Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In Defense of Strong Leaders

Obama’s shockingly dismissive statement about ISIS today, combined with Turkey’s on-going antics vis a vis Russia illustrate the limits of democracy in the 21st century.

Not only the men and women in the street, but also our movers and shakers, still believe Churchill’s clever phrase that democracy is the worst system of government with the exception of all others. We all know that change is threatening, painful even, but I’m not seeing the slightest hint that intelligent, sophisticated, educated twenty-first century men and women are aware that democracy’s merits have been largely negated by the nature of modern life.

Not only is one man one vote a sham in the presence of big money. Government’s ability to ensure a measure of equity among competing claims is nullified by the claims of its most powerful backers; and what makes the democratic process totally ineffective is the ability of these backers’ hand-picked representatives to thwart any rare good decision taken by the commander-in-chief.

The President might just as well spend all his time on the golf course instead of pretending that the Oval Office is where the fate of the world is decided. Though well-wined and dined at the Paris Climate Talks, Obama cannot commit the Congress appointed by his oligarchs to accept the final agreement as binding. If that tragic failure doesn’t persuade skeptics of the superiority, in today’s world, of leaders who can call the shots over those who must be thankful for a few crumbs from the high table, the proof will be provided by World War III or an irreversible climate crisis.

Putting aside the fact that all the countries whose dictators we have toppled are much worse off than before, the evidence is increasingly difficult to ignore that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jin Ping are able to get a lot more done for the good of their people than any ten leaders of parliamentary democracies. 

This doesn’t mean that all authoritarian leaders are good, but it does imply that a leader who is informed, intelligent and caring of others and can issue orders that will be executed is more effective than one who must constantly play a power game with hundreds of opponents - or worse, who tacitly agrees to do the bidding of the 1%. Putin is excoriated in the West for having told the Russian oligarchs that they could make all the money they want as long as they stay out of politics. We are told he is depriving the average citizen of a voice, when in reality, he is making sure the oligarchs needs don’t win out over the 99%.

The world created by technology and money has become so complex that leaders almost have to be polymaths  to get a handle on the problems they’re elected to solve.  But they must also have good judgement and prioritize the needs of the many. The American press routinely mocked Fidel Castro for his five-hour speeches, when in fact these speeches educated the Cuban people to a level of political awareness Americans can only dream of. With their dismissive attitude the US press avoided drawing attention to the detailed knowledge Castro had of every area he discussed. American leaders, in contrast, rely on ‘advisors’, which is why they can only speak in general terms, and have little chance of being able to get their legislators, aided by their own advisors, to follow them.

A great way to verify the extent to which an ‘authoritarian’ ruler like Vladimir Putin is more effective than President Obama could ever hope to be, is to compare their State of the Union addresses. The US media scarcely mentions Putin’s, while passing over Obama’s lightly, since any comparison would disadvantage the US. Putin’s shows himself to be in full command of a broad range of issues while Obama can only refer to his, as he did in today’s short, monotone report on the US campaign against ISIS, that won’t reassure anyone planning to travel for the holidays. 

Here’s a link to Putin’s December 3, State of the Union http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/47173. The examples I’ve chosen testify to the democratic socialist nature of the Russian ‘regime’, which incidentally explains why the US is determined to bring it down.

Putin sets the stage by saying:  “Of course, life is ever changing, and given current complications, our responsibility for people’s welfare only increases.”  (When was the last time you heard an American President take responsibility for the average American’s well-being?)

Putin spells out his concerns with respect to education and health care, areas that US congresspeople tell us we cannot afford to fund:

“Russian schools, higher and professional education, and support for children’s creativity should be aligned with the country’s future, the requirements of young people (and) of the economy in the context of its prospects. These guys will have to resolve ever more complicated tasks and should be prepared to be the best. They should become not only successful in their careers but also simply decent people with a firm moral and ethical background.”

Announcing that in 2016 Russian healthcare will complete its transition to an insurance-based system, Putin warned:

“ It’s the responsibility of insurance companies to uphold patients’ rights, including in situations where they are refused free medical care without a reason. If an insurance company does not do this, it should be held accountable, including being banned from working in the compulsory medical insurance system. I ask the  Government to ensure stringent oversight in this regard.”

He then noted:

“For the first time in Russia’s history, many high tech operations are carried out without a waiting list. The mandatory medical insurance mainly supports healthcare institutions around the country, where financing is a matter of concern …I propose a special federal contribution to enable high-tech operations to be carried out, with necessary legislation to be adopted during the spring session.”

The Russian president added:  “But people must not suffer while we make these decisions. We must ensure continuous financing of high-tech medical care, including with direct support from the federal budget until this decision is made.”

Imagine how different life would be in the US, if our President could utter such words and be heard!

All well and good, the reader will say, but what about democracy?  In today’s world, where decisions have repercussions far and wide, only local government is small enough to be responsive to citizen input.  And there is where each individual can make a difference. When it comes to saving the planet from a climate meltdown, or from World War III decisions must be hammered out at the highest level between national leaders who are able to knock the heads of big energy and big weapons together when they get home.











Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Don't take Your Eyes off Europe!

The bombs are falling in Syria, refugess are streaming out of Syria, there is hunger and despair in Africa as well as across the Middle East, but it would be a mistake to take our eyes off Europe.

The 'miracle' of the European Union is fast coming to an end, after a seventy-year run (from the time of the Coal and Steel Community that bound historical enemies France and Germany in 1951), as its nearly thirty countries revert to their longer history of feuding.

On CNN, Fareed Zakaria had barely finished chiding Poland, which he referred to as the EU's economic poster child, for emulating its neighbor Hungary in a turn toward 'illiberal democracy', when France 24 announced the stunning results of national regional elections: the anti-immigrant right-wing party the National Front polled its highest yet electoral score of 30%, leading in six out of thirteen regions, leaving both centrists and socialists in the dust at around 20% each. Never has the French ruling class been so frightened.

At every election cycle of the last four decades, France relives the same drama: the centrists and socialists refuse to cooperate in order to deprive the far-right of run-off victories, and that is how the National Front has grown from decade to decade, starting with Jean-Marie LePen’s surprise win in municipal elections in a town near Paris in 1983. It is no exaggeration to say that the National Front’s continuous growth has cautioned similar movements across Europe, after entering the European Parliament in 1984.

This information may seem irrelevant to most Americans, but they would be wrong to ignore it. As Donald Trump solidifies his lead the more threateningly he speaks, the media must remind voters of the rise of Hitler almost a century ago, while covering the rise of the extreme right in Europe.

Vladimir Putin is no fascist, however many politicians and pundits think they are smart by brandishing that accusation: he is a democratic socialist, as his speeches and actions make clear. And as the world moves toward another left/right confrontation under guise of religious or civilizational' wars, it is he who is on the right side.

Without the participation of the Soviet Union, the US would not have defeated Nazi Germany. Now, fearful American voters must not believe that fascism is the only way to beat ISIS.

Above all, they should not believe that an American Hitler, though high in the Republican polls, is the magic bullet.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fortress Europe and Its Trojan Horse

There is a popular saying in the US that what goes around comes around, meaning that your bad actions will boomerang back on you. I still remember John Gerassi’s 1963 book The Great Fear, that warned the North to ignore the South at its peril.  Western Europe was busy with its economic miracle then, giving little thought to the role played by present or former colonies, as these, one by one, gained independence through bloody struggle.

