From the common house to the new iron curtain

By Gilberto Lopes

It is December 2014 and a year ago the Maidan protests forced a change of government in Ukraine. Mikhail Gorbachev, the then 83-year-old president of the Soviet Union (USSR), spoke to Pilar Bonet, a Moscow correspondent for the Spanish daily El País for 34 years.

“The construction of the common European house is more urgent than ever,” Gorbachev told her. “We need to create a security system that includes the United States, Canada, Russia, and European countries,” he says vehemently, given the turbulence in Russia’s relations with the West. In March 2014, the people of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol voted in a referendum to join Russia.

Gorbachev supports Putin’s Crimea policy. “So much Russian blood has been shed, so many centuries have been fought for Crimea, for [Russia’s] exit to the sea!” he exclaims. “For me, the main thing is that the people wanted to return to Russia” (the referendum result was overwhelmingly in favour of the idea). “Crimea is Russian and it was an open wound that has now been closed. As far as Crimea is concerned, the West can rest easy,” Gorbachev tells Bonet.

He sees as a “negative sign” the postponement of the St Petersburg Dialogue, a bilateral Russian-German forum that brings together politicians, intellectuals, and representatives of civil society from both countries every year. “If the sanctions were lifted now, many things could be agreed with Russia. But without ultimatums, because Russia cannot be treated in such a cavalier manner.

Gorbachev agrees with Putin when he says that after the Cold War, Western countries behaved like “nouveau riche”. “They started wiping their boots on Russia as if it were a doormat. They praised Yeltsin while the country was on its knees.” “It is not too late to make a U-turn, together, although nothing can be expected from Ukraine, which is ready to do anything to be admitted to NATO and the European Union.

The common European house

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since German unification, NATO membership, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Almost 35 years.

In July 1989, when all this had not yet happened (but was imminent and inevitable), Gorbachev addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. He wanted to push ahead with the construction of the European Common House. He offered to negotiate with NATO on the withdrawal of short-range nuclear missiles. According to the Kremlin leader, disarmament should be the cornerstone of the construction of this common house.

Three years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in April 1992, Gorbachev spoke at a colloquium at the Sorbonne. The topic was “Where is the East going?”, organized by Libération, El País, La Repubblica, and other European media. He will propose the creation of a Security Council for Europe. He says he shares the vision of General de Gaulle, “who saw Europe as the space between the Atlantic and the Urals”, the natural border between Europe and Asia, some 1,700 km east of Moscow. A vast European stage.

Just a month before he met with Bonet, Gorbachev had attended the celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989.

Gorbachev warned against the temptation of a new Cold War. He called for dialogue with Moscow. The President of the European Parliament, German Socialist Martin Schulz, also speaks out. He acknowledges that “whether we like it or not, Russia is a major power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We are committed to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but all channels of communication with Russia must be kept open.

The US will never allow a truly united Europe

Gaspar Méndez, economist and professor of geography and history, writes in Diario de León on 15 July 2022. Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border on 24 February.

He quotes Spanish army reserve colonel Pedro Baños, a writer specializing in geostrategy, defense, and security, and the renowned American journalist Robert Kaplan, a regular contributor to some of the most important media in the United States.

If we analyze the issue from the point of view of geopolitical interests, “the United States will never allow a truly united Europe, just as it cannot allow the EU to unite with Russia, because that would mean enormous geopolitical and economic damage”.

According to the US script, the architect of European integration was to be NATO and Gorbachev was preoccupied with expanding the Alliance in the face of Germany’s imminent unification. As we know, this was the script that was imposed.

Professor Méndez adds that Gorbachev’s words take on new meaning when he recalls that “our people associate NATO with the Cold War, as an organization hostile to the Soviet Union, as a force that accelerates the arms race and increases the danger of war. We will never accept to entrust it with the leading role in the construction of the new Europe”.

A world united behind Ukraine?

A year ago, in April last year, David Miliband, British Foreign Secretary between 2007 and 2010, published in Foreign Affairs reflections on “The World Beyond Ukraine”. He challenged the Ukrainian president’s claim that the war had united the world behind his country.

