Michael Jabara Carley is a specialist in 20th century international relations and the history of Russia and the Soviet Union. His research focuses on the Soviet Union’s relations with Western Europe and the United States during the years 1917 and 1945. This research has come together in a three-volume study, first of which, entitled, Stalin’s Gamble: The Search for Allies against Hitler, 1930–1936, will be published by the University of Toronto Press.
Professor Carley has also written many essays on French intervention in the Russian Civil War (1917-1921), on Soviet relations with the Great Powers between the two world wars, on questions of “appeasement,” the origins and conduct of the Second World War, and on major current issues. He is a Professor of history at the University of Montreal. It is a great pleasure and honor to discuss his work with him in this interview.
The Postil (TP): You have written a trilogy on the Great Patriotic War, that is the Second World War as experienced by Soviet Union. The first part of this magisterial study will be published soon. What is your overall aim?
Michael Jabara Carley (MJC): My trilogy, as I call it, deals with the origins and early conduct of the Second World War and the Great Patriotic War (Velikaia Otechestvennaia voina). The VOV is the name given to the war in Soviet and Russian history arising from the German invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941. My work runs from January 1930 to December 1941. My project was first entitled “A Near-run Thing: The Improbable Grand Alliance of World War II,” supported by an “Insight” research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. My initial objective was to write a narrative history of how the USSR, Britain, and the United States, powers hostile to each other during the interwar years, became allies against Nazi Germany and the Axis. The work evolved from an envisioned single volume into three dealing with Soviet relations with the great and lesser European powers and the United States.
TP: Is there a difference between a Western historiography of WWII and a Russian one?
MJC: Oh yes, the difference is enormous. During the war, it was clear to all who had eyes to see that the Red Army played the key role in smashing the Nazi Wehrmacht and winning the war in Europe. The United States and Britain played supporting roles. After 1945 the war became an important object of propaganda in the Cold War. The new narrative was that the United States or Churchill single-handedly won the war in which the USSR was practically invisible.
In the western media, histories, iconography, Hollywood films, comic books, more recently video games, the Red Army is invisible. The key moment in the war was operation Overlord, the Normandy landings, when in fact, they were an anticlimax, grand to be sure, in a war whose outcome had already been determined by the Red Army. In the context of the Cold War, it was normal that the United States would seek in various ways to rub out the memories of the Soviet role in the war, for otherwise how could you portray the USSR as a menacing communist enemy.
TP: Would you tell us about the other two volumes in the trilogy?
MJC: Volume 1: Stalin’s Gamble: The Search for Allies against Hitler, 1930–1936, explores the Soviet Union’s efforts to organize a defensive alliance against Nazi Germany, in effect rebuilding the anti-German Entente of the First World War.
Volume 2: Stalin’s Failed Grand Alliance: The Struggle for Collective Security, 1936-1939 covers the period from May 1936 to August 1939. These were the last three years of peace in Europe during which occurred the great crises of the pre-war period (the Spanish civil war, Anschluss and the Munich sellout of Czechoslovakia) and the last Soviet efforts to organise an anti-Nazi alliance.
Volume 3: Stalin’s Great Game: War and Neutrality, 1939-1941 covers the first phase of the war in Europe, notably the disappearance of Poland, the Winter War between the USSR and Finland, the fall of France, the battle of Britain, and the Nazi build-up and invasion of the USSR. All this occurs within the broader framework of Soviet diplomacy and intelligence operations and Stalin’s failures to interpret correctly the signs of Hitler’s intention to destroy the Soviet Union.
TP: Your work has focused on Russian archival records. Were there any surprises, which made you rethink your position(s)?
MJC: My work has focused on Russian archival sources and western archival sources (inter alia French, British, US, etc.). The Russian sources indicate—and this will be a surprise for some people—that Soviet foreign policy as conducted by the Commissariat for foreign affairs (NKID) functioned like that of any other foreign ministry. It sought to define and protect Soviet national interests, as perceived by the NKID, and promoted amongst the Soviet leadership, especially in the Politburo (in effect the Soviet cabinet), which over time became synonymous with a single person, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin. In the 1920s this meant seeking to improve political and economic relations with the main western powers. No country was too small to escape NKID attention and wooing. In the 1930s it meant seeking to build an anti-Nazi alliance to contain Hitlerite Germany or to defeat it in war if containment failed. The first generation of Soviet diplomats were well-educated (or self-taught), multilingual, sophisticated, and good at their jobs.
So? What is so surprising about these “discoveries?” Several generations of western historians have maintained that Soviet foreign policy was made by the Communist International or Comintern and intended to pursue world socialist revolution and not the protection of Soviet national interests. These did not exist. My previous book Silent Conflict deals with the complicated interaction of the NKID, Comintern, Stalin, and the Politburo in the 1920s. Suffice it to say that traditional western historiography requires revision based on the study of Russian archives. We now have histories before the opening of Soviet archives and histories after their opening.
TP: The Soviet era is largely dominated by Joseph Stalin. Are there aspects about him that are ignored or misconstrued by Western historians?
MJC: People have been writing books about Stalin since the interwar years. His recent biographer Stephen Kotkin reminds us that he was a “human being.” He was that, but of course human beings can also be serial killers. Stalin was what he was, amongst other things, crude, cynical, vengeful, murderous. He placed little value on human life and freely dispensed with it.
In the realm of foreign policy, he had a more or less normal relationship with the NKID and its leadership until the purges. In the 1930s his principal NKID interlocutor was Maksim M. Litvinov, the commissar or narkom for foreign affairs. Stalin’s interactions with Litvinov were those of a head of government with his/her foreign minister. There was give and take on both sides, but most of the time until 1939 Stalin supported Litvinov’s policy recommendations. Not always but most of the time. It is a “normal” side of Stalin that we sometimes miss because of his ruthlessness and the purges.
TP: In the years leading up to WWII, how did the West view, or understand, Stalin and Soviet Russia? And, likewise, how did Stalin view the West?
MJC: The “west” did not have a uniform view of Stalin. There was the mainstream media view of him as bloodthirsty communist. In some government circles, in the British Foreign Office, for example, he was perceived as a ruthless “realist” looking to secure his own power. Western iconography, political posters, cartoons, etc., are rich in their portrayal of Stalin, amongst other roles, as a vampire feeding on the blood of innocents. This was a consistent view of him during the interwar years with some moderation in the 1930s when western realists—Winston Churchill is the best known of these people— recognised the need to cooperate with the USSR against Nazi Germany. The “realists” were always a minority amongst western governing elites and were never able to impose this policy in government until the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Of course, western communists were more disposed to recognise Stalin as the great leader of the USSR. They had to or were expelled from European parties or purged when Stalin got his hands on them. There were however exceptions to the rule when communists (in France for example) could initiate policy changes accepted in Moscow.
As for Stalin, he remained a communist, but he was willing to cooperate with the western powers against Hitler both in the 1930s and after June 1941. We operate under different social systems, he often said, but this should not prevent us from recognizing common interests and cooperating against common foes.
TP: Then, there is the notorious year, 1932, with its Great Famine, in which 5 to 7 million died. Was this famine “political strategy,” ethnic cleansing (Holodomor), a natural disaster, or something else?
MJC: I only deal in passing with this issue in my work because the famine did not affect foreign policy, but the best recent treatment of the famine is in the second volume of Kotkin’s biography of Stalin. Kotkin argues that the famine was the result of various factors, political, economic, weather, and insect infestations. It was not aimed at the Ukraine as a form of genocide or “ethnic cleansing.” The famine affected the entire Soviet grain belt with Kazakhstan being the hardest hit.
TP: The next year, 1933, brought Adolf Hitler to power. How did Stalin and the Soviets view Hitler?
MJC: The initial Soviet reaction to Hitler’s assumption of power in early 1933 was to try to maintain the “Rapallo” policy of tolerable relations with Germany. Nazi hostility to the USSR in 1933 was so intense that the maintenance of Rapallo became impossible and in December 1933 the Politburo approved a shift in policy to collective security against Nazi Germany. This meant in effect the rebuilding of the World War I Entente against Wilhelmine Germany. Litvinov became the great Soviet spokesperson for this policy, but it was not his personal policy, it was that of Stalin and the Soviet government. Stalin was the Soviet government. No policy, large or small, could pass without his approval.
TP: The years leading up to 1939 are complex and often little understood, especially in regards to the motivations and concerns of Soviet Russia. Did the Soviets see a war coming?
MJC: There is not the slightest doubt that the Soviet leadership saw war coming. Nazi Germany was the great danger to European peace and security. Litvinov and other Soviet diplomats liked to quote to their western counterparts Mein Kampf, Hitler’s best-selling book, outlining his plans for European conquest. France and the USSR were identified as targets of German conquest. Germany needed Lebensraum, additional living space in the USSR. Slavs, Jews, Roma were lower species of human being good only for slavery or death.
TP: What was the role of Britain and France in this regard? Were they more suspicious of Hitler or of Stalin, or of both equally? And why could they not form an alliance with Stalin against Hitler?
MJC: The answer to this question is complicated and is the subject of Stalin’s Gamble, vol. 1 of my trilogy. In France and Britain anti-communism was a driving force, though its intensity fluctuated from time to time during the interwar years. Political and economic elites were largely anti-communist, but not entirely, as I have noted above. This was especially true during the 1930s after Hitler became German chancellor. One Soviet diplomat noted that the great question of the 1930s was who was enemy no. 1, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union? Western elites, with important exceptions, got the answer wrong to this question. Fascism was the great bulwark against communist or socialist revolution, the ideology arising from the crisis of capitalism during the interwar years. Remember, Germany was not the only fascist state, the Duce Benito Mussolini had taken power in Italy in 1922. In France and Britain there were tolerant attitudes toward Italian fascists. If only Hitler would soften the hard edges of Nazism and adopt the “softer” fascism of Mussolini, it would be easier to accept him. For numerous European conservatives Hitlerite Germany was not an enemy but a potential ally against the left.
