US rules EU as Europeans don't know what they want themselves – German politician

Military drills and power plays have reversed relations between NATO and Russia back to the Cold War. The West is ramping up its military presence in the East, along with keeping anti-Russian sanctions in place. Are relations between Russia and the West already beyond repair? How far both sides are willing to go in this standoff? We ask prominent German politician and national security advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl – Dr. Horst Teltschik is on Sophie&Co today.

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SS: Dr. Horst Teltschik, German politician, National Security advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl , former chairman of the Munich Security Conference - welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us. Now, Dr. Teltschik, so NATO is opening 6 new headquarters in number of Eastern European states - actually, Latvia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Estonia. Now, all of this happening right on Russia’s doorsteps. What reaction from Moscow is NATO expecting here?

 Dr. HT: I think Russia should not be concerned, because there was already an agreement between NATO and Russia when Russia said: “NATO is not anymore an enemy to Russia”. I think, there are concerns of Eastern neighboring countries of Russia, and NATO has to take into account their concerns, but it’s not a challenge to Russia. I think Russia and NATO should start again to think about close cooperation to avoid misunderstanding.

SS: That seems easier said than done, Dr. Teltschik. You’ve said that NATO’s Cold War strategy for Russia was wiser than today’s. Do you mean to say that this current crisis, that you’ve just mentioned, is worse than the confrontation during the Cold War?

Dr. HT: No, not at all. Therefore, it must be much easier now to find new agreements, and I think we did a lot to intensify the relations, for example, bilaterally between Germany and Russia, multilaterally between EU and Russia, and even on the level of NATO and Russia. Unfortunately, this has stopped and now there’s a danger that we are endangering all the progress we have  made, and therefore, we should stop thinking just about military means. We should think about cooperation, dialog on all levels.

SS: A London-based think-tank, the European Leadership Network, actually says that the current buildup of the military force in Europe indicates that NATO and Russia are actively preparing for war - that’s what they say.

Dr. HT: That’s crazy.

SS: That’s what I’m asking. Do you imagine any scenario in which the current tension could actually slide into a military confrontation?

Dr. HT: No, I don’t believe that. There’s no danger of war. There might be a danger that one or the other accident might happen, because American fighters are flying along the Russian border, and on the other side, Russian fighters are flying along NATO border, and therefore something could suddenly happen, and therefore, that’s my proposal: we should start again what we have had in the past, to establish contacts between both sides to avoid such accidents. But there’s no danger of war.

SS: We’re going to continue, actually, talking about how could we possible restore those contacts, because, as I said, it is easier said than done, and once again - everyone does understand, like you’ve said, that a full-blown military confrontation between NATO and Russia is nearly impossible and is ludicrous, since that could actually mean the use of nuclear weapons. So, why the military posturing? Is it just a series of bluffs on both sides?

Dr. HT: I think, this is thinking of the past, of the Cold War. We should not think about military measures. We should think about how to re-establish dialog, how to re-establish cooperation on all levels. I was in Moscow in April and I had met with good friends in the Kremlin, as well, and I think there’s an opportunity to start again. But, both sides must be interested to do..

SS: Okay. Let’s talk precisely about re-establishing those ties. You’ve said that EU and NATO has to ask itself if it has done enough to engage Russia, forge relations with Russia - is that something that they’re working towards? Does NATO want Russia’s cooperation?

Dr. HT: That’s a good question. You see, my experience in politics is that NATO as such, EU as such, is not at the end the dominant partner. Dominant partner of Russia must the big countries within those unions and alliances. Therefore, it’s important that, for example, Germany take a lead together with France and I would include Poland, to avoid distrust on the Western side, same with NATO - it must be Germany, France, Great Britain and the U.S. This depends now on whether we are able to pacify the Ukrainian issue. It was possible even during the Cold War. Why shouldn’t it be possible today?

