From the common home to the new iron curtain

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

Reflections on the origins of today's world.

From the common home to the new iron curtain

It's December 2014 and a year ago, the Maidan protests forced a change of government in Ukraine. Former President of the Soviet Union (USSR) Mikhail Gorbachev, then 83 years old, spoke to Pilar Bonet, correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El País in Moscow for 34 years.

“Building the common European home is more urgent than ever,” Mikhail Gorbachev told her. “We need to create a security system that includes the United States, Canada, Russia and European countries,” he says vehemently, given the turbulence in the relationship between Russia and the West. In March 2014, the population of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol approved joining Russia in a referendum.

Mikhail Gorbachev supported Vladimir Putin's Crimea policy. “So much Russian blood has been shed, so many centuries of fighting for Crimea, for [Russia’s] exit to the seas!” he exclaims. “For me, the main thing is that people wanted to return to Russia” (the referendum result was overwhelmingly in favor of the idea). “Crimea is Russian and it was an open wound that has now been closed. Regarding Crimea, in the West, you should sleep peacefully,” Mikhail Gorbachev told Pilar Bonet.

He sees as a “negative sign” the postponement of the Saint Petersburg Dialogue, a bilateral Russian-German forum that brings together, every year, politicians, intellectuals and representatives of civil society from the two countries. “If sanctions were lifted now, it would be possible to reach agreements on many things with Russia. But without ultimatums, because Russia cannot be treated this way, without the slightest ceremony.”

Mikhail Gorbachev agrees with Vladimir Putin when he states that, after the Cold War, Western countries behaved like “new rich”. “They started cleaning her boots in Russia, as if she were a doormat. They praised Boris Yeltsin, while the country was prostrate.” “It is not too late to reverse the situation together, although nothing can be expected from Ukraine, which is willing to do anything to be admitted to NATO and the European Union.”

The European common home

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since German unification, NATO membership and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Almost 35 years.

When all this had not yet happened (but was already imminent and inevitable), in July 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. He proposed moving forward with the construction of the European Common House. He offered to negotiate with NATO to withdraw short-range nuclear missiles. Disarmament should be, according to the Kremlin leader, the pillar of building this common home.

Three years later, in April 1992, with the Soviet Union already dissolved, Mikhail Gorbachev spoke at a colloquium at the Sorbonne. The theme was “Where is the East going?”, organized by Libération, El País, La Repubblica and other European media. He proposed the creation of a Security Council for Europe. He claimed to share the vision of General De Gaulle, “who conceived of Europe as the space between the Atlantic and the Urals”, the natural border between Europe and Asia, about 1.700 km east of Moscow. A huge European stage.

Just a month before his conversation with Pilar Bonet, Mikhail Gorbachev had participated in the celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 1989.

Mikhail Gorbachev warns against the temptation to promote a new Cold War. He calls for dialogue with Moscow. The President of the European Parliament, German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, also spoke. He acknowledged that, “whether we like it or not, Russia is a key power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We are committed to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but all channels of communication with Russia must remain open.”

The United States will never allow a truly united Europe

Gaspar Méndez, economist and professor of geography and history, wrote in Diary of León on July 15, 2022. Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border on February 24.

He cites Spanish army reserve colonel Pedro Baños, a writer specializing in geostrategy, defense and security, and renowned American journalist Robert Kaplan, a regular contributor to some of the most important media outlets in the United States.

If we analyze the issue from the point of view of geopolitical interests, “the United States will never allow a truly united Europe, just as it cannot allow the European Union to join Russia, as this would mean enormous geopolitical and economic damage”.

According to the North American roadmap, the architect of European construction should be NATO, and Gorbachev was concerned about the expansion of the alliance in the face of the imminent unification of Germany. As we know, this was the script that was imposed.

Professor Gaspar Méndez adds that Gorbachev's words take on renewed value when he remembers that “our people associate NATO with the Cold War, as an organization hostile to the Soviet Union, as a force that accelerates the arms race and increases the danger of war . We will never accept entrusting her with the main role in building the new Europe.”

A world united around Ukraine?

A year ago, in April last year, David Miliband, United Kingdom Secretary of State between 2007 and 2010, published in Foreign Affairs reflections on “The World beyond Ukraine”. He disputed the Ukrainian president's claims that the war had united the world around his country.

