With an escalating situation in Eastern Ukraine the question is: When will the “Russian roulette”- a new form of chicken game – which at this point is played between the US and Russia reach the point where all diplomatic efforts become in vain and where “force” seems to be the only way out? Clearly the victims of such “chicken game” will be in the first place the population in the Ukraine and next to it the neighboring European countries which will more suffer from the effects of sanctions than the US itself. The crucial question is: Are all the lessons of the tragic 20th century forgotten and as John Paul II once stated in his famous UN speech “ are all tears which were shed in the bloody 20th century in vain?”

TV debate “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin”

On this background we should look again at a widely spread TV forum which was conducted between President Putin and the Russian people, including some leading representatives from the Valdai Discussion forum, at the eve of the Geneva accords, April 17. At one point during the TV debate which was aired by most of the Russia TV and Radio stations, the influential German Russia expert, Alexander Rahr who is also member of the directory board of the Valdai discussion forum informed the Russian President that the Valdai Club on April 16 had had a meeting that lasted several hours. “Many club members including our German colleagues expressed their concern about the kind of Europe we live in – in addition to the shared task of stabilizing the Ukraine, which is falling apart as we speak. After all it is a country of 45 Million people and our common concern.” Rahr combined his statement with a question to the President: “What future do you envision for Europe in five or say ten years? Will we live a common Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean? Or will we live in two different Europe? I remember how you said at the Valdai Club last September that Russia is a different kind of Europe; whole values differ from those of the post-modernist West. Can we bring these two views together? What can Germany do to help build a common Europe?”

In his answer Russian President Putin underlined that he saw no contradiction in what he said at the Valdai Club: “Russia’s values do not differ dramatically from European values. We belong to the same civilization (sic!). We are different and we have some features that are unique to us, but we have the same ingrained values. I believe that we must certainly strive to create a greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok (…). If we accomplish this task we will be able to take our rightful place in the future world. But if we choose a different path, if we divide Europe, European values and people, if we promote separatism in the broad meaning of the word, this will make us all insignificant and mediocre players who will have no influence over their own development, let alone global development.” In the same framework Putin reiterated that Russia is keen in recreating “trust” to the US but that the US has applied double standards as the Kosovo, Libya case demonstrated.

What interests is Europe fighting for?

In a background discussion which the author recently had with a Russia observer it was stated that what we see unfolding in Ukraine is only the end result of a development which has been going on for quite a while and which has been warned about by many Russia experts in Germany and by Russian political observers: He called it a widening “communication gap” between Russia and the West, an increasing mistrust and misunderstanding. Since a long time Russia has felt irritated and disturbed by certain Western attempts to “impose” a Western Life style and “Western” values on Russia. The observer used a metaphor by stating that it is like somebody who goes into the kitchen and tells the host which place he must put the salt, where he should put the table and the chairs, upon which the host asks: “What is this all about?”

It was emphasized that the actual Ukraine crisis has not so much to do with the Ukraine. In reality it is aimed at Russia. The US which has no true interests to defend there, is doing at this point everything to escalate the situation which in the end may lead to a deep split in Europe.

What is geopolitically at stake? Russia had no choice but to act the way they acted on Crimea. This way they secured the geopolitically sensitive harbor of Sevastopol which is geo-strategically as important for them as is the Syrian harbor of Tartus.

The Ukraine itself – aside from its very tragic and tormented history – being a country which has never been a true nation – is economically a “bottomless pit”. The amount of money which was poured into Greece by the EU is just “peanuts” compared to what Ukraine needs in terms of financial assistance which is minimum 100 Billion Euro.

In terms of possible solutions and a way out, it was stated that a “federal model” for the Ukraine may be the best solution – however at this point things are so much in flux that nobody may predict if there is by the end of May at all a Ukraine. Europe should not be hysterical and play with fire. The real questions which must be answered are: what true interests of Europe are at stake and what must be done to preserve them?

On the one side there must be on both sides( Russia and Europe) much more empathy – a clear effort to understand each other’s culture and history. There must be openness to understand the specific Eastern Religion and Spirituality and an effort made to compare the Western values with the Eastern value system. While the West makes a lot of emphasis on “individualism” and “freedom” – both East and West share the value of “fraternity”- the love for sharing and for justice and what unites both Russia and Western Europe is that they belong to the same civilization.

What also unites Russia and Western Europe is the same history which was painfully lived through by the Eastern and Western populations in terms of war crimes and persecution of the Christians. Many efforts have been made to confront this past history but what is more needed in particular in Russia is to engage more in a “reconciliation effort” – very similar to what Germany did after the war, in order to rehabilitate the victims, particularly the prosecuted Christians under Stalin and Khrushchev.

In terms of Russia’ future it was stated that despite the fact that more than 80% of the population at this point stands behind the President, the country must face some urgent domestic problems: These are located in the economic domain such as the raw material sector, a shrinking production and dwindling innovation capability. Moscow is no more a “boom city” and while at this point only a minority of young people is looking abroad, things might dramatically change if the situation worsens.

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