Best-selling German historian: “The sanctions are a catastrophe” and when based on Minsk, are “an unbearable political hypocrisy”


January 29, 2018 – Fort Russ News –

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– Interview of Professor Krone-Schmalz conducted by  , in, translated by Tom Winter –

Professor Gabriele Krone Schmalz, former Russia correspondent of the ARD. Screen capture from Sputnik-Deutschland

Gabriele Krone-Schmalz: “In the US, a Russia hysteria has broken out”

Gabriele Krone-Schmalz is a German historian, journalist and author. From 1987 to 1991 she was ARD correspondent in Moscow. In the interview, Krone-Schmalz talks about her new book Ice Age, and the relationship between Russia and the West.
[Buy Now: Ice Age: How Russia is demonized and why it is so dangerous]

 In your opinion, what is the reason why Russia is being demonized in the West?

Gabriele Krone-Schmalz: For one thing, many ideas and patterns of thought that date back to the Cold War are still very stable. On the other hand, a simple good-bad scheme helps to better orient in a world that is becoming increasingly complicated.

What is behind the term “antirussianism” that you use in your current book “Ice Age”?

Krone-Schmalz: I coined anti-Russianism because, unlike anti-Americanism, the term actually does not exist. Google Search asks if you’re mistyping and mean anti-racism instead. If there were the term antirussianism in common usage, then some topics might be judged differently. 

You write that Russia is not pursuing an aggressive policy of expansion but a strategic defensive. What do you mean by that?

Krone-Schmalz: So what developments have there been since the collapse of the Soviet Union? Just looking at the map shows that you can not really claim that Moscow has pursued an aggressive policy. I always find it important to change the perspective and to look at things from a different position. But so far, hardly anyone in the West cares what interests of Russia are being affected by Western politics. Russian concerns are not taken seriously, but put in pigeonholes, which are called “exaggerating”, “propaganda”, “political power games”. But if you analyze the geopolitical situation without being biased ideologically, then there is nothing else to say than to establish that Russia’s actions are not expansive, but that they emerge from a strategic defensive. That can be seem aggressive, but that’s another thing.

What interests is Russia pursuing in the occupied territories in Donbass?

Krone-Schmalz: The Sword of Damocles, so to speak, is the still existing NATO perspective for Ukraine. The fact that Chancellor Merkel and the then-French President Hollande spoke against it in 2008 is all well and good, but in the corresponding NATO papers this perspective is still there, and President Poroshenko is actively seeking membership. Of course, this is not in the interest of Russia. 

And now look at the situation in the spring of 2014 from a Russian perspective: In Kiev sat a leadership that came to power not through democracy, but by a coup, and whose staff consisted of hard NATO advocates. The east of Ukraine has always been a region neglected by Kiev. The people there were primarily interested more in autonomous rights; the desire for secession came later. There is no question that Russia has exploited this mixed situation, but before you become a judge, you should consider the starting position.

Critics accuse Russia of cravings for neo-imperial expansion. Are the concerns about a Russian invasion in Poland or in the Baltic totally unjustified? 

Krone-Schmalz: I understand these concerns from a historical perspective. I understand it well, if Poland or the Baltics are afraid and say: “For God’s sake, I do not want it all over again!” Only, that’s no basis for a real policy. Of course, Russia could theoretically quickly overrun these states. But in actual practice it would be suicide. So what should be the interest of Russia? Why should Putin be so attached to the periphery, instead of concentrating on revamping his own country with all its problems? Especially since the US and NATO are globally superior in military terms. I find the idea that Russia might attack Poland or the Baltic States, NATO countries, mind you, completely absurd.

Putin said in 2005 that the end of the Soviet Union was the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” What could he have meant by this statement?

Krone-Schmalz: Good that you address that because it is often quoted and misunderstood. If Putin says it’s the biggest geopolitical catastrophe, he certainly does not mean it in the sense of having to restore the Soviet Union. It has more to do with the fact that many people actually lost so much: structure, orientation. Most people in the west cannot imagine the dramatic upheavals. In addition, many ethnic conflicts in the Soviet Union had been largely shut down, and then re-emerged. For many residents of the former USSR it was a disaster, in all sorts of areas. Interesting in this context is another Putin quote, which is quoted much less frequently: “Who does not miss the Soviet Union, has no heart. Who wants it back, has no sense. “

In your book you criticize, with regard to the Ukraine conflict, that in the Western media there is generally a good-bad formula. Why do you think that is?

Krone-Schmalz: There are many reasons. Stereotypes from the Cold War play a role, then the merciless time pressure. What has barely now happened, is already reported. Technically it is no problem, but for content, it is often not so easy. Add to that the structural changes at the expense of diversity: the dying off of print journalism and the role of the leading media. And last but not least: In a globalized world in which various interests are superimposed, orientation is easier if one confines oneself to good and evil. 

