Interview with Michael Hindley – Part 2

Interview conducted by Guilherme Becker

This is the second part of the interview with Michael Hindley. You can read the first part here. In this part, the interview focuses on the border issue between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following Brexit, but also on Trump, Ukraine, Germany…
We would like to thank Michael Hindley for his time and his insightful answers.
You can also follow him on Twitter and watch his video about Brexit.

B: Moving a bit to the left on the map, let’s talk about Northern Ireland, which also has a feeling of sometimes not being part of the UK at all. But because of the Brexit, is there any chance of another “trouble times” happening again?
H: This often comes up in the present debate on Brexit. I think sometimes it is inaccurate or somewhat hysterical. People on both sides of the border agree that being in the EU certainly helped the Irish/Irish dialogue. Both “Irelands” in the EU helped. There is no question about that. Also, to some degree the EU has guaranteed the peace process. The fact that there was no border helped. If it becomes a “harder border”, I think it is false to assume that it would simply go back to hostilities. Sinn Féin long ago bravely disbanded its link with the IRA [Irish Republican Army]. It is a constitutional left-centre party enjoying shared government in Northern Ireland and has members in the Republic [of Ireland]. So the Party of freeing Ireland by the “ballot and the bullet” has become constitutional. Martin McGuinness (1950-2017) was an active member of the IRA and subsequently shared power with Ian Paisley the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Very difficult if not impossible to go back to the dark days of the “Troubles”. Continue reading “Interview with Michael Hindley – Part 2”

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Germany’s Steinmeier: A New Direction for the Presidency

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President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Photo by Arne List

Lauren Rogers

On the morning of 12 February of this year, 1260 members of the German Federal Assembly, which includes Bundestag members and state electors, voted to choose the 12th President of the Federal Republic of Germany. Garnering over 900 votes, the clear winner was the Grand Coalition candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served twice as foreign minister and ran for chancellor under the SPD banner in 2008. He has held public office for over 20 years.

On paper, Steinmeier has all the makings of a tame president; he is well-liked and respected in the international community and within the German government. According to Bild, Steinmeier even has the dubious honor of using the German informal “you” with more members of the Cabinet than any other – high praise for those in the German-speaking world.

However, appearances can be deceiving, and surely the Steinmeier presidency will not be without a backbone. During the last year of his term as foreign minister, Steinmeier spoke out strongly against Russian aggression, the inaction of the international community in the Syrian crisis, and the shortsightedness of the Brexit decision. Most notably, he is a decisive critic of US President Donald Trump and of the nationalist movements taking hold around the world.

From Freedom to Courage

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President Joachim Gauck. Photo by ACBahn

Germany’s current president, Joachim Gauck, has spent most of his term promoting freedom. Gauck, who was an East German resistance leader before the fall of the Berlin Wall, has repeatedly stressed reconciliation and social justice in his speeches. His term has not been without crisis – the floundering euro, Brexit, and the refugee influx, just to name a few – but he has continued to call for openness, tolerance, and a need to cherish the freedoms that are easy to take for granted. Gauck embraced the “Refugees Welcome” movement more than any other German politician and at times was harsh in his criticism of those who were steadfastly anti-refugee.

Steinmeier promises to be a different kind of president. After nearly three decades in the spotlight, he is politically savvy and will likely be less concerned with visiting children’s shelters and more concerned with asserting Germany’s role in the world. If “Freedom” was the motto of the Gauck presidency, it is safe to say that “Courage” will be the that of Steinmeier’s. In his acceptance speech following his election, Steinmeier spoke of two kinds of courage: the courage that Germany can give to others, and the courage that Germans must display in the face of rising unrest in Europe and beyond.

Steinmeier recounted a story of a young Tunisian activist telling him that Germany gave her courage. Germany, which not so very long ago represented the opposite of freedom and justice, now has a place as one of the pillars of modern democracy in the West. Germany gives courage, said Steinmeier, because it is proof that peace comes after war, that reconciliation can follow division. In this sense, Germany must continue to be a symbol of courage for countries in crisis.