When Soviet diplomats tried to warn of the Nazi danger, many western counterparts did not buy the argument that Hitler was the problem. This was especially so after the eruption of the Spanish civil war in July 1936. It looked to many conservatives that communism might take root in Spain and then spread to France. What a catastrophe! So, when Soviet diplomats warned of Hitlerite Germany, conservatives, the political right, but also spreading into the political centre and centre-left, saw this as a ruse de guerre to spread communism into Europe. Collective security and mutual assistance against the common foe, did not work as an argument, because European elites did not see or did not want to see Hitler as a common foe. The British Foreign Office was against collective security and against anti-fascism as arguments for unity. Anti-communism was a major impediment to an Anglo-Franco-Soviet alliance against Hitler, even in 1939 when war looked increasingly inevitable.
TP: Then there is Poland. How would you characterize the Polish view of Hitler, especially given that Poland was allied with Nazi Germany until 1939 (a little-known fact)? What were Poland’s ambitions and motivations?
MJC: Yes, then there was Poland. I call it the skunk in the woodpile of collective security, but it was not the only one. A Polish state reappeared on the map of Europe in 1918 at the end of World War I. It was intensely nationalist. During 1919-1920 Poland sought to reestablish its frontiers of 1772, as a great European power. This led to war with Soviet Russia and a white peace, signed in early 1921 which satisfied neither side. Poland did not re-establish its 1772 frontiers, but obtained important Ukrainian and Byelorussian populated territories, which Soviet Russia saw as lost because of military weakness.
The Polish leadership saw itself situated between two potentially hostile great powers, and so explained its foreign policy as neither one or the other. But when push came to shove the Polish leadership always leaned toward Germany. In January 1934 Poland signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. Soviet offers of rapprochement were rejected. In following years Poland acted as a saboteur of collective security and worked against Soviet diplomacy. Everywhere in central and eastern Europe, diplomats warned that Poland was marching toward its ruin if it continued to pursue a pro-German, anti-Soviet policy. I would not say Poland was a Nazi “ally” but it was certainly an accomplice in 1938 when it cooperated with Germany to bring about the dismemberment of the Czechoslovak state. For its troubles Poland got a small portion of Czechoslovak territory. Incredibly, in 1939 it continued to sabotage attempts to conclude an Anglo-Franco-Soviet alliance. It did so until the very day the Nazi Wehrmacht invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.
TP: Was the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 the Soviet attempt to thwart war, or was it a reaction to the Munich Conference of 1938, in which the West thought it had won “peace in our time?”
MJC: The Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact was not a Soviet attempt to thwart war, it was an attempt to stay out of the war and to remain neutral. Yes, in part, it was a reaction to the Munich accords, but it was more than that. It was the direct result of six years of failed Soviet attempts to construct an anti-Nazi grand alliance. One by one, the prospective members of this failed grand alliance fell away: the United States in the spring-summer 1934, France paradoxically in late 1934 (in a more complicated process), Italy, yes, fascist Italy in 1935, Britain in February 1936, and Romania in August 1936. One after the other they fell away; and Poland of course, the spoiler of collective security, the proverbial skunk in the woodpile, never contemplated an alliance with the USSR against Germany. Moscow was always the undesirable ally, the greater enemy, even though, paradoxically, it was Poland’s only option for salvation.
The Soviet Union could not, on its own, organise mutual assistance against Nazi Germany. Collective security had to be a grand political coalition from left to centre-right, a World War I union sacrée, of all-in national defence of all political parties against a common foe. In the west no one wanted it; no one wanted the Soviet Union as an ally (with the exception of communists and “realists”; a Soviet ambassador called them “white crows”) in a potential war-fighting alliance, in a situation where there was no agreement on the common foe. Even Czechoslovakia, the most needy potential ally, would not go all-in with the USSR. No eastern European country would without France and Britain, but France would not march without Britain, and Britain would not march at all.
This is a complicated story related in volumes 1 and 2 of my trilogy. In the great cover-up of the genuine history of the origins of World War II after 1945, it was the necessary corollary of Cold War propaganda to rub out the primary role of the Red Army in the destruction of the Wehrmacht. Early on, revisionist historians began to put the story together, starting with the “Guilty Men,” the appeasers, who prepared the way to catastrophe. It was the release of Soviet government papers in the 1990s, however, which has allowed the emergence of a more complex narrative, constructed with the assistance of Soviet eyes. In this narrative Stalin, the “human being,” understandably could not trust the British and French governments, conniving, manipulative, unwilling, to be all-in allies against Nazi Germany even in August 1939.
As it was, the British and French left their ally Poland to blow in the wind when Germany invaded it. Stalin correctly assumed that France and Britain would sit on their hands while Germany and the USSR fought it out in the east. Would they have been more loyal to the USSR than they had been to Poland? Of course not, if you asked Stalin. However, war is full of the unexpected. The USSR ended up fighting a ground war practically alone against Nazi Germany from June 1941 to September 1943 and even after the Normandy landings still carried the main burden of fighting on the ground. That of course is another story.
TP: World War II, when it broke out, was the result of diplomatic failure on the part of Britain, France, and Poland. Is this a fair assessment?
MJC: I have answered this question in my above responses, but yes, Britain, France, and Poland bear a large responsibility for the failure to organize an early grand alliance in Europe against Hitler.
TP: Could the Allies have defeated Hitler without the Soviets?
MJC: No, and this is not a conclusion made in hindsight. The main argument of western “realists” was that without the USSR, France and Britain could not win a war against Nazi Germany and would certainly lose it. Britain had no army to speak of, two divisions could at once be sent to France in the event of war. The French army could not alone fight off a German invasion. On the other hand, the Red Army could at once mobilise 100 divisions, in fact, more, against Nazi Germany. Churchill and former prime minister David Lloyd George said it plainly in the House of Commons during the spring of 1939. Victory was impossible without an alliance with the USSR. Do the math of relative contributions to boots on the ground: Britain, two divisions; the USSR, 100. This is not to mention 35 Czechoslovak divisions prior to the Munich betrayal. The French and British governing elites liked to count every enemy twice over and potential allies not at all.
MJC: With the notable exception of Soviet-German relations and the conclusion of the treaty of Rapallo (spring 1922) which regularised Soviet relations with Weimar Germany, Soviet-western relations were poor. Anti-Communism was an insurmountable obstacle to better relations even though there were “realists,” notably in France, who advocated rapprochement. The Comintern was active in China where a great revolutionary movement was underway. Britain especially had important commercial interests in China threatened by the revolutionary movement. I see this period as the early (or stage 1 of the) Cold War which ended in 1941. Western-Soviet hostility in the 1920s was an impediment to building an anti-Nazi alliance in the 1930s.
TP: The West has long had deep-seated Russophobia. What accounts for this?
MJC: Russophobia is not really a subject directly treated in my work. It is a form of western racism against Russia, motivated these days by the Russian threat to US world domination. This is a topic for another discussion.
TP: Are there other projects that you are researching?
MJC: I am getting on in years, and the publication of my trilogy will take up my time, inshallah, for the next couple of years. I see the trilogy as the capstone of my work as historian and author. After the trilogy is published, as I hope it will be, who knows?
TP: Professor Carley, thank you so much for your time.
Featured: “Europe will be Free!” Poster by Viktor Koretsky, 1944.
At the end of 2021, Bernard Wicht published Vers l’autodéfense : le défi des guerres internes (Towards Self-Defense: The Challenge of Internal Wars). His reflections remain highly topical, despite the recent return—apparently—of “inter-state” conflicts. We asked him a few questions in order to better understand the new front lines.
In his review of this book, the philosopher Eric Werner stressed the most worrying aspect of war in the 21st century—its irruption into the internal space of societies, its transformation into a war of “all against all,” without limits and without rules. As a historian and strategist, Wicht “does not content himself with describing the transformations in question, but links them to the overall evolution of our societies, showing that they are the consequence of more profound upheavals.”
We are now direct witnesses of these deep-seated upheavals, on a daily basis. Since the publication of his book, events of tectonic proportions have occurred. We thought it would be useful to take stock of the spirit and modalities of self-defense at a time when “conventional” warfare between armed forces is returning. [This interview is conducted by Laurent Schang, who runs the publishing house Éditions Polémarque, in Nancy, France, and Swiss-based Slobodan Despot, who publishes the magazine Antipresse.
A huge thank-you to Arnaud Imatz and Jean-Cyrille Godefroy, who made it all possible.
In the current scientific literature on post-9/11 armed conflicts in general, and on the war against the Islamic State in particular, it is customary to draw a more or less explicit line between the protagonists involved. This principle of distinction is based on the presupposition that contemporary conflicts are between two sides, one of which is good and the other bad by default. This moralization of the study of conflicts, which is original on the scale of the history of war, or more precisely on the scale of the ways in which so-called “Western” nations think about war, nevertheless poses a number of theoretical problems. This tendency is detrimental to the study of war on the one hand, and to the development of an appropriate response on the other (Olivier Entraygues,Regards sur la guerre: L’école de la défaite—Views on the war: The School of Defeat).
Laurent Schang and Slobodan Despot (LS-SD): First, a necessary preliminary question. In a context of almost complete disinformation, on both sides, is it possible to think of deciphering the military operations in progress?