This happened because, following the Marshall Plan that helped Western Europe recover from the war, America continued to press upon its ‘allies’ its combined panoplies of mass culture and technology. ‘Drug Stores’ sprouted, followed by shopping malls, and I came upon pharmacies in Germany’s Black Forest with wall to wall carpeting and musak, at a time when Italians were roaring through hilltop villages on Vespas, soon to be followed by sports cars blaring rock music.

In 1992, following an eight-year war of independence (1954-62) Algeria, France’s largest African colony, was again plunged into  civil war when France intervened to prevent the Islamic Party from winning an election. Morocco and Tunisia followed a less rocky path to modernization after independence in 1955 and 1956 respectively, as nations across a vast African continent engaged in liberation from their English, French-or Portuguese speaking colonial masters.

In Asia, the Korean War (1950-53), largely an American affair, was closely followed by the War in Vietnam, which started as a French affair, but became a twenty-year American obsession, after France’s stinging defeat at Bien Bien Phu in 1954.  

Hitler’s Germany had no colonies , and following its second defeat in World War II, the country pursued its inevitable rise as Europe’s power-house, taking in thousands of Turkish guest workers. In France, Europe’s other major power, thousands of North African guest workers contributed to a much needed modernization. However, the simultaneous return to France of colonial settlers, known as ‘black foots’, mainly from Algeria, strengthened nationalists in a country with strong Communist and Socialist parties, ensuring rocky domestic politics. As it increa-singly Americanized its way of life, popular disapproval of US muscle continued, side-by-side with incidents such as the covert bombing of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior, to protect France’s nuclear ‘independence’.

While the Third and Fourth worlds were emancipating themselves from colonial rule, Europeans never imagined that this would raise the clout of the world’s formerly colonized majority. Though walking the same streets as Muslim men and women, Western Europeans never saw them as potential major players.  As for Eastern Europeans, their rush to consume without borders left them happily indifferent to anything going on elsewhere. If they noticed growing Muslim populations among their Western neighbors, they noted, with no small satisfaction, that their isolation behind the Iron Curtain during the period of decolonization saved them from involvement with Muslims, a considerable consolation in light of several hundred years of Turkish occupation

Seemingly out of the blue, Europe has been brought up short by its frivolous blindness: the two-thirds of multi-colored humanity out there matter. The Trojan horse of terrorism is filled with Bashar al-Assad’s refugees, but the horse itself was built by Washington’s relentless pursuit of global hegemony. Mindlessly, a vassalized Europe acquiesced, not realizing it would pay, as a result of what the French call disparagingly, wanting to play in the upper school yard.





Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sliding into War



While most people focus on the how dramatic the Paris raids were, or how brave the Parisians in its aftermath, I keep wondering how different, if at all, the current situation is from the months or weeks before previous wars.  Or rather, how different the present may feel to us from the way the lead-up to World War II felt to the Germans or the Japanese.

Although there have been many wars since that time, I’m deliberately taking World War II as an example because what today may be leading up to would not be a localized Korean War, or a Vietnamese War, but World War III.  And I cannot help but come back again and again to this nagging thought that future generations will wonder how a relatively highly educated world polity could have let a war to end the planet happen.

One of the problems with anticipating the ‘next’ (or current) war is defining it.  For centuries, wars have been between countries.  Before that, they were between religions, and long before that, between tribes.  The war we appear to have already entered fits none of these categories neatly.  It is not a war ‘’of’ civilizations, but a war between several different kinds of cultures: between authoritarian and “freedom-loving” or licentious cultures, which partly overlaps social democracy versus unbridled capitalism, the Judeo-Christian world versus the Islamic world and the North versus the South.

What throws a monkey-wrench into even these broad categories is the fact that, probably for the first time in history, a small group of humans have decided that war is an ideal way to make money, which also has the advantage of killing off large numbers of resource-consuming humans on a planet that will soon need life support itself.



Saturday, November 21, 2015

Putin's Groupies Versus Stalin's

The barrage of anti-Putin rhetoric that fills the Western air-waves and written media would be almost useless to the powers that be without the demonizing of those who support him across the world.

Yesterday, a US representative on MSNBC inadvertently referred to ‘Russia’ as ‘The Soviet Union’. Whether it was deliberate or a slip of the tongue, the remark shows that anti-Russian propaganda piggybacks comfortably on decades of Anti-Soviet propaganda. But recognizing this only scratches the surface of a dangerous trend: the conflating of individuals who believe Putin is the main adult in the room with traitors, harking back to the days when the American Communist Party supported Joseph Stalin.

In the fifties, Nikita Khruschev denounced Stalin’s crimes in a celebrated speech.  More recently, the Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a monument to be built in Moscow commemorating Stalin’s victims - something the US has yet to do with respect to slavery. Yet Americans who defend Putin’s policies are viciously attacked, largely, I believe, because the American public has no notion of history.

The Russian Revolution was did not emerge full-blown from nothing. It followed decades of revolutionary and reformist campaigns against the Tsarist regime among Russian writers and other intellectuals. Based on the writings of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, among others, it posited that if the 99% were empowered instead of the 1%, the Russian people would be better off.

Reams were written to support this claim, but once power had been taken from the Tsar and handed to the ‘Soviets’ or peoples’ councils, the leaders of the revolution realized that the aristocrats and capitalists were not going to take their losses lying down. A five year civil war between ‘White Russia’ and the Communists (or ‘Reds’ ) ensued, backed by the West.
(This is not going to be a history of the Russian Revolution.  I’m merely setting the stage for the thesis of this article.)  Russia emerged from four years of war against Germany alongside the Allied Powers, and an additional five years of civil war to confront its first two challenges: the redistribution of land from large owners to poor, largely illiterate peasants, and the gigantic task of turning a vast, largely agrarian society into a modern, developed country.

American progressives realized that this was a tall order for any government, and were inclined to make allowances for the brutality with which Stalin ruled in the name of the revolution’s promise of equity.  However, temporary cooperation with ‘Uncle Joe’ against Hitler in no way changed Washington’s deep-seated hostility to the system Stalin managed, and almost as soon as the war was over, American progressives were hunted, fired and ostracized by the House un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Fast forward to today, when a growing number of Americans are literally in despair over their government’s behavior, whether vis a vis minorities at home or in foreign policy. While no discriminatory action has as yet been taken against them, they are justifiably cautious about voicing their opinion, bearing in mind the fate of government whistle-blowers such as Chelsea Manning, and the impossibility for Edward Snowden to return to his country of birth without risking a life sentence for treason. 

And yet, I see a very big difference between those who during the life of the Soviet Union were labelled  ‘fellow travelers’, (those who, while not members of the Communist Party, supported the Russian Revolution”), and those who today consider that Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy makes more sense than that of their own government.
Americans who supported the Soviet Union did so because they believed it was a good idea to put power in the hands of the 99%, and they hoped similar events would take place in the United States. (At that time, most Americans still worked a 40 hour week and there was no such thing as time off if you had a baby.) If the Soviet experiment was a failure would imply that the 1% would always be in power everywhere, a fate too awful to accept. Many progressives heard only the positive reports from that faraway land, or believed Stalin’s exactions must somehow be justified.

The situation with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is very different.  Twenty-four seven tv and internet news make a significant number of people around the world aware of the major events played out daily across the planet. Although Americans could be much better informed, they are increasingly aware that their government tends to shoot first and ask questions later.  And that it is official policy that no other country can be permitted to become as powerful as we are.

