Ukrainian events have triggered the process of the international relations review: yesterday’s partners became adversaries, while former competitors on the contrary found common interests. About the US role as a hegemon, its interests in Ukraine, the effects of American policy on the Baltic states, as well as Russia’s part in this game RuBaltic.Ru news portal spoke with Yelena Ponomareva, Doctor of Political Sciences, Moscow State Institute of International Relations professor.
How do you see the US influence in today’s geopolitical arena? Can we say that the US hegemon position is declining?
Washington’s foreign policy positions are indeed declining. Yet, Washington’s influence shouldn’t be underestimated. The US was and remains a geopolitical giant whose interests are presented literally all over the globe. It’s enough to say that the US and its allies cover about 64% of the world’s military spending, and US military spending multiply surpasses the combined military budgets of all other world countries and amounts to 37% of its own GPD.
China is a close runner-up. Its military spending is 11% GDP. Russia follows next with 5% GDP. Economic successes of Russia and China pose a serious threat to the US. Majority of experts agree that China isn’t simply the fastest growing economy but is also the strongest. The serious changes of economic and military potentials of Russia, China, India and other BRICS countries, the growth of significance and influence of the European Union is connected with the decline of the US positions on the world arena, specifically in a hegemon sense. And still currently the US remains to be the most important power center defining the global agenda.
Chaos in Ukraine doesn’t allow us to view the real picture of what’s going on. People don’t understand who’s fighting who. Can you list the large political players interested in the Ukrainian crisis? What interests does the US follow there?
Assessing reasons and the development of the Ukrainian crisis, we should understand that rather not internal (obviously, quite relevant) factors like economic stagnation, corruption, clan system and nepotism, lack of social mobility, unemployment, tremendous gap between the rich and the poor became crucial at its start and escalation, but the external ones.
Ukraine, who can be rightfully called the division spot of the whole contemporary system of the international relations, became a collision zone for geopolitical giants, a battleground for large world players.
And here the most interesting part begins. The thing is that under globalization traditional world policy subjects, the states, landed on one stage with multinational companies, supranational organizations and network structures whose interests may coincide or may contradict with the goals and aims of the states, even the ones which gave them birth in the first place. In that sense Ulrich Beck’s expression comes to mind, who rephrased an old American saying: “what’s good for Deutsche Bank, for quite a while hasn’t been good for Germany anymore”. Thus, Ukrainian crisis hasn’t become an exception in the world fight for influence, land and resources – it saw a lethal (literally speaking) battle of all the largest world players.
Let name the most significant. Firstly, it’s the states with national interests tied with maintaining security of their own population and bordering spaces, creating opportunities of the successful economic development, proposing free flow of labor, goods and services. On this level Russia, Germany, Poland and Hungary historically have interests in Ukraine. By economic expansion China also had certain interests in Ukraine. And the US, becoming the world hegemon from the late 20th century in results of treacherous politics of Gorbachev-Yeltsin rule in our country and not being a Eurasian state, have not only economic, but also geopolitical goals. The latter precisely carried out by weakening Russia through its final cultural and historical separation from Ukraine. If that doesn’t work out, then by turning this territory into a zone of chaos, that’ll irritate and weaken Russia. Though, the US geopolitical interests don’t end here. The decline of Europe and foremost Germany is another reason of the Ukrainian crisis. We tend to falsely indentify the US and Europe. The position of the European states may in some cases concur with the American but that doesn’t mean their interests do.
On the next level of Ukrainian players’ field there are supranational structures. We’re talking about the EU and NATO. If the EU is mostly interested in Ukraine as a consumer market and cheap labor supplier, a territory capable of accepting the temporary burden of the economic crisis, NATO views it through a geostrategic scope. Planned and possible accession into NATO by Ukraine can ultimately nail down the Alliance’s dominance over the European part of the Eurasian space. In reality global consequences of Ukrainian accession into NATO currently are even hard to imagine to the end. It’s a subject of a separate long debate so for now we’ll limit ourselves with what’s been already said.
The third on the list, but not in its role, is the level of the Ukrainian crisis subjects including multinational companies and large financial structures. Any crisis provides grounds for property redistribution, privatization of state-owned assets and personal enrichment. As an example let’s remember who got the most important industrial and infrastructure assets in Kosovo, Iraq, Libya. That’s primarily American MNCs with boards including senior politicians directly participating in instigating crises and escalation of military conflicts. In Ukraine the son of the US Vice President J. Biden, Hunter, joined the board of largest Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holding. That’s just the beginning of the process of absorption of Ukrainian assets by Western families and corporations.
So to summarize – the interests followed by the US are a complicated compound of economic, financial, political, military and intelligence goals and tasks.