Bernard Wicht (BW): If one day we manage to arrive at the difference, the war in Ukraine will undoubtedly be taught first as the greatest maneuver of disinformation ever carried out in the history of the art of war. Let’s recall in this regard that since the First Iraq War (1990-1991), disinformation has been an integral part of the strategy implemented by the United States and its Western allies.
On that occasion, it was the case of the incubators of the maternity hospital in Kuwait City, which was given to the media. These incubators were allegedly disconnected by Iraqi soldiers when they invaded Kuwait, causing the death of the newborns who were in them. It was the post-conflict investigation of a team of Danish journalists that exposed the lie—the hospital in Kuwait City does not have a maternity ward and women do not go to give birth there. In addition, the young woman who denounced this apparent war crime before the UN authorities in New York turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington, a student for several years at an American university. For Washington strategists, the aim of the maneuver was then to provoke an “emotional shock” within the international community, making it unavoidable to give a UN mandate for the military liberation of Kuwait.
Then, in 2002, before the outbreak of the Second Iraq War, the famous “proof” of the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein possessed was brandished before the same UN bodies, in the form of a small vial, by the American Secretary of State at the time, the former Chief of Staff of the American army, General Colin Powell. Again, the aim was to convince the world of the grave danger posed by Iraq to international stability. Up to now, these weapons of mass destruction have not yet been discovered.
This strategy of disinformation is currently being pursued on a global scale, mainly by the European and American media and a handful of experts close to NATO circles. This maneuver has so far succeeded in preventing any coherent analysis of the Ukraine conflict. The Ukrainians keep issuing victory communiqués, while the Russians are very discreet. In other words, in the words of the famous detective (created by Agatha Christie) Hercule Poirot, “in this case everyone is lying,” forcing our man to reconstruct events according to his experience of crime, common sense and basic questions (cui bono, motive, opportunity and means).
In this particular war, we find ourselves in a very similar situation to Poirot, and we are forced to try to reconstruct the course of operations according to some bits of reality and using knowledge of the art of war and military history. This is why we must ask ourselves, beyond the successive narratives that the United States and NATO have sought to impose since the beginning of the conflict (victorious resistance by Ukrainian forces; then Russian war crimes; and, more recently, a vast Ukrainian counter-offensive and retreat by the Russian army), what can be said with a minimum of certainty at this stage:
At the end of 2021, on the eve of the outbreak of war, the Ukrainian army was in a state of decay (See insert: “Ukraine, A Failed State?”).
In June 2022, senior Ukrainian officials acknowledged that their troops were suffering appalling losses in the face of the firepower of the Russian army, with around 100 dead and 500 wounded per day.
On the ground, since the end of the summer, we see a Russian army that does not seem to be in any hurry to end things, taking its time by advancing in some places and retreating in others. Although largely mechanized and with complete control of the sky, it does not launch the great decisive offensive aimed at the capitulation of the Zelensky government. On the contrary, it has allowed the Ukrainians to retake some towns and villages.
Should we therefore accept the official Western narrative of a decisive counter-offensive, thanks to the miracle weapons delivered by NATO (including the mercenaries to serve them) and the general withdrawal of Russian forces unable to react?
This version of the facts could be acceptable if we were facing the Russian army of the 1990s, the one that got bogged down in Chechnya and whose decay was then equivalent to that of the Ukrainian army on the eve of February 24, 2022. It took Vladimir Putin more than a decade to restore an effective and competent military whose qualities were seen during the intervention in Syria alongside Bashar al-Assad, starting in September 2015.
Ukraine, A Failed State?
In his 2017 study, Emmanuel Todd gave a pessimistic diagnosis of Ukraine. He considers it a nation “which has not been able to build itself in a state since its separation from Russia.” He adds that the country is dangerously empty of its population: “above a certain threshold of emigration… in Ukraine, for example… flows can destabilize societies… without being able to predict much more than the appearance of sociological black holes.” In this regard, he evokes “the appearance of a zone of anarchy” and recalls that the massive departure of the Ukrainian middle classes to Europe or Russia, makes it very unlikely that this country will be politically stabilized because, precisely, “the construction of a state is only the institutional crystallization of the supervision of society by its middle classes.”
Since 2014 (Euro Maidan), the Ukrainian political class has disintegrated into internal quarrels between the pro-Russian and the pro-European, leaving the field open to far-right paramilitary organizations.
LS-SD: How would you explain this “game of cat and mouse” that the Russian army is engaged in?
BW: I think that this expression itself gives us the “key” needed to decipher what is happening at the present time:
For the record, Russia’s objective is not primarily Ukraine, but to stun and unbalance the EU and NATO (energy crisis=> economic crisis=> inflation, recession. See insert: “The Legacy of Soviet Operational Thinking”).
On the other hand, under pressure from his Western mentors, President Zelensky withdrew his February-March peace proposals, so the war can continue until it is exhausted. This is most likely the game that the Russian cat is playing with the Ukrainian mouse. Since a negotiated solution seems impossible today, only the (demographic) exhaustion of Ukraine can guarantee Russia relative long-term “tranquility” on its southwestern border.
This cat-and-mouse dialectic could explain the Russian attitude of “not wanting to end it all.” Such a strategic posture is not unheard of in military history.
Let’s explain this with a historical example.
The case of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is particularly emblematic from this point of view. General Franco, commander-in-chief of the nationalist forces, was considered for a long time, certainly as a very shrewd politician, but as a poor strategist on the ground. Despite the military superiority at his disposal, he made poor operational choices, giving the Republicans the opportunity to carry out desperate counterattacks, prolonging, in this way, the war by at least two years.
Then recently, historical research revealed that these “wrong choices” were made knowingly in order to exhaust the human potential of Republicans in battles of annihilation, where the firepower of the nationalist army could reach its full potential. For example, even in September 1936, rather than seizing Madrid, then very little defended, and thus obtaining the capitulation of the Republican government and ending the war in two months, Franco opted for the capture of Toledo—a city certainly very symbolic, but whose strategic importance was limited. Franco wanted a long war to destroy the demographic pool of the Republicans and thus “cleanse” the conquered regions of populations favorable to the regime in place. He felt that he could not have the stability necessary to rebuild the country if a young and sufficiently large pro-Republican generation survived the war. He said it explicitly in an interview: “In a civil war, it is better to systematically occupy the territory, accompanied by the necessary cleansing, than a rapid rout of the enemy armies that would leave the country infested with adversaries.”
Thinking in terms of the “Ukraine” objective is too narrow. It is important to bear in mind that, geographically speaking, Russia is a world country (in the Braudelian sense). Neither Western Europe nor the United States are. Russian strategic thinking unfolds at a macro-spatial and macro-cultural level. It takes up the achievements of its big sister, Soviet strategic thought, which developed and conceptualized what is called the operational level of war, which no longer primarily targets tactical military objectives (troops, equipment, infrastructure, etc.), but the adversary as a system.
Operative thought does not view the enemy from a strictly military angle, unlike the classical Clausewitzian doctrine of destroying enemy armed forces in a great battle of annihilation deemed as the key to victory. Soviet and then Russian operative thinking approaches the adversary from a systemic perspective—it aims at its collapse, not in a great decisive battle, but by actions in depth.
It should be noted that this notion covers different aspects: the term depth does not necessarily refer to the defensive device of the adversary (fortifications, logistics centers, communication networks), but to all political, socio-economic and cultural structures as well as the infrastructures which allow the enemy country to function. Therefore, from the perspective of Russian operative thought, the objective pursued is rarely specific; it is holistic.
Russia is not simply seeking to bring a recalcitrant neighbor to heel, it is the “systemic enemy” that it is aiming at by showing in concrete terms that it is not only ready, but above all capable of waging war, including nuclear war. This systemic enemy is obviously the EU and NATO. Russia was able to become aware at the latest with the war in Syria (from 2011 onwards) of the meagre capacities of Western intervention which, in this case, were limited to sending a few contingents of special forces to support the Kurdish militias. It was able to get a concrete idea of the severe operational limits and the inability of the Atlantic Alliance to conduct a large-scale military operation due to a lack of manpower and logistics.
After that, Vladimir Putin and his staff were able to plan their intervention in Ukraine. But Ukraine is not the main objective of the war; it is only a battlefield, i.e., a place where military operations take place. The Russians have other effects and targets.
As for the effects, Russia wants to demonstrate that it can declare a conventional war and bring it to an end. In the face of this show of force, it must be noted that NATO and the European Union (EU) are militarily “absent.”
LS-SD: Do you think that the Russians also want a long war? Do they really have an interest in it?
BW:Mutatis mutandis, this could be the calculation of the Russians in the face of the war (by proxy) that the United States and NATO are waging against them through the Ukrainians. This war will eventually end because of a lack of fighters. But we must hasten to add that, on the Russian side, everything is not simple either. The shock caused by the partial mobilization of the young generation does not bode well. Indeed, a part of the society of this great country has been tasting for more than twenty years the “delights” of the consumer society—possibility to travel abroad, a certain feeling of freedom linked to the consumerist way of life, etc. For all of them, suddenly, everything has changed. For all them, suddenly, everything has stopped and closed. The specter of war and death now haunts their daily lives—hence the question, is a war that is prolonged and begins to affect the young Russian generations themselves, still acceptable—and especially bearable?
Under these conditions, we can hypothesize that Russia and Ukraine are both at risk of a mutual collapse. A bit like the dialectic between Greece and Rome in antiquity, the antinomy between these two worlds being summarized by the famous formula— Captive Greece took captive her savage conqueror—expressing the fact that, militarily defeated, Greece nevertheless managed to completely Hellenize the Roman world. In this case, a militarily destroyed Ukraine would provoke, as a shock in return, a collapse of Russia because of the sacrifices required or, at least felt, by a part of the Russian people. The recent attacks perpetrated on the Russian soil could reinforce this feeling of sudden fragility?