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Frauke Petry. Photo by Michael Lucan

But Steinmeier also meant courage in another sense. Three important European elections – France, Germany and the Netherlands – are coming up this year, each with its own populist candidate. In the face of Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry, and Geert Wilders, respectively the leaders of the nationalist waves in these countries, Steinmeier preached patience, tolerance, and above all, a commitment to the core values of Europe.

 

The “Anti-Trump” President?

Following his election, the German daily Berliner Morgenpost dubbed Steinmeier the “Anti-Trump President” – a title that has since been reprinted everywhere from The Independent to Bloomberg. Whether or not he enjoys the moniker, Steinmeier has certainly been among the strongest critics of the US President, referring to him at one point as a “hate-preacher.” After Trump’s election, Steinemeier issued the following statement as foreign minister: “I think we will have to get used to the idea that US foreign policy will be less predictable for us and we will have to get used to the idea that the US will tend to make more decisions on its own.” He went on to say that working together with the US will be much harder over the next four years and that Europe must stay the course, despite the unsettling results.

In his speech on Sunday, Steinmeier issued a thinly veiled critique on Trump and his populist counterparts in Europe. He called on all Germans to fight against baseless accusations and fear-mongering. “We must have the courage to say what is and what isn’t,” he said, claiming a universal responsibility to differentiate facts from lies. This, too, will likely be a theme of the Steinmeier presidency. Shortly before his candidacy was announced in 2016, the President-elect decried the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and the US and accused Trump and others of “mak[ing] politics with fear.”

Or the “Pro-Russia” President?

Rather than the “Anti-Trump” President, some may dub Frank-Walter Steinmeier the “Pro-Russia” President.  As foreign minister, Steinmeier was regularly lampooned by his CDU colleagues for his mild stance toward Russia. He began his second term as foreign minister in late 2013, only a few months before Russia annexed Crimea. Following the annexation, Steinmeier joined his international colleagues in denouncing Russia and supported upping economic sanctions until the conflict was resolved.

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Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. Photo by Kremlin.ru

However, Steinmeier has relaxed his stance since then and has insisted on a need to keep channels of communication open. Russia is an important actor in two of the most significant global crisis areas: Syria and the Ukraine. Continuing with heavy sanctions and isolation will do nothing to solve these issues, according to Steinmeier. Over the summer, he was also quick to criticize NATO for carrying out exercises in Eastern Europe. He accused the organization of “warmongering” and said, “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken.”

Thus far, only Russian news outlets seem to believe that Steinmeier will be a friend to the east, but the differences between he and Gauck are undeniable. As a former citizen of East Germany, Gauck was understandably apprehensive about former KGB officer Vladimir Putin. Steinmeier, who has worked with the Russia on international issues since his time in the Schroeder administration, will be a welcome change for the Kremlin.

Emphasizing German Leadership

In an interview with television station ZDF following the election, Steinmeier indicated his intention to work closely with both Moscow and Washington. He was very clear that Germany is currently in the midst of a “reorganization of international relations” and that possible unpredictability in the East and the West will mean a greater need for a stable country.

Nevertheless, the role of the German president is not to negotiate with foreign leaders or herald in big changes. The German president is primarily a domestic role; he or she acts as a moral authority, but has very little political power. As the head of government, Steinmeier will be confined to ceremonial tasks like welcoming state visits and approving the Cabinet. The political might in Germany is held by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and by the parliament, the Bundestag. Despite his limited power, Steinmeier is expected to set a tone for the coming years and it appears as though he will be just as active as his predecessor.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier will take office on 18 March 18 this year. On September 24, the country will vote for new Bundestag representation and a new government will take office.

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Between Trauma and New Visions: “Art in Europe 1945-1968” – a transnational exhibition in Karlsruhe

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Dana Ghafoor

It is a cold and grey Saturday afternoon, just one week before Christmas and I am rushing over the empty Platz der Menschenrechte, Human Rights Square, in front of the old German weapons and munitions production factory in Karlsruhe.  This huge building was constructed with German Pünktlichkeit during the First World War and managed to avoid demolition in the late 1970s after having been a reliable space for the preparation of violence and destruction. With sentiment echoing Adorno’s phrase, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” the city of Karlsruhe in the post-war decades seemed paralyzed and helpless to interact with this huge memorial of violence production in its heart.