Americans are now spending enormous sums to support destabilization in Ukraine. Is the juice worth the squeeze?
Yes. It’s worth it. The whole US history serves as proof. I’ll remind you about just a few facts. During the Great Depression the 32nd US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt literally stated “one of my principal tasks is to prevent bankers and businessmen from committing suicide”. This touching care unfolded as the whole humanity’s greatest tragedy – the WWII, whose main inciters were American industrialists and financiers.
The WWII didn’t resolve all (the Soviet Union not only stood out, but turned into a superpower), yet it did solve many problems of the American establishment. The main task put forward by Roosevelt was fulfilled exceedingly – the USA turned into a world financial center. On July 1944 in a small town Bretton Woods on the victors’ international conference the beginning of such institutions was laid out as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, since 1960 the World Bank) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At the same time the US dollar was declared as one of the kinds of world currency along with gold. By that moment the US controlled 70% of world gold reserves.
The outcomes of a great and horrible war formed the sole behavior model of the ones really ruling America – the solution of internal problems must be made at the expense of other states and nations. During the whole post-war period the US resorted to aggression every time it either faced economic problems or had to distract the attention away from unpopular economic measures inside the country.
The war in Korea became the reaction to first post-war economic downturn of 1949. Invasion of Lebanon followed the downturn of 1957-1958. Aggression in Vietnam reaction to the 1967 recession and Carter’s launch of the second wave of the Cold War – to the 1979 recession. The 1981-1983 recession brought to life not only Reagan’s military Keynesianism but also the American approach to Nicaragua and Grenada. I’m not even referring to the destruction of the Soviet Union and the world socialist system which saved the US economy from the early 1990s collapse and to such large-scale US-NATO interventions in the beginning of the 21th century like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, that brought serious economic dividends to American companies.
In other words, the sums spent by the US on waging the perpetual war, how the aggressive policy of the USA was characterized by Charles Austin Beard, the leading historian of the first half of the 20th century and the one of the founders of the economic branch of the US historiography, are being paid off by far. It’s no wonder the Maidan kicked off during the peak of the US economic crisis in the late 2013. The US fell into default and for several months straight American companies are running around offering their shale gas to Europe. And it’s just one way of receiving possible economic concessions.
Recently famous American journalist Kathleen McFarland wrote an article where she declared the end of Obama’s “helpless foreign policy”. Is it so? What is the role of the Ukrainian events in the prestige drop of the US President?
As Joseph Stalin loved to repeat, “there is a logic of intentions and a logic of conditions, but the logic of conditions often gets stronger than the logic of intentions”. Concerning Ukraine Americans had their own logic of intentions: to separate the state from Russia and to use it as an economic strategic foothold for final anchoring in Eurasia. But the logic of conditions, specifically the package of historic, cultural and military factors and the political will of the Russian leadership foiled the plans of the American leadership. Used to the dictate and policy of threats, the members of the American establishment headed by the incumbent president surprisingly discovered that Russia doesn’t react to their screams any longer.
They forgot or even didn’t know that war isn’t a continuation of politics by other means but is a defeat of politics. Furthermore, during self-admiration the White House failed to notice that Russia turned into a strong and self-reliant political player. New historic conditions have emerged where discussions and conjurations about the “new world order” are inappropriate.
The logic of conditions itself passes a verdict on Obama’s policy. The engine of American hegemonism broke down in Syria and the Ukrainian events busted it to the end.
So I can confidently sign off Kathleen McFarland’s words. Although, it doesn’t mean game over. Let’s recall that the turning point of the Battle of Kursk was followed by two more years of heaviest fighting and defeats before fascism was finally vanquished and the Banner of Victory was raised over the Reichstag building.
The US placed a bet on exercising military option, yet as life shows such a tactic works for the time being. According to the Washington Post, in April 2014 Obama’s rating dropped to 41%. Will the US aggressive policy change after the president leaves office?
Indeed, Obama’s rating is plummeting. Hailed as the president of peace by the Nobel Committee at the beginning of his first term Obama in practice has become the president of war. Even ordinary Americans understand this, albeit living under the conditions of information isolation and manipulations. At the same time we shouldn’t associate the White House policy only with President Obama. All modern American presidents waged aggressive wars. Bush, Sr. carried out military operations in Panama and the Persian Gulf, Clinton became the embodiment of NATO’s war against Yugoslavia, Bush, Jr. incited wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So Obama isn’t an exception in the list.
The system of the US capitalism itself, extensive and aggressive, produces and even demands from the leaders exactly such aggressive actions.