However, I also often get the impression that people who have doubts about mainstream coverage are shying away from expressing their opinions for fear of being marginalized. If something does not fit in with common reasoning today, it’s quickly called extremist, right, left or whatever. Often it is also said that one has swallowed propaganda or that people are letting themselves be used as an influence agent. Especially with regard to Russia, there is currently a very poisoned atmosphere. One could imagine the Russian perspective without having to share it.

In November you gave an interview to the Russian foreign medium Sputnik. Did you have any concerns about being an expert on Sputnik?

Krone-Schmalz: [laughs] It’s good that you ask. I had never given an interview there in the last few years. But in November, I did it with full intention and expected such a question as well. If you look into the German media, and ask what Russia experts appear, they always find the same ones, namely, those who are take slaps at Putin and, in addition, any officials. Neutral experts are virtually non-existent. If one accuses Russian foreign media, in part rightly, of uncritically representing a government line and then refuses to be interviewed there, I find that silly and counterproductive.

How high was the interest of the “leading media” in your new book? 

Krone-Schmalz: [laughs] Now the question is how to express that. “Not visible” fits very well. I also wondered. The book went up in the SPIEGEL bestseller list relatively quickly to number 1. This is usually reason enough publish a book review, but that was not the case. 

Russia had previously offered the EU many opportunities for rapprochement. Putin brought up for discussion economic community from Lisbon to Vladivostok in 2010 with an abolition of the visa requirement. Why did these proposals meet with little favor in the West?

Krone-Schmalz: I find it profoundly unwise not to have dealt with these things. Perhaps they didn’t take Russia seriously, according to the motto: “We do not need them, it is a hollow colossus, of no great significance.” What I would not underestimate: while good cooperation between EU and Russia or between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union is in the interest of the EU and Russia, it is not in the US interest.

It is often said that the Western sanctions are causing Russian companies to change their direction, for example to China. Could it be too late for German or European companies to keep up? 

Krone-Schmalz: If I had to answer briefly, then I would say: Yes. I have heard from numerous business partners that this is exactly the case. How sustainable that is, I can not say. But there is at least one risk. Even against this background, it is nonsensical to constantly extend sanctions that also lead to nothing. So far nobody has been able to explain to me what that is supposed to achieve, except destabilization as a whole. And for the question why we act so mercilessly against our own interests in Germany, I find no sensible answer. Sanctions, especially the new US sanctions, are a disaster. For us more than for Russia.

The sanctions are mainly linked to Minsk II. What is the problem with the implementation? 

Krone-Schmalz: It is always said that as long as Minsk II is not fulfilled, the sanctions will not be ended. But who would have to fulfill which conditions? It is no joke that Kiev, too, has not fulfilled its obligations. Ukraine, for instance, has not even started. But I do not know anybody talking about sanctions against Kiev in this context. It is only very slowly and cautiously that some political discussions are that a certain amount of pressure is also to be exerted on Kiev. But in principle this matter is for me a prime example of unbearable political hypocrisy.

In Ice Age you mention the planned US missile defense shield in Poland. What is problematic about that? 

Krone-Schmalz: At the latest, after the nuclear agreement with Iran, with a view to better relations with Russia, one would have had to distance oneself from a missile defense shield, which Russia has been suspicious of for many years and sees its nuclear/counter-nuclear capacity threatened. It is also controversial how quickly the defense system can be converted into an attack system. And if you then know that the US Congress has commissioned a study on the survivability of the Russian leadership in a possible nuclear attack, then you may dismiss this as a military strategic thinking game, but you should also imagine how all this would go over in Russia.

What needs to be done to prevent further escalation and bring about “change by rapprochement”?

Krone-Schmalz: It would be desirable to hold a major conference, as was repeatedly done during the Cold War. A functioning security architecture will not exist without Russia and certainly not against it. This is not a new insight, only some forget it again and again. Unfortunately, a major Russia hysteria has broken out in the United States, making it difficult to maintain contact with Moscow without being criminalized. This is a very dangerous development, because all sensible approaches can be immediately discredited, according to the motto: who knows what went on behind the scenes? And when you read in reputable American newspapers that now call to mind the darkest Mc-Carthy times, then that’s worrisome. The bad thing about the current situation is that Moscow no longer believes in the West, and in the West nothing is believed that comes from Moscow.

When the then German Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that the West should stop saber-rattling, he was torn to pieces in the media. But I keep coming back to policymakers who think we need a better relationship with Russia, but are reluctant to say so publicly, because that does not fit the zeitgeist. What a poor development in a country that guarantees its citizens freedom of expression.

Thank you for the interesting conversation, Ms Krone-Schmalz.

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