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The war on our understanding of reality

RUSSIA / UKRAINE / Journalist Anna Politkovskaya warned us against playing with fire. Now we can ask ourselves the question: Are we in the Third World War – or in the Second Cold War? In his study of "not an inch to the east" statements after the fall of the wall, history professor Mary E. Sarotte shows how Ukraine and Europe ended up in war again.


Eight days before the Russian star journalist Anna Politkovskaya (1958–2006) was shot and killed in the stairwell outside his apartment in Moscow, she had her last text in print here in MODERN TIMES. The title of her column was "Russia's New Middle Ages". And she ended the exclusive MODERN TIMES text as follows, describing the new totalitarian state under Vladimir Putin's construction: "The 'peace' they have been trying to establish in Chechnya over the past two years has spread beyond Chechnya's borders."

These were her last printed words. Just over a week later, on Putin's 54th birthday, October 7, 2006, Politkovskaya was brutally assassinated. The Putin critic had been tried several times before, as with poison after drinking tea she was served by a flight attendant in Aeroflot on her way to negotiations with hostages at the school in Beslan. That same year, she was threatened with death by Putin's elected ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, the same man who in the spring of 2022 sent his troops to the battlefields of Ukraine.

The more I read in Politkovskaya's latest text, the stronger I see the emphasis in her analysis. A warning of times to come. For the Europe we live in today can be understood as being in a state of "peace" that "has spread beyond the borders of Chechnya".

"A Chechenization of All Russia."

«First completed Putin a so-called Chechenization of Chechnya ", writes Politkovskaya in his latest MODERN TIMES column. She then depicts a brutal incident in Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg: A Putin terrorist gang went in and tortured the director of the meat factory, Samson, until he gave up his business to them. The authorities did nothing. Then she writes: "What happened in St. Petersburg is the start of a Chechen genocide of the whole of Russia."

To imitate the mistakes of the Western powers

Today, Chechnya has spread beyond Russia's borders. After the Putin regime on February 24 went to war of aggression against Ukraine, and then in the Orwellian way of naming the war a "special operation", Europe's largest country has become the meat factory Samson. The country will possibly be tortured until the president, now elected Volodymyr Zelensky, relinquishes power and land. Ukraine is not worthy of being a separate state, Putin declared in a lengthy historical review in the summer of 2021.

Henrik Ibsen's formulation: "Living is war with a troll in the vault of the heart and the brain."

At the same time, we see that the Putin regime seems to be imitating the mistakes of the Western powers in recent decades: Russia's deadly bombing of the TV tower in Kyiv on March 1 is reminiscent of NATO's bombing of Serbia's TV tower in Belgrade on April 23, 1999, when 16 Serbian media employees died. Russia's ambassador to the UN Security Council's presentation of "evidence" of Ukrainian biochemical weapons seems to be a parody of Colin Powell's misrepresentation of Saddam Hussein's alleged program of mass destruction in the UN Security Council in February 2003. And Putin's alleged "precision bombing" of goals »in Ukraine, when it is actually civilians who are affected, is reminiscent of the rhetoric of NATO countries during both the Gulf War, Afghanistan and the Iraq wars.

A Grozny and Aleppo-like bombing

But how did we end up here? For it must not be so with the world, as we shall see below. Another world could have been possible.

Much was too late when Putin came to the presidency after starting the Second Chechnya War in August 1999, before launching a total bombing of Grozny until the spring of 2000. The Putin regime followed up with the bombing of Aleppo in Syria in the autumn of 2015, upon request from the Syrian regime. And in the spring of 2022, we have seen a Grozny and Aleppo-like bombing of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. But it is only now that many Europeans are trying to wake up, when it is not only the Muslim civilian population in Chechnya and Syria that is being bombed.

In the media, it is often portrayed that the war did not break out until now in February 2022, even though Ukraine has been at war with Russia since February 2014, when Putin went in and took the Crimean peninsula after the change of power in Kyiv. More than 14 people have lost their lives in the war over Luhansk and Donetsk during these eight years. Nevertheless, at the same time, the EU and Germany continued to become more and more dependent on Russian oil and gas. As if Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schröder were working hard to lay the Nordstream 000 gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. Not only would one have to destroy more of the planet's climate through increased CO2emissions, to provide heat to your own house. It also destroyed the social climate of today by strengthening an authoritarian imperialist, who in his speeches more than indicated that he would rebuild the empire of the Soviet Union. Perhaps no wonder the ancient European colonial empires were seduced – there is something familiar and recognizable about Putin. He has long been "one of us."

To lull to sleep a society

And now, during the Ukraine war in the spring of 2022, Europeans, due to the rising prices of raw materials brought by the war, have doubled the transfer of euros and rubles to feed on Russian oil and gas. Every day of war, the Putin regime has thus received the equivalent of approximately nine billion kroner from European states. While Hungary openly pays in rubles, Germany does not talk loudly about paying into newly established "K" accounts in the Gazprom bank, so that the German economy strengthens the Russian ruble. And at the same time, the same countries are sending weapons to Ukraine. While some give with one hand and take with the other, only give and give others from their well-stocked hypocrisy bank.