It wasn’t poetry that brought a spirit of hope into the massive walls in Lorenzstraße – at least not just that. In the 1980s, the artist group “99.9% leerer Raum” moved into the old factory, just before, in 1984, the first ever email was received just a few kilometres away at the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe (KIT). At that time, enthusiasm for new and connective technology of communication had awoken to end the rather destructive technology of weapons, which had dominated the atmosphere of the massive building.  In 1987 the association for arts and media technology was founded, and eight years after the ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medien), the Centre for Art and Media, opened in the old German weapons and munitions production factory. Since then, the building has hosted exhibitions with a focus on media and communication technology. It is, however, an unusual exhibition for the ZKM, which I am visiting today. Usually, visitors come to stroll down memory lane between the antiquities and rarities of computer and video games, or to discover new developments occurring in the digital arts. Although this exhibition does not focus on technology and media art, it fits perfectly in this historic building.

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Builders (1956) by social realist painter Alexander Deineka (left) and Builders (1951) by expressionist Fernand Leger (right)

“Art in Europe 1945-1968” is the title of the exhibition, curated by Eckhart Gillen and Peter Weibel and their Russian colleagues Daria Mille and Daniel Bulatov. It is a cooperation between the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the State Museum Exhibition Centre ROSIZO in Moscow. The exhibition contains more than 500 diverse works of about 200 European artists. In Karlsruhe it has the significant subtitle, “The Continent that the EU does not know.” The curators aim to give a second perspective on the dominant narrative of post-war Europe. They present works by artists, who have responded to the breakup of a divided continent after a decade of destruction.

“Art in Europe 1945-1968” focuses on a central cultural space. One that was damaged and torn apart several times during the 20th century. The curators present artistic developments, stemming from the huge area that is geographical Europe. With artwork coming from anywhere between the Ural Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, the exhibition draws on many sources in its goal of opening up a new narrative with regards to a shared past. The curators claim that until today historiography looked at the arts of the 20th century as divided into two main streams. Firstly, there was abstract expressionism, which is seen as a symbol of freedom in the West. Then there is social realism which, according to these curators, has been seen as a conservative kind of art, an art bent to serve the communist political system in the East. This exhibition, however, is an effort to engage with the history of art in Europe in a less simplified manner. This exhibition explores these themes through comparison, by finding similarities, and understanding differences in a socio-political approach to interpretation.

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Stalingrad 1943-1944 by Hans Richter

While walking through this huge exhibition, taking up two floors with an immense amount of art work, I can sympathize with the curators and let myself get lost in the many pictures, sculptures, films and photographs. It is hopeless trying to discover everything: this exhibition is the product of more than twenty years, and 200 people, full of creativity and extreme emotions. It is by accident, that I find the small Picasso, “Pigeon, Blue Variation” from 1951, hidden on the back of one of the huge white walls. The difficulty of mapping this great quantity and variety of art in post-war Europe can also be seen through the different strategies of structuring the exhibition in the three hosting places in Brussels, Karlsruhe and Moscow. In Karlsruhe it is organized into the five chapters “Trauma and Remembrance,” “Cold War,” “New Realism,” “New Visions,” and “Utopia 1968”. While 1945 is interpreted as ‘hour zero’, 1968 is defined as the starting point for a new relationship between West and East. What might seem like a very linear and horizontal approach, is in fact an attempt to entangle spaces, to invite visitors to discover art works that have not shared the same space before. Curator Peter Weibel calls it an active plea for understanding Europe – a goal which is just as important today as it was in 1945.

The idea of “Art in Europe 1945-1968” was conceived already in 2012, and it was supposed to be shown in Russia first. However, after the crisis in Ukraine and the strained relationship between the EU and Russia, many important sponsors withdrew their financial support. It is in these grey and cold days, that it becomes more important than ever to take a break and discover new perspectives on what shapes Europe: memories and trauma, war, utopia, and new visions. Now, in times of a critical public discourse regarding Europe, and in times of planning the building of walls, it is maybe more appropriate than ever to consider the leading questions of “Art in Europe 1945-1968”: “what is Europe?”  