Although Vladimir Putin’s speeches are not published in extenso -  any more than Obama’s - Americans do get a glimpse of his behavior on the world stage. And gradually, as for many other people around the world, it is becoming painfully clear to them that this foreign leader makes a lot more sense than their own. People around the world who have come to support Putin do not do so because they are being fed Russian propaganda, as those who supported Joseph Stalin were. They are infinitely more able to judge the Russian president for themselves than anyone was able judge Stalin, either inside or outside of the Soviet Union.

Thus, the big difference between Putin’s groupies and Stalin’s is that the former have the wherewithal to think for themselves, while the latter did not, and hence could only rely on the Party line. If they come together, it is because they recognize each other across time and space, not because they are members of a monolithic group. Those who support Putin’s approach to international affairs do so because they can see that it makes sense. Seventy years after the founding of the UN, the Russian president wants the world to abide by its charter, in letter and in spirit, while Washington has for decades disparaged both.


President Obama’s assurances that we go to war to protect civilians from their evil governments are as specious as George Bush’s assertions that we went to war to bring democracy to the world.  Now the dance over what to do about ISIS contrasts so vividly with US assertions of strength that Americans don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Unquestioning patriots condemn their government for being unable to beat the other side: thoughtful Americans condemn it for not hearing the other side. Slowly, they are coming to the conclusion that the aims of the 1% are so nefarious that no amount of common sense thinking about right and wrong would change official American behavior.  How could they not look to Putin, who takes every opportunity to insist, even when he feels compelled to act, that differences between nations must be sorted out through negotiation, not war?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Obama's Choice



The rambling answers of American congressmen to questions about what Obama should do about ISIS strongly suggest that what America is faced with is not really Obama’s choice, but a Hobson’s choice.  According to Wikipedia:

“A Hobson's choice is a so-called  free choice in which only one option is actually offered. Since a person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore really between taking the option or not. In other words,"take it or leave it." The phrase is said to originate with Thomas Hobson (1544–1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England, who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in his stall nearest the door or taking none at all. “

I could have quoted only the definition, leaving out the origin, but one is as pertinent as the other.  With its array of attacks in the capital of an allied country, ISIS is basically telling the President of the most powerful country on earth “either you make a deal with us, or you too, will perish”.  Obama clearly knows that, even though people like McCain, who think in the same linear, dualistic terms espoused by the terrorists, want us to atom bomb them back to seventh century Arabia.

Echoing what appeared to be a broad congressional consensus, last night on MSNBC, Senator Jack Reid claimed that it’s more urgent than ever for Assad to resign, because he is the reason for the ISIS attacks.  Reid neglected to say that ISIS hates Assad because he is, and has consistently been, a secular leader, under whom a multi-religious people lived peacefully until the US decided this was not acceptable, especially with up-coming oil pipelines in play.

No American politician can admit that it is not our democracy that ISIS rejects, but our way of life.  None pointed out that the most brutal attack came during a concert by a rock band, while others targeted restaurants serving alcohol and a sports stadium. (The rationale for that target is not clear, unless it was the presence of the French President, the suicide bombers having failed to gain entrance to the stadium.) 

As long as Western politicians continue to affirm that radical Islamists are targeting democracy, instead of admitting that they reject our lifestyle, they will be forced, as in Hobson’s choice, to take ‘the horse closest to the stable door’, waging war instead of instituting a dialogue about the place of morality in the city.  Christianity and Islam spent the entire Middle Ages warring against each other for territorial supremacy. Today the Islamists’ narrowly focused jihad against ‘the other’ is about behavior: the West’s commitment to consumption as a way of life, in which freedom of choice is a value, inevitably leads to a social environment in which anything goes.

Do I think people who drink alcohol or listen to rock music should be assassinated?  Of course not, but few Westerners have taken the trouble to find out what Islam is about. ‘Submission’ to God’s commands is about treating each other with dignity equity and respect, and this really doesn’t jive with the sight of women wrestlers on TV.




Wednesday, October 28, 2015

ISIS Sorts US 'Allies' From Russia's 'Friends'



Russia’s air campaign in Syria underscores the striking transformation of the Russian army since it entered Berlin in April of 1945 with crudely built tanks: Not only are Russian pilots flying sleek modern bombers fitted with the latest electronic gadgetry, they shop in the Russian equivalent of a US PX (post exchange), take saunas, and watch their favorite Russian TV shows and movies at the recently created air base on Syria’s Latakia coast, not far from the naval base Russia took over in the seventies.

Recently, Ann Applebaum, the American neo-conservative wife of the Polish conservative politician Radek Sikorsky, published a snide attack on Russia in the Washington Post http://Documents/Russia’s%20new%20kind%20of%20friends%20-%20The%20Washington%20Post.webarchive titled, rather awkwardly Russia's New Kinds of Friends.  In it she attacks the Russian-backed Dialogue of Civilizations, held every year since 2003 on the Greek Island of Rhodes-(perhaps channeling the famous ‘Rhodes Scholars’). The gathering is chaired by the former head of Russian State Railways, who is close to Putin. When I first saw the link, I thought it referred to the Valdai Discussion Group that has just wound up in Sochi, a Russian initiative started in 2004. (The existence of both these gatherings suggests that Vladimir Putin may have realized relatively early in his presidency that the West had no intention of treating Russia as a partner, hence the wisdom of cementing ties between like-minded people from around the world.) Together they gather a wide array of academics, business people and politicians who share Vladimir Putin’s preference for negotiations over military action. Unlike the Bilderberg Group and other Western-led high-level fora, his initiatives are seen by the mainstream media as just another excuse for Russia bashing.

"The forum also continued, as in the past, to gather people willing to endorse Russian views of the world. There was Vaclav Klaus, the former Czech president, who called Putin’s Syrian adventure a “logical step.” There was John Laughland, political director of a Russian-backed think tank, the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, who argued that the European Union was conceived by the CIA, as part of a US plot to subjugate Europe. Plus dozens of others, from all around the world."

While Washington’s mouthpieces continue to offer the dying Empire’s take on events, Russia takes pages from its playbook: contrasting with John McCain selfies with Syrians armed to topple their democratically elected government, members of the Duma, Russia’s parliament, are in Damascus to assess the chances of a peaceful solution to that war-torn country’s ills, following Assad’s visit to Moscow last Tuesday. (The Duma duly authorized President Putin to respond affirmatively to Assad’s call for help, in contrast to US congressional orneriness.) Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron exults over his country’s “golden era” of relations with China, as the US continues a lonely ‘pivot to Asia’ intended to isolate the Middle Kingdom.

America’s other European allies are reassessing their need for American ‘protection’ as they desperately try to cope with the consequences of Washington’s Middle East and African policies: hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into a once orderly and relatively egalitarian world that is still recovering from a Wall St inspired economic crisis. On both France’s and Russia’s English language channels, political and business leaders affirm daily that the US can no longer dictate Europe’s relations with Russia, the latest being former French center-right Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.  

It is a time of reckoning for Europe: seventy years of North Atlantic “partnership” turn out to have been a vassalage for which Europe is paying dearly: its commitment to human rights and equity diluted by a slavish neo-liberalism failed its Arab and black neighbors, leading thousands to conclude that their only chance for a fair deal from Europe is to demand it on-site.

Having been turned toward the Atlantic for decades, EU leaders are incapable of coming up with ways to stem the flow of refugees from areas of the world it has neglected. They hold summit after summit in a hopeless attempt to rally the smaller countries to policies that benefit mainly the large countries. Having come together in the European Union to relegate intra-European wars to the dustbin, they are failing its first real continent-wide challenge. As thousands of refugees trekked through the Balkans en route to Germany, the French government allowed a makeshift camp in Calais to reach six thousand, (even adding a makeshift theatre), because Britain will not allow the economic migrants that have been gathering there for years to cross the Channel. (It seems the enmity between the two countries, going back hundreds of years, is still current.  The French even have a word for it: ‘perfide Albion’.) Meanwhile, Greek vigilante’s have taken to the Mediterranean with arms against the smugglers that the Union shied from attacking. 

