To my Russian friends I give just one piece of advice: look back into the history of Germany over the last 150 years, and do not repeat the many mistakes the different German leaders have made in the past.
Unfortunately many in the Russian political establishment have deaf ears today.
Some seem to be indulging in fantasies about regaining a post-USSR position of world power soon.
Many Russians, also, tell tasty stories about America and get exited in conspiricy-talks. Endless complains about Washington, but no plans to make it better globally and inside Russia.
Too many in politics, media and institutes feel, think and act like my nationalistic Kaiser countrymen in 1914 (like sleepwalkers) or in the turbulent and frustrating two decades after their bitter defeat in World War I and the Treaty of Versailles from 1919 to World War Two in 1939.
Leonid Rechtnikov, the director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, who as Lieutenant General was head of Information and analysis in the Russian Foreign intelligence service (SVR) until 2009, got very angry and left the room, when I spoke the truth at his conference in Saint Petersburg in November 2014. My arguments you can read here- they are now truer than ever.
When your friend is an alcoholic, should you tell him the truth: that he should stop drinking, or keep silent and offer him vodka?
I agree with President Putin who said two years ago at the Valdai conference: when you meet you have to speak open, otherwise it does not make sense.
People like the retired general mean well for Mother Russia, but at the end they paralyze and destroy the base of the strength of their country. They strangulate their Mother Russia. They are fake-patriots leading their people to disaster.
They are more like Erich Ludendorff or Paul von Hindenburg in The Great War, but less like Carl von Clausewitz. Technocrats of power, no real strategists. Too narrow-minded people.Too much fixed on a military “victory” and “my-nation-needs-a-large-territory or area-of-influence” and glacis. Old thinking, bad ideas in a globalized world of the 21st century.
Those Russian mind-sets remind me of several mainly tea-party Republicans and their stiff friends in Washington DC. Those Americans wanted to make America great again, but led the nation into the disaster of Iraq and confrontation.
I call it the beginning of the end. The come-back of a cold war atmosphere makes them feel maybe 30 years younger, like in the good old days of black and white colors. They love cold wars- it is almost their life-style. They never learned the lessons of a globalized world and international economics in the 21st century- unfortunately.
At the Munich Security Conference in 2016, Russia seems stronger and more influential than maybe ten years ago. But it is isolated and alone, entangled in the two conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
But is Russia really stronger today than before both operations?
Will it loose or win more power?
B. Let’s us look into Syria.
Sending soldiers and planes to Syria to roll back the rebels by force in October 2015 was not difficult. The USSR did this with the invasion in Afghanistan in 1979 – and was defeated in guerrilla warfare years later. A defeat and a lost victory at the Hindukusch. Therefore it was the first rational and good decision with much Realpolitik of President Putin to withdraw his troops from Syria. It was my advice for Russian friends for several months and is in line with the proposals in this analysis. The Kremlin should continue a constructive role as peacemaker in Syria and maybe join the broad alliance to fight ISIS in mutual operations.
C. And in Ukraine?
This adventure has cost Russia around USD 300 billion in lost assets and investments. I can understand that Moscow wants to protect the Russians against Ukrainian nationalists, but to send soldiers-on-holidays in is the most expensive way and a dead-end-road. There is a way out: Autonomy in the Donbass implementing the best practice of South Tyrol from 1971 and a Saarland- like-free referendum done in 1955 for the Crimea. I have proposed this in the White Paper Ukraine two years ago. Italian Premier Minister Renzi proposed it to the Russian President on March 5, 2015 in Moscow.
D. Russia needs a new Realpolitik
Whoever loves Mother Russia and a strong country as a true patriot has to form a new Russian Realpolitik. It has to take into account the facts and not the illusions.
- The idea to ally the Russian bear with an 8 times larger Chinese Dragon is naive. Bejing will eat up the bear step by step. In Siberia first, slowly. Just look today in the relations of Pakistan and China, two long-time friends. Two Pakistani divisions protect the pipeline project from China to the port in Pakistan in the Indian Ocean – under the command of the Chinese. The new Silk Road designed by Beijing is planed without taking Russian interests into account and outside of Russia in Central Asia as well.
- In 2016 the GDP will go down by 3.8 percent. $85 billion in foreign investments will be lost.
- An endless bureaucracy and mismanagement. A Russian oligarch told me: „ Most important is to fire almost all officials in the ministries and offices. Nobody needs them. That will pop-up Russia. They block everything and make it slow.“ In international statistics about corruption, Russia ranks 129 of 167- on par with most African states.
- Russia needs to progress with radical reforms or will lose and lose and lose again- in the global competition- not so much with the US, but China and other Asian states. No progress, less power, less influence, and Russia weaker- as simple as that.
- Inflation is up to 9 percent.
Russia today is based on frustration, sand and illusions of fake-power.
E. How can you be strong, when you rot inside?
- If Russia goes a step further the West could cut the country from swift-system and isolate money-transfers.
- Where is the innovation? Where is the new infrastructure?
- Moscow must stop if they are to be fixed to Washington like a rabbit to the snake as the superman-like-bad-enemy. This is paralyzing all thinking and actions. It is just normal competition in international affairs. Relax!
- The small businessmen hardly get any credit from the banks.
- The state budget is very fragile. It is based on an income assuming oil prices of $50 per barrel, whereas now the real price is below $30. At the Munich Security Conference an expert told me, if this trend continues Russia is broke in two years.
- The Kremlin cannot afford a new arms race. Last year it had even to reduce the defense budget.
- Male Russians have a life expectancy of only 70 years- much like in African states.
F. I am a fan of Lenin’s last legendary question at the end of each meeting of the communist politburo: „ What to do?”
- Russia needs a new Peter the Great and nothing else than radical reforms inside using the best practices as an effective quick tool. Stop corruption like Beijing did. Get an effective e-administration like in Estonia (a former republic of the USSR by the way). Copy the best practices in all areas of politics from all over the world.
- The Kremlin must focus on stopping the rotting-process from within and not look for adventure outside.
- Start a new detente with the West. Make the first steps in your own Russian interest. A reset button No. 2 and fresh reconciliation with NATO, the US and the EU is needed as a base of strength- not the opposite. The military should start this process in the NATO-Russia Council.
- Ukraine can be solved as described above. This crisis and the sanctions absorb too much. Russian interests can be protected by autonomy of the Donbass within Ukraine which will stay neutral. After such an agreement the Russian military can withdraw.
- The real power of Russia is a motivated tiny elite in business, science, art, culture. Give them oxygen or lose them to exile in London, Berlin or the US and Canada. This means freedom, respect, dignity and human rights in Russia, a climate of well-being. The use of criticism and any opposition as sources of needed reforms and not as a threat. The political system must become more relaxed and flexible, less stiff, or will be ossified like the USSR- the beginning of the end. To transform Russia into a new USSR dictatorship is not leading to a glorious stronger future, but is its very end.
This is the Realpolitik of a real Russian patriot a la Peter The Great- and nothing else.
A u-turn from nationalistic adventures to a fresh reform policy is needed now to make Mother Russia strong long-term.