Saturday, March 15, 2014

Russia, China, Putin, Crimea and Ukraine, the Baltic and Related Topics ... "I am Not Sure"

When I was invited by my late good friend Dietrich André Loeber to Europe to do some academic research on East-West relations at the University of Kiel in 1974, Professor Loeber (see Gert von Pistohlkors), whose father had been a Latvian Supreme Court Justice between the world wars, was from my point of view probably the most knowledgeable person in the West about important practical aspects of the Soviet Union, and remained so until his death in 2004.

Loeber was a descendant of Martin Luther by ancestry, a Baltic-German by heritage, spoke fluent German, English, Latvian and Russian, and had great affection for Latvia and Riga, which was his boyhood home. He was by predilection a jurist and academic through and through and had an almost naturally diplomatic character. If he disagreed with you, the worst that he might say would be, "I am not sure...." He may have been a quiet patriot, but politics "as such" was not his game, and that was his great strength.

He was able to travel to and from the Soviet Union with relative ease because he kept a low profile, was very fair and objective in his academic publications, rarely if ever took partisan sides on any issue, and maintained good relations with all persons he dealt with, East or West. As I wrote previously:
"Loeber himself was a consummate expert on Russia, and when he visited me in New York City in 1974 to invite me to work with him in Kiel, he predicted that the then Soviet Union (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, also called the USSR) would fall apart within the next 20 years. Had I not believed his prognostication, I would never have left the United States to come to Europe. As it turned out, less than 20 years later, in 1991, the Soviet Union in fact ceased to exist, and the Baltic States regained their independence, just as Loeber had predicted. He viewed this development as inevitable, and, it would appear now, in an era of the global sharing of knowledge and information, as irreversible. The old days could never return. Something new was coming, and had to come."
What that "something new" will be in the Russian Federation is still in the process of development, as the current political situation clearly indicates. The impressive Winter Olympic Games at Sochi showed that a modern Russia is possible and that great strides have been made on the road to progress. At the same time, the current political situation in Ukraine shows that "old" Russia is to some unknown degree still present among the Russian leadership.

How would Loeber have viewed the present situation?

"I am not sure...."

One aspect of the present situation, as written by Ellen Barry at the New York Times, is surely that Foes of America in Russia Crave Rupture in Ties.

But is Barry fundamentally right in her analysis?

"I am not sure...."

There is unquestionably a strong "old guard" in Russia, as in all other countries as well. The resurrection of "old" Russia would invariably go hand in hand with the resurrection of countering forces in the USA and Europe. We do not see how that would be good for anyone. Do we really want their revival?

Indeed, the situation in Crimea and Ukraine could shift the next Presidential election in the USA to the advantage of the more conservative Republicans, who now have a strong argument that political moderation and appeasement are not the right solution for US foreign policy toward the Russian Federation. When one "iron fist" comes onto the table, more such "iron fists" appear elsewhere. The world is then "at odds" -- and who profits?

The older generations are passing and new generations are coming -- faced with a digital era that puts different demands upon them and requires new and different solutions than the often flawed formulas of yesteryear.

We live in an "information" age that would make new "Cold Wars" rather senseless. People simply know too much today, so that modern life is not possible by keeping citizens uninformed or isolated. It is an age of more expanded, not more limited communications. Nations should rather ask: how can we improve the lives of our people through that development?

This does not mean, of course, that countries can not take new directions, or shift emphasis from one part of the globe to another. Everyone has the right to follow their self-interest. Recognition of that fact would help everyone. See for its instant impact on future developments the new: Law on ratifying Russian-Chinese agreement on simplifying reciprocal travel procedures.

We ourselves are of the opinion that American influence is waning worldwide and that being a "Cold Warrior" or not has little impact on that development. Here in Europe, for example, America is no longer the vanguard of the future it was once seen to be. It has lost much of its role model status for others.

Indeed, the vast inequality of income and wealth in the United States and the battle over basic health care for its citizens -- an accepted fact of life in all other industrialized nations -- shows that America has strayed badly from its ideals, ideals which have always been the source of its strength as a nation.

Nations seeking the "best" for everyone and not just for themselves have always been rare on the world scene, and now appear to be rarer still.

In any case, historical "personalities" were an item of interest for Dietrich André Loeber in his academic studies, and I recall his interest in Mikhail Bakunin, part of whose -- what we might today call "libertarian" -- philosophy may be finding resonance in top echelons of Russian leadership:
"Bakunin ... rejected the notion of any privileged position or class, since the social and economic inequality implied by class systems (as well as systems of national and gender oppression) were incompatible with individual freedom. Whereas liberalism insisted that free markets and constitutional governments enabled individual freedom, Bakunin insisted that both capitalism and the state, in any form, were incompatible with the individual freedom of the working class and peasantry.
"[I]t is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart."
Bakunin's political beliefs were based on several interrelated concepts: (1) liberty; (2) socialism; (3) federalism; (4) anti-theism; and (5) materialism. He also developed a (resultantly prescient)[26] critique of Marxism, predicting that if the Marxists were successful in seizing power, they would create a party dictatorship "all the more dangerous because it appears as a sham expression of the people's will."[27]
Those, for example, who might think that the present Russian President, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, is a resurgent Communist or Marxist, would be very wrong. Quite the contrary, he surely views himself as being the leader for the true expression of the Russian people's "will".

For those who can read German, click the link below to read the somewhat dated but still greatly informative and superb article at Die Welt by Edith Kohn, from which it appears that Putin early saw himself as "a soldier", and today perhaps similarly may see himself as "a soldier for his country", whose aim it is to restore the strength and greatness of Russia.

Vladimir Putin: Ein Geheimagent im Geiste

Recall that we ourselves have a Baltic background and have no reason to write favorably about Russia. However, if one is to understand the world, as Loeber would have recommended, one must be objective in understanding events and personalities.

In the case of Russia, Putin and the future, Loeber might have said -- for now:

"I am not sure...."

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