A German defense minister touting the delivery of 5,000 helmets as a clear sign that Germany is on Ukraine’s side. A British Foreign Secretary who does not know where the Baltic States are, a domestically scandalous “trumpy” British Prime Minister who wants to consolidate his own foreign policy defense format with Poland and Ukraine. The search for Olaf (German Chancellor), who allegedly went into hiding, the insistence on integer demands from German arms deliveries. Another French president who has been scratched domestically and is trying to work out a solution to the conflict that will go down in world history, a former German Chancellor who accuses Ukraine of saber-rattling and the most well-known member of the Bundestag from the LINKE (left party) who speaks of Russia’s completely justified security demands.
These and many other examples, and not least the change of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to head the Norwegian central bank in the midst of the crisis, are burned to the boil in the state-controlled Russian media and its social networks.
Basically quite simple – it turns everything that is said about the conflict in the western world upside down: Russia is the victim and the USA/NATO the aggressor. No one plans to attack Ukraine, but there are clear, fully legitimate state security interests that must be enforced in any case. Basically anything that somehow fits into this general line can be published.
In this castration of media diversity, those who can market themselves within this line with their own information and entertainment value, win. A striking example of this is the well-known TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov. His Sunday evening talk show, which gets high ratings, is something like the Russian counterpart to western political satire. Not only does it provide the viewer with facts by showing images from the international media world, it also carries him/her away with its excessive emotional indignation into a personal attack and at the same time implements an emotionally charged defense package with its cynical know-it-all counter-questions.
Here is a small comparatively harmless but easily understandable example after the excerpt of a press conference with Jen Psaki, the spokeswoman for the White House, has been faded in:
Another such propagandistic survivor of the Russian-speaking social media world, the Ukrainian exile blogger Anatolij Sharij, known for his criticism of corruption and ultra-nationalism against Ukrainian government officials, takes the same line from another quarter. In his video blog he “explains” how Kuleba (Ukrainian Foreign Minister) and Zelensky are fighting with Germany. Numerous statements from NATO countries are displayed that Ukraine’s admission to NATO is not on the agenda. “So why do they constantly mess with Germany alone? … “but the fact that they chose these Baerbock (German Secretary of State) for this fight and not all the others, that also says something about the courage of these people (Ukrainian government).”
So was/is the Russian military maneuver on the Ukrainian border nothing more than a diversionary maneuver for its own population, as claimed by Navalny?
Yes, it was a diversionary tactic of central importance to Putin’s policy, which, moreover, would not have worked just a few years ago. For many years, freedom of speech and freedom of the press were curtailed bit by bit, and at the same time the access points for Putin’s general line were expanded.
The average Russian citizen has long felt degraded and humiliated by the US and the EU. And now its territorial legal claims are being attacked. Especially for the older generation, the territorial size of Russia has an identifying meaning. The collapse of the Soviet system was not least due to a collapse of the economic system. After seventy years in the Soviet Union, the citizens there had become beggars compared to the western industrialized countries. This anguish was sublimated by territorial size and world power position.
After the Gentle Revolution, people had hoped to be welcomed with open arms and respected by the unknown, affluent society behind the Iron Curtain. Instead, they were met with disinterest and felt treated as second-class citizens.
As early as 2007, in his well-known speech in Munich, Putin made it clear that Russia would continue to hold its position as a world power and that a mono polar position of world power for the USA would be unrealistic and dangerous. Here he already described the eastward expansion of NATO as a clear and thankless provocation of Russian security interests.
The fact that this speech met with open rejection of this position in the West did not only hit the Russian hardliners. Many Russians still remember the headline of the Los Angeles Times at the time: “The louse that roared”.
And even if Russia remained the largest country in the world without the former Soviet republics, the Ukraine can of course not be compared with the Siberian hinterland. With France, it is the largest country in Europe, for Russia it is the front door to Europe and thus an integral part of this Russian imperial pride.
Added to this is the close historical connection with the Ukrainians, which has been conveyed in history books for centuries as a kind of holy trinity between Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians.
The Russians still give him credit for the fact that Putin managed to “save the Russian jewel Crimea” in 2014. Against this background, his popularity ratings skyrocketed from 60 to 89 percent at the time.
These and similar typical sensitivities of the average Russian citizen of a population of 145 million could be played up and down daily with the “war maneuvers”, consolidated and expanded. This also applies to the close alliance with itself rather unpleasant China.
However, it is only effective under one axiom: Russia does not intend to take Ukraine militarily.
But did the threatening war scenario only serve as a diversionary maneuver to consolidate the country and the elites? Should “this nonsense”, as Navalny says, “simply be ignored”?