LS-SD: What is the relevance of your study on self-defense when war is raging on our doorstep?
BW: As its title indicates, my latest little book is devoted to self-defense, which I consider to be the operational concept instead of that of “national defense,” which became obsolete with the decline of the nation-state (marked in particular by the concomitant and exponential return of mercenarism.
[Weberian sociology regarding the formation of the modern state (Max Weber, Norbert Elias, Otto Hintze, Charles Tilly, to name the main ones) focuses on the construction of the state monopoly of coercion—also called monopoly of legitimate violence. It thus highlights the evolution of the military apparatus and its progressive control by state authorities. From the point of view of this conception of state-building, the recourse to mercenaries represents an intermediate stage between the feudal age (characterized by the absence of the state as well as by an anarchic chivalry practicing private warfare—Faustrecht), and the contemporary period with the advent of national armies completely controlled by the state. The current return of mercenarism, via the recourse to private military companies, tends to signal a “return to the past,” and consequently a relative de-construction of the state monopoly. On this subject, see Yves Déloye, Sociologie historique du politique.]
That is why, when war broke out in Ukraine, I thought that my study had also ipso facto become obsolete, for the Russian attack seemed to indicate the great return of conventional war between states and that of regular armies. My working hypothesis, based on “molecular civil war” type threats, with a predominance of non-state actors, such as narco-gangs, narco-terrorists and Islamo-jihadists, seems therefore compromised. As my friend Laurent Schang said to me on the evening of February 24, “this time it’s the end of war 2.0” (referring to sub-war challenges).
LS-SD: Are the Western/European nation-states still capable of waging war?
BW: It is apparent that apart from a few scattered battalions, NATO no longer has any effective military power; that the German army is in an advanced state of decay; that the French army (although still very operational) has only seven days’ worth of ammunition in the event of a high-intensity confrontation, and it is the same with all the rest.
All this means that in Western Europe, the nation-state is no longer capable of “making war,” a function that was its main regalian attribute and the driving force behind its historical construction (according to Charles Tilly’s famous formula, “war makes the State.” (See insert “War as the Driving Force behind Nation-State Construction”).
Today, the nation-state is huddled over its sole penal-carcenary privilege. Moreover, the storm of media disinformation, orchestrated since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, shows that citizenship has lost all substance and that it is no longer important to inform free and responsible men and women, but to keep a populace, always on the verge of a riot or revolt, calm.
War as the Driving Force behind Nation-State Construction
In his approach to state-building, Charles Tilly highlights two factors that contribute to the formation of the state monopoly of legitimate violence—on the one hand, constraint (the capacity to impose order and, above all, to mobilize the human resources necessary to wage war); and, on the other hand, capital (the capacity to finance and equip armies through taxes and the profits of foreign trade).
Thus, Tilly demonstrates that it is the combination of these two factors (hence the title of his work) that determines the type of state organization in force, at a given historical moment—that is, the one capable of “making war.” In our case, from the 16th century onwards, the transformations in the art of war (systematization of the use of firearms, recourse to professional soldiers, exponential growth in the number of soldiers) led to the need for the existing political units in Europe to have sufficient financial resources to be able to “afford” this new military tool.
Hence the institutionalization of taxation, in place of the old local feudal dues. The foundations of the modern nation-state were thus laid (a bureaucracy in charge of levying taxes, a standing army). From then on, the constraint-capital dynamic was set in motion—the more wars succeeded one another in Europe, the more the above-mentioned nation-state phenomenon was strengthened in the geographical areas concerned (the Netherlands, France, Spain, and later on, Prussia and Sweden). And thus we come to the famous formula: war makes the State.
Today, this analysis remains fully relevant for understanding the evolution of military-political units. However, the dynamics described above have changed scale—with globalization, capital is no longer located at the national level. As a consequence, states are emptied of their substance and depend on global finance for their functioning.
Nowadays, at the junction of constraint (mobilization of human resources) and capital (mobilization of financial resources), we no longer find regular armies, but two types of non-state military organizations—on the one hand, mercenarism in the form of private military companies (PMCs), and, on the other hand, armed-paramilitary-criminal groups. The former are generally financed by global capitalism, the latter by the grey economy. On the one hand, there is the combination of Wall Street and PMCs, and on the other, the combination of drug trafficking and various irregular armed groups.
LS-SD: So, your analysis remains relevant?
BW:Vanitas vanitatis… Yes. It is that of a nation-state emptied of its substance by disaster capitalism, of post-national societies subjected to an internal violence that is no longer channeled by the now obsolete state monopoly. If it were still necessary, the war in Ukraine and the decisions it has generated (in particular the sanctions of which we are the first victims) demonstrate that European states are no longer concerned with the well-being of their peoples; that their political elites are sucked in by the dynamics of global capitalism and by those who hold the control levers.
Fernand Braudel said: “Capitalism only triumphs when it identifies itself with the State; when it is the State.” Moreover, its regulation no longer goes through the nation-state (welfare), but through war (welfare => warfare), whether it is internal or against an enemy, designated by the media apparatus (Russia in casu). It is important to keep this reality in mind and to make it the starting point of any effort to understand the mechanisms of the present world—in the framework of global capitalism, the empty-shell nation-state is no longer the subject of war; it is only the theater (the setting, one might say), the geographical space where the confrontations take place. If we try to study it beyond the media noise, the war in Ukraine reveals this new state of affairs.
LS-SD: Yet this conflict marks the return of war between nation-states. So, isn’t it contradictory to say that the nation-state is no longer the subject of war?
BW: No, and this question allows me to clarify my point. Roughly speaking, one can say that until February 24, 2022, many analysts (myself included) considered that infra-state warfare represented the major risk in Europe: 1) confrontations at the molecular level (suicide attacks, machete attacks, shootings); 2) taking place below the technological threshold; 3) involving armed groups, gangs and terrorist cells; 4) financed via drug trafficking and other channels of the grey economy. In other words, a representation that follows directly from Martin van Creveld’s observation: “Modern armaments have become so expensive, so fast, so indiscriminate, so impressive, so cumbersome, and so powerful that they are sure to drive contemporary warfare into dead ends, i.e., into environments where they do not work. (The Transformation of War, p. 52).
As I said at the beginning, the outbreak of the war in Ukraine has shattered this threat picture by making us think of a return to conventional warfare in Europe (battles between regular armies, tank engagements, artillery, aviation and long-range missiles, the specter of the use of tactical nuclear weapons). However, on closer inspection, the reality of combat is not so obvious. Certainly, conventional warfare is well and truly present on the Russian side, with a disciplined, well-equipped, well-commanded army practicing joint maneuver.
On the Ukrainian side, on the other hand, the situation is much more blurred, as the regular conscript army was already in disarray before the conflict broke out, thus forcing the Zelensky government to rely on paramilitary groups, in particular the sinister Azov battalions, whose abuses against the civilian population are now well known. Nevertheless, they are the only real fighting forces on which the “failing” Ukrainian state (let’s be honest and use this term) can rely to confront the Russian offensive. Let us specify that these units are not directly dependent on the Ukrainian state; they have their own mode of financing, based on trafficking and mafia racket of the local populations whom they do not hesitate to use as human shields. However, they were completely decimated in the fighting around Marioupol and the Azovstal steelworks. From that moment on, it must be considered that they ceased to exist as constituted troops.
[It would seem that since the outbreak of the conflict, the Ukrainian authorities have issued eight calls of mobilization to make up for the heavy losses suffered. It is therefore worth asking why the younger generation is still responding to these calls when they are almost certain to die on the battlefield. The following hypothesis can be evoked: Ukrainians from the working classes did not have the possibility to flee abroad for lack of means; in a destroyed country where the economy is exsanguinated, it is not unreasonable to think that a “nice” bonus for the commitment (financed by the dollar) can represent for them a sufficient motive, because the sum thus received makes it possible to guarantee the survival of the remainder of the family. As is often the case in military history, it is the poor who pay the blood tax.]
Today, after the frightening human losses suffered by Ukrainian troops, it is mercenaries who seem to bear the brunt of the fighting—but who, above all, are taking over the predatory role previously played by the Azov battalions. These mercenaries are obviously not paid by Ukraine, which does not have the means, but by the American-NATO military-media complex. Capitalism is at work! We can therefore already say that at the moment, a weakened (failing) state—Ukraine in this case—is no longer able to wage war with its own national forces. It is obliged to call upon external forces that it does not control. We are thus in line with our previous observation on the incapacity of the nation-state to wage war.
[According to the analysis of the available videos, they would be mercenaries of Latin American origin, probably recruited by the services of Erik Prince (founder of the infamous SMP Blackwater). The latter had been called, at the time of the Arab Spring, by the oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf, to provide them with military police battalions, composed of Colombian mercenaries. The latter had no qualms about firing on the crowd, whereas the Tunisian and Egyptian armies had refused to do so in their respective countries. Erik Prince has the necessary connections for this recruitment pool].
Let us digress a little to note how much we find here the scenario of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). This war is a perfect illustration of the above-mentioned developments: the confusion between internal and inter-state warfare; the relative weakness of the states involved; and, as a result, the exponential recourse to private military contractors (mercenaries). For the record, the young European kingdoms (France and Sweden) sought to take advantage of the temporary weakness of the Holy Roman Empire to increase their territory and their influence in Europe. For the latter was entangled in an internal struggle against the Protestant princes who were challenging the imperial power.