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ZKM exterior

What I take with me walking back from the ZKM, in the old German weapons and munitions production factory in Karlsruhe, over the Human Rights Square, is the idea to keep my eyes wide open and to search for hidden ideas. Ideas that are not omnipresent in the main discourse surrounding us today. There was a lot happening in the period between 1945 to 1968 in Europe. It seems like a period of conflict and inconsistency . There is also a lot going on in Europe today, and it is essential to reflect on the present patterns of perception and communication.  “Art in Europe 1945-1968” shows that it is worth challenging established constructs and opening a discussion about a common past and a common future. Despite or precisely because of its confusing multitude of pieces, visitors of “Art in Europe 1945-1968” can find a new way of looking at Europe in the past and in the present. I interpret this exhibition as a liquid reflection on arts and European society. It commutes between the East and West in Europe, and changes its setting in each location. It is not a fixed construct which needs to be consumed in a certain way, but one that underlines different perspectives.  An exhibition is more than its images or sculptures. It represents a reflection on the everyday reality of artists and curators, and it grows in the space where it is shown, and with each visitor approaching it. “Art in Europe 1945-1968” communicates with its surrounding and with its audience and it is worth, I believe, taking your time to look, listen, reflect and respond.

The exhibition “Art in Europe 1945-1968” can be visited in the ZKM until 29th of January 2017 and afterwards in Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

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The ignored revolution: The Dutch referendum crisis

Arne van Lienden

“The democratic revolution has begun”, proclaimed politician Thierry Baudet after the April 2016 Dutch referendum on the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine met the minimum threshold of votes and showed a decisive ‘no’ to the agreement. But so far, the referendum has not set off a revolution. In fact, until now the Dutch government has constantly delayed or deferred from acting upon the outcome of the referendum. This reluctance to respect the referendum result has grave implications for the legitimacy of governance and will only spark a further rise of populism in the Dutch political arena. The government needs to act, or the parliamentary elections in 2017 could see a landslide win for populist parties.

The response of the Dutch government to the outcome of the referendum has been characterized by deferral and inaction. The referendum on the Association Agreement with Ukraine differs in one great aspect from the other referenda we have seen in Europe this year. Unlike the Brexit referendum in the UK and the refugee referendum in Hungary, the Dutch referendum was a bottom-up initiative and was neither initiated nor wanted by the Dutch government. The government never took the referendum seriously and was not willing or capable of effectively campaigning for a Yes vote for the Association Agreement. Hence, after the result was announced it took the government by surprise. This can be seen in the reluctance of the government to act upon the outcome. Continue reading “The ignored revolution: The Dutch referendum crisis”

Asian or Eurasian Century? The Emergence of a Media Trend or a Multipolar world

 

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Russia is the world’s largest country in landmass and China the largest in population

Daniele Carminati

The Asian Century is a debated concept which posits the idea that the 21st century will be led by the Asian continent from an economic, political, and cultural perspective. Supposedly, the previous 19th and 20th centuries, have been the British (European) and the American centuries respectively. The Asian Development Bank is so confident of such an accomplishment that it published a report in 2011 titled “Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century.”

The plausibility of such development is disputed, especially when considering that the main actor of this transformation, China, appears to be experiencing an economic downturn for the first time in quite a number of years.

The implications are plentiful and, unsurprisingly, global. Yet this article aims to move one step beyond the above discussion. Over the past few weeks, several articles have focused on the possibility of a shift of power in Eurasia, from different angles. The first piece, “Black Wind, White Snow: Imagining Eurasia” by Casey Michel was published on The Diplomat website, which referred to a recently released book reflecting on the Russian concept of “Eurasianism.” The notion was apparently coined, or at least, co-opted by the Kremlin and surrounding bodies as a way to promote and promise a brighter future to the disillusioned post-Cold war generations. The outcome of this attempt at normative construction has been mixed, according to Michel, but an overall aura of pessimism is perceivable across the book, suggesting that the imagined Eurasia may stay in the Kremlin’s mind.

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Military Parade in Russia’s Kremlin

Still, due to its strategic position and regional influence, it is crucial to consider the role of Russia in any potential Eurasian ‘coalition’.

