Blog Post

The Russian Crisis and the West

The problem of double standards among the political elite.
A few days ago Professor James D. Bindenagel, former US Ambassador (1996/97) in Berlin, spoke about the “Challenges and possibilities for the transatlantic relations in the 21rst century” at an informal “pro-Atlantic” (Mid Atlantic Club) gathering in Bonn. The Ambassador focused his remarks on the new threats confronting the transatlantic relations, such as the Russia- Ukraine crisis, which - as he categorically stated in line with the various statements made at the recent Munich Security Conference - “can’t be solved militarily.” 

Foto: Bindenagel (rechts) mit Abbas Araghchi (2006)

Bindenagel (rechts) mit Abbas Araghchi (2006)

Professor Bindenagel, who served between 1989/90 as Deputy Ambassador at the US  Embassy in East Berlin and who from 1992/94 was director of the Central European Department in the State Department, is presently the Henry Kissinger Professor for International Security and Governance at Bonn university. His main thesis was that the transatlantic “Community of values” (the defense of the dignity of man, freedom and democracy) “must be reaffirmed as response to the new challenges which we are facing”, including the challenges of the Russia –Ukraine crisis, the emergence of IS terrorism in the Mideast and the need to defend western values (rule of law, the principle of sovereignty) and a transatlantic free trade agreement TTIP.


Cooperation with Russia is needed

Bindenagel called for a new “Charter of Paris revision Conference”, which would include  the participation of foreign ministers, heads of states and the OSCE in order to find a way out of the impasse of the Russia /Ukraine crisis. We need the “cooperation” with Russia on Iran and on nuclear questions, as well as confront the IS, the Ambassador stated. He reviewed some of the strategic “mistakes” which were committed by the West in respect to Russia. An example was the Western proposal to have Georgia join NATO, which was also proposed to Ukraine. This, Bindenagel underlined, was understood on the Russian side as an affront.

Concerning the ongoing investigations into the NSA affair, Bindenagel stated that this had caused certain irritations among some transatlantic partners of the US, such as in Germany. The period after 9/11 had made clear the need for functioning secret services which should fight the threat of terrorism. This however according to Bindenagel, should not mean the spying of the US on its own population. Reflecting about the subjective factor of politics and the effect which the US policy has on the American population, the Ambassador referred to a recent German Marshall Fund poll, according to which 53% of the American Population (10% increase within one year) opposes Obama's foreign interventions, while in Germany 70% of the population rejects Germany taking more global political responsibility. The ambassador expressed however optimism by stating that in light of the new challenges, he believed in the viability and strength of the transatlantic “Community of principles and values”. While he did express doubts about the proposal to create a “common economic space between the EU and the Eurasian Union from Vladivostok to Lisbon”, he expressed some optimism concerning the coming into being of TTIP.
Skepticism concerning the transatlantic “community of values”

In the discussion which followed skepticism was expressed by some members the audience. Among the concerns was the view of a European Parliament deputy who had some doubts concerning the “viability” of a “Community of principles in transatlantic relations”. He pointed to a certain “double standard” on the US side, exemplified by Guantanamo, the use of torture, and the 2003 Iraq war which had been based on wrong facts. Another discussant spoke about the “violation of certain principles of the Atlantic Charter” which in the 1940ies had affirmed the right of nations to self–determination, including religious freedom and the freedom of use of language for ethnic groups. This however was put into question by last year’s Kiev government decision that passed a law banning the use of Russian language for the Russian ethnic community in Ukraine.

Another contribution focused on the double meaning of the term “democracy” in the US , which, as the discussant put it, was put into question by the Koch brothers, two of the richest US oligarchs who decided to channel $ 1 Billion into the republican electoral campaign, in order to bring about a regime change in the US.  Lastly the discussion about the NSA affair, the spying on political friends (Germany) which - as one seasoned participant illustrated - can be compared to a football team playing against another where the member of one football team attacks members of his own defense team by kicking them down.

Henry Kissinger’s critical view

The event demonstrated the necessity for frank discussions on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than engaging in empty rhetoric about the “community of values”. In mid-February, 91 year old Dr. Henry Kissinger gave an interview to the Swiss magazine “Weltwoche” in which he emphasized that he considered the “Ukraine crisis as a tragedy”. He pointed to some obvious mistakes which were committed by the West, including the fact that the Ukraine association negotiations with the EU were turned into a dominant “domestic” issue; the financial conditions for joining the EU association were so harsh, Kissinger stated, that Russia saw a chance to offer credits to the Ukraine. At that point the Europeans panicked and when Russia proposed triangular negotiations, these were in turn rejected by the Europeans.


the future of Russia, the Ukraine, Europe and US is at stake

The big “sin” of the state leaders, as Kissinger stated, was that nobody saw what was at stake and said “wait a moment, the future of Russia, the Ukraine, Europe and US is at stake. Where are we heading to?  “I don’t justify annexation of Crimea”, Kissinger said.  “This is not the issue. But the point is that the West missed the chance by not understanding up to this day that this crisis could have been used to keep Russia within the community rather than driving Russia into isolation. But with this opinion I stand alone. What is instead needed is a conceptual discussion with President Putin.”