No, that has nothing to do with high diplomacy and it does not reflect the seriousness of the situation, either in domestic or foreign policy. One can certainly say a lot about Putin, but not that he is not an excellent domestic and foreign policy strategist, not a “global player”.
As early as 1996, together with the Shanghai five, he and China laid the foundation for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization/SCO, today the world’s largest regional organization, and the economic alliance with the BRICS countries has existed since 2011.
While Russia and China alone are almost twice the size of the whole of Europe and the USA together with more than twice the population, these political and economic alliance countries (SCO/BRICS) cover well over a third of the entire surface of the earth and represent almost the half of the world population. And that without the numerous indirect partners and applicants for membership of the SCO, for example just last year Iran applied for full membership.
So when the Russian and Chinese presidents use the international media presence of the Olympic Games to solemnly present their solidarity against NATO to the world public, then the extreme alertness of the democratic states in the North Pacific and their statement that “Putin wants nothing less than a rewrite of the rules of the international order” seems to be more serious in terms of realpolitik than the raised index finger of the German FDP finance minister with “the leaders of the Russian people must abide by the house rules in Europe”.
And yesterday, with the big pictures of his signing of the recognition, Putin showed clearly what he thinks of the EU’s house rules.
Is there any diplomacy at all? Let’s get back to Putin’s incisive “Munich Speech” from 2007.
It is quite clear that he already carried out this “recast” of the rules of the international order here 15 years ago.
From a Russian point of view, Putin was already banging on the table in a certain way back then and defending the humiliated pride of the great nation.
He has attacked the USA’s claim to world power, the hypocrisy and the aggressive missionary drive of western democracies, NATO and the OSCE and postulated that Russia has always been an independent world power center and will remain so.
Very banal and succinct, he portrayed the world as one big cake that the United States claimed for itself, which was completely unrealistic and unacceptable given future global political developments.
But despite all the clarity of Putin’s words and the unique international representation of foreign policy security and defense experts, his speech at the time initially caused great confusion. What exactly had he said now, why had he said it and how did he mean it?
And still today, almost 15 years later to the day, when just after the American civilians, the German civilians are being asked by their countries to leave Ukraine and a civilian population of 750,000 people from the two self-proclaimed Donbass People’s Republics to go to Russia “in Security”, even today, after yesterday’s pathetic speech and recognition of the separatist Donbass republics, the West lacks the mental disposition to fully grasp these events.
After Putin’s Munich speech, even the then NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reacted to the phobic indignation about NATO’s eastward expansion rather from a hollow stomach: How can one worry “when democracy and the rule of law are moving closer to the borders?” asked he.
But this is exactly where he got to the heart of the matter, because he is talking about democracy and the rule of law in the same breath.
A good century later, are we in a situation similar to that of the war ministers after the assassination of the heir to the throne in 1914?
Of course, that can hardly be compared, in Western Europe after several generations of a “99 balloon policy, there are no more Ministers of War and no one jets”.
In his speech, Putin outlined the danger of a monopolistic American world in which “only one master, one sovereign” rules. Also in this speech he defines democracy, which “is known to mean the rule of the majority, taking into account the interests and opinions of the minority.”
No wonder such talk of householders, sovereigns and majority rule give us a headache. If we’re talking about sovereigns at all, then the sovereign is the people, even if the Queen’s 70th jubilee is sure to be gloriously celebrated in Britain this year. When we talk about democracy, we take the rule of law so naturally that we can no longer tell the two terms apart.
Yet our current diplomatic efforts are focused exclusively on the “landlord, the sovereign” of Russia, and Navalny’s comparison with a “frightened schoolboy who was bullied by a high school student” cannot be entirely dismissed.
Admittedly, the NATO member countries quickly consolidated their position on this threatening military maneuver and agreed on a clear, smallest common mantra: “With the invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine, a border line has been crossed for NATO, which results in very tough sanctions for Russia”.
But at the same time it is said that Ukraine’s admission to NATO is not on the agenda and that no NATO troops will fight in Ukraine. With the very tough sanctions that have been “put on the table”, the SWIFT exclusion, the freezing of capital, especially in the London oligarch oasis and last but not least the German trump card North Stream 2, have long since been played out.
A cartoon on a well-known Russian blogger website shows Putin standing next to Lavrov, whispering under his hand: “If you start on the sanctions, try not to grin.”
It is not for nothing that Putin explicitly pointed out in his speech 15 years ago that “In terms of parity purchasing power, the combined GDP of India and China is already greater than that of the USA. The equally calculated GDP of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – exceeds the GDP of the EU. According to the experts, this development will continue. There is no doubt that the economic potential of new growth centers around the world will inevitably also translate into political influence and strengthen multipolarity.”