With a view to a very bloody civil and colonial war on all sides, in his preface to his Algerian Chronicles the French humanist Albert Camus commits intellectuals to “seek by their own lights to make out the respective limits of force and justice in each camp. It is to explain the meaning of words in such a way as to sober minds and calm fanaticisms, even if this means working against the grain.”
The former Russia correspondent of German TV ARD Gabriele Krone-Schmalz who is a profound expert on Russia fulfills this commitment with her new book “Eiszeit – Wie Russland dämonisiert wird und warum das so gefährlich ist” (Ice Age – How Russia is demonised and why this is dangerous). She explains the meaning of words, she tries to sober minds by presentating facts and thus she deprives the fanaticism of our current intellectual and political hardliners in relation to Russia of their basis.
Ms Krone-Schmalz identifies a “poisoned atmosphere” in German-speaking media when it comes to the relation between Russia and Germany and the West and how to face this important country. Whippers in media and politics are firing more and more sharply against Russia and its political leadership, triggering, as it seems, unscrupulously a spiral of violence.
The West and Russia – how to move on?
In this situation, Ms Krone-Schmalz asks herself and the reader various questions: “How should we move on? More and more NATO troops and heavy military equipment are moving closer to the borders of Russia in order to send a clear signal to Moscow and to meet the security needs of Poland and the Baltic States? A replay of the Cold War? What about the fear of people in the West and Russia of a hot war? Does anyone want it? Could it just happen? Because, in an atmosphere of sabre-rattling, misunderstandings create a momentum of their own that no longer can be captured? The ‘wartime generation’ is slowly dying out, and I have the impression, so does the awareness of the fragility of peace.”
The author wants to contribute to “de-escalate, to mediate, to put oneself in the position of others to get a better understanding of the other’s actions and to be able to better assess the consequences of the own actions”. Admonishingly, she notes that this has nothing to do with weakness, “but with political farsightedness, human greatness, and with the very Christian values that so many speak for”.
After these introductory words expressing her concern for peace and understanding, Ms Krone-Schmalz does the best she can do in this situation: she relies on the reason of the citizens and provides the reader with detailed factual knowledge that she can prove at every point aiming at “making it hard to ‘hardliners’ who do not permit another than their own position”.
No thinking in black and white terms
Ms Krone-Schmalz never falls into a dichotomous thinking in black and white terms, but she knows that analysing facts always means making visible the shades of gray. Step by step she illustrates the development of relations between Russia and the West in the last two decades since the collapse of the Soviet empire. We have been following many events in the media, often leaving questions unanswered. Ms Krone-Schmalz succeeds in embedding these events in a historical and political context.
Georgia, Ukraine and Syria
The military confrontation with Georgia, the obscure events on the Kiev Maidan, the development of the Syrian crisis, with the West hastily dictating Assad has to go, despite a considerable ungoing support in the Syrian population – she confronts the common narrative of an expansively aggressive Russia under the leadership of its President Vladimir Putin, with a different, a de-escalating and de-demonising view, and she proves it piece by piece.
There is no evidence for the perception that Russia were aggressive
First of all, Ms Krone-Schmalz raises the question as to what NATO’s perception of Russia as aggressive and concretely threatening the Baltic states and Poland is based upon. Here she draws upon sources from transatlantic networks that show a different picture: “A paper from the “Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, SWP” (Foundation for Science and Politics) analysed this question shortly before the Warsaw NATO summit and concluded that there was no concrete evidence. […] According to it, the threat scenarios arise from strategic military planning games […]. The SWP paper considers a Russian attack on the Baltic states […] to be less realistic.” The paper also notes that observation flights and inspections under the umbrella of the OSCE reveal no evidence of a Russian concentration of troops at the borders of the NATO states.
Who is threatening whom? This question also arises in view of the massively higher military spending of NATO countries compared to Russia. Ms Krone-Schmalz proves that in 2016 alone, European NATO members spent nearly four times as much on military as Russia – not to mention the USA! All these figures speak for themselves.