SS: Like you’ve said - both sides need to be willing to renew the relations. The Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev has said that Russia is willing to cooperate with the U.S., NATO, EU or bigger countries from the EU, like you say - as equal partners. So, why doesn’t the West see Russia as an equal partner? Because, let’s be serious - West has not been taking Russia as an equal partner for a long time now…

Dr. HT: Well, there’s a good example with the agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue. I think the topic, which is very rich and should be the next step between East and West is Syria. I don’t understand why there were no negotiations between U.S., Europeans and Russia on how to settle Syria, keeping President Assad in office. I think Russia should tell the Western countries how a settlement can work in Syria as long as Assad is in office. The West says, all the time, publicly: “we have to get rid of Assad”, Russia says: “Assad has to stay” - well, let’s talk about a settlement with Assad and how it should look like. Iran was a difficult topic. Syria is a difficult topic as well, but with Iran it worked.

SS: But it’s true that Russia really can help settle things with Syria and they can seriously help fight ISIS. So, why do you think, even though it’s pretty obvious that Russia is crucial in these topics, why do you think Russia is being nudged out? Because of the Ukrainian situation? Are these regions, Syria and Iraq, less important than Ukraine?

Dr. HT: The Europeans today are facing the outcomes of the conflict in Middle East. Germany gets day by day more refugees from Syria. You know how many Syrians have left the country. From my point of view, we are just at the beginning of this wave of refugees, that the Europeans are facing. Therefore, if I would’ve been in government, I wouldn’t wait for the Americans. Nowadays, it’s mainly the job of Europeans to tell the Americans: “let’s talk and let’s negotiate with Russia, together with Russia, how to settle that problem in Syria and with the IS”. You see, your government is considering military intervention in Syria. Americans think about similar ideas. That’s very dangerous, and it would not settle anything in Syria. We have to negotiate and why shouldn’t we start? Europeans should take the initiative.

SS:  You know, Russia has been already excluded from the G8, and now we are hearing calls to strip Russia of its veto power in the UNSC. What do you think of that? Would that make world a safer place?

Dr. HT: From my point of view it was a mistake to exclude Russia from G8 summit, but more important nowadays is G20, and therefore, I do know that your government is not deeply concerned having been excluded from G8.

SS: But they will be concerned if it is stripped from veto power in the UNSC.

Dr. HT: Well, you can’t exclude Russia as a veto power in the UNSC, but the problem of the Security Council is… this is a council which was established after WWII,and the world has dramatically changed, we nowadays have multipolar world. I think, the Security Council needs reform, where other powers will be included, and the problem is that the Security Council and the UN have no instruments to settle conflicts militarily. They only can ask for dialog, for negotiations, nothing else - and if you look at IS, everybody agrees that you can’t settle IS just by dialog or negotiations.

SS: NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg actually said: “There’s no contradiction between defence and dialog” - and you’re talking about restoring the dialog, but does building up defence really set the right tone for the talks?

Dr. HT: You see, I think your President, Putin, and the German Chancellor are ready for a new meeting, now mainly on the Ukrainian issue - they have announced that after this trilateral meeting between the French President, German Chancellor and the Ukrainian President, next time there will be meeting together with President Putin. I think, this is an important move for a dialog, and I think both sides should use such a dialog, to talk not just about the Ukrainian topic, but on Syria and other topics as well.

SS: So, NATO’s defensive wall around Russia and we mentioned their headquarters opening... America’s F-22 are relocating to Germany - this all is seen as a very aggressive and expansionist behavior here in Russia, and, you know, I don’t blame them, and you wouldn’t blame them either if you were Russia. But NATO claims that they’re doing it actually in response to Russia’s actions - is there a way out from this catch 22?

Dr. HT: You see, talking about the NATO decisions just now…. I do understand that. But on the other side, your country is enforcing defence as well. My impression is, one side starts, the other side answers, and so on and so on. “You are hitting me, I will hit you”.

SS: So what is the way out?

Dr. HT: The way out, from my point of view, is quite simple: let’s talk on a different levels. Bilaterally, between the German government and Russian government; on the EU level - EU with Russia and with Eurasian Union, NATO and Russia… We have the NATO-Russia council. I can’t understand, but it’s not the fault of your country, it’s the fault of the West, to not to use NATO council to discuss all the problems we are facing. We have a lot of instruments we are not using. In the Cold War we established a lot of them: we had arms control negotiation, arms reduction negotiations, very successfully. We had discussions about confidence-building measures, why not have them today? And if the West is not starting such initiative, your government should start it.