That is not the reality, said David Miliband. Some 40 countries, representing about half the world's population, have regularly abstained from voting to condemn the Russian invasion. Two-thirds of the world's population lives in countries that are officially neutral or support Russia, including some notable democracies such as India, Brazil, Indonesia or South Africa. “Symptom of a larger syndrome: anger, upon perceiving the West's double standards, and frustration with the failure of efforts to reform the international system.” In particular, the reform of the UN Security Council.

The estrangement between the West and the rest of the world, says David Miliband, “is the product of deep frustration – anger, really – with the way the West has handled globalization since the end of the Cold War.”

The article deserves special attention, due to the many issues it addresses, the particularly important position that its author occupied and the very different point of view of the current British Conservative government, which dreams of transforming the British economy into a war economy.

The “iron curtain” advances to the east

Weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, Mary Sarotte, an American academic at John Hopkins University, published her book Not one inch. It deals with conversations in 1989, when Gorbachev was negotiating with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and US President and Secretary of State George Bush and James Baker about the withdrawal of Russian troops from Central Europe and Germany's accession to NATO. . “Not an inch” to the east had been the proposal discussed in these conversations, which Mary Sarotte documents.

Commenting on the book, Carlos Tello, a Mexican essayist, wrote in the magazine Millennium: “Already then the advance to the east was unstoppable. The greatest supporters of expansion were, in fact, the leaders and, in general, the people of Central and Eastern Europe. Vaclav Havel, after asking US and Russian troops to leave the center of Europe, changed his mind and expressed to Bill Clinton the Czech Republic's desire to join NATO. So did Lech Walesa of Poland, fearful of Russia’s resurgence.”

The new “Iron Curtain” began its advance to the east. In the United States Congress on Saturday, April 20, when new aid to Ukraine of just over $60 billion was approved, Representative Gerry Connolly proclaimed: “The border between Ukraine and Russia is our border! ”

It is difficult not to imagine this eastward advance as another movement of Operation Barbarossa, the attack on Moscow that German troops began on June 22, 1941, with the consequences we know.

What's at stake in this war?

The West, led by the United States, could provoke a potentially catastrophic war between two nuclear powers thanks to its openly hostile stance toward Russia and its efforts to end existing arms control agreements, Russia's foreign minister said. Sergei Lavrov, at the end of April. The three largest nuclear powers, the United States, England and France, he added, “are among the main supporters of the criminal Kiev regime and are the main organizers of provocations against Russia.”

A different view is that of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a conservative, for whom “defending Ukraine against Russia's brutal ambitions is vital for the security of England and all of Europe”. “If Vladimir Putin is successful in his war of aggression, he will not stop at the Polish border,” said Rishi Sunak, joining those who claim that Moscow is engaged in a war of conquest in Europe.

The truth is that virtually all military analyzes of the conflict with Ukraine indicate that Russia is not even in a position to control all of Ukraine. Much less of taking the war to NATO territory, triggering a nuclear conflict.

The cost of losing Ukraine

O Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an institution created in 2007 in Washington to help improve the United States' ability to execute military operations, respond to new threats and achieve its strategic objectives, promoted two studies on “The High Cost of Losing Ukraine”, published in December last year.

“The United States has much more at stake in Russia’s war in Ukraine than people realize.” Russia's conquest of Ukraine, says the document, written by Frederick W. Kagan, Kateryna Stepanenko, Mitchell Belcher, Noel Mikkelsen and Thomas Bergeron, “could bring the battered but triumphant Russian army to NATO's Black Sea border. to the Arctic Ocean.”

Contributing to Ukraine's defense with military support “is much better and cheaper for the United States than allowing its defeat,” they say. “We argue strongly that American values ​​are in line with American interests in Ukraine.”

The reference to the risks of bringing the Russian military to the NATO border draws attention. One of the fundamental reasons why the Russians explain their intervention in Ukraine is precisely NATO's advance towards its borders since the end of the Cold War, despite agreements to prevent it, which Gorbachev discussed with Germany and the United States. United when Germany unified.

The more than 200 billion dollars invested by the United States alone in this war leave no doubt about what is at stake. To these resources must be added those of European nations, mainly Germany and England. As the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said, “you defend our own security on Europe’s eastern borders.”

On April 23, in Warsaw, Sunak announced his country's biggest ever military aid to Ukraine. With a package valued at 620 million dollars, including more than 400 vehicles, 60 boats and an undetermined number of Storm Shadow long-range missiles, the British intend to help further weaken the Russian fleet in Sevastopol and attack Crimea.