These meetings should have happened months ago. The feeling that Europe is sliding uncontrollably into a 1930s remake cannot be reasoned away: the 2014 coup in Ukraine against a democratically elected President gave the continent’s hitherto minority neo-fascist parties a major boost: brazenly, they parade across the lands Hitler invaded, claiming it for white Christians, as Muslim women and children huddle in the growing cold and rain. In an almost comical contrast, Germany’s three term Chancellor, “Mutti” Merkel, in a rainbow series of suits, had to set the record straight when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu offered journalists a Pinocchiesque excuse for continuing to occupy Palestinian lands: it was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Palestinian Grand Mufti, who, in 1941, suggested the Holocaust to Hitler!  Meanwhile she tries to lash her counterparts to the wheel of solidarity as her own right-wing militias torch buildings housing refugees and immigrants, including long-time Eastern European residents.

Does this confusing picture mean that Europe is uniquely condemned to repeat its historical mistakes?  I believe it shows that the left/right antagonism is an eternal one. Russia’s ascendancy goes far beyond a new physical presence as Europe evacuates its fabricated fear of the now defunct Soviet Union and the Communism it represented, correctly reading Russia as a powerful social-democratic ally. You have only to watch ‘Putin’s bullhorn’ over time to read its ideological message: for third world development, against global warming, for democracy, against regime change, for freedom of religion but against consumerism, and above all, against war and for resolving conflicts through negotiations.

Europe appears to have concluded that Russia’s conservative attitude toward gay marriage is a relatively small price to pay to prevent a fascist takeover that would doom many more human rights. But as the US corporate-inspired transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) comes up for adoption, will it have the spine to reject it in favor of closer economic ties with Eurasia? It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the future of a world threatened with catastrophic climate change will partly turn on the existence of aEuropean spine .


Friday, October 23, 2015

President Putin's Speech and Responses to Questions at Economic Forum

Dear Readers:  You won't read this document in the New York Times, nor even on most on-line journals.  Note the difference in tone between the Russian President and our own. Toward the end thereis an interesting exchange between Putin and US Ambassador Jack Matlock.

Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club
Sochi
2015-10-22 20:45:00

Vladimir Putin took part in the final plenary session of the 12th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

This topic of this year’s Valdai conference is Societies Between War and Peace: Overcoming the Logic of Conflict in Tomorrow’s World. In the period between October 19 and 22, experts from 30 countries have been considering various aspects of the perception of war and peace both in the public consciousness and in international relations, religion and economic interaction between states.

* * *
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to greet you here at this regular meeting of the Valdai International Club.
It is true that for over 10 years now this has been a platform to discuss the most pressing issues and consider the directions and prospects for the development of Russia and the whole world. The participants change, of course, but overall, this discussion platform retains its core, so to speak – we have turned into a kind of mutually understanding environment.
We have an open discussion here; this is an open intellectual platform for an exchange of views, assessments and forecasts that are very important for us here in Russia. I would like to thank all the Russian and foreign politicians, experts, public figures and journalists taking part in the work of this club.

This year the discussion focusses on issues of war and peace. This topic has clearly been the concern of humanity throughout its history. Back in ancient times, in antiquity people argued about the nature, the causes of conflicts, about the fair and unfair use of force, of whether wars would always accompany the development of civilisation, broken only by ceasefires, or would the time come when arguments and conflicts are resolved without war.

I’m sure you recalled our great writer Leo Tolstoy here. In his great novel War and Peace, he wrote that war contradicted human reason and human nature, while peace in his opinion was good for people.

True, peace, a peaceful life have always been humanity’s ideal. State figures, philosophers and lawyers have often come up with models for a peaceful interaction between nations. Various coalitions and alliances declared that their goal was to ensure strong, ‘lasting’ peace as they used to say. However, the problem was that they often turned to war as a way to resolve the accumulated contradictions, while war itself served as a means for establishing new post-war hierarchies in the world.

Meanwhile peace, as a state of world politics, has never been stable and did not come of itself. Periods of peace in both European and world history were always been based on securing and maintaining the existing balance of forces. This happened in the 17th century in the times of the so-called Peace of Westphalia, which put an end to the Thirty Years’ War. Then in the 19th century, in the time of the Vienna Congress; and again 70 years ago in Yalta, when the victors over Nazism made the decision to set up the United Nations Organisation and lay down the principles of relations between states.
With the appearance of nuclear weapons, it became clear that there could be no winner in a global conflict. There can be only one end – guaranteed mutual destruction. It so happened that in its attempt to create ever more destructive weapons humanity has made any big war pointless.
Incidentally, the world leaders of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s did treat the use of armed force as an exceptional measure. In this sense, they behaved responsibly, weighing all the circumstances and possible consequences.

The end of the Cold War put an end to ideological opposition, but the basis for arguments and geopolitical conflicts remained. All states have always had and will continue to have their own diverse interests, while the course of world history has always been accompanied by competition between nations and their alliances. In my view, this is absolutely natural.

The main thing is to ensure that this competition develops within the framework of fixed political, legal and moral norms and rules. Otherwise, competition and conflicts of interest may lead to acute crises and dramatic outbursts.

We have seen this happen many times in the past. Today, unfortunately, we have again come across similar situations. Attempts to promote a model of unilateral domination, as I have said on numerous occasions, have led to an imbalance in the system of international law and global regulation, which means there is a threat, and political, economic or military competition may get out of control.

What, for instance, could such uncontrolled competition mean for international security? A growing number of regional conflicts, especially in ‘border’ areas, where the interests of major nations or blocs meet. This can also lead to the probable downfall of the system of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (which I also consider to be very dangerous), which, in turn, would result in a new spiral of the arms race.

We have already seen the appearance of the concept of the so-called disarming first strike, including one with the use of high-precision long-range non-nuclear weapons comparable in their effect to nuclear weapons.

The use of the threat of a nuclear missile attack from Iran as an excuse, as we know, has destroyed the fundamental basis of modern international security – the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States has unilaterally seceded from the treaty. Incidentally, today we have resolved the Iranian issue and there is no threat from Iran and never has been, just as we said.

The thing that seemed to have led our American partners to build an anti-missile defence system is gone. It would be reasonable to expect work to develop the US anti-missile defence system to come to an end as well. What is actually happening? Nothing of the kind, or actually the opposite – everything continues.

Recently the United States conducted the first test of the anti-missile defence system in Europe. What does this mean? It means we were right when we argued with our American partners. They were simply trying yet again to mislead us and the whole world. To put it plainly, they were lying. It was not about the hypothetical Iranian threat, which never existed. It was about an attempt to destroy the strategic balance, to change the balance of forces in their favour not only to dominate, but to have the opportunity to dictate their will to all: to their geopolitical competition and, I believe, to their allies as well. This is a very dangerous scenario, harmful to all, including, in my opinion, to the United States.

The nuclear deterrent lost its value. Some probably even had the illusion that victory of one party in a world conflict was again possible – without irreversible, unacceptable, as experts say, consequences for the winner, if there ever is one.

