The West must treat Russia with greater respect

Impressions of the meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club

by Alexander Rahr*

The Valdai Discussion Club has existed for seventeen years. International and Russian political scientists meet there to discuss the world situation. Vladimir Putin has attended all these meetings and has always answered the questions from interested participants. The results of the Valdai Discussion Club meetings are usually reported intensively, only the German media keep a dead silence about the meetings – they prevent the Valdai Discussion Club from being noticed by the public. They do this despite the fact that numerous renowned German experts are also involved in the work of the discussion club.
  This year the meeting of the Waldai Club took place on 21 and 22 October in Moscow under strict hygiene measures. The author was the only foreign participant who could come to Russia from Berlin with a special permit. For three days there were intensive discussions, topics were climate and environmental protection, the global economic crisis, questions of the future world order, aspects of the Asian security architecture and industrialisation 4.0; highly interesting were the lectures of two leading Russian virologists on the applied vaccines in Russia. It was quite astonishing to hear how Western politicians and the media are trying hard to denounce the success of the vaccination campaign in Russia. Russia itself wants to sell the vaccines worldwide, but is denigrated as an unpleasant competitor.
  On the second day of the conference, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin spoke about digitisation. He said that Russia would soon cease to be a mere exporter of raw materials and modernise its economy with the help of new information technologies. Successes were already visible to the naked eye. Mischustin assured the West that Russia was striving for economic cooperation.
  At the end of the Valdai event Putin discussed for three hours with the guests. His main statements were:

  1. Russia is part of Europe, but not part of the West. Russia repudiates Western attempts to change Russia from outside.
  2. Russia is not averse to entering into a military alliance with China. Moscow has nothing against further nuclear rearmament in China either. The West should disarm.
  3. In the case of the poisoned Alexei Navalny, Berlin had behaved unfriendly towards Moscow. Russia was prepared to investigate, but demanded access to the poison samples taken from Navalny.
  4. There had not been a collapse in prices on the oil and gas market, and Russian energy exports were functioning well. In addition, Russia is now the world’s largest cereal exporter. Western sanctions no longer mattered to the country.
  5. Putin recalled his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, where he warned the West against a NATO enlargement. His ministers had considered his statements at that time as too confrontational.

Putin contradicted Western analyses that he wanted to drive a wedge into transatlantic relations, but criticised Europe’s bondage to the USA, especially in the case of Nord Stream 2. Germany, Putin said, was not an advocate of Russian interests in the West. In 1990, Russia, in particular, had done more than the West to promote German reunification. Germany should therefore have taken a positive view of the Crimean people’s petition for a referendum on joining Russia.
  The author was able to hold numerous talks in Moscow. He is convinced that a return to normality in bilateral relations is not possible today. The West and Russia have been divided by the many conflicts. Even after the end of the Corona pandemic, Russia does not really want to open itself to the West. First, the West must treat Russia with greater respect. Most political scientists in Russia have not excluded a further dramatic deterioration of relations with the West. Western democracy has little chance in today’s Russia, they say, and the alternative to Putin was rather nationalism.
  The author was surprised how much the temporary break in contacts and connections during the Corona crisis had damaged bilateral relations. They cannot be repaired overnight. The main culprit for the break in relations is seen by those who spoke out as being the USA. They would keep the Germans, who actually did not want to start a dispute with Moscow, on a short leash. •

Source: of 26 October 2020. Reprint with kind permission.

* Alexander Rahr is a German management consultant, Eastern European historian, political scientist and publicist. From 1977 to 1985 he was a member of the research project “Soviet Elite” of the Federal Institute for East European and International Studies (BIOst). From 1982 to 1994 he worked as an analyst for Radio Liberty and the Rand Corporation think tank. For eighteen years he worked for the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and was programme director of the Berthold-Beitz-Centre of the German Council on Foreign Relations with a focus on Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia until he moved to the business world in May 2012. Rahr sat in the steering committee of the Petersburg Dialogue from 2004 to 2015. Since 2012 he has been project manager of the German-Russian Forum. There he is in charge of the Potsdam meetings and the working group Common Space Lisbon-Vladivostok. 2012–2015 he was Senior Advisor of the Wintershall Holding GmbH and advisor to the President of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce Abroad AHK. He is a member of the Russian Valdai Discussion Club. Since 2014 he was deputy chairman, then member of the advisory board of the Association of Russian Business in Germany. Since 2015 he has been an advisor for EU affairs of Gazprom in Brussels.

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