The second and third articles tackle the issue from a more inclusive perspective and, perhaps startlingly, depict two opposite scenarios. The first one is from George Friedman, an expert in intelligence and international geopolitics, who wrote an article for Forbes claiming that the “Last time Eurasian Instability Was This Bad Was Before World War II”, describing several factors to justify such a dire prediction. A few examples are the supposed failure of the European Union, followed by the Russian and Middle Eastern crisis, in addition to the aforementioned slowdown in both China and Japan’s economies. The only exception, according to the author, is India, but that country alone will not be able to stop a ‘grand’ destabilization affecting the whole Eurasian continent.

Such a vision, in my opinion, is rather unconvincing, especially when considering the economic and geopolitical self-interest of the majority of the Eurasian countries. Their goal is, mostly, to pursue peaceful means of gain, being well aware that armed conflicts can bring far more disadvantages than benefits. A notable exception may be North Korea, for obvious reasons.

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Russia is by far the EEU’s biggest player and maybe its biggest benefactor

The last article, which I particularly enjoyed, provides a more optimistic view on the phenomenon. Graham E. Fuller, a former senior CIA official, wrote for The World Post (partner of the renowned Huffington Post) an article entitled “The Era of American Global Dominance Is Over.” Such a bold statement from an American citizen may sound preposterous to some. Yet it is another piece covering the position of Eurasia, seen as an increasingly relevant one in this article. The author recognizes that the term itself may remind the readers of a geographical feature more than a political one, Eurasia as a sole, vast landmass. The author sees it as more than that. The central reason why Fuller thinks that the US is failing to deal with Eurasia is its stubbornness in ignoring the mega-continent “rising force” which is attracting more and more nation-states to its sphere. The article then mentions several economic, military and political reasons that support the author’s well-articulated stance. Nonetheless, the recurring theme is that the current century has seen the demise of Western global dominance and that the US should accept it now in order to take advantage of such power shift, while is still happening.

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Barrack Obama, President of the United States of America meets Putin at the G20 Summit in China

This last article appears to be the most convincing when you look to the latest global developments. A change is indeed happening, and although it does not mean that the US is not going to occupy a predominant position, their position is certain to be less hegemonic.

The above articles may not follow a common pattern and they likely originated from different pitches. Still, they have all been published in the past few days which may be a peculiar coincidence or a hint of an upcoming geopolitical trend. Regardless of that, it is unquestionable that the current European situation may benefit from additional transcontinental collaborations and a more balanced, multipolar power redistribution may benefit all the global players in the long run.

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Playing by two different playbooks: John Mearsheimer on Ukraine, the students of Krakow on John Mearsheimer

Eoghan Hughes
Edited by Elizabeth White

I had not realised just how controversial Professor Mearsheimer was going to be until he delivered this line:

“The conventional wisdom in Europe is that the US is a benign hegemon.”

Looking at the smirks scattering across the room, I got the feeling that Mearsheimer would have been quite surprised by what the students were actually thinking. Later, when he suggested that the Ukraine embrace its role as a ‘buffer’ state, nestled between the EU and the Russian Federation, the scowls could have peeled paint from the walls — but that, Mearsheimer explained, was something he had expected.

John Mearsheimer, a professor of the University of Chicago and one of America’s most influential theorists on international relations, cut an odd figure at Krakow’s Uniwersytet Jagielloński. He delivered his lecture, “Why the West – not Putin – Is Responsible for the Ukraine Crisis”, to a full house in the main hall of the Collegium Novum, surrounded by images of Polish kings, Copernicus and the rich blues and reds of the room’s intricate décor. Scrutinised by students from the East and West, from Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, France, Germany, Ireland, the US and more, you could almost believe he had forgotten who his audience was, with his talk of the aggressive expansion of NATO, the ‘peeling’ of Ukraine from Russia, and the sound logic of Putin’s decision to annex the Crimea. Yet Mearsheimer was well aware of his audience, and past experience had taught him what to expect.
Just a few weeks previously, in Warsaw, he had been confronted by several Ukrainian women, who were “so mad” that he had been afraid that they “might kill [him]!” He said this with an easy laugh that characterised the good humour with which he approached this grave topic. That wasn’t the first time he had made people angry, and it won’t be the last.

