By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Both Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin recently emphasized the need to establish a Realpolitik approach in international affairs, so as to revitalize the cooperation among the USA, Russia and Europe in the perspective of a peaceful Eurasian development. Recent developments in Syria show how this kind of policy might be shaped.
With the fall of Eastern Aleppo and the evacuation of thousands of civilians and rebel fighters that was carried out with the help of Russian, Syrian military forces and Iranian Al Quds forces, the West is facing a major turn in the Syrian conflict. In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche (16 December 2016) an article under the headline “Putin’s victory in Syria” was published by Friedrich Schmidt. Unlike previous articles in which he only attacked Russia, the author this time admitted that Moscow is back on “world stage” and the West thoroughly discredited.
Russia has had only a few military losses, the German daily recognized, and whoever dares to qualify Russia as a “regional power”, as President Obama did in the past, should better watch out. Moscow considers the Syrian operation as an “end to the colored revolutions” that began 12 years ago, Schmidt stated. Sanctions will not follow and the West will do nothing. The author noted that those western governments which during the last three years have opposed Russia over the issue of Ukraine, have been facing electoral losses. Russia now has got a strong position in the Mediterranean with its marine base in Tartus and the airbase near Latakia. Aside being in control of the future of refugee streams, Russia has built an alliance with Turkey, despite the fact that for a while the two countries had been deadly enemies. Egypt, while receiving US military assistance, conducted in the month of October a large military maneuver with Russian airborne troops “Defenders of friendship”. Similarly Russia has developed pragmatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “Obviously without Russia nothing will function in the Mideast in the future.”
Henry Kissinger’s sober assessment
Opposite to the wide-spread “reaction formation” that can be observed among politicians and “experts” in Western Europe (experts who instead of formulating a pragmatic policy approach for solving the Mideast conflict and maintaining relations with Russia, use a punitive language in respect to Russia), a sober assessment was made by former National Security advisor Henry Kissinger. On December 18th he gave an interview to CBS TV program “Face the nation”. Kissinger has been one of the few US personalities who since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis have persistently warned Europe not to fall into the trap of establishing sanctions and favoring revenge feelings toward Russia. The brilliant historian had in the past repeatedly pointed to the fact that history has taught again and again that a position of “moralizing” rather than looking for “pragmatic policy solutions” is not a constructive element for solving conflicts. He has personally met President Putin several times during the last two years.
In the CBS “Face the nation” interview , 93 year old Kissinger, when asked how he judged the accusation by President Obama, that Russian hackers interfered in the US election campaign, answered that he can’t understand what purpose this all would have. They could not antagonize the President by openly supporting the Republican candidate, he emphasized. Everybody has the capability to hack, Kissinger stated, adding that every intelligence agency is hacking on the territory of another country. “But who is hacking what? We don’t know enough about hacking and it’s difficult to communicate about it.” Kissinger emphasized that he thought that it was not a good idea for President Obama to go into a “retaliatory posture” during the last days of this administration.
Asked about Russian President Putin, Kissinger noted that “he is a character out of Dostoevsky. A man with a great sense of connection to Russian history and he is a cold calculator of Russian national interests which he believes has some unique feature. For him the question of Russian identity is very important.”
Commenting about the incoming U.S. President Trump, Kissinger was cautious. He qualified Trump as a man who, opposite to a “typical academic, operates by a kind of instinct” and admitted that he has “raised a number of important issues.” In respect to Europe, Kissinger underlined that Europe is disappearing as “strategic player” and that this is one of the “holes” in the international system. Europe now is “more focused on domestic issues and the burden has fallen on us.” He advised the U.S. next President not to be on a “permanent confrontation” towards Moscow. Relations should be rather based on respect for the Russian character. At the same time, he stated that future relations with China will play an important role, and that China and the US have to come to some kind of understanding. The advice he gave to the new President is that he should distinguish between “existing routine and essential issues” and avoid getting involved in bureaucratic battles. “I believe he has the possibility to go down in history as a very considerable President”, he said, while Obama left a power vacuum and Americans withdrew from the international stage.