In the past 25 years, the threshold for the use of force has gone down noticeably. The anti-war immunity we have acquired after two world wars, which we had on a subconscious, psychological level, has become weaker. The very perception of war has changed: for TV viewers it was becoming and has now become an entertaining media picture, as if nobody dies in combat, as if people do not suffer and cities and entire states are not destroyed.

Unfortunately, military terminology is becoming part of everyday life. Thus, trade and sanctions wars have become today’s global economic reality – this has become a set phrase used by the media. The sanctions, meanwhile, are often used also as an instrument of unfair competition to put pressure on or completely ‘throw’ competition out of the market. As an example, I could take the outright epidemic of fines imposed on companies, including European ones, by the United States. Flimsy pretexts are being used, and all those who dare violate the unilateral American sanctions are severely punished.
You know, this may not be Russia’s business, but this is a discussion club, therefore I will ask: Is that the way one treats allies? No, this is how one treats vassals who dare act as they wish – they are punished for misbehaving.

Last year a fine was imposed on a French bank to a total of almost $9 billion – $8.9 billion, I believe. Toyota paid $1.2 billion, while the German Commerzbank signed an agreement to pay $1.7 billion into the American budget, and so forth.

We also see the development of the process to create non-transparent economic blocs, which is done following practically all the rules of conspiracy. The goal is obvious – to reformat the world economy in a way that would make it possible to extract a greater profit from domination and the spread of economic, trade and technological regulation standards.

The creation of economic blocs by imposing their terms on the strongest players would clearly not make the world safer, but would only create time bombs, conditions for future conflicts.

The World Trade Organisation was once set up. True, the discussion there is not proceeding smoothly, and the Doha round of talks ended in a deadlock, possibly, but we should continue looking for ways out and for compromise, because only compromise can lead to the creation of a long-term system of relations in any sphere, including the economy. Meanwhile, if we dismiss that the concerns of certain countries – participants in economic communication, if we pretend that they can be bypassed, the contradictions will not go away, they will not be resolved, they will remain, which means that one day they will make themselves known.

As you know, our approach is different. While creating the Eurasian Economic Union we tried to develop relations with our partners, including relations within the Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt initiative. We are actively working on the basis of equality in BRICS, APEC and the G20.
The global information space is also shaken by wars today, in a manner of speaking. The ‘only correct’ viewpoint and interpretation of events is aggressively imposed on people, certain facts are either concealed or manipulated. We are all used to labelling and the creation of an enemy image.

The authorities in countries that seemed to have always appealed to such values as freedom of speech and the free dissemination of information – something we have heard about so often in the past – are now trying to prevent the spreading of objective information and any opinion that differs from their own; they declare it hostile propaganda that needs to be combatted, clearly using undemocratic means.
Unfortunately, we hear the words war and conflict ever more frequently when talking about relations between people of different cultures, religions and ethnicity. Today hundreds of thousands of migrants are trying to integrate into a different society without a profession and without any knowledge of the language, traditions and culture of the countries they are moving to. Meanwhile, the residents of those countries – and we should openly speak about this, without trying to polish things up – the residents are irritated by the dominance of strangers, rising crime rate, money spent on refugees from the budgets of their countries.

Many people sympathise with the refugees, of course, and would like to help them. The question is how to do it without infringing on the interests of the residents of the countries where the refugees are moving. Meanwhile, a massive uncontrolled shocking clash of different lifestyles can lead, and already is leading to growing nationalism and intolerance, to the emergence of a permanent conflict in society.

Colleagues, we must be realistic: military power is, of course, and will remain for a long time still an instrument of international politics. Good or bad, this is a fact of life. The question is, will it be used only when all other means have been exhausted? When we have to resist common threats, like, for instance, terrorism, and will it be used in compliance with the known rules laid down in international law. Or will we use force on any pretext, even just to remind the world who is boss here, without giving a thought about the legitimacy of the use of force and its consequences, without solving problems, but only multiplying them.

We see what is happening in the Middle East. For decades, maybe even centuries, inter-ethnic, religious and political conflicts and acute social issues have been accumulating here. In a word, a storm was brewing there, while attempts to forcefully rearrange the region became the match that lead to a real blast, to the destruction of statehood, an outbreak of terrorism and, finally, to growing global risks.

A terrorist organisation, the so-called Islamic State, took huge territories under control. Just think about it: if they occupied Damascus or Baghdad, the terrorist gangs could achieve the status of a practically official power, they would create a stronghold for global expansion. Is anyone considering this? It is time the entire international community realised what we are dealing with – it is, in fact, an enemy of civilisation and world culture that is bringing with it an ideology of hatred and barbarity, trampling upon morals and world religious values, including those of Islam, thereby compromising it.

We do not need wordplay here; we should not break down the terrorists into moderate and immoderate ones. It would be good to know the difference. Probably, in the opinion of certain experts, it is that the so-called moderate militants behead people in limited numbers or in some delicate fashion.
In actual fact, we now see a real mix of terrorist groups. True, at times militants from the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and other Al-Qaeda heirs and splinters fight each other, but they fight for money, for feeding grounds, this is what they are fighting for. They are not fighting for ideological reasons, while their essence and methods remain the same: terror, murder, turning people into a timid, frightened, obedient mass.

In the past years the situation has been deteriorating, the terrorists’ infrastructure has been growing, along with their numbers, while the weapons provided to the so-called moderate opposition eventually ended up in the hands of terrorist organisations. Moreover, sometimes entire bands would go over to their side, marching in with flying colours, as they say.

Why is it that the efforts of, say, our American partners and their allies in their struggle against the Islamic State has not produced any tangible results? Obviously, this is not about any lack of military equipment or potential. Clearly, the United States has a huge potential, the biggest military potential in the world, only double crossing is never easy. You declare war on terrorists and simultaneously try to use some of them to arrange the figures on the Middle East board in your own interests, as you may think.

It is impossible to combat terrorism in general if some terrorists are used as a battering ram to overthrow the regimes that are not to one’s liking. You cannot get rid of those terrorists, it is only an illusion to think you can get rid of them later, take power away from them or reach some agreement with them. The situation in Libya is the best example here.

Let us hope that the new government will manage to stabilise the situation, though this is not a fact yet. However, we need to assist in this stabilisation.

We understand quite well that the militants fighting in the Middle East represent a threat to everyone, including Russia. People in our nation know what terrorist aggression means and know what the bandits in the North Caucasus have done. We remember the bloody terrorist attacks in Budennovsk, Moscow, Beslan, Volgograd and other Russian cities. Russia has always fought terrorism in all its forms, consistently advocating for truly unifying the global community’s efforts to fight this evil. That is why we made our suggestion to create a broad anti-terror coalition, which I recently voiced in my speech at the United Nations.

After Syria’s official authorities reached out to us for support, we made the decision to launch a Russian military operation in that nation. I will stress again: it is fully legitimate and its only goal is to help restore peace. I am sure that the Russian service members’ actions will have the necessary positive effect on the situation, helping Syria’s official authorities create the conditions for subsequent actions in reaching a political settlement and stage pre-emptive strikes against terrorists that threaten our nation, Russia. Thus, we help all nations and peoples who are certainly in danger if these terrorists return home.

Here is what we believe we must do to support long-term settlement in the region, as well as its social, economic and political revival. First of all, free Syria and Iraq’s territories from terrorists and not let them move their activities to other regions. And to do that, we must join all forces – the Iraqi and Syrian regular armies, Kurdish militia, various opposition groups that have actually made a real contribution to fighting terrorists – and coordinate the actions of countries within and outside of the region against terrorism. At the same time, joint anti-terrorist action must certainly be based on international law.