First France, then Sweden entered the war to take advantage of this momentary fragility of the Empire. But, neither the king of France nor the king of Sweden had the means for their policy. They did not have sufficient nation-state apparatus to maintain such a war over a long period of time and over vast territories; their bureaucracy, still in its infancy, did not allow them to raise taxes in an efficient and sustainable manner, nor to recruit the necessary troops from among the population.
The Holy Roman Emperor had the same limitations. This is why all of them called upon military entrepreneurs (Wallenstein, Tilly, Saxe-Weimar in particular). In addition to their skills as great captains, these military entrepreneurs were also talented businessmen with the appropriate networks to recruit soldiers and maintain their armies. From then on, and precisely because of the implementation of this business model, this war became a “commercial affair,” largely determined by the interests of these entrepreneurs and their financial backers. It was they who decided on the goals, not so much according to the politico-strategic priorities of the States, but rather according to the “commercial” interests of their respective companies (the armies of mercenaries made available to the European princes in struggle). To do this, and given the insufficiency of public funding, they relied on the first “transnational financial system”—the Bank of Amsterdam. However, no matter how clever the Batavian bankers were, the credits provided were never enough to cover all the needs, especially in terms of logistics. As a result, mercenary armies continued to “live on the land,” looting and pillaging almost all of Central Europe.
The duration of the conflict can also be explained by this reason—in a Europe emerging from feudal economy and entering the so-called “first capitalism,” military entrepreneurship brought really juicy profits.
In short, the Thirty Years’ War offers an example of a confrontation that can be described as “pre-Clausewitzian,” i.e., a confrontation in which, although initiated by states, war quickly ceased to be the continuation of politics by other means, for lack of adequate state resources. Mutatis mutandis, it is a similar situation that we find today in Europe with the war in Ukraine.
LS-SD: So, are we witnessing (or not) the return of conventional war in Europe?
BW: Certainly, but this statement requires some explanation, because if there is a return to conventional warfare, we must hasten to say that it is a conventional NG (new generation) war in which, on the Ukrainian side, the paramilitary and mercenary forces, charged with defending the country are proving to be more dangerous for the Ukrainians than the Russian army that is attacking them.
From this point on, the following parameters seem to be emerging concerning this “new generation conventional war”: 1) at the core level, a weakened (failing) nation-state which is no longer able to ensure its defense by means of its national armed forces; 2) which has to call upon irregular forces, paramilitary and mercenary; 3) these forces are “living off the country” through racketeering and predation; 4) and are massively financed and equipped by global capitalism. Moreover, it appears that Ukraine is by no means a precursor in this matter—at the beginning of the war in Syria (2011), it was the intervention of Lebanese Hezbollah irregulars that saved the weakened state of Bashar El Assad from collapse.
In the same way, the case of Azerbaijan points to a similar situation—it is thanks to the arms and mercenaries made available by Turkey, as well as to the contingents of Arab-Muslim fighters, all paid for by Azeri oil revenues, that this country manages to achieve the successes that we have seen in Nagorno-Karabakh.
But despite all their differences, Ukraine, Bashar’s Syria and Azerbaijan are not strong states. This is not the case in the United States, which is the only country in the world that has a strong social cohesion and a prosperous economy that benefits all its citizens. Nor do any of these countries have a genuine national political elite on which the nation-state apparatus can rely; power is held by clans or mafia-like cliques seeking above all to monopolize wealth for their own benefit.
LS-SD: As a result, for the Ukrainians, it is “a war within a war?”
BW: Yes, and this is not surprising, if we follow the grid of Hobbes’ Leviathan: in the absence of the State, it is the war of all against all—which, in the age of global capitalism, can last indefinitely because it represents a very lucrative business—hence the concept of “disaster capitalism.”
In other words, conducted by fighters from paramilitary and mercenary units, this NG belligerence is “limitless” and itself becomes the objective; civilians supposedly defended become the main objective of the aforementioned armed groups, and the war effort is financed by global capitalism in its “disaster” declination. Such a war does not respect the distinctions of civil/military, front/back, war/crime. It is mixed [I will not use the term “hybrid” because it is so overused and misunderstood]: conventional on the battlefield, criminal in its functioning, terrorist in its acts and targeting populations. Let me emphasize how we get to the characteristics of sub-state warfare described above.
LS-SD: From this vantage point, what further general perspective can be drawn from the Ukrainian situation?
BW: The Ukrainian case highlights the profound transformation of Europe and the Western world (in fact its disintegration) through two specific dimensions: one macro-economic and the other macro-geographic. The first reminds us of the relevance of the principle that war is waged in the same way as wealth is produced: the mode of economic production at a given time has a determining influence on both the type of war and the configuration of the military tool. Thus, wars between states in the 19th and 20th centuries were essentially based on a three-term equation: Nation + Industrial Revolution = mass armies. Industrial capitalism has formatted national spaces (nation-states) and increased competition between them in a paroxysmal way.
Today, the era of regular national armies financed and equipped, thanks to the progress of the Industrial Revolution, is definitively over. Capital has mutated; it has become entirely financialized and has migrated to the supranational level, leading to what is usually called globalization. It is at this level that wealth is now produced and the conduct of war is irrevocably modified. This means, as we have already said above in reference to the return of mercenarism, that states are no longer masters of their own defense. A regular army, even if it remains apparently financed by a state, has become de facto a tool at the service of global capital, as illustrated by the (almost surreal) eagerness of European governments to empty their meager arsenals, disarming their own armed forces to send weapons to Ukraine, some of which are already being sold on parallel markets. The analysis of this war reveals such a reality which was is both unprecedented and unimaginable before.
[In such circumstances, and following the announcement that the Bundeswehr (German army) had only a two-day supply of ammunition, a German commentator questioned this state of affairs and its official recognition by the authorities. He went so far as to formulate the hypothesis of a “de facto surrender,” explicitly admitted, in order to preserve Germany from destruction in the event of the war spreading westwards. According to him, by declaring itself “bankrupt” due to the liquidation of its very modest stocks of arms and ammunition in favour of Ukrainian forces, the country could avoid “becoming the next battlefield” once Ukraine is destroyed. While this may be a bit far-fetched, it does highlight the extent of Western European disarmament in the current conflict.]
As regards the macro-geographic dimension, the Ukrainian case underlines the value of the analysis delivered by David Cosandey in his monumental study published in 1997 and entitled, Le secret de l’Occident: du miracle passé au marasme présent (The Secret of the West: From the Past Miracle to the Present Morass). In his quest to understand this “past miracle,” Cosandey focuses on the geographical factor as the decisive element of European dynamism. Europe being a priori only a promontory of Eurasia, it is its coastal perimeter, in the north as in the south, which is jagged, meandering and irregular, which allows for the establishment of very diverse socio-political entities, but intensively practicing commercial exchanges among these entities first, then with the rest of the world.
It is thus because of this specificity of the European geographical space that Cosandey proposes his explanation of “the” miracle based on two neologisms of his creation: “mereupory” and “thalassography.” The first term aims at explaining the scientific progress of Europe by its stable political division and its commercial dynamism. The second term specifies that the commercial dynamism as well as the diversity and the stability are favored by this very particular coastal contour, compared to the other continents. Therefore, based on this mereuporico-thalassographic articulation, Cosandey examines the contemporary evolution of our continent.
In casu, it is not a question of subjecting the theses of Cosandey to criticism, but to consider what they say to us of Europe in the framework of the war in Ukraine. Cosandey indeed thinks that the power of the armaments developed since the Second World War fundamentally questions the morphology of Europe. In other words, space is no longer sufficient to absorb military force. It is now too small to be able to form a stable geopolitical zone.
Consequently, Cosandey argues that the European geographical advantage is now obsolete because of the power of armaments: “Because of the progress of military technology, the thalassography of the European continent, however extraordinary it may be, no longer allows a system of states to establish itself there durably.” This insight obviously deserves some explanation.
The reference to the progress of military technology refers mainly to the continental and intercontinental reach of modern weapons (ballistic missiles, aircraft carriers and long-range aircraft capable of striking any point on the continent). Faced with these capabilities of force projection over very long distances, the meteoric and thalassographic qualities of Europe become ineffective—the specificity of its coastline is no longer sufficient. The continent becomes once again a simple tongue of land, a Eurasian promontory, which can be crossed very easily, and in all directions (migratory flows seem to confirm this). Hence the impossibility, under such conditions, of maintaining a stable and dynamic chessboard of states, since these no longer have the capacity to protect themselves, and their geographical borders no longer fulfil a defense function.
Following Cosandey on this trajectory, the war in Ukraine seems to indicate that the future of Europe in terms of states can only be that of a large-scale disorder—a kind of new Middle Ages in which the Church is replaced by the dollar.
LS-SD: To conclude, let us return to the initial question. Is self-defense still relevant in such a state of chaos and disorder, of war without limits?
BW: Now more than ever—especially in a Western Europe incapable of defending itself, where the Ukrainian pattern is likely to be repeated. For, if the nation-state is no longer the subject of war, then it is the individual himself who becomes the subject of war (hence self-defense). Moreover, this individual is no longer a citizen, but a “naked man” stripped of all protection, without a city (a-polis) and liable to be put to death by the police as well as by the gangs or the aforementioned actors of the conventional NG war without limits. For this naked man, from now on, self-defense represents the only horizon in terms of residual freedom and security, the last means of preserving some snippets of the status of political animal that citizenship in arms (the hoplitic polis) previously conferred on him.