Policy interests and Russian identity: President Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly
Kissinger’s call for a pragmatic foreign policy approach vis-á-vis Russia could also be seen, on the other side, in the annual address which Russian President Putin gave to the Federal Assembly December 3rd in the Kremlin’s St George Hall. The Russian President delivered quite unexpectedly a “soft” speech which focused almost entirely on the need for “domestic” reforms in Russia. “Russia can defend its national interest, sovereignty and independent course. People are united around patriotic values”, Putin stated. In memory of the Russian revolution 100 years ago he emphasized that the lessons which can be drawn from this period of history are “primarily for reconciliation and for strengthening the social political and civil concord, that we have managed to achieve”. Despite tragedies which Russian families lived through, no matter what side of the barricade our forebears were on, “let’s remember that we are a single people, a united people, and we have only one Russia.”
President Putin put a lot of emphasis on improving the Russian education system, underlining that Russia’s most important task is to look for the “increase of the human capital as Russia’s most important resource. (…) Therefore our efforts are aimed at supporting the traditional values and the family, at implementing demographic programs, improving the environment and people’s health and promoting education and culture.” This implies high tech medical services, the training of adequate medical personnel and modern equipment. He argued in favor of organizing retraining programs at the federal and regional medical centers and universities and proposed to connect all of the country’s hospitals and outpatient clinics to high speed Internet in two years. “This will enable doctors in a remote town or village to use the advantage s of telemedicine and quickly receive consultations from their colleagues at regional, federal clinics.”
Providing knowledge and fostering morality
Putin stressed that “children in every corner of our great country should be able to study in a pleasant, user-friendly, modern environment, so we will continue the program for the reconstruction and renovation of schools.” This should be accompanied by efforts to increase the “qualification of teachers. An important goal in education would be: How to give knowledge and foster morality, as Dmitry Likhachev (1906-1999, former philologist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences – ed) believed: ‘morality is the basis’ that determines the viability of society: its economic, public and creative sustainability”; more emphasis is to be given to attract young people to national classical literature, culture and history. “Our schools must promote creativity. The children must learn to think independently, work both on their own and as part of a team, address unusual tasks and formulate and achieve goals, which will help them have an interesting and prosperous life.”… “We must promote the culture of research and engineering work.”
Concerning the “economic slowdown” which Russia faced last year, the Putin located its biggest effects “in our internal problems and above all in the lack of investment resources, modern technology professional human resources; insufficient competition and shortcomings in our business climate. If we do not address the underlying problems of the Russian economy, if we do not launch new growth factors at their full force, it will stagnate for year and we will have to constantly save and delay development,” which Russia simply can’t afford.
Only a few minutes were devoted by the President to Russia’s foreign policy and to what he considered as Russia’s “primary national interests”: “We do not want confrontation with anyone .We have no need for it and neither do our partners or the global community. Unlike some of our colleagues abroad who consider Russia an adversary, we do not seek and never have sought enemies. We need friends. But we will not allow our interest to be infringed upon or ignored. We want and will decide our destiny ourselves and build our present and future without other’s unasked advice and prompting. At the same time we desire well intentioned and equal dialogue and we affirm the principles of justice and mutual respect in international affairs. We are ready for a serious discussion on building a stable system of international relations for the 21st century. Sadly the decades that have passed since the end of the Cold war have been wasted”. He furthermore emphasized the importance of “building a multi -level integration model for Eurasia in the form of a Greater Eurasian Partnership. And expressed confidence to have conversation with the European Union countries where the demand for political and economic independence is currently on the rise.”
According to Putin there is a “great potential for Russia in terms of cooperation with the Asia Pacific region as we saw at this year’s Eastern Economic Forum.” The President reiterated that it serves Russia’s long term interests and that this is consistent with the global development trends. In respect to future US-Russia relations Putin concluded: “Cooperation between Russia and the United States in addressing global and regional issues will benefit the whole world and (…) attempts to break such a strategic partnership are extremely dangerous and can lead to a global catastrophe.”
Wiesbaden, December 19 2016