Second, it is obvious that a military victory over the militants alone will not resolve all problems, but it will create conditions for the main thing: a beginning of a political process with participation by all healthy, patriotic forces of the Syrian society. It is the Syrians who must decide their fate with exclusively civil, respectful assistance from the international community, and not under external pressure through ultimatums, blackmail or threats.

The collapse of Syria’s official authorities, for example, will only mobilise terrorists. Right now, instead of undermining them, we must revive them, strengthening state institutions in the conflict zone.

I want to remind you that throughout its history, the Middle East has often been an arena for clashes between various empires and powers. They redrew boundaries and reshaped the region’s political structure to suit their tastes and interests. And the consequences were not always good or beneficial for the people living there. Actually, no one even asked their opinion. The last people to find out what was happening in their own nations were the people living in the Middle East.

Of course, this begs the question: isn’t it time for the international community to coordinate all its actions with the people who live in these territories? I think that it’s long overdue; these people – like any people – should be treated with respect.

The involvement in the process of political settlement of the Muslim clergy, leaders of Islam and heads of Muslim nations is crucial. We count on their consolidated position and assistance, as well as their moral authority. It is very important to protect people, especially youth, against the destructive effects of the ideology of the terrorists, who are trying to use them as cannon fodder, nothing more. We need to distinguish clearly between genuine Islam, whose values are peace, family, good deeds, helping others, respecting traditions, and the lies and hatred that the militants sow under the guise of Islam.

Fourth, we currently need to develop a roadmap for the region’s economic and social development, to restore basic infrastructure, housing, hospitals and schools. Only this kind of on-site creative work after eliminating terrorism and reaching a political settlement can stop the enormous flow of refugees to European nations and return those who left to their homelands.

It is clear that Syria will need massive financial, economic and humanitarian assistance in order to heal the wounds of war. We need to determine the format within which we could do this work, getting donor nations and international financial institutions involved. Right now, Syria’s problems are being discussed at the UN and other international organisations, and within the framework of interstate relations. It’s true that for now, we are not always able to reach an understanding and it is painfully difficult to abandon might-have-been expectations and unjustified calculations, but nevertheless, there is some progress.

We see that contacts are being gradually established between military departments within the anti-terrorist operation framework, although not as actively and quickly as we might like. Approval of the Russian-American document on safety guidelines for the two countries’ military aircraft flying missions over Syria is a serious step in the right direction.

We are also close to starting an exchange of information with our western colleagues on militants’ positions and movements. All these are certainly steps in the right direction. What’s most important is to treat one another as allies in a common fight, to be honest and open. Only then can we guarantee victory over the terrorists.

For all the drama of its current situation, Syria can become a model for partnership in the name of common interests, resolving problems that affect everyone, and developing an effective risk management system. We already had this opportunity after the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately, we did not take advantage of it. We also had the opportunity in the early 2000s, when Russia, the US and many other nations were faced with terrorist aggression and unfortunately, we were unable to establish a good dynamic for cooperating then, either. I will not return to that and the reasons for why we were unable to do this. I think everyone knows already. Now, what’s important is to draw the right lessons from what happened in the past and to move forward.

I am confident that the experience we acquired and today’s situation will allow us to finally make the right choice – the choice in favour of cooperation, mutual respect and trust, the choice in favour of peace.
 Thank you very much for your attention. (Applause.)

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Vladimir Putin: First of all, let me thank everyone who spoke. I think this was all very substantive and interesting, and I am very pleased to see that our discussion has spice and substance to it rather than being all dry talk.

Let’s not dig around now in the distant past. When it comes to who is to blame for the Soviet Union’s collapse, I think that internal reasons were the primary cause, of course, and in this sense, Mr Ambassador was right. The inefficiency of the former Soviet Union’s political and economic systems was the main cause of the state’s collapse.

But who gave this process a helping hand is another matter. I don’t think that our geopolitical adversaries were standing around idle, but internal reasons were nonetheless the primary cause. Mr Ambassador, as I understand it, was debating with me from afar, and now here, face to face, when he said that, unlike me, he does not consider the collapse of the Soviet Union one of the twentieth century’s great tragedies. For my part, I continue to insist that this was a tragedy, above all a humanitarian tragedy. This is what I was saying.

The Soviet collapse left 25 million Russians abroad. This just happened overnight and no one ever asked them. I repeat my argument that the Russian people became the world’s biggest divided nation, and this was unquestionably a tragedy. That is not to mention the socioeconomic dimension. The Soviet collapse brought down the social system and economy with it. Yes, the old economy was not very effective, but its collapse threw millions of people into poverty, and this was also a tragedy for individual people and families.

Now, on the question of continuing strategic offensive arms limitation talks, you are right to say that we do need to continue this dialogue. But at the same time, I cannot say that Russia and the United States have done nothing here. We did conclude a new treaty on limiting strategic offensive arms and set goals for limiting this type of weapons. However, the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which was the cornerstone for preserving the balance of power and international security, has left this whole system in a serious and complicated state.

In this respect, since this is a discussion club, I would like to ask Mr Ambassador what he thinks of the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

Jack Matlock: I was personally opposed to that withdrawal and I take your point. I would say that I don’t think that any subsequent plans for the sort of deployments were or could be a threat to Russian systems. But in general, I am not a supporter of ABM systems. I would point out that I think the main source of that is not to threaten Russia but to secure employment in the United States. A lot comes from the military-industrial complex and the number of people it employs.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Ambassador, I find your arguments unconvincing. I have the greatest respect for your experience and diplomatic skills, of which you have given us a flawless demonstration, avoiding a direct answer. Well, you did answer my question, but not without some embellishments.
One should not create jobs when the result of this activity threatens all of humanity. And if developing new missile defence systems is about creating jobs, why create them in this particular area? Why not create jobs in biology, pharmaceuticals, or in high-tech sectors not related to arms production?
On the question of whether this poses a threat to Russia or not, I can assure you that US security and strategic arms specialists are fully aware that this does threaten Russia’s nuclear capability, and that the whole purpose of this system is to reduce the nuclear capabilities of all countries but the USA itself to zero. We’ve been hearing arguments this whole time about the Iranian nuclear threat, but as I said in my remarks before, our position was always that there was no such threat, and now not only we but the entire international community share this view.

The United States initiated the signing of an agreement with Iran on settling the Iranian nuclear issue. We actively followed and supported our US and Iranian partners on the road to a common decision and this agreement has now come into force and Iran has agreed to send its enriched uranium out of the country. So if there is no Iranian nuclear problem, why develop a missile defence system? You could stop the project, but not only has the project not stopped, on the contrary, new tests and exercises are taking place. These systems will be in place in Romania by the end of the year and in Poland by 2018 or 2020.

As I can tell you, and the specialists know, the missile defence deployment sites can be used effectively for stationing cruise missile attack systems. Does this not create a threat for us? Of course it does, and it changes the very philosophy of international security. If one country thinks that it has created a missile defence shield that will protect it from any strikes or counter-strikes, it has its hands free to use whatever types of weapons it likes, and it is this that upsets the strategic balance. You have worked on arms agreements in the past and have achieved some amazing results. I can but take off my hat to you and congratulate you on this. You and your Russian partners have had some great successes, but what is happening now cannot fail to worry us. I am sure that you would agree with this in your heart. Essentially, you admitted as much when you said that you did not support the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the treaty.

