Ukraine Crisis Conflict with Russia Is Not an Option

There can only be stability in Europe through cooperation, not conflict, with Russia, argues Germany’s former foreign minister.
Clouding Western-Russian relations.

A global health crisis, international terrorism and warfare — the word is in turmoil. Millions of people are fleeing their homelands. Kidnappings and murders are daily occurrences. And in societies in the northern hemisphere xenophobia is offered as a remedy. One must ask: Quo vadis, humanity?

While all that is happening around us, Europe is allowing a confrontation to its east, which could not be more out-of-date, to destroy trust and blind it to common interest, collective responsibility and mistakes made on all sides.

Twenty-five years ago we had the happiest autumn, that of 1989, which peacefully ended the Cold War. And now? Didn’t everyone expect that would also mean an end to the division of the continent? What went wrong?

The European Union has at least used this time. A European single market and the euro have long been global realities. Does that mean that European integration is complete? Not at all! New major steps are also needed here. The integration must continue. The common currency requires common economic policies. Here again, those who stand still, fall behind.

The die-hards who want to obstruct the integration in progress are really dismantlers, who are jeopardizing everything that has been accomplished. In 1989, the European Union had 13 member countries. Today it has 28. It is a gigantic integration project. It is unprecedented in history, and borne by a feeling of solidarity on the continent.

Never before in their often bloody history were the people of Europe as united and as close as they were in 1989. But that was brought about by great individuals, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, the reformers in Hungary, and by the many, many people who took to the streets everywhere in favor of freedom and democracy.

Those trapped in their old Cold War mindsets wanted to shift the dividing line from the middle of Berlin to the western border of Russia.

Germany, with its policy of negotiating treaties with the countries in Eastern Europe and as the engine of the diplomatic process, achieved reconciliation and eventually cooperation between West and East.

Germany was the country that spoke out from the beginning in favor of Moscow’s suggestion of a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). But – and this we considered indispensable – only with the inclusion of the North American democracies of the United States and Canada. The resulting peace framework from Vancouver to Vladivostok became an anchor of global stability.

The stabilizing effect also requires that everyone keeps the community's shared responsibility in mind. That needs ongoing cooperation in all areas. It requires mutual respect and collaboration among equals.

Were there not those who saw the bipolar world of Washington-Moscow replaced with a unipolar new world order, which is focused on Washington and dominated by the United States? Weren’t there also voices in the East that blamed the West for the breakup of the Soviet Union, even though it was really Boris Yeltsin who carried out the dissolution to deprive the president of the Soviet Union of his position?

And were there not forces who, trapped in their old Cold War mindsets, had in no way intended to overcome the division of Europe, but wanted to shift the dividing line from the middle of Berlin to the western border of Russia instead?

The conversion of the CSCE into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was meant to counteract such a development. Stability in, and for, Europe is only possible with Russia and not without it, and certainly not in opposition to it.

Eastern Europe, and not Western Asia, begins on Russia’s western border. Great opportunities were not — and hopefully one may say, have not yet been — used. A European free trade zone that includes Russia does not exist, although it was viewed favorably by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Why can’t we create a common economic zone that includes the European Union and Russia?

Part of Europe’s global responsibility is that, in the eyes of many, we are a future test-bed for a new world order.

The NATO-Russia Council, a bold tool of a new security mindset, was being used less and less and in the end was void of its entire meaning. The formation of a missile defense system as a unilateral measure naturally changes the architecture of stability for Europe. Instead of talking to each other in the NATO-Russia Council, countries are raising their flags in the air, on water and land.

A bellicose East-West debate smothers the opportunity for a constructive dialogue. There is talk about penalizing Russia, and Russia is being disparagingly defined as a regional power. But those who see themselves as the winners of the Cold War and act as such run the risk of laying the groundwork for a new Cold War. One should not forget: Without victors there are also no losers, and without losers there are also no revisionists.

And it should not be forgotten that verbal rearmament was always the beginning of something worse. Therefore we should now start with verbal disarmament.

We must attempt a new beginning with a new way of thinking, with a strategic plan, and taking into account the will, the freedom, the dignity, the independence and the security of all European people, whether big or small. With everyone treated as equals and without anyone striving for dominance.

It may be that the OSCE is imperfect. Then it should be improved. The people of Europe need each other. They can benefit one another in endless ways. We need to perform some clean-up work, on both sides.

Only a new beginning with the will to collaborate on all sides opens the possibility of overcoming the mistakes of the past and their effects. That applies to everyone, including the United States and Russia. They also need each other, and they will need each other more than some of the players today appreciate.

Those who look at the world with its gigantic global challenges - with gigantic streams of refugees, uncontrolled denationalized power, dramatic differences in standards of living and in opportunities in life and education, global threats to heath and the environment - will realize where the challenges of globalization lie and where the danger exists that its opportunities will be lost.

We must not fear globalization, but we must shape it. Therefore, we should hazard a new beginning.

Those who disavow everything should remember Gorbachev’s words from 1989: “He who comes too late is punished by life.” We should not deceive ourselves — part of Europe’s global responsibility is that, in the eyes of many, we are a future test-bed for a new world order. They are waiting for stability from “Vancouver to Vladivostok” to again be part of their shared global responsibility, and our people are expecting that, too.


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