Mearsheimer’s argument tends to get him in trouble, he concedes.

 

The intricacies of Mearsheimer’s arguments are well beyond the scope of this piece, as they span several articles, lectures and books, but a sketch of his major points might give you some idea of the trouble he can find himself in.

The central idea underlining Mearsheimer’s theory is that Great Powers are very paranoid about their security: if a perceived threat intends to expand towards the border of Russia, then, in realist terms, Russia as a Great Power must do all it can to prevent this from happening. An advocate of the ‘Great Powers’ school of thought, Mearsheimer thus contends that the Ukraine crisis has its roots not in any delusions of Vladimir Putin, but in a concentrated policy by the EU and US of gradually expanding eastwards towards Russia. This expansion was fueled by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, which allowed for Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland to join the military alliance in 1997. Russia, under Yeltsin, opposed NATO expansion but they had little power to prevent it. According to Mearsheimer, NATO “got away with it” because of Russian weakness, not because the nature of the country’s politics had changed.

In 2008 a NATO proposal to allow Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance caused a powerful backlash from the recovering Great Power. Russia under Putin had regained international maneuverability and would go to great lengths to prevent further expansion. Months later the Russo-Georgian war scuppered any immediate plans for accession. This conflict served as a stark prophecy of what was to come for Ukraine.

The EU, comprised of many NATO nations, is considered yet another envoy of the alliance. Therefore, EU expansion in the Ukraine, made all the more likely by the Association Agreement, would have constituted a direct threat to Russia’s borders. Putin, according to this theory, was given little choice but to annex the Crimea and destabilise eastern Ukraine, when the Ukraine-EU Association treaty came close to fruition, bettering the country’s prospects for membership of NATO and of abandoning its age-old function as a buffer between Russia and Western Europe. According to this reasoning, Mearsheimer claims, Putin is a “rational actor,” not the “second coming of Adolf Hitler”, and this action in the Ukraine, far from being expansionary, is in fact reactionary. Russia, being a declining power in terms of population and economic significance, has no resources for a long-term war, and knows very well that an invasion of the Ukraine would be self-destructive.

“In the modern world, conquering and occupation are a recipe for disaster” says Mearsheimer, referencing the Afghan war and the occupation of Iraq. Putin, he claims, is a strategist and knows well that such an effort would end badly. Instead, to maintain Russian security, Putin has decided to “ruin” the Ukraine: a strategy which, even if it is morally reprehensible, still makes sense on the part of Russia. Putin, as Mearsheimer puts it, is playing politics according to the rules of Great Power theory, the playbook of the twentieth century.

This is what he pinpoints as the major flaw in the western assessment of the crisis. NATO and the EU are playing by a different playbook to Russia; they are playing by the book of international law and the ‘new world order’ established by the fall of the USSR. This has allowed NATO to position itself as a benign entity, and sell its expansion as something more political than military. Yet Putin and Russia do not buy this, and have made clear in the past, according to Mearsheimer, that NATO expansion will be treated as an aggressive act.

Mearsheimer’s critics, when not addressing his logic, tend to focus on his moral position. One Ukrainian observer later commented that Mearsheimer’s point of view showed a lack of integrity or concern for the democratic will of the Ukrainian people, something the scholar himself denies.

Instead, Mearsheimer claims that the Ukraine is caught between “two gorillas”: the western alliance comprising NATO and the EU to the west, and the Russian Federation to the east. He believes that the current policy of sanctions and a soft power approach won’t work because Russia is concerned with its security, not its economy. A Great Power, he claims, can be willing to “absorb” a lot of damage in the interests of its security. Instead, the West must change its tactics.

For Mearsheimer, the most important aspect of a new plan towards the Ukraine crisis is for it to be realistic. A realistic approach would involve abandoning the sanctions against Russia, putting a stop to the expansion of NATO and the EU eastwards and focusing on building a cooperative partnership with Russia, something Mearsheimer believes will be necessary to deal with the crises in the Middle East, as evidenced by the Syrian situation, and against an expansive China.