SS: Yeah, but some would argue that the trust is broken now. Last Soviet leader, for instance, is very much loved in your country, who’s connected with bringing the Cold War to an end, bringing down the Berlin Wall - I’m talking about Mikhail Gorbachev, of course - even he has said that NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe has destroyed the continent’s security order. Is it in NATO plans to abandon such policies?

Dr. HT: Well, Sophie, this is a typical game. You see, you are quoting Western speeches and interviews, the West is quoting Russian wordings…We should stop it on both sides, come together and let’s negotiate. We did it successfully during the Cold War - and the Cold War was much more dangerous than the situation today. Nowadays, nobody wants a war.

SS: Let me ask you on a very precise and practical level: does NATO want to stop its expansion in the East? For instance, Ukraine’s new military doctrine proclaims NATO membership as a goal, rejecting previous non-aligned policy. Is NATO ready for a new member like Ukraine?

Dr. HT: No, no. Even if the Ukrainian government would say: “We would like to become a member of NATO”, it’s up to NATO to accept that, and Ukraine is far away from becoming a member of NATO. My advise would be to do nothing with Ukraine as long as we have no progress in cooperation with Russia.

SS: Dr. Teltschik, you have called Europe and Russia “natural partners”. What are the dangers of isolating Russia in the way it’s happening today?

Dr. HT: When I was in government, we signed 22 agreements and treaties with, at that time, with Soviet Union ,and the idea was, first of all, sure, to get the unification of our country, this was one goal, but the other one was to establish close contacts, relations and friendship between Soviet Union, and nowadays, between Russia and Germany. There is no security possible all over Europe, if we don’t stick together - Russians and the Europeans, mainly the Germans. I worked hard and I still work hard to push this forward.

SS: So, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Berlin is ready to return to constructive relations with Moscow” - she actually shares that view with you, but how will the people of Germany and the rest of Europe react to backward steps, especially the countries like Poland - that wouldn’t be a very popular move, would it?

Dr. HT: Well, I would - and I tell this to my Russian friends all the time - I always would integrate the Poles. I know many Poles, very prominent Poles, who are very much in favor of good relations with Russia, but they have to be integrated. It would not be good if just Germany and Russia will negotiate. We need Poland and we need the others, and this is possible, but Germany, in some respect, has to take the lead.

SS: So, there is a growing sense of pragmatism, like you’ve said, from Germany. We also hear that coming out of France, more or less, in their approach to Russia. Poles, why not, maybe, yeah… But they all have plenty to lose in the standoff, unlike the U.S.. So, does the EU have the power to decide independently that this has to stop, even if this goes against the wishes of the United States?

Dr. HT: Well, the European Union and even Germany are strong enough to take decisions independently from the U.S. The only thing I would do is… we have to know what we want, and we have to tell our American friends - “look, that’s our goal, and that’s what we want to do”. And then - this is my experience - if the Europeans tell the Americans what they want, they can get their support. Nowadays, it’s a little bit difficult, because in the U.S. the campaign for the next president has started, and you know, this campaign, campaigning in the U.S. is always a very difficult time, because you have the extremists on both sides, fighting one another, not taking care about the repercussions on partners or other countries. It’s just a domestic struggle with international repercussions. They don’t take seriously the repercussions for others. Therefore, it’s not the best time to wait for the Americans, it’s a right time for the Europeans to start initiatives and to tell Americans what they want to do - and they should do it.

SS: But do you think the Americans are ready to ease tensions with Russia? I mean, a year ago President Obama named Russia the biggest threat to global security - do you think that mindset has changed?

Dr. HT: Well, you know, this from your country as well… such statements are not for foreigners, just for domestic reasons, to fight the right-wing Republicans, and to prepare the elections for the Democrats next year. I won’t take such statements very seriously.

SS: Dr. Teltschik, it’s been a pleasure, talking to you. We were talking to Dr. Horst Teltschik , former Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, National Security Advisor to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, discussing the relationship between Russia and the West, and what needs to be done to restore a healthy dialog between the two sides. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.