As a war enthusiast points out in the pages of the Spanish daily El País, the “global affairs” correspondent, “Europe burns with war in Ukraine, and in the face of an aggressive Russia, many are increasing defense spending.” We are a long way from the times of a journalist like Pilar Bonet.

Create a “horrible” world

Nataliya Bogayova, in her work for ISW on “The Military Threat and Beyond”, argues that, if Russia wins in Ukraine, it will become clear to the United States' adversaries that they can be influenced, making them abandon their interests in a fight that, in their opinion, could be won. A Russian victory, the study says, could encourage others to challenge them, making their adversaries believe they can break their will to defend their strategic interests. Create a “horrible” world, based on the atrocities committed by the Russians in the war.

It is no longer a question of the Russian threat to invade Europe, but of the risk that a victorious Russia will prove determined to weaken the positions of the United States. Supporting Ukraine would not only prevent the end of an independent nation, “but would also deal an asymmetrical blow to the Russian alliance and the anti-American coalition.”

In her conclusions, Nataliya Bogayova states that a Russian victory in Ukraine “could create a world fundamentally opposed to the interests and values ​​of the United States.”

One of the problems with this argument is that it was the United States that brought the war to the entire world, that has been at war for decades, whose atrocities in Vietnam, or Iraq, in the torture camps in that country and in Cuba, have left images that are impossible to erase.

Of jungles and gardens

For Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Moscow's closest ally, Ukraine is a military stage where the new world order is, in part, decided. In a speech before the People's Assembly, his country's parliament, on April 24, Lukashenko said that this is the last confrontation between east and west and, although neither side has proven stronger, the current world order will not go away. unharmed by this conflict.

Two years after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Borrell, speaking to the Ukrainian Rada, said: “The natural state of things remains the struggle between the great powers. In today’s world, geopolitics is resurfacing and Russia has not forgotten its own imperial illusion.” “The European Union is no longer here to make peace between us, but to deal with challenges on our borders.”

We have to support Ukraine “whatever the cost”, do whatever it takes for Ukraine to win, said Borrell. Those who say that Putin must be appeased are wrong. “Instead of seeking appeasement, we should remember the lessons we have learned since 2022, avoiding repeating mistakes and redoubling our efforts in areas where we have been successful.”

It is true that the European Union is not NATO. But NATO has become the armed wing of the European Union, led by the United States. And, in the war scenario, it is also its main foreign policy instrument. Even before the war, diplomacy was practically excluded from the table, if we consider that even the Minsk Agreements, theoretically negotiated to end the conflict, in 2014 and 2015, were nothing more than a device to buy time and arm Ukraine, as recognized by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, who were supposed to serve as guarantors of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

Bringing war everywhere

As Borrell said, instead of seeking appeasement, prepare for war: “we urgently need to reactivate the European defense industry. The production capacity of our industry has already increased by 40% since the beginning of the war. By the end of the year, we will reach a production capacity of 1,4 million ammunition. We will have delivered more than a million shells to Ukraine by the end of the year.”

In September last year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was invited by Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to speak at the Russell C. Leffingwell Lecture in Washington.

Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that supporting Ukraine “is something we do because it is in the interest of our security.” Asked about NATO's interest in opening a contact office in Japan, he explained that security is not regional, but global. In his opinion, a Russian victory in Ukraine would encourage Beijing to use force. To achieve this, they are strengthening their alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

During questions, Lucy Komisar, an independent journalist in New York, referred to the declassified memo from a meeting between then-Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, in which they promised not to advance NATO “one step further.” centimeter” to the east. And when that began to happen, she added, “George Kennan, one of America's most brilliant diplomats, the architect of Washington's vision of the Cold War, predicted the disaster that enlargement would bring. Which came true, added Lucy Komisar, who asked Jens Stoltenberg if he was satisfied with the results.

“I'm not satisfied,” said Jens Stoltenberg. “But it’s Russia’s fault, which decided to invade another country.” “And whatever your opinion on NATO enlargement, it does not give you the right to invade another country.”

Jens Stoltenberg defends the right of each nation to decide whether or not to join NATO, without Moscow having the right to veto this decision. Stoltenberg is NATO's secretary general and his role is not to decide what each country will do, but what NATO should do, according to its historical commitments and the political scenario in which it operates. But Stoltenberg is not Kennan, the North American diplomat who glimpsed the Cold War scenario and knew how to see the post-Cold War scenario, which is very different from the confrontation in which Washington and its European allies arrived, which Stoltenberg serves and in whose war bet.