The issue of NATO’s missile defence shield
More precisely, Ms Krone-Schmalz discusses the developments around the so-called missile defense shield, which NATO has intended to deploy for years in Eastern Europe on the border with Russia – argueing that there was a threat posed by Iran. For years this process had been a controversial issue between NATO and Russia. Russia perceived its nuclear counter-nuclear capacity to be under threat by the construction of the Western missile shield and began to develop its own missile defense and to deploy rockets in Kaliningrad. But then, unexpectedly in summer 2015 the nuclear deal with Iran was concluded. This considerably reduced the threat posed by Iranian missiles. Actually a reason to relax. But what did the West? In December 2015, “the base in Romania was put into operation, and in May 2016, work began on the base in Poland. What should be the effect of this move on Moscow? The Iranian threat practically gone, but the missile defense shield is still needed. Of course, it is not directed against Russia, but actually, against whom?”
Raising concerns with regard to 2018
These developments raise concerns with regard to 2018. Then, the missile defense system in Poland is due to be put into operation: “In any case, in 2018, the world will be heading for a highly dangerous conflict that may quickly get out of hand. And all that because of long-range missiles and nuclear warheads that Iran does not have. Is this really inescapable?” This question is to be posed. In addition, it would be worth considering who actually has an interest in further fueling the conflict. Cui bono? The people in Germany and Russia obviously do not want it. Ms Krone-Schmalz quotes the result of a survey from 2016, according to which 64% of German citizens agree with former foreign minister Steinmeier warning against increasing “sabre-rattling” in politics and calling for a change in direction.
A majority of Germans against war course of hardliners
This result gives cause for optimism, as it shows that despite the media’s one-sidedness a majority of the German population does not support the hardliners’ war course. However, at the same time the author rightly raises the question why it is the case that a majority in our democracy hardly finds voice in our media.
There are many more examples in the book. They show that the idea of Russia pursuing an aggressive policy of expansion is extremly erroneous. Russia is acting from a strategically defensive position.
Plea for a new policy of detente …
Therefore, Ms Krone-Schmalz urgently and rightly makes a plea for a policy of detente and of confidence-building. Here, the author follows the successful Ostpolitik of the Brandt era in Germany. What would it take to do that? Ms Krone-Schmalz notes that a policy of detente and confidence-building basically requires the ability to recognise as legitimate other perspectives than one’s own. That should be possible for an enlightened Europe, the reader wonders.
… however, the ability of the West to compromises is waning
However, Ms Krone-Schmalz observes that in the West this very ability is waning: “The West is no longer able to make real compromises because it considers its own worldview as without alternative. This has something to do with missionary zeal which has always been the best recipe for causing major disasters.”
However, we could do different as well. Ms Krone-Schmalz outlines in a quite concrete manner what means “different” by showing that there is always scope for peaceful solution if only the will to do so exists. Let us mention just two aspects. For example, as part of détente policy the author suggests to withdraw prospects of accession to NATO for Ukraine and Georgia – something that French President Emmanuel Macron seems to have at least considered. Germany could play a peacemaking role and support such a project.
Proposal for the Crimea issue
Ms Krone-Schmalz also outlines an interesting attempt to solve the Crimea issue. “What if Crimea was declared mandated by UN, it remained under international law with Ukraine, but Russia was entrusted with the administration […]” and then later on, the UN could hold a referendum? Why not thinking through such ideas, picking them up, discussing them in panels and so helping to disentangle the grim situation?
The last chapter of the book is entitled “Think for yourself”: “I consider it important that ‘responsible citizens’ remain sceptical with regard to far too platitudinous truths and far too smooth dividing lines between good and evil. Think for yourself. But don’t get discouraged by terms like conspiracy theories, populism and propaganda.” In addition to outer freedom, this requires the inner freedom to “feel free enough to use one’s own mind without channeled guidance from others and without approval, whether one may think so […].” After such ideas isn’t it obvious to conclude the readable and informative book with the motto of the Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant: “Sapere aude! Have courage to make use of your own reason!”
Ms Krone-Schmalz shows us the way. •
(Translation Current Concerns)