On top of that, he believes the Ukraine, instead of seeking to become a member of either the EU or the NATO alliance, should optimise its placement as a buffer between the two ‘gorillas’, seeking financial partnership from both, and reap the benefits of serving as a meeting point between East and West, akin to Austria’s position during the Cold war, where it served, in Mearsheimer’s theory, as a meeting point for the two sides.

Knowing this, one student asked, why would NATO or the EU seek to add the Ukraine, a country with little to no strategic value in military or economic terms, to the West?

“I don’t understand what we are doing!” Mearsheimer replied, throwing his arms and casting a look upwards. He may think of Putin as a rational actor, but he certainly has his doubts about the ‘West’.

 

Mearsheimer’s talk was always going to be controversial, and the student reaction was diverse and telling of the audience. Aside from the aforementioned comments from some Ukrainian students, other students, generally from European countries with a longer history of European integration, had a variety of responses, from the negative to hearty praise. One commentator, fellow Euroculture student Galina Thieme had this to say:

”I experienced Professor Mearsheimer’s lecture on the current crisis in Ukraine to be refreshingly honest and rational as opposed to most mainstream intellectual and medial opinion makers, who constantly blame Putin and offer uncritical support of Poroschenko. Instead of pouring more gasoline into the fire, in my opinion Mearsheimer provided feasible solutions, taking into account Ukraine’s critical geographic position and the divide of its society in ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians.”

For others, Mearsheimer’s theories relating to Russia failed to account for its actions, or at least did not convince them as to why it would be wise to change strategy vis-à-vis EU and NATO expansion, which was seen by one Polish student, who would prefer not to be named, to be the best strategy for “containing Putin”.

A student of European politics from Portugal, on the other hand, found Mearsheimer’s talk interesting, but was troubled by his seeming lack of understanding of current European thought on these issues, especially in the way he perceived the average European’s opinion on US foreign policy.

This gap between the students and Mearsheimer manifested itself in a number of ways. Indeed, in addition to a cultural gap, there seemed to have been a significant generational gap.

During the Q&A, Mearsheimer responded to a question on security by alluding to the slim but real possibility that a cornered Russia may resort to nuclear warfare. He compared the current policy, involving sanctions and doubling down on the Eastern Neighbourhood Policy, as placing a single bullet in a gun with a thousand chambers, and then putting the gun to our head and pulling the trigger.

For many students, the nuclear scare of the cold war isn’t a memory, but a note in a history textbook. For Mearsheimer, however, who had earlier referred to himself as a “dinosaur” of twentieth century politics, this threat has as much importance as any crisis of modern Europe.

Mearsheimer’s lecture was revealing in two very different ways; both in the provoking perspectives it offered on this defining crisis of EU foreign policy, and in the way it highlighted certain gaps that exist — between the perspectives of the United States and the European Union, between the world views of different members of Europe, and between the concerns of one generation and the next. Mearsheimer offered an important alternative to the narrative adopted by the West and challenged a new generation to think seriously about this crisis on their own terms, rather than relying on the conventional wisdom espoused by the current world order. Playing by different playbooks we may be, but as long as universities like Jagiellon continue to offer a platform to speakers from the entire political spectrum, and promote a dialogue about their views, our different playbooks do not have to mean that we are playing for different teams.

The opinions expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent the views of The Euroculturer.

 

Understanding Russia’s behavior in Ukraine

Maksym Beznosiuk
Edited by Catlin Seibel-Kamel

Introduction

It has almost been two years since the dramatic events in Ukraine that led to the first redrawing of borders in Europe after the World War II. Russia’s offensive policies in Ukraine marked a shift from a universal approach to a selective interpretation of international legal norms and shook the foundations of international legal order and the balance of powers in Europe.

A lot of scholars in defense, security and other areas of study have been struggling to explain the driving force behind the current Russian foreign policy and the ongoing hybrid warfare campaign in Ukraine. The latter caught the of attention of many interdisciplinary specialists in the West due to the recent emergence of the hybrid warfare concept, coupled with the special characteristics of Russia’s hybrid warfare instruments applied in Ukraine. Continue reading “Understanding Russia’s behavior in Ukraine”