That was not the case, Miliband said. Some 40 countries, representing about half the world’s population, have regularly abstained from voting to condemn the Russian invasion. Two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries that are officially neutral or supportive of Russia, including some notable democracies such as India, Brazil, Indonesia or South Africa. “This is symptomatic of a wider syndrome: anger at the West’s perceived double standards and frustration at the failure of efforts to reform the international system. In particular, the reform of the UN Security Council.

The rift between the West and the rest of the world, says Miliband, “is a product of deep frustration – anger, really – at the way the West has handled globalization since the end of the Cold War”.

The article deserves special attention because of the many issues it touches on, because of the particularly important position of its author, and because of the very different point of view from that of the current British Conservative government, which dreams of transforming the British economy into a war economy.

The Iron Curtain moves eastwards

A few weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, Mary Sarotte, an American academic at Johns Hopkins University, published her book “Not One Inch”. It is about the talks in 1989 when Gorbachev negotiated with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and US President and Secretary of State George Bush and James Baker about the withdrawal of Russian troops from Central Europe and Germany’s membership in NATO. “Not an inch” to the east was the proposal discussed in these talks, which Sarotte documents.

Commenting on the book in Milenio magazine, Carlos Tello, a Mexican essayist, said: “Even then, the eastward march was unstoppable. The strongest defenders of expansion were, in fact, the leaders and, in general, the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. After demanding that US and Russian troops leave the heart of Europe, Vaclav Havel changed his mind and told Bill Clinton that the Czech Republic wanted to join NATO. So did Poland’s Lech Walesa, fearing a “Russian resurgence”.

The new “Iron Curtain” began to move eastwards. In the US Congress on Saturday 20 April, as new aid to Ukraine of just over $60 billion was approved, Representative Gerry Connolly proclaimed: “The Ukrainian-Russian border is our border!

It is hard not to see this eastward push as another step in Operation Barbarossa, the assault on Moscow launched by German troops on 22 June 1941, with its well-known consequences.

What is at stake in this war?

The West, led by the United States, can provoke a potentially catastrophic war between two nuclear powers through its openly hostile stance towards Russia and its efforts to abrogate existing arms control agreements, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in late April. The three major nuclear powers, the United States, Britain, and France, he added, ‘are among the main supporters of the criminal regime in Kyiv and the main organizers of provocations against Russia’.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a Conservative, takes a different view, for whom “defending Ukraine against Russia’s brutal ambitions is vital for the security of Britain and Europe as a whole”. “If Putin succeeds in his war of aggression, he will not stop at the Polish border,” Sunak said, adding his voice to those who claim that Moscow is bent on a war of conquest in Europe.

The truth is that virtually all military analyses of the conflict with Ukraine indicate that Russia is not even capable of controlling the whole of Ukraine. Much less take the war to NATO territory and trigger a nuclear conflict.

The cost of losing Ukraine

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based institution created in 2007 to help improve the United States’ ability to conduct military operations, respond to new threats, and achieve its strategic objectives, sponsored two studies on “The High Cost of Losing Ukraine”, published last December.

“The United States has much more at stake in Russia’s war in Ukraine than people realize. Russia’s conquest of Ukraine,” says the paper, signed by Frederick W. Kagan, Kateryna Stepanenko, Mitchell Belcher, Noel Mikkelsen, and Thomas Bergeron, “could take the Russian military, battered but triumphant, all the way to NATO’s borders, from the Black Sea to the Arctic Ocean.

Contributing to Ukraine’s defense with military support “is far better and cheaper for the United States than allowing it to be defeated,” they argue. “We have argued forcefully that American values are in line with American interests in Ukraine.

The reference to the risks of bringing the Russian military to NATO’s border is striking. One of the main reasons the Russians give for their intervention in Ukraine is precisely the advance of NATO towards their borders since the end of the Cold War, despite the agreements to prevent this that Gorbachev discussed with Germany and the United States at the time of German unification.

The more than 200 billion dollars invested in this war by the United States alone leaves no doubt as to what is at stake. To these resources must be added those of European nations, principally Germany and Britain. As the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said, ‘you are defending our own security on Europe’s eastern borders’.

On 23 April in Warsaw, Sunak announced his country’s largest military aid package for Ukraine. With a package worth $620 million, including more than 400 vehicles, 60 boats, and an unspecified number of Storm Shadow long-range missiles, the British intend to help further weaken the Russian fleet in Sevastopol and attack Crimea.

