were organized against the language law. To which Ukraine administration reacted massively and brutally, deploying the army. This was followed by the autonomous republics which were proclaimed in Odessa, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Lugansk, Donetsk and others. Donetsk and Lugansk declared themselves as autonomous republics and asked for recognition from Russia, which at that time the Russian government rejected.
Another important aspect was the Minsk II agreement where, as Baud recalled, aside Ukraine and the autonomous republics, there were present also the guarantee of Germany and France on the side of Ukraine, and of Russia on the side of the republics. The second agreement, Minsk II, got signed in February 2015. It served as a basis for a resolution of the UN Security Council which declared it as binding in terms of international law. According to Baud, in the long run, “a solution must be found from inside the Ukraine.”