[Several factors argue not only for a prolongation of the war, but for its possible extension to the European region: the attitude of Russia, which is ready to continue the fighting as long as the Ukrainian government does not make a peace proposal; the possible involvement of Belarus; the clumsiness and blunders of the Poles and Lithuanians with regard to the enclave of Kaliningrad; the activism of the EU, the United Kingdom and the United States to prevent any end to the hostilities; and, last but not least, the blind eagerness of Germany to empty its arsenals and send their contents to Ukraine.]
Let us specify that the notion of self-defense understood here goes beyond the simple technique of fighting with bare hands. It represents the reverse side of self-defense because it is not a legal concept protecting the citizen, but a state of affairs, a defensive tactic, a survival reaction. In this sense, it constitutes the ultimate barrier of the banished and the proscribed against the violence they are subjected to. For them, it is the means to rebuild themselves, to become human persons again and not only bodies (homo sacer) that can be violated at will.
The philosopher Elsa Dorlin speaks in this respect of the construction of a “martial ethic of the self,” through practices that the disarmed individual, without citizenship, uses to protect himself physically from aggression. And, given the generalized chaos and the collapse looming on the horizon of European societies, in the wake of the war in Ukraine, it is important to insist on this reconstitutive function of self-defense. To defend oneself is to exist—the insurgents of the Warsaw ghetto are an emblematic example!
Let us also point out however that even in this scenario of re-empowerment, the margin of maneuver of homo sacer remains very narrow. This is why the putting into perspective of events (according to the method of long historical time), that is to say the narrative, occupies a strategic place. This allows for the definition of a space, an “alternative” reality to the narrative imposed by the military-media complex of global capitalism. The philosopher Eric Werner seeks to articulate this minority narrative with the triptych—autonomy-crisis-proximity—in response to that of the dominant discourse—insecurity-crisis-resilience. For the record, this last notion does not mean to resist, but “to meekly accept one’s fate, however bad it may be.”
Autonomy, proximity, self-defense, understood as “defense as close as possible,” will, in all likelihood, constitute the new reference points in a European world where the war in Ukraine marks the ultimate end of the Western historical cycle: “The time of revolutions is over. We are living in the time of extermination; and, by implication, the time of survival and self-defense. This is the era of pockets of autonomy.”
Having qualified the world-system by the state of insecure governance, we can begin by defining the new framework of war. It is part of the abatement of national sovereignties. The European nation-state no longer seems to be relevant to solve the security problems of its citizens. The latter, a historical legacy of the Westphalian state (1648), and theorized by Hobbes in Leviathan (1651), geographically delimited, is in decomposition… Moreover, the degradation of the nation-state model sees its military sovereignty put under the tutelage of another form of sovereignty, non-military, that is to say economic, carried by global capitalism (Olivier Entraygues, Regards sur la guerre: L’école de la défaite—Views on the war: The School of Defeat).
Massimo Mazzucco, film-maker and polemicist, is Italy’s best-known debunker of the mainstream media narratives. An associate of Giulietto Chiesa (1940-2020), with whom he founded Contro.tv in 2019, he came to prominence through documentaries dismantling the 9/11 gambit, thereby attracting armies of hostile fact-checkers. Alongside Margherita Furlan, one of the country’s most astute foreign policy analysts, and a disciple of the writer Giulietto Chiesa, Mazzucco has focused his efforts via the website luogocomune.net, on unifying the Italian opposition to those who would blithely ram the European Titanic into the iceberg. He has recently published, Ucraina, l’altra verità [Ukraine—The Truth Viewed from the Other Side]. Mendelssohn Moses conducts this interview with Mr. Mazzucco.
Note: It may be useful for our readers to learn that Giulietto Chiesa, whose name, on the notorious Myrotvorets “hit-list,” was crossed out on his death with the label “Liquidated,” stated the following at a 2015 conference on the EuroMaidan coup d’état:
“The crisis in the Ukraine is not a regional one. It is the US, clashing with the rest of the world, and that starts with a direct onslaught on Russia. The US knew the Ukraine was a bomb waiting to go off… and intends to expel Russia from world financial markets, a radical shift which will alter the face of power worldwide… some pretext will be seized upon to freeze Russia out of the Swift system, and thus forestall all her financial transactions… I may be rowing against the tide, but it’s to save our skins. Were WW III to erupt, you and I along with all those who deride me as a conspiracy theorist will go up in smoke. I’m very concerned, because we are teetering on the edge of war, a great war. Before our eyes, lies the premise for WW III. Before ever the Ukraine enters NATO, something terrible will happen. On the borders between the Baltic States and Russia, preparations for war are underway… The crisis in the Ukraine is the opening shot in an onslaught by the USA and Europe against Russia, for which the sanctions are an indicator. The Ukraine is the stick with which to beat Russia… (Italy) will only recover her sovereignty if she withdraw from NATO and become, once again, a free, neutral and sovereign state. All the more so, that what NATO, what this sort of defence represents, will be utterly useless in the event of war.
Mendelssohn Moses (MM): Tell us a little about your websites and internet channels—Luogocomune.net, Contro TV, Casa del Sole. How did you decide to found them, and when?
Massimo Mazzucco (Massimo M):Luogocomune.net, the website I set up in 2004, was among the very first “re-information” sites in Italy. I launched it in the wake of my research into what went on at New York on September 11, 2001. As time went by, the site evolved, and we now deal with the major controversies of our time—from a “re-information” standpoint.
MM: You’re often seen on Cento Giorni da Leoni, Byo Blu, Visione Tv—the re-information channels in Italy—which are very high quality, and with which you cooperate closely. And they seem to be self-financed, which is quite an achievement. Is that correct?
Massimo M: Absolutely. Each one of our websites is self-financed, thanks to donations; and we are all in constant touch—by that I mean that we share all the most relevant information, and we often invite one another to speak.
MM: Only François Asselineau of the UPR here in France seems to have understood that the string-pullers are playing the same electoral game with Fratelli d’Itali and Meloni as they played with Cinque Stelle four years ago. Would you mind debunking the Meloni hoax for our readers? Who are her puppet-masters? What are some of her more egregious untruths? What is her so-called program?
Massimo M: Well, I don’t really think Giorgia Meloni is being “managed” by third parties. That said, to get into government, she decided to drop major planks of her platform, including pulling out of NATO and the EU! And she has had to claim that she backs the Ukraine and NATO 100%, despite having been rather less on board with Atlanticist positions earlier on. Having by now seriously blunted the point of her blade, she has come to resemble Mario Draghi, the outgoing Prime Minister, to a degree that once she gets into power, I fail to see how she might make any difference relative to her predecessor.
MM: The sovereignist opposition in Italy presented some remarkable candidates, on remarkable platforms—no vaccine mandates, no vaccine pass, no to NATO, no to the Euro, no to the EU. Italia Sovrana e Populare, the group around Davide Barillari, the allies of Pino Cabras, the Italexit with Dr. Gianni Frajese—doubtless the most high-powered group of people standing for office in the whole of Western Europe. Many of these people are brilliant intellectuals who have put their career and livelihood on the line over the past two years. They have proven that they have principles. Despite blackmail, threats and coercion, at least 20% of the population has refused to take the “vaccines.” That’s a 20% potential voter base. However, apparently no one has gotten into Parliament. How is this possible?
Massimo M: The bad news is that the parties which one might call “anti-system,” rather than all pulling together, chose to stand for election separately. As the Italian electoral system requires that one garner 3% of the vote to get into Parliament, not a single one of these parties has got in! All I can say is that I hope everyone has learned the hard way from this debacle, and that next time round, they stand united.
MM: Italexit candidate Nunzia Schiliro has just said on Byo Blu television news that a main reason for the dissidents’ electoral flop at this critical juncture is the “cognitive decline of Italian youth” and “galloping illiteracy in the general population.” Would you like to comment?
Massimo M: Well, although “cognitive decline” is a reality, my own view is that this is not the reason for the flop. As I’ve just explained, with each new party standing for office separately, they ended up shooting each other in the foot.
MM: Many young Italians have never heard of Enrico Mattei, a strategic genius who revolutionized Italy’s place in the world. He opened relations with Russia and China and launched the flow of gas from Russia—by the way. Should his ideas not be discussed and taught all over Italy, now?
Massimo M: Enrico Mattei held ideas which led to his death. His policy of cooperating with Russia did not wash with the USA, and since Mattei would not cave in to the Seven Sisters, the decision was taken to get rid of him. For Italy to assert his ideas, and what he stands for in history, would mean charging the USA with that crime, a move which Italy is not in a position to make at the present time.
MM: Massimo, you are the author of several documentaries on the events of 9/11 (Twin Towers), as an Own-Goal by the US against the US. The so-called “elites” appear to have decided they no longer need the Western population alive, for both financial and ideological considerations. Would you like to comment?
Massimo M: I’m not entirely certain that the Western elites no longer need their populations. They do need them, but as subject peoples, as slaves, rather than as upstanding citizens. The by-now notorious Great Reset road-map is a blatant illustration of that.
MM: An incredible public debate took place on June 7th between foreign policy analyst Giorgio Bianchi, military specialist Manlio Dinucci, and the high-strung chief editor of Corriere della Sera, Fiorenza Sarzanini. The latter had just published a frontpage piece on a purported “Putin lobby” in Italy, without however adducing a shred of factual proof. What is the fall-out from that debate?
Massimo M: Fall-out? Further to that debate, charges of blacklisting individuals have been leveled at Corriere della Sera. I would suggest that this has not precisely gilded their reputation.