As the global affairs correspondent of the Spanish daily El País, an enthusiastic warmonger, points out, “Europe is aflame with the war in Ukraine and, faced with an aggressive Russia, many are increasing their defense spending. We are a long way from the times of a journalist like Pilar Bonet.

Creating a “terrible” world

Nataliya Bogayova, in her work for the ISW on “The Military Threat and Beyond”, claims that if Russia wins in Ukraine, it will be clear to the US’s adversaries that it can be influenced, leading them to abandon their interests in a fight that, in her view, could be won. A Russian victory, the study says, could encourage others to challenge it, making its adversaries believe they can break its will to defend its strategic interests. To create a ‘terrible’ world based on Russian atrocities in the war.

It is no longer about Russia’s threat to invade Europe, but about the risk that a victorious Russia will be determined to weaken US positions. Supporting Ukraine would not only prevent the demise of an independent nation, ‘but would deal an asymmetric blow to the Russian alliance and the anti-US coalition’.

In her conclusions, Bogayova argues that a Russian victory in Ukraine ‘could create a world fundamentally opposed to US interests and values’.

One of the problems with this argument is that it is the United States that has waged war all over the world, that has been at war for decades, whose atrocities in Vietnam or Iraq, in the torture camps there and Cuba, have left indelible images.

Of jungles and gardens

For President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Moscow’s closest ally, Ukraine is a military theatre where the new world order is partly being decided. Speaking to the People’s Assembly, his country’s parliament, on 24 April, Lukashenko said that “this is the last confrontation between East and West, and although neither side has emerged stronger, the current world order will not emerge unscathed from this conflict”.

Two years after Russia invaded Ukraine, Borrell told the Ukrainian Rada: “The natural state of affairs remains the struggle between great powers. In today’s world, geopolitics is re-emerging and Russia has not forgotten its imperial illusions. “The EU is no longer there to make peace between us but to make peace with the challenges on our borders.

We must support Ukraine ‘whatever it takes’, to do whatever it takes for Ukraine to win, Borrell said. Those who say Putin must be appeased are wrong. “Instead of seeking appeasement, we should remember the lessons we have learned since 2022, avoid repeating mistakes, and redouble our efforts in the areas where we have been successful.”

True, the EU is not NATO. But NATO has become the armed wing of the EU, led by the United States. And in the war scenario, it is also its main foreign policy instrument. Even before the war, diplomacy was practically excluded from the table, considering that even the Minsk agreements, theoretically negotiated in 2014 and 2015 to end the conflict, were nothing more than a device to buy time and arm Ukraine, as acknowledged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron, who were supposed to serve as guarantors of the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

Taking the war everywhere

As Borrell says, instead of appeasement, prepare for war: “We urgently need to revitalize the European defense industry. Our industry’s production capacity has already increased by 40 percent since the start of the war. By the end of the year, we will have a production capacity of 1.4 million munitions. By the end of the year, we will have delivered more than one million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine.

In September last year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was invited by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to deliver the Russell C. Leffingwell Lecture at the CFR’s Russell C. Leffingwell Conference in New York. Leffingwell Lecture in Washington.

Stoltenberg reiterated that support for Ukraine “is something we do because it is in our security interest”. Asked about NATO’s interest in opening a liaison office in Japan, he explained that security is global, not regional. In his view, a Russian victory in Ukraine would encourage Beijing to use force. To that end, it is strengthening its alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

On Question Time, Lucy Komisar, a New York-based freelance journalist, referred to the declassified memo of a meeting between then-Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, in which they promised not to move NATO “one inch” eastwards. And when it did,” she added, “George Kennan, one of America’s most brilliant diplomats, the architect of Washington’s Cold War vision, predicted the disaster that enlargement would bring. Which has become a reality, added Komisar, who asked Stoltenberg if he was satisfied with the results.

-I am not satisfied,” said Stoltenberg. But it is the fault of Russia, which decided to invade another country. “And whatever you think about NATO enlargement, it doesn’t give you the right to invade another country.