Over the past decade, NATO has deployed the largest buildup of collective defense in a generation, he says. “We strengthened our military presence in Eastern Europe and increased defense spending. With the accession of Finland – and Sweden – NATO is getting bigger and stronger.”

He concludes: “I hope that NATO will confirm our unwavering support for Ukraine, continue to strengthen our own defense and enhance our cooperation with our European and Indo-Pacific partners to defend the rules-based global order.” A system that “is being challenged like never before”.

NATO prepares for war – what war?

Vladimir Putin asked who sets these rules, directly challenging the system, Borrell said at his conference at the European Diplomatic Academy in Bruges on October 13, 2022. In his opinion, Europe is a garden, where “everything works”. “Take care of the garden, be good gardeners!” “Much of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle invades the garden. The gardeners must take care of it,” he added, referring to the Academy students.

Defend a rules-based global order? Yes, but which ones? The ones in Borrell's garden?

For President Lukashenko, “world order will not emerge unscathed from the current conflict. When Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, that order was shattered. Its reconstruction will depend on the outcome of this war. But it will no longer be the order inherited from the Cold War. This order was blown up.”

For now, the West is betting on war. With the approval of 60,8 billion dollars for Ukraine by the United States Congress, Joe Biden announced that weapons will begin arriving just hours later. They are part of the package approved by Congress, which will be added to the ATACMS, long-range missiles, already secretly supplied to Ukraine, with the special objective of attacking Crimea.

“European leaders are not discussing the risk of a new war on the continent. They are preparing for it”, is the title of the article published by Bloomberg on April 24th.

Sunak talks about putting the English defense industry on a “war footing”. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Europe is in a “pre-war” situation. The president of the European Commission, German Ursula von del Leyen, cites the “Finnish model” of civil defense as an example. Finland's new president, right-wing Alexander Stubb, says he is willing to accept American nuclear weapons on his territory. Finland needs nuclear deterrence. This is the best way to ensure your safety, he believes. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tells his parliament that Russia should fear NATO, which could defeat it on the battlefield.

NATO makes a show of force in the shadow of Russia's war, says New York Times. Around 90 soldiers are training between Lithuania and Poland, on the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, for a war between the great powers.

According to Russian Defense Minister Serguei Shoigu, NATO already has up to 33 troops, around 300 tanks and more than 800 other armored vehicles near Russia's borders.

What should the world do?

What war are Sikorski and his NATO partners dreaming of?

Europe is preparing for another war, and what should the rest of the world do? Leave your hands free to play with the luck of the world? So that they take us to the Third World War?

What war will this be? To defend whose interests? An increasingly conservative Europe talks about war as if between the second (which they also waged against Russia) and a possible third, the world had not been populated with nuclear weapons.

The irresponsibility of Borrell's “gardeners” seems to have no limits. But today's world is no longer the world of World War II. Therefore, attempts to finish what the Germans failed to do more than 80 years ago have only one fate, if the rest of the world fails to tie their hands.

As the Brazilian government's advisor for international affairs, former foreign minister Celso Amorim, recalled, a security system based on military alliances led us to war in the past. Speaking at a meeting of the Russian Security Council on April 24, Celso Amorim said that in today's world, peace requires a robust and legitimate order, not a rules-based order as its foundation.

Considering what the conflict represents for the West and Russia, a total military victory for anyone is unlikely. The only possible negotiated solution is one that leaves no clear winners and losers. It was the construction of the Common House that began this debate about European security at the end of the Cold War. A solution that the Western elite preferred to discard and that cannot be built with the conservatives who currently govern Europe. A scenario in which Russia is not the enemy to be defeated, nor the West the executor of Operation Barbarossa, into which it has become. That is, a reality more aligned with the new world order and less with the dreams of the “end of history” on which the post-Cold War scenario was intended to be built.

When this accommodation is achieved, the world can then face the real challenge on which the new international order will be built. An order in which we will have to recognize the decadence of the West, the role of China, the role of the global South and that of a Europe no longer subject to an extreme right, as it is today, nor to NATO, which is an instrument of security policy of the United States and its most conservative elites.

The other alternative…

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). Author, among other books, of Political crisis of the modern world (uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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