[Following an Italia Sovrana e Populare public meeting at Rome on October 15, the journalist and ISP candidate Giorgio Bianchi and Francesco Toscano, head of ISP, flew to Gioia Tauro in Catania. From the airport, Toscano dropped Bianchi off at a hotel at 1 AM. At 3 pm, the room bell rang, and two police officers, along with the hotel receptionist, burst into the room. The police said they were “looking for information,” and searched his belongings. They had no search warrant, nor were any charges pressed. Bianchi has no criminal record.
Further to the Corriere della Sera front-page attack in early June on “Putin’s lobby in Italy,” including Bianchi’s photograph, this is the second or third time incidents of this nature have occurred in relation to Bianchi, who in August was granted an exclusive interview with Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova].
MM: Italy has been occupied since 1955 by NATO—there are over 100 NATO/US bases, two of which at least have nuclear weapons. In the event of war with Russia, Italy, generally considered the world’s most beautiful country, would be entirely destroyed. Is there any understanding of this among the people?
Massimo M: The Italian people, more’s the pity, do not grasp how real that danger actually is. We tend to imagine that nuclear war only happens in films—whereas, it could break out at any moment.
Thibault de Montaigu is the author of five novels, the most recent one, La Grace [Grace] recounts his conversion and was awarded the Prix de Flore (2020). He is in conversation with Christophe Geffroy of La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we bring you this interesting discussion.
Christophe Geffroy (CG): For you, is there a “Christian literature?” Does the label “Catholic writer” seem relevant to you?
Thibault de Montaigu (TM): At the end of the 19th century, when this notion was coined, one could distinguish two kinds of Catholic writers, even if very few claimed this label—the official ones like Paul Bourget or Henry Bordeaux, who sought to defend Catholic civilization, and the “converts” like Bloy, Claudel or later Péguy who sought, with fury and intransigence at times, to regain the breath and ardor that modernity was extinguishing. It goes without saying that the former have aged very badly, while the latter retain an eternal radiance and freshness. For it is the Spirit that guides their pen and not their pen that tries to impose the Spirit on their readers.
CG: Can literature be apologetic, explicitly or implicitly? Do you have any examples of works that have made an impression on you in this sense?
TM: Literature, like any artistic experience, is first of all a matter of emotion. Its vocation is not to defend a position but to make you feel the invisible. “My novels do not deliver messages, there are telegraphists for that,” rightly wrote Morand. But apologetics essentially takes the steep path of reason to convince its reader. Even if Pascal in his Pensées can captivate us with his words and his jibes, he will never touch our hearts as St. Augustine does in his Confessions.
CG: How would you define grace, which is also the title of your book its title? Are there, in your opinion, any particular difficulties in giving a literary account of it?
TM: I don’t consider grace from a theological point of view, because I wouldn’t be able to do that, but only from an experiential point of view. For me, it is the unique possibility of a carnal contact with the beyond. This point of tangency between the earthly and the absolute. In other words, it is God who agrees to descend to us in order to raise us up to Him. But obviously words are very poor at telling of such a miracle, because in the very moment when God ravishes us, we cease to exist for ourselves. Consciousness dissolves to let His light and His love penetrate. What can literature do in the presence of His face?
CG: Is there a “Catholic writer” who has had a special impact on you?
TM: St. Augustine never ceases to amaze me; and the genre of confessions, which he invented, was a model for writing Grace. He is the direct inspiration of great mystics whose work I hold in high esteem, such as Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint Angela of Foligno.
As for the moderns, I have a particular tenderness for those who, in their books, relate the struggle in the heart of each man between gravity and grace. Bernanos, of course, but I am also thinking of Julien Green’s magnificent Journal non-expurgated, which Bouquins has just published, or the chiaroscuro poems of Pierre Jean Jouve. It is hard to enclose in one work both the beauty and the misery of man, the mark of original sin—that is to say, of the distance from God—and the possibility of salvation, which is offered to each of us. These authors, to whom I can add Dostoyevsky, tell of this fundamental rupture that is both our cross and our hope.
CG: As a convert, how do you see the Church today and this modern world that seems so far from God?
TM: In writing Grace, I was struck by how the Franciscans, many of whom are men inhabited by a luminous faith, have lost their way in our times by abandoning the robe and sometimes transforming themselves into charities—which is, of course, a large part of their mission but not the only one. Today it is an order that is withering away, while the Augustinians, with whom I had the good fortune to stay in Lagrasse, attract a large number of the faithful and give birth to many vocations. They have kept the habit and the traditional liturgy but also work outside their monastery. Ora et labora. This is, in my opinion, the right balance to keep. God is manifested in love for others but also in the beauty of hymns and churches. I can testify to this, as I was struck by grace during the Office of Compline at Le Barroux Abbey. In the face of the de-structuring of the modern world, the sacred will always remain the greatest bulwark.
Featured: The Lamb at the Foot of the Cross, a leaf from the Beatus Manuscript, ca. 1180.
Jean-Pierre Valère, whose real name is Jean-Pierre van Lerberghe, is a Belgian actor, weightlifting champion, and musician. He stars in Moloss (originally known as Lopak L’Envoûteur, Lopak the Enchanter), which premiered at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, on August 31, 2022. Moloss is co-directed by Abdelkrim Qissi and Abel Ernest Tempo. (See Grégoire Canlorbe’s conversation with Abdelkrim Qissi).
Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Are you happy with the screening of Moloss at the BIFFF [Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival]?
Jean-Pierre Valère (J-PV): Yes, very happy. I had the pleasure of meeting an excellent journalist in you, and I also got to meet the whole team of the film, so many wonderfully talented actors. It was like a crowning for us, in such magnificent setting, on the occasion of the great return of BIFFF after this devastating epidemic.
GC: What was the shoot like?
J-PV: It was an honor to film alongside friends, Abel Ernest Tembo and Abdelkrim Qissi. Ernest is remarkable as a director cameraman. I saw firsthand his great art. Restrained, unassuming, he knows how to direct his actors without seeming to direct them. The staging subtly and brilliantly alternates the intimate with the explosive. Our two friends Abdelkrim and Ernest, really, know how to hit all the right notes in a perfect symphony of collaboration.
GC: Did you like playing your character in the film?
J-PV: I am so grateful for the chance Ernest and Abdelkrim gave me to play this offbeat role—offbeat in just the right way. The bits of humor that the character brings, like when he tries to reassure Moloss, whose best friend he is, are a contrast to the many scenes of violence and the almost constant feeling of dread found in the film. It was a shooting like no other, an adventure like I had never experienced before, which I had the chance to share with all these heroes that are the other actors of the film, all of them remarkable. I hope that a sequel will be made. Terminator did it successfully, why not Moloss?
[Spoiler alert! Skip this question and its answer about the film for those who don’t want to know about a crucial revelation]
GC: A rather late revelation in the film is that your character, up till then, had been under the yoke of a hypnotic substance. How did you get into the skin of a character subject to such a chemical “spell?”
J-PV: I like subtle acting, whether I’m playing bastards (as in the RTL-TVI series Affaires de Famille) or funny and nice characters (as in Moloss). Many humorists, if they want to be funny, must be good comedians first and foremost. I tried to play my character in Moloss with nuance—to bring out the state of mind he is in by playing him, paradoxically, as if nothing had happened. Whether it’s the role I play in Moloss, or the role of a local “J.R.” character, a real scoundrel (I love that!) that I play in Affaires de Famille, it’s all about the look, and a sincere and natural performance.
[End of spoiler]
GC: Looking back on your weightlifting career, what do you see?
J-PV: A very weighty career, if I may say so, since I was a finalist at the Olympic Games in Mexico, Munich, and Montreal, with a silver medal at the 1970 world championships. He was very proud of his little track record, this Valère guy, who was then known by his real name, van Lerberghe.
GC: How does the art of using your hands as a musician differ from the art of using your hands as a weightlifter?
J-PV: Excellent question. As you know, I have been in love with music—especially piano and guitar—since I was a child. As someone who likes to play classical improvisation, I was surprised to find out that weightlifting does not alter (no pun intended) the flexibility of the fingers when playing musical instruments; these are two reflex actions of the finger muscles that are quite specific, each in its own way. I was afraid that I would not be able to play the guitar or the piano properly after a training session, but I was amazed to discover that weightlifting and music are perfectly compatible disciplines; and that the improvement of the first one does not compromise the improvement of the second, provided, of course, that weightlifting is not too time-consuming to take away time from music. But I think that an artist, whoever he or she may be, should cultivate versatility as much as these meager twenty-four hours a day allow.
GC: You played the main role in the Belgian TV-drama, Affaires de Famille (a total of 105 episodes, broadcast since 1996). What are your favorite TV-dramas?
J-PV: My interpretation of Didier Barillot in Affaires de Famille, with the influence of Dallas’ J.R., is one of the greatest satisfactions of my acting career, as is my recent interpretation of Moloss’ best friend. I hope to have the chance to play other roles of the same quality in the near future. I used to enjoy the series Dallas, but I don’t watch any series nowadays.
GC: Among the contemporary musicians, are some particularly dear to your heart as a music lover?
J-PV: Lang Lang, an extraordinary person and a virtuoso pianist capable of an infinite number of nuances; Khatia Buniatishvili, whose physical beauty is matched only by her sublime piano playing. But above all, the Beatles—under an apparent lightness, the most inspired and diversified geniuses of the 20th century!
GC: Jean-Claude Van Damme alone is nicknamed “The Muscles from Brussels,” even though such a qualification fits you just as well, if not more? What do you make of that?