Now, on the subject of Ukraine, and on the idea that this creates dangers for us, yes, of course it creates dangers, but was it we who created this situation? Remember the year when Mr Yanukovych lost the election and Mr Yushchenko came to power? Look at how he came to power. It was through a third round of voting, which is not even in the Ukrainian Constitution’s provisions. The Western countries actively supported this. This was a complete violation of the Constitution. What kind of democracy is this? This is simply chaos. They did it once, and then did it again in even more flagrant form with the change of regime and coup d’├ętat that took place in Ukraine not so long ago.
Russia’s position is not that we oppose the Ukrainian people’s choice. We are ready to accept any choice. Ukraine genuinely is a brotherly country in our eyes, a brotherly people. I don’t make any distinction between Russians and Ukrainians. But we oppose this method of changing the government. It is not a good method anywhere in the world, but it is completely unacceptable in the post-Soviet region, where, to be frank, many former Soviet republics do not yet have traditions of statehood and have not yet developed stable political systems. In this context, we need to take great care of what we do have and help it to develop. We were ready to work even with the people who came to power as a result of that unconstitutional third round back then. We worked with Mr Yushchenko and Ms Timoshenko, though they were considered to be completely pro-Western politicians – I think this is not an accurate label in general, but this was the way they were viewed. We met with them, travelled to Kiev, received them here in Russia. Yes, we sometimes had fierce debates on economic matters, but we did work together.

But what are we supposed to do when faced with a coup d’├ętat? Do you want to organise an Iraq or Libya here? The US authorities have not hidden the fact that they are spending billions there. The authorities have said directly in public that they have spent $5 billion on supporting the opposition. Is this the right choice?

Another of our colleagues said that it is wrong to interpret things as suggesting that the United States seeks to change the political system and government in Russia. It is hard for me to agree with that argument. The United States has a law that concerns Ukraine, but it directly mentions Russia, and this law states that the goal is democratisation of the Russian Federation. Just imagine if we were to write into Russian law that our goal is to democratise the United States, though in principle we could do this, and let me tell you why.

There are grounds for this. Everyone knows that there were two occasions in US history when a president came to power with the votes of the majority of the electoral college members but the minority of voters. Is this democratic? No, democracy is the people’s power, the will of the majority. How can you have someone elected to the country’s highest office by only a minority of voters? This is a problem in your constitution, but we do not demand that you change your constitution.
We can debate all of this forever, but if you have a country writing such things into its domestic laws and financing the domestic opposition [of another country]… Having an opposition is a normal thing, but it must survive on its own resources, and if you have a country openly spending billions on supporting it, is this normal political practice? Will this help to build a spirit of trust at the interstate level? I don’t think so.

Now, on the subject of democracy moving closer to our borders. (Laughter). You seem to be an experienced person. Do you imagine we could be opposed to having democracy on our borders? What is it you call democracy here? Are you referring to NATO’s move towards our borders? Is that what you mean by democracy? NATO is a military alliance. We are worried not about democracy on our borders, but about military infrastructure coming ever closer to our borders. How do you expect us to respond in such a case? What are we to think? This is the issue that worries us.

You know what is at the heart of today’s problems? I will share it with you, and we will certainly make public the document I want to refer to now. It is a record of the discussions between German politicians and top Soviet officials just before Germany’s reunification. It makes for very interesting reading, just like reading a detective story.

One prominent German political figure of the time, a leader in the Social Democratic Party, said during the talks with the senior Russian officials – I can’t quote him word for word, but I remember the original closely enough – he said, “If we don’t reach agreement now on the principles for Germany’s reunification and Europe’s future, crises will continue and even grow after Germany’s reunification and we will not end them but only face them again in new forms.” Later, when the Soviet officials got into discussion with him, he was surprised and said, “You’d think I am defending the Soviet Union’s interests – reproaching them for their short-sighted views it seems – but I’m thinking about Europe’s future.” And he turned out to be absolutely right.

Mr Ambassador, your colleagues did not reach agreements then on the basic principles of what would follow Germany’s reunification: the question of prospective NATO membership for Germany, the future of military infrastructure, its forms and development, and the coordination of security issues in Europe. Oral agreements were reached back then, but nothing was put on paper, nothing fixed, and so it went from there. But as you all recall from my speech in Munich, when I made this point, back then, the NATO Secretary General gave the oral assurance that the Soviet Union could be sure that NATO – I quote – would not expand beyond the eastern borders of today’s GDR. And yet the reality was completely different. There were two waves of NATO expansion eastwards, and now we have missile defence systems right on our borders too.

I think that all of this raises legitimate concerns in our eyes, and this is something we certainly need to work on. Despite all the difficulties, we are willing to work together. On the serious issue of missile defence, we have already made past proposals and I say again that we could work together as a threesome – the USA, Russia, and Europe. What would this kind of cooperation entail? It would mean that all three parties agree together on the direction missile threats are coming from, and have equal part in the system’s command and in other secondary matters. But our proposals met with a refusal. It was not we who did not seek cooperation, but others who refused us.

Now we face the serious issue of what is happening in Syria, and I am sure this will be the subject of further discussion. We hear criticism that we are supposedly striking the wrong targets. I said recently, speaking in Moscow, “Tell us what are the right targets to hit if you know them,” but no, they don’t tell us. So we ask them to tell us which targets to avoid, but they still don’t answer us.

We have this excellent movie, Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession. The Russian audience knows it well. One of the movie’s characters says to the other, “How am I supposed to understand what you’re saying if you don’t say anything?” Fortunately, at the military level at least, as I said before, we are starting to say something to each other and come to some agreements. The circumstances oblige us to do so.

The military people are the most responsible it seems, and I hope that if they can reach agreements, we will be able to reach agreements at the political level too.
Thank you.

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Vladimir Putin: How effective will our operations in Syria be?
How can I give a certain answer to such questions? The only thing that is certain is an insurance policy. We are acting in accordance with our convictions and with the norms of international law. We hope that coordinated action between our strike aircraft and the other military systems being used, coordinated with the Syrian army’s offensive, will produce positive results. I believe and our military also think that results have already been achieved.

Is this enough to be able to say that we have defeated terrorism in Syria? No, big efforts are still needed before we will be able to make such an assertion. A lot of work is still needed, and let me stress that this must be joint work.

We do not want to start finger-pointing now, but let me say nonetheless that over the nearly 18 months that a US-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes, with more than 11 countries taking part and more than 500 strikes against various targets, there is no result yet, and this is a clear fact. What result can we speak of if the terrorists have reinforced their presence in Syria and Iraq, dug in deeper in the territory they had already taken, and expanded their presence? In this sense, it seems to me that our colleagues have not achieved any effective results as yet.

The first operations between our armed forces and the Syrian armed forces have produced results, but this is not enough. It would be wonderful if we united forces, everyone who genuinely wants to fight terrorism, if all the region’s countries and the outside powers, including the United States, came together on this. In essence, this is just what we proposed.

We proposed that a military delegation come to Moscow first, and then I said that we were ready to send a high-level political delegation headed by Russia’s Prime Minister to discuss political questions. But our proposal was given a refusal. True, our American colleagues did then provide explanations at the ministerial level, saying that there had been some misunderstanding and that the road is open, that we can take this road and should think about how to unite our efforts.

Now, the foreign ministers of the USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey will meet. I think that other countries in the region should join this process too, countries whose involvement is essential if we want to settle this issue. I am thinking of Iran, primarily. We have already said this many times before. But it is a start at this stage to have the foreign ministers meet to discuss things. As for our Iranian partners, we are in close contact with them on this matter, and Iran makes its own significant contribution to a settlement.

