zaterdag 1 november 2014

Putin points to growing war dangers

By Nick Beams

Russian President Vladimir Putin has bluntly warned that actions by the United States, in disregard of the norms that have governed international relations since the end of World War II, could lead to war.

His declaration came in a major speech on October 24, delivered to the final session of a meeting organised by the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Russian winter resort of Sochi. The theme for the discussions, held over several days and attended by journalists, foreign policy experts and academics from Russia and internationally, was World Order: New Rules or a Game without Rules.

Putin began by saying “this formula accurately describes the historic turning point we have reached today and the choice we all face.” He said the lessons of history should not be forgotten. “[C]hanges in the world order—and what we are seeing today are events on this scale—have usually been accompanied by, if not global war and conflict, then by chains of intensive local-level conflicts.”

Expanding on the meeting’s theme, Putin’s speech comprised a series of indictments of US foreign policy from the end of the Cold War. The US, he said, having declared itself the victor, saw no need to establish “a new balance of power, essential for maintaining order and stability” but instead “took steps that threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance.”

Putin likened the actions of the US to the behaviour of the nouveaux riche “when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies.”

Over the past period, Putin said, international law had been forced to retreat in the face of “legal nihilism.” Legal norms had been replaced by “arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments.” At the same time, “total control of the global mass media has made it possible, when desired, to portray white as black and black as white.”

The very notion of national sovereignty had been made relative and replaced by the formula “the greater the loyalty to the world’s sole power centre, the greater this or that regime’s legitimacy.”

Referring to the revelations over the operations of US spy agencies, the Russian president said “big brother” was spending “billions of dollars on keeping the whole world, including its closest allies, under surveillance.”

In a direct attack on US actions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Ukraine, Putin said the imposition of a unilateral diktat, instead of leading to peace and prosperity, was producing the opposite result. “Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public, ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.”

In Syria, the United States and its allies had armed and financed rebels and allowed them to fill their ranks with mercenaries from various countries. “Let me ask where do these rebels get their money, arms and military specialists? Where does all this come from? How did the notorious ISIL manage to become such a powerful group, essentially an armed force?”

The period of unipolar domination by the United States had demonstrated that having only one power centre did not make global process more manageable. It had opened the way for inflated national pride, the manipulation of public opinion and “letting the strong bully and suppress the weak. Essentially, the unipolar world is simply a means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries.”

Putin warned that unless there was a clear system of agreements and commitments governing international relations, together with mechanisms for managing and resolving crisis situations, “the symptoms of global anarchy will inevitably grow.”

“Today, we already see a sharp increase in the likelihood of a whole set of violent conflicts with either direct or indirect participation by the world’s major powers … I want to point out we did not start this. Once again, we are sliding into times when, instead of the balance of interests and mutual guarantees, it is fear and the balance of mutual destruction that prevent nations from engaging in direct conflict. In the absence of legal and political instruments, arms are once again becoming the focal point of the global agenda.”

In an accurate summation of the US position, Putin said that arms were used without any UN Security Council sanction. If the Security Council failed to support such actions, then “it is immediately declared to be an outdated and ineffective instrument.”

“Many states do not see other ways of ensuring their sovereignty but to obtain their own bombs. This is extremely dangerous.”

Putin’s remarks, which the Financial Times described as “one of his most anti-US speeches in 15 years as Russia’s most powerful politician,” appear to be motivated, at least in part, by fear of the impact of rapidly falling oil prices combined with sanctions, imposed at the insistence of the US, on the Russian economy.

The fall in the oil price, from around $100 to $80 per barrel, could slice as much as 2 percentage points from Russia’s gross domestic product and will have a major effect on the government’s budget, thereby destabilising the Putin regime, which rests on a network of powerful oligarchs.

Whatever immediate the motivations for the speech, the dangers of war to which it pointed are real and growing. The issues raised publicly by Putin over the role of the US are no doubt being discussed behind closed doors in political circles in other major countries.

As the impact of falling oil prices on Russia demonstrates, these geo-political tensions will be fuelled by the deepening economic crisis and the tendencies driving to deflation and stagnation throughout the world economy.

The dangers of war to which Putin alluded were underscored in remarks to the conference by an American expert on Russia, Christopher Gaddy of the Brookings Institution. Two days before Putin’s speech, Gaddy evoked The Sleepwalkers, the recent book on the origins of World War I by historian Christopher Clark, and drew parallels with the present situation.

“I fear very much that ... there is an element of sleepwalking in the policies of key players in the world today,” Gaddy said, indicating that sanctions against Russia had been designed by the United States and drawn up by a small group with unclear aims and questionable results.

This article first appeared on World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) on 1 November 2014, and was republished with permission.

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