"All the bloody tragedies we still have in store."

Or as Politkovskaya concludes his last text ("After Beslan") in his last book, Putin's Russia (2004, Norwegian edition 2005), a grave inscription for our time, in which she harshly criticizes the double standards and the evil of apathy both there and here after Al Qaida's terrorist attack on September 11, 2001:

"Waiting for a new thaw to come to us from the Kremlin, as it did under Gorbachev, is foolish and unrealistic today, and the West will not help us either. It hardly responds to Putin's 'anti-terror' policies, and it finds that much of today's Russia appeals to it: the vodka, the caviar, the gas, the oil, the dancing bears, the practitioners of a particular profession. The exotic Russian market is doing exactly as the West eventually expects, and Europe and the rest of the world are completely satisfied with the course of events on our sixth of the earth's land masses.

The text of the caricature is "Rien Na Va Plus". This Is A French Expression And Is What A Croupier Says After The Ball Is Rolled And When A Roulette Game Closes For Further Betting. In Practice: "No New Bets" Or "No More Bets". According to Sarotte's book, much of the relationship between Russia and the NATO countries was locked as early as 1999. The bullet and the weight were thrown. See Libex.Eu

"All we hear from the outside world is 'Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda' – a pathetic mantra to shake off responsibility for all the bloody tragedies we still have in store, a primitive, mesmerizing song to lull a society to sleep. who wants nothing more than to be put to sleep again. "

So yes, let us remember Politkovskaya's words: "All the bloody tragedies we still have in store." Because when you rise up against a totalitarian regime, you often see more clearly what can come. But also caviar, oil- and gas-loving Europeans were bitten by the tsetse fly from the early 2000s, so we were dozed off by a mesmerizing lullaby that told us that it was "the strangers", the Muslims, the refugees, who were our enemy . Instead of seeing that the enemy was in the midst of us, in ourselves. The Putin regime has its close supporters not only with Trump, but also with the nationally conservative Europeans: Hungary's Viktor Orbán, France's Marine Le Pen – who had his election campaign funded by Putin – and FRP's Carl I. Hagen.

The totalitarian mindset

In the 2020s, every day is a struggle to keep totalitarian thinking and the seductive rhetoric of online trolls at bay. Only now can we really live in Henrik Ibsen's formulation: "Living is a war with a troll in the vault of the heart and the brain."

In 1993, Boris Yeltsin said at a summit that Russia could also have a long-term plan to become a NATO member.

Still, we must go further back to seek the core of "the origins of the European mourning game", to adjust to Walter Benjamin's title in a work on disaster awareness. One way to understand our time is to read Professor and Bernie Sanders' assistant Seth Abramson's trilogy Proof of Collusion (2018) Proof of Conspiracy (2019) and Proof of Corruption (2020). In these books, Abramson describes in detail how the lie-based Trump ideology, exemplified by the violent coup attempt against Congress on January 6, 2021, undermines American democracy and thus the international legal order, which is done through conspiracy, conspiracy and corruption. And where Putin's infiltration of European and American politics and public debate is far more advanced.

The books depict a world where we not only seem to live in a kind of new medieval, as Politkovskaya pointed out, but also a new interwar period. In a recent text, "The Ten Hardest Truths About the War in Europe" (March 11), Abramson shows how we now, with the brutal invasion of a great power and the experimental occupation of a universally recognized UN country, have made it clear that we have long has undergone a «fundamental shift in our time towards chaos».


How did we end up here? After all, it is not so long since Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize for his "glasnost" and "perestroika". Was it not like in the world of yesterday that the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, when jubilant Eastern Europeans tore down the walls? There was talk of closing down NATO at the same time as the Warsaw Pact. As recently as 1993, Boris Yeltsin said at a summit that Russia could also have a long-term plan to become a NATO member.

That NATO did not move "an inch east" of East Germany.

The walls collapsed after a young Viktor Orbán in June 1989 had spoken out against Moscow and asked the Soviet forces to leave Hungary. But now, in 2022, the world is different. The same Orbán, now president, plays second fiddle in Putin's orchestra, while Hungary has become the first EU country to fall from democracy to autocracy.

Where did the faith in peace end, where was it chubby? Perhaps the best answer we get in the relatively new brick of a book by history professor Mary Elise Sarotte at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate (Yale University Press, 2021). Through meticulous studies and quotes from hitherto unpublished written sources, Sarotte presents a more complex and nuanced picture of the time from 1989 to 1999. She is based on the much-discussed quote from US Secretary of State James Baker in February 1990, where he asked Gorbachev if he could be interested in the fact that NATO did not move "an inch east" of East Germany.

The humiliation of the losers (Germans, Taliban, Russians)

Sarotte shows how the decade 1989–1999 was crucial for the development of the 21st century, from the fall of the wall to the last year of the millennium: NATO's incorporation of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary on 12 March 1999; NATO bombing of the Milosevic regime in Belgrade on March 24; the Russian-American race to occupy Kosovo's Pristina airport in June; Putin's inauguration on August 9 and until Boris Yeltsin's appointment, on New Year's Eve 1999, of Putin as the new president. After all this, the race was over, Sarotte suggests.