Tackling the arrogance of hegemonism and total permissiveness of the US politicians can be only done by active resistance and opposition to their policy. Tacitus said, that “a battle is lost by who shuts his eyes first”. So we mustn’t close eyes in front of aggression, we mustn’t accept it, mustn’t justify it. We must have a self-reliant economy, a formidable military and a strong nuclear shield. Only power can stop aggression.
What interest do the Baltic states pose to the US? The attacks against Russia from these republics only worsen their position. Why do Baltic states act at their own expense?
The US treats the Baltic states, just like all other republics that appeared on post-Soviet space, exclusively mercantile. It doesn’t care at all about the living standards, adhering human rights, security and other attributes of democracy, about which a lot is spoken from the high offices. Citing Soviet bard A. Galich, the US democratic rhetoric can be labeled as the words “and this is purely for publicity”. It’s important to them that the Baltic states would remain in relations maximum aggressive toward the neighboring Russia. It’s important to them to reform the conscience of these republics’ population – that’s why we have neo-Nazi rallies, different occupation museums, falsification of history. This is a psycho-historical level of meaning of the Baltic states in the US policy.
The second level is geostrategic, more precisely – inclusion of these territories into NATO, which allows not only to deploy military units in the vicinity of Russian borders, but to freely carry out intelligence activity. I regularly visit Riga, talk to members of scientific and student communities from all Baltic states and can confidently say that the vast part of society understand the true US/NATO goals and their attitude to the republics.
I’ve been told that on the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius the US delegation acted out like patricians around plebeians. And it’s a normal behavioral model for the Americans toward all Europeans. This can’t go on without raising irritation, fueling anti-American sentiments.
And the Baltic states’ political leadership, excellently knowing that they have the Washington to thank for their posts, are keen to tolerate any insults coming from it. In other words, they don’t care about the national interests, they are temporary minions fulfilling only their own ambitions. That’s why politicians’ actions shouldn’t be viewed as a position of all of society. I’m sure that in near future the US dictate will come to an end and we’ll witness the transformations of the Baltic states’ course. The pretext exists. At least Riga’s presidency on the Eastern Partnership Summit promises to be balanced and pragmatic which is impossible without building respectable relations with Russia.
How will the decline of the hegemon’s role in the face of the US president reflect the Baltic states exercising pro-US policy? Will the anti-Russia rhetoric quiet down?
Actually I already answered this question. Thought I should mark that anti-Russian propaganda won’t cease. That’s something you mustn’t hope for. But Russia is capable of changing the relation towards itself, creating a bunch of antidotes against American propaganda. For that we only require a complex and large-scale action plan including long-term and short-term objectives. In long-term it’s education programs. We need to maximum simplify the enrollment process in the Russian universities. In short-term prospect it’s the bigger representation in the media and the information space (mostly in the cinema), exercising the methods and ways of public and popular diplomacy, broadening of network ties.
As we know – no song, no supper. We have to work a lot ourselves to change the attitude to us.
A large-scale information war is currently underway. I guess, the US has with its experience no peers on this front. Yet, judging from Obama’s low approval rating, Americans, just like the world community, start to see the US as an aggressor. And how does Russia look which until recently was perceived as the “Ukrainian conqueror”?
In early May an international forum, the Balkans Dialogue, took place in Belgrade. World famous filmmaker Emir Kusturica attended it. In his speech he compared the Iron Curtain from bipolar world epoch with “CNN Curtain” existing in the modern world. The force and the role of the latter outnumber the Iron Curtain en masse which served mostly protective function for the own population and didn’t undertake falsification on a global scale.
Thus, inside the CNN Curtain it’s very difficult to convey your views, defend your position and at last simply to show and tell the truth. Yet, despite any difficulties, it must be done. Only a daily information battle can bring results. And we have them. We observe how the popular sentiment, the position of the business communities and journalists all over the world is changing on the issue of relation to the Ukrainian crisis and the role of Russia in it. This must be evaluated as our victory in the information war. We just don’t have to stop at the achieved. We shouldn’t assume only a defensive, justificatory position. We must carry out preventive strikes.
How should the Russian side react to what’s going on?
In relation to the crisis in Ukraine our country exercises a policy spotless from the international law, diplomatic, economic and, not the least importantly, moral perspectives. Exactly like that – by condemning the aggression, the killings of peaceful citizens, by assisting the peaceful resolution of the crisis, by utilizing various negotiation practices and pulling different levers in the EU and the US – it is possible to find a way out of the crisis. An obligatory follow-up of all these steps must be the wide information coverage. But what’s most important – Russia must make an array of required conclusions from the Ukrainian crisis to not allow the repeat of such scenarios.
Translated by: Alexander Shamshiev