Russia's thinking is like a black and white TV in an era of colour television, the internet and Facebook

Posted in Russia | 21-Aug-14 | Source: World Security Network Foundation

Polina Klestsina from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation interviewed Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann on July 20, 2014, during the VII. EU-Russia Dialogue of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Cadenabbia in Italy.

Polina Klestsina: How do you see the current European-Russian relationship considering the crisis in Ukraine?

Hubertus Hoffmann: It's the worst crisis since the Berlin crisis in 1961. Chancellor Helmut Kohl had a good relationship with Gorbachev 1990 and later with Yeltsin. So it was a good start, and then, maybe just like in private life, when a relationship is broken, not only one party, but most of the time both, are responsible. And that's what has happened. There is the tendency in the US and the EU to blame it on one person, but I think it's wrong. We haven't taken it serious enough to understand the misperception of the Kremlin, Mister Putin and his people of the NATO and the EU. And we haven't found the right mechanism to integrate Russia into Europe.

Polina Klestsina: What measures are necessary to reduce the tensions between Russia and the EU over the Ukraine topic?

Hubertus Hoffmann: Both are responsible- Russia much more than the EU- and both must kind of reset and start over again, and it's not only the task of the EU but of Russia as well. Russia and Mister Putin, as well as the EU need to better and deeper analyse what is in their interest. This is something which hadn't been done yet. The Russian president, his foreign minister Lavrov and the whole team had their experiences basically in the 1960's and 1970's, when they were young people. And they stick to those schemata of the cold war. They have to understand better, how to modernize Russia and how to integrate it into a security and economic partnership with Europe. They are naïve, when they think of a stand-alone with basically obscure other countries will work as alternative to the cooperation with the West. They are no partners; there are just small entities, like Belarus. It's not really a partner; I would call it just a neighbour. Or take Kazakhstan, an interesting country, but tiny and unimportant in the end. Those are not real partnerships. The so called 'partnership' with China is a tango of a very dynamic dragon of 1.3 billion people with a medium sized Russian old bear, which has a large empty territory, the dragons needs. Because of the difference a true partnership is not possible. It would basically mean that Russia has to do what China wants it to do. So it's a kind of naïve and wishful thinking to have a partnership with China. Towards the US, Russia still reacts out of reflex towards America in typical cold war manner. The same is true for the United States, how it reacts towards Russia. But the real partners of Russia are the EU and especially Germany. Russia is about to lose its only friend left, the German people, who are basically losing trust in Russia as a reliable partner.

Polina Klestsina: What are the most important political challenges for Russia today? Which role has the European Union for the modernization of the Russian federation?

Hubertus Hoffmann: Several countries which are rich in natural resources, like the Russian Federation, have to understand that their real wealth is not gas and oil, but the very tiny elite of talented people in their country. That must be the new focus. These people create the silicon valleys of today and tomorrow. That is the strength of America, to give those young, talented people opportunities in the economy, with education and with its system of freedom. These facts have never been discussed and deeply enough analysed by the Kremlin and this has to change. The second point is that, to influence land masses like in the past, like the old geo policies, which I call 'World 1.0', is still important in a way, but it's not enough. The world has changed dramatically. Russia does not need more land, but radical reforms inside the country, something done so successfully in Estonia or Latvia and Lithuania, three former republics of the USSR, in just a few years. It needs a partnership with the Europeans as well. It is not weak because of a threat by NATO or the US, but because of an inner blockade, a lack of modernization and liberties and reliable administration. Russia may implode. Russia is like a black and white TV in an era of colour television, the internet and Facebook. It has its old thinking, and with that, you have to lose in the end. All these kind of adventures in Ukraine give you applause, but can easy turn into 'Lost Victories'. I always tell my Russian friends: if you want to avoid mistakes, study the history of Germany over the last hundred years. The different governments of Germany have done, many of them on good purpose, few of them on bad purpose, all the mistakes any nation possibly can do. And there are two paths: you either repeat the German path of mistakes, or you learn from it.

Polina Klestsina: The story of the European integration process is unique. Some call it a peace project; some explain it as an economic space which provides opportunities and wealth. What does the "European Union" stand for in the year 2014 from your point of view? Which role has the Russian Federation for the development of the EU?

Hubertus Hoffmann: The EU has, like a coin, two sides: a good golden side and a bad iron side. The good side is basically that it unites many of the former enemies peacefully. The bad side is that it's over bureaucratic. It is overcomplicated and it's not clear what it stands for. The main tendency is that the more countries join the EU and the bigger it gets the better. Because bigger is better. It has all this XXL thinking, which we can find in China, in the US and now in the EU, at least in the bureaucratic and political circles in Brussels. This has to be changed. I think its strength is not only unity, but it is diversity plus creativity plus freedom. We have to strengthen the local ideas, cultures and approaches much more. You are not stronger when you unify everything, you have to appreciate the diversity, and this is something the bureaucrats still have to learn and hopefully soon.

Polina Klestsina: Who are the multipliers of the EU-Russia relations today and in the future? Which role will be given to the acting governments and which one to the civil society? Do you see opportunities in the relations between politicians and political parties within the framework of the EU-Russia relations?

Hubertus Hoffmann: I think it is in the interest of both, to start a new and fresh mentoring program, where we invite, year by year, ten-thousands of young Russians to European states, and we send ten-thousand Europeans to Russia to study, to exchange ideas and values in private relationships. There should be a mentoring program, in which senior mentors take care of the young talents, help them with know-how and connections. I think this would be the best approach and the best investment into the future. The globe gets closer and closer together, but we still are far from each other as human beings. The tendency to focus on state visits and conferences is not enough. There is no long-term substance behind it. We need to exchange more ideas and learn from each other, to listen and to talk to each other. That would be the beginning of a partnership. And we should have many more activities like this, with both sides and dealing with the interest of both, Russia and the EU.

This newsletter is dedicated to Peter Scholl-Latour, a great independent journalist and adventurer, and to Wolfgang Leonhard, who changed from a Communist functionary to become a liberal analyst of the USSR. Two men of character, who helped many to understand the world, we like to remember.