Stoltenberg defends the right of each nation to decide whether or not to join NATO, without Moscow having a veto over that decision. Stoltenberg is NATO’s Secretary General, and his job is not to decide what each country will do, but what NATO should do, according to its historical commitments and the political landscape in which it operates. But Stoltemberg is not Kennan, the American diplomat who saw the Cold War scenario and saw the post-Cold War scenario, which is very different from the confrontation into which Washington and its European allies, whom Stoltemberg serves and on whose war he is betting, have brought NATO.

Over the past decade, he says, NATO has undertaken the largest collective defense build-up in a generation. “We have strengthened our military presence in Eastern Europe and increased defense spending. With the accession of Finland – and Sweden – NATO is getting bigger and stronger.

He concludes: “I expect NATO to reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine, to continue to strengthen our defenses, and to increase our cooperation with our European and Indo-Pacific partners to defend the rules-based global order. A system “challenged as never before”.

NATO preparing for war – what war?

Putin has questioned who defines these rules, directly challenging the system, Borrell said in his lecture at the European Diplomatic Academy in Bruges on 13 October. For him, Europe is a garden where “everything works”. Take care of the garden, be good gardeners! “Much of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle is invading the garden. The gardeners should take care of it,” he added, referring to the Academy’s students.

Defending a global order based on rules? Yes, but which ones – those of Borrell’s garden?

For President Lukashenko, the world order will not emerge unscathed from the current conflict. When Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border, that order was shattered. Its reconstruction will depend on the outcome of this war. But it will no longer be the order inherited from the Cold War. That order has been shattered.

For now, the West is betting on war. With $60.8 billion for Ukraine approved by the US Congress, Biden announced that the arms would start flowing a few hours later. They are part of the package approved by Congress and will be in addition to the ATACMS, long-range missiles, already secretly delivered to Ukraine with the specific purpose of attacking Crimea.

“European leaders are not discussing the risk of a new war on the continent. They are preparing for it” is the title of an article published by Bloomberg on 24 April.

Sunak speaks of putting the British defense industry on a “war footing”. Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister, says that Europe is living in a “pre-war” situation. The President of the European Commission, Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, cites the ‘Finnish model’ of civil defense as an example. Finland’s new right-wing president, Alexander Stubb, says he is ready to host US nuclear weapons. Finland needs nuclear deterrence. It is the best way to guarantee its security, he believes. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tells parliament that Russia should fear NATO, which could defeat it on the battlefield.

NATO is making a show of force in the shadow of Russia’s war, says the NYT. Between Lithuania and Poland, on the border of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, some 90,000 troops are training for a great power war.

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, NATO already has up to 33,000 troops, some 300 tanks, and more than 800 other armored vehicles near Russia’s borders.

What is the world to do?

What kind of war are Sikorski and his NATO partners dreaming of?

Europe is preparing for another war and what should the rest of the world do? Let them play with the fate of the world? To lead us into a third world war?

What war will it be, to defend whose interests? An increasingly conservative Europe speaks of war as if the world had not been populated with nuclear weapons between the second (which it also waged against Russia) and a possible third.

The irresponsibility of Borrell’s “gardeners” seems to have no limits. But today’s world is no longer the world of the Second World War. So, attempts to finish what the Germans failed to do more than 80 years ago have only one destiny, if the rest of the world does not tie their hands.

As the Brazilian government’s international affairs adviser, former foreign minister Celso Amorim, reminded us, a security system based on military alliances led us to war in the past. Speaking at a meeting of the Russian Security Council on 24 April, Amorim said that in today’s world, peace requires a robust and legitimate order, not one based on rules.

Given what the conflict represents for the West and for Russia, a total military victory by anyone is unlikely. The only possible negotiated solution is one that leaves no obvious winners and losers. It is the construction of the Common House that initiated this European security debate at the end of the Cold War. One that the Western elite preferred to discard, and one that cannot be built with the conservatives who currently rule Europe. A scenario in which Russia is not the enemy to be defeated, nor the West the executor of Operation Barbarossa, which it has become. In other words, a reality more in line with the new world order and less with the dreams of the “end of history” on which the post-Cold War scenario was built.

Once this adjustment has been made, the world will be able to face the real challenge on which the new international order will be built. An order in which it will have to recognize the decline of the West, the role of China, the role of the global South, and the role of a Europe that is no longer subordinate to an extreme right, as it is today, or to NATO, an instrument of the security policy of the United States and its most conservative elites.

The other alternative…