Italy distances from ‘cancellation’ of Russia

Scholz has opened Pandora’s box. The ghosts of German history are returning — and the profound question in European history: Where are the borders of Germany? 

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Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni arrives to attend the gala premiere in the country’s most famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala, which opened its new season with the Russian opera “Boris Godunov,” Milan, Italy, December 7, 2022

Noam Chomsky once wrote that the astronomical cost of the Bush-Obama wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, estimated into trillions of dollars, is a major victory for Osama bin Laden, whose announced goal was to bankrupt America by drawing it into a trap. 

The Ukraine war too was planned as a trap for Russia. No one other than the the Bill Clinton administration’s point person for Russia, Strobe Talbot tweeted early this year when Russia’s special military operations began congratulating President Biden’s foreign policy team — Victoria Nuland, Antony Blinken and JakeSullivan — for having successfully cornered Russia. 

Talbot didn’t call it a trap. For, a trap is only a trap if you don’t know about it; on the other hand, if you know about it, it’s a challenge. Russia already knew way back in 2014 that the US and its European allies — France, Germany and Poland — were posing a challenge to its security interests in Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea was Russia’s instinctive reaction. 

Where Talbot erred was that the US and its allies underestimated Russia, overestimated the trap and underestimated the fact that they overestimated themselves. 

To recapitulate, the so-called Agreement on settlement of political crisis in Ukraine signed by then President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich and the leaders of the parliamentary opposition under the mediation of the European Union and Russia on 21 February 2014 was formally witnessed as guarantors by the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Poland and a French Foreign Ministry official, while Russia’s Special Representative, although a participant in the negotiations, refused to put his signature under the document. 

Moscow was unsure of the intentions of the three western “guarantors.” For sure, within the next 24 hours, the ground beneath the feet shifted dramatically in Kiev following the the takeover by the armed protestors backed by the western intelligence. Till today, the three “guarantors” have not cared to explain their strange acquiescence. 

But then, it is a well-known fact that the present US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland midwifed the transition in Kiev in February and even nominated the successor to Yanukovich. (By the way, Nuland was in Kiev last week amidst speculations about another regime change in Ukraine.) 

All this becomes relevant today, as the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a series of interviews recently with the Spiegel and Die Zeit admitted that the subsequent 2014 Minsk Agreement to address the Donbass situation was itself only “an attempt to buy time for Ukraine. Ukraine used this time to become stronger, as you can see today. Ukraine in 2014-2015 and Ukraine today are not the same.” 

Merkel added that “it was clear for everyone” that the conflict was suspended and the problem was not resolved, “but it was exactly what gave Ukraine the priceless time.” Indeed, the Minsk Agreement was intended as a wayside station as the US pursued the agenda to introduce NATO and build up Ukraine’s military capability to eventually take on Russia. 

President Putin has repeatedly argued that Russia was left with no option but to react as the US/NATO “mission creep” began slouching toward its west borders. This is also the reason why Russia cannot afford to leave an anti-Russian Ukraine as its neighbour. If the proxy war continues, Russia will reduce Ukraine to a rump state. 

And that is where trouble, big trouble, lies ahead. It is apparent that Polish nationalist elements who have been in deep slumber are waking up to ponder how to return their so-called historical territories that were taken away by Joseph Stalin after the Second World War and merged with Soviet Ukraine.

On the other hand, German revanchism is also apparent. Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote an essay last week in Foreign Affairs where he underscored the new “mindset” in Berlin — as he put it — against the backdrop of the “epochal tectonic shift” toward “this new multipolar world, [as] different countries and models of government are competing for power and influence.” 

Germany senses that its hour has come once again to lead in Mitteleuropa — German term for Central Europe. The Prussian vision of Mitteleuropa was a pan-Germanist state-centric imperium, an idea that was later adopted in a modified form by Nazi geopoliticians. The Mitteleuropa plan was to achieve an economic and cultural hegemony over Central Europe and subsequent economic and financial exploitation of this region, making of puppet states as a buffer between Germany and Russia. 

Scholz asserted in his essay that Germany is on a path of militarisation, shedding its post-World War II inhibitions, will promote arms exports hoping to be “one of the main providers of security in Europe… beefing up our military presence on NATO’s eastern flank.” 

Clearly, there isn’t going to be enough space for Poland and Germany in western Ukraine. While Ukrainian nationalists will resist Polish revanchism, they will see Germany as a counterweight to Poland. It is useful to recall that the  history of the Black Sea Germans is more than 200 years old. 

The group of settlers commonly referred to as “Germans from Odessa and the Black Sea” were immigrants from western and southern Germany who migrated at the invitations extended by Catherine the Great and Tsar Alexander I to colonise large areas of Russia. 

Scholz wrote: “Putin needs to understand that not a single sanction will be lifted should Russia try to dictate the terms of a peace deal… Germany stands ready to reach arrangements to sustain Ukraine’s security as part of a potential postwar peace settlement. We will not, however, accept the illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory… To end this war, Russia must withdraw its troops.” 

Putin may have replied to Scholz — inadvertently, of course —  when in remarks on Wednesday, he said the Russian operations in Ukraine may be “a long process.” Putin said that “new territories have appeared – this is still a significant result for Russia, this is a serious issue. And, to be honest, the Sea of Azov has become the inland sea of the Russian Federation – these are serious things.” And, Putin remarked: “Peter I was still fighting to reach the Sea of Azov.” 

Scholz has opened a Pandora’s box. The ghosts of German history are returning — and the profound question in European history: Where are the borders of Germany? 

Poland announced in October that it wants to start negotiations with Germany on reparations during World War II, and Polish foreign ministry sent an official note to Berlin demanding around €1.3 trillion in damages to address the effects of Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland from 1939 to 1945.

To be sure, an assertive Germany will be a matter of disquiet for west Europe, especially France and Italy.

Interestingly, the new season at the La Scala theatre in the Italian city of Milan opened on Thursday with premiere of Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov, with the title role performed by prominent Russian opera singer Ildar Abdrazakov. Italian president Sergio Mattarella, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Italy’s high society, including politicians, businessmen, actors, directors, fashion designers and architects, attended the Russian opera.

Italy is marking distance from the Russophobic narrative in Europe. Again, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that the West should consider how to address Russia’s need for security guarantees.

M. K. Bhadrakumar

M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat by profession. Roughly half of the 3 decades of his diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. He writes mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

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