On the question of Syria’s partition, I think this would be the worst-case scenario. It is an unacceptable option because it would not help to resolve the conflict but would instead only serve to increase and prolong it. This would become a permanent conflict. If Syria were partitioned into separate territories, they would inevitably fight between themselves without end and nothing positive would come out of this.

On the matter of whether al-Assad should go or not, I have said many times already that I think it wrong to even ask this question. How can we ask and decide from outside whether this or that country’s leader should stay or go. This is a matter for the Syrian people to decide. Let me add though that we must be certain that government is formed on the basis of transparent democratic procedures. We can talk of having some kind of international monitoring of these procedures, including election procedures, but this must be objective monitoring, and most importantly, it must not have a bias in favour of any one country or group of countries.

Finally, on how we see the political process, let me give a general outline now, but let me say at the same time that it is the Syrians themselves who must formulate this process, its principles and final goals, what they want and how they will achieve it. By the Syrians themselves, I am referring to the lawful government and the opposition forces. Of course, we take the view that the root causes of the conflict in Syria are not just the fight against terrorism and terrorist attacks, though terrorist aggression is clear and the terrorists are simply taking advantage of Syria’s internal difficulties. We need to separate the terrorist threat from the internal political problems. Certainly, the Syrian government must establish working contact with those opposition forces that are ready for dialogue. I understood from my meeting with President al-Assad the day before that he is ready for such dialogue.

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Vladimir Putin: I can tell you, I watch the video reports after the strike and they make an impression. Such a quantity of ammunition goes off there that it flies practically all the way up to the planes. You get the impression that they have collected arms and ammunition from throughout the entire Middle East. They have put together a colossal amount of arms. You can’t help but wonder where they get the money from. It’s really a tremendous amount of firepower they’ve accumulated. Now, of course, it is less than it was. The Syrian army really is making gains with our support. The results are modest for now, but they are there, and I am sure that there will be more.

<…>

Vladimir Putin: (responding to a question on possible Russian participation in an operation in Iraq) We have no such plans and cannot have them because the Iraqi government has not made any such request of us. We are providing assistance to Iraq in the form of arms supplies. This is something we were already doing, and we make our contribution to fighting terrorism in Iraq this way – by supplying weapons and ammunition. But the Iraqi government has not made any request for other aid, though we work together with them not just through supplies of arms and military equipment, but through information exchanges too.

As you know, it was in Baghdad that Iran, Syria, Russia and Iraq established an information centre, where we exchange information and set the main directions in the fight against terrorism, including against the Islamic State, but we have no plans to expand military operations involving Russia’s Aerospace Forces.

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Vladimir Putin: The aim of Russia’s military operations and diplomatic efforts in this area is to fight terrorism and not to mediate between representatives of the different currents of Islam. We value equally our Shiite friends, our Sunni friends, and our Alawite friends. We do not make distinctions between them.

We have very good relations with many countries where the Sunni branch of Islam is dominant. We also have very good relations with majority Shiite countries, and we therefore make no distinction between them. Let me say again that our sole and primary aim is to fight terrorism.
At the same time, we are aware of the realities on the ground. Of the 34, I think (it’s around that number, anyway), cabinet members in Syria, more than half are Sunnis, and Sunnis are just as broadly represented in the Syrian army as in the government. Syria was always primarily a secular state, after all.

But let me say again that we are aware of the real circumstances we are working in, and of course, if our actions could help to give discussion between the different religious groups a more civilised, good-neighbourly and friendly nature and help to settle various conflicts and unite efforts in the fight against terrorism, we would consider our mission fulfilled.

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Vladimir Putin: I was wondering to myself just now whether to say this or not. Let me raise the curtain a little on our talks with President al-Assad. I asked him, “How would you react if we see that there is an armed opposition in Syria today that is ready to genuinely fight terrorism, fight the Islamic State, and we were to support their efforts in this fight against terrorism just as we are supporting the Syrian army?” He said, “I think it would be positive.” We are reflecting on this now and will try, if it all works out, to translate these agreements into practical steps.

<…>

Vladimir Putin (responding to a question on Russia’s role in the future world): The answer is simple: in the modern world, in the near future and, I think, in the more distant future, the role and significance of any state in the world will depend on the level of a particular nation’s economic development. It will depend on how modern the economy is and how much it strives toward the future, the extent to which it is based on the newest technologies, and how quickly it adopts the new technological order.

And here, I am not talking about the territory, population, or military component – all that is very important, and without it, a nation cannot claim to hold one of the leading positions in the world. But in this respect, the economy and its development as well as the economic growth rates based on the new technological foundation lie at the heart of everything.

I feel that Russia has every chance of becoming one of the leaders, in the sense of having a high level of education among the population and a high level of fundamental science development. We have many problems here. We have always had them and will continue to have them – the same as other nations. But we are giving more and more attention not only to reviving fundamental and applied science, but also giving new momentum to developing these important areas. If we take into account these circumstances and absolutely natural competitive advantages, then Russia will certainly play a notable role.

I think it’s very difficult to identify a specific ranking. This is not an athletic competition, however, it is entirely clear to me that Russia has good prospects and a strong future – but it will certainly involve developing relations with our neighbours. First and foremost, these are our closest neighbours, partners and allies within such organisations as the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

This includes developing relations with neighbours like China, the nation with which we have the highest turnover, at over $80 billion. And, of course, a great nation like India. And we certainly cannot imagine our development without developing relations with Europe.
Christian culture lies at the foundation of our unity, but we also have an advantage in that nearly 20% of our population is Muslim, and in this respect, we can be a link between many of our partners and the Islamic world. And, of course, we count on developing relations with the United States – if our partners will want it.

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Vladimir Putin (on disagreements between Russia and the West): You know, if we look at the reasoning of our thinkers, philosophers, representatives of classical Russian literature, they see the reasons for disagreements between Russia and the West overall, in the broader sense of the word, as a difference in world view. And they are partially right.

The concept of good and evil, higher forces and the divine lie at the foundation of the Russian mindset. The foundation of the western mindset – I do not want this to sound awkward, but nevertheless – is based on interest, pragmatism, the bottom line. And in this respect, we need to use the terms very precisely and consistently.

Look, the slogans of today’s meeting are written behind you. On one side, in English, it says, (speaking in English) Societies Between War and Peace: Overcoming the Logic of Conflict in Tomorrow’s World. Whereas in Russian, it says, “War and Peace,” and then, most importantly, “Man,” and then “Government and the Threat of Major Conflict in the 21st Century.” The English version talks about conflict as an inevitable future, and not just in the 21st century but in general. You know, even in this conceptual framework, there are differences, and we need to strive for this clear framework to be used as accurately as possible, so that it is consistently understood what we are writing and saying.

And finally. Unfortunately, I cannot refrain from a certain criticism, but when the basis for today’s policy is a kind of messianism and exceptionalism, then it is hard for us to hold a dialogue in this format, because it is truly a departure from our common traditional values, based on equality of all people before the Creator. This does not mean that we cannot or should not seek common ground within this frame of reference. We will do so, I want to stress again that we very much hope that our partners are ready for this work.

And what should be done by those in Russia who love the US, and those in the US who love Russia? Thankfully, people like this exist. They must prompt society as a whole, the people who make decisions to see that in spite of the differences between our nations and our approaches to development – our own development or resolving global problems – there are nevertheless people in Russia who love the United States, which means that something about it deserves respect.

And the reverse is also true; if some in American society, some American people, love and care about Russia, then they should explain this to their people, to American society and to those who make political decisions, that Russia should be treated with respect.