We can thus more easily understand not only the almost deadly dioxin poisoning of the Ukrainian opposition politician Viktor Yushchenko in September 2004, which led to the Orange Revolution and his inauguration a few months later. But also the assassination of Politkovskaya and regime critic Alexander Litvinenko, who three weeks later was poisoned by polonium 210 in London after meeting with Russian agents who claimed to have new information about Politkovskaya's assassination. Since then, it continued – the liquidations (Novaya Gazeta journalist Natalia Estemirova, opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, etc.); the invasions (Georgia in March 2008, Putin's creation of the "breakaway republics" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia); and the democratic undermining (Brexit, Trump election)

But Sarotte also concludes that everything could have gone so much differently: as if the world had managed to stabilize and include Russia in East-West cooperation in the 1990s, as the Western powers managed to democratize and incorporate the defeated totalitarian states Germany, Italy and Japan in "the good company" after World War II. Instead, it seems that the victors of the Cold War were characterized by a similar hubris, arrogance, as the victors after the First World War and after the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001: the losers (Germans, Taliban, Russians) are subjected to unnecessary humiliation. The point must rather be to incorporate the losing party before a new generation grows up and wants revenge for the parents' perceived defeat.

Feeling "cheated"

Sarotte shows in the book how a series of unfortunate circumstances, more than a calculated plan, seems to have made it go as it did. The core of Not One Inch is based on the US Secretary of State James Baker's meeting with Soviet Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990. Then came a wording that has been used and abused on both sides for the last quarter of a century, including by the Putin regime in recent weeks. Baker then asked, something he repeated in writing the next day, whether Gorbachev would prefer a united Germany outside NATO or a Germany with "ties to NATO" but "with promises that NATO's jurisdiction would not move an inch east from its current position." . Gorbachev replied that an expansion of the NATO zone would not be acceptable, which Baker agreed.

It was first and foremost the Eastern Europeans themselves who fought through the NATO enlargements.

NATO supporters point out that this was only a hypothetical question from Baker, and that no formal agreement was reached. In addition, Baker later apologized for his wording, as he was not aligned with the president of the White House. George H. Bush therefore sent an urgent message to West Germany's Helmut Kohl, who was to meet Gorbachev the next day. And there it was rather pointed out that the then East Germany would get a "special military status" by a unification of Germany into one country. For already at the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, NATO's eastern border was moved many miles east.

Tjeerd Royaards. Ukraine War Escalation. See Libex.Eu

In Sarotte's book it also appears that it was Kohl who at the meeting on February 10, 1990, when Gorbachev happened to have a cold and in bad shape, came up with the liberating words that the Germans themselves should be allowed to decide their own destiny, without the Soviets lie down on this.

So legally, the United States and NATO countries are right. And the Putin regime's rhetoric becomes as misleading as when they claim that a Bornholm agreement from 1945 would deny Denmark having soldiers on the island, or call Ukraine Nazi.

But at the same time, Sarotte points out that Russia has reason to feel "cheated". Or rather: Neither Gorbachev nor Yeltsin were as capable of the great political power game as their predecessors, nor as their successor Putin. Morally speaking, however, it can be argued that gentleman's promises, and "the impression left", were not followed up on Russia. The US diplomat George Kennan and the German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich-Genscher are among those who warned against a NATO enlargement.

Sarotte gives a clear description of how chaotic the world was in the 1990s after the fall of the wall. The erratic Yeltsin was quite different from his predecessor, Nobel Prize winner Gorbachev. In the autumn of 1993, he actually bombed the parliament in Moscow, killing more than 180 people. In addition, in December 1994, Yeltsin launched the first Chechen war, which lasted until 1996. And not without reason, this war against independence-seeking Chechens caused great unrest in both the Baltic states, which Stalin annexed during World War II, and in countries such as Poland. . In addition, the brutal Bosnian war, in which the macabre climax was the genocide of Serbian Orthodox forces on more than 8000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica in June 1995. Yeltsin's Russia did not exactly provide security for Eastern Europeans, who know better than Americans and Western Europeans what it is like. to have the world's largest country as a neighbor (Norway's short border will not be quite the same).

Eastern Europeans

One of the most important things that emerges in Sarotte is how it was first and foremost the Eastern Europeans themselves who fought through the NATO enlargements. It took only one week from the fall of the wall, until Hungary applied for EC membership – and the desire for NATO membership was promoted from both Hungary and other Eastern European countries shortly after. In 2004, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – formerly part of the Soviet Union – joined NATO. Moscow was opposed to Norway joining NATO in 1949, and Putin also protested the enlargement in 2004.

But as so often otherwise: It is power that rules. The only question is who is in power, and has the most power, in a few months – or in one, five and ten years. Some believe we have long since entered World War III, albeit without the use of nuclear weapons until now. Others will argue that, perhaps since the spring of 1999, we have been in a new Cold War: the Second Cold War, or Cold War II.

Regardless: We need to base our descriptions of reality on cold facts. As Politkovskaya, Abramson and Sarotte do in their books.

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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