J-PV: The reason is simple—Jean-Claude is world famous. Here’s an interesting anecdote in that regard. We were both training at the Centre National des Sports in Brussels, me in weightlifting, him in karate. One evening when we were the last two in the weightlifting room and were doing our abs side by side, he told me about his plans to go to America and make a career in cinema. As I didn’t want to break his momentum, I said it was a good idea, never believing for a second that anything would ever come of it, considering the competition he would have to face. But we know what happened. I called him one day. He was in London. I hadn’t seen him in, say, twenty years; but he was still as nice and friendly as ever, just surprised to hear from me.
J-PV: Fortunately for me, we were not in the same category. He was classified as a super heavyweight, and I was classified as a light heavyweight. He weighed in at one hundred and seventy kilos, and I weighed in at less than ninety kilos. In Belgium, weightlifting was at that time a despised sport, so that everyone had to train alone in his cellar, without any real professional supervision. The Russians were pros, and we were amateurs, so to speak. That’s why I’m proud to be vice world champion!
GC: So, tell us about your friendship with heavyweight Serge Reding.
J-PV: A young man of incredible kindness! His shyness played tricks on him in competitions. He was as gifted as Vasily Alekseyev, if not more so, but he let himself be impressed by the Russian champion, who was not afraid of anything and who went through some formidable psychological training. When we both went to compete all over the world, it was always a wonderful adventure that we would remember for the rest of our lives; an initiatory journey to discover different civilizations. There is always something to learn and something to gain from meeting others—the calmness of New Yorkers in traffic, for example, or the eternal smile of the poorest of the poor.
GC: Are you still weightlifting?
J-PV: Now, I just do “maintenance of the machinery,” as they say. I go to a gym two or three times a week, with the idea of maintaining, as they say, the locomotor system and to prevent an inevitable loss of strength as one gets older. It is important to be able to keep one’s physical independence until the end. And, while we are at it, to maintain a well-balanced, or at least a presentable, body.
GC: You are a songwriter, with a particular penchant for love songs if I am not mistaken.
J-PV: My songs are not well known, but that doesn’t take away from the pleasure I take in writing them. I am a literary person above all else; some people ironically say that I speak like a book. I try, in any case, to bring a particular care to the choice of words, and to distil nuance, even humor.
GC: So, tell us about your favorite songs.
J-PV: I have a special affection for the Beatles’ songs, as they are practically the coming together of Mozart, Beethoven, Gershwin and rock. That four such talented musicians, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison, could team up is a unique event in the history of music! Other songs that blow me away every time I listen to them are the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” or Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (a wickedly slow song, as they used to say back then, with infinite poetry!); and Jean-Louis Aubert’s “Les Plages” (a wonder of nostalgia).
GC: By your own admission, you are a “literary man.” Who are your favorite French language writers?
J-PV: I must confess that I read relatively little, suffering from a problem with the eyes that, when too active, get tired very quickly. The little I have been taught about French and Greek philosophers has been a fundamental background for me. Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, or Montaigne I do particularly like. But the one I really like and prefer is Chamfort (not the singer, the other one!), for that art of his which can express a strong idea in a short sentence. I invite everyone to read Chamfort’s Maximes et Pensées, which contains true philosophy, and whose discovery in my adolescence, a time when I was precisely in need of philosophy, was formative for me.
GC: Thank you for your time. Is there anything you would like to add or expand?
J-PV: “The most lost of all days is the one in which one has not laughed,” wrote Chamfort. I would humbly add that the worst periods in life are those when one finds oneself without the slightest project, which throws one into the darkest depression. One project that is occupying me at the moment is a book that I plan to call, modestly, A Guide to the Universe, a title that I hope will be catchy. I hope to have time to finish it (which brings us back to a subject we discussed earlier—the little time we have each day). I plan to put my thoughts on things in it, and I have written about 20 pages so far. I have a few songs with a touch of humor and irony that I would like to record in the studio, with guitar accompaniment by myself. A lot of work to do, but you know how versatility is an ideal that drives me.
I was happy to meet you. You are considerate in your interviews and let your interviewee express himself—which is so rare that it needs to be highlighted.
We are pleased to bring you this fresh interview with Jacques Baud, in which we cover what is now happening in the geopolitical struggle that is the Ukraine-Russia war. As always, Mr. Baud brings deep insight and clear analysis to the conversation.
The Postil (TP): You have just published your latest book on the war in Ukraine—Operation Z, published by Max Milo. Please tell us a little about it—what led you to write this book and what do you wish to convey to readers?
Jacques Baud (JB): The aim of this book is to show how the misinformation propagated by our media has contributed to push Ukraine in the wrong direction. I wrote it under the motto “from the way we understand crises derives the way we solve them.”
By hiding many aspects of this conflict, the Western media has presented us with a caricatural and artificial image of the situation, which has resulted in the polarization of minds. This has led to a widespread mindset that makes any attempt to negotiate virtually impossible.
The one-sided and biased representation provided by mainstream media is not intended to help us solve the problem, but to promote hatred of Russia. Thus, the exclusion of disabled athletes, cats, even Russian trees from competitions, the dismissal of conductors, the de-platforming of Russian artists, such as Dostoyevsky, or even the renaming of paintings aims at excluding the Russian population from society! In France, bank accounts of individuals with Russian-sounding names were even blocked. Social networks Facebook and Twitter have systematically blocked the disclosure of Ukrainian crimes under the pretext of “hate speech” but allow the call for violence against Russians.
None of these actions had any effect on the conflict, except to stimulate hatred and violence against the Russians in our countries. This manipulation is so bad that we would rather see Ukrainians die than to seek a diplomatic solution. As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham recently said, it is a matter of letting the Ukrainians fight to the last man.
It is commonly assumed that journalists work according to standards of quality and ethics to inform us in the most honest way possible. These standards are set by the Munich Charter of 1971. While writing my book I found out that no French-speaking mainstream media in Europe respects this charter as far as Russia and China are concerned. In fact, they shamelessly support an immoral policy towards Ukraine, described by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, president of Mexico, as “We provide the weapons, you provide the corpses!”
To highlight this misinformation, I wanted to show that information allowing to provide a realistic picture of the situation was available as early as February, but that our media did not relay it to the public. My goal was to show this contradiction.
In order to avoid becoming a propagandist myself in favor of one side or the other, I have relied exclusively on Western, Ukrainian (from Kiev) and Russian opposition sources. I have not taken any information from the Russian media.
TP: It is commonly said in the West that this war has “proven” that the Russian army is feeble and that its equipment is useless. Are these assertions true?
JB: No. After more than six months of war, it can be said that the Russian army is effective and efficient, and that the quality of its command & control far exceeds what we see in the West. But our perception is influenced by a reporting that is focused on the Ukrainian side, and by distortions of reality.
Firstly, there is the reality on the ground. It should be remembered that what the media call “Russians” is in fact a Russian-speaking coalition, composed of professional Russian fighters and soldiers of the popular militias of Donbass. The operations in the Donbass are mainly carried out by these militias, who fight on “their” terrain, in towns and villages they know and where they have friends and family. They are therefore advancing cautiously for themselves, but also to avoid civilian casualties. Thus, despite the claims of western propaganda, the coalition enjoys a very good popular support in the areas it occupies.
Then, just looking at a map, you can see that the Donbass is a region with a lot of built-up and inhabited areas, which means an advantage for the defender and a reduced speed of progress for the attacker in all circumstances.
Secondly, there is the way our media portray the evolution of the conflict. Ukraine is a huge country and small-scale maps hardly show the differences from one day to another. Moreover, each side has its own perception of the progress of the enemy. If we take the example of the situation on March 25, 2022, we can see that the map of the French daily newspaper Ouest-France (a) shows almost no advance of Russia, as does the Swiss RTS site (b). The map of the Russian website RIAFAN (c) may be propaganda, but if we compare it with the map of the French Military Intelligence Directorate (DRM) (d), we see that the Russian media is probably closer to the truth. All these maps were published on the same day, but the French newspaper and the Swiss state media did not choose to use the DRM map and preferred to use a Ukrainian map. This illustrates that our media work like propaganda outlets.
Thirdly, our “experts” have themselves determined the objectives of the Russian offensive. By claiming that Russia wanted to take over Ukraine and its resources, to take over Kiev in two days, etc., our experts have literally invented and attributed to the Russians objectives that Putin never mentioned. In May 2022, Claude Wild, the Swiss ambassador in Kiev, declared on RTS that the Russians had “lost the battle for Kiev.” But in reality, there was never a “battle for Kiev.” It is obviously easy to claim that the Russians did not reach their objectives—if they never tried to reach them!
Fourthly, the West and Ukraine have created a misleading picture of their adversary. In France, Switzerland and Belgium, none of the military experts on television have any knowledge of military operations and how the Russians conduct theirs. Their “expertise” comes from the rumours from the war in Afghanistan or Syria, which are often merely Western propaganda. These experts have literally falsified the presentation of Russian operations.
Thus, the objectives announced as early as February 24 by Russia were the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the threat to the populations of Donbass. These objectives are related to the neutralization of capabilities, not the seizure of land or resources. To put it bluntly, in theory, to achieve their goals the Russians do not need to advance—it would be enough if Ukrainians themselves would come and get killed.
In other words, our politicians and media have pushed Ukraine to defend the terrain like in France during the First World War. They pushed Ukrainian troops to defend every square meter of ground in “last stand” situations. Ironically, the West has only made the Russians’ job easier.
In fact, as with the war on terror, Westerners see the enemy as they would like him to be, not as he is. As Sun Tzu said 2,500 years ago, this is the best recipe for losing a war.
One example is the so-called “hybrid war” that Russia is allegedly waging against the West. In June 2014, as the West tried to explain Russia’s (imaginary) intervention in the Donbass conflict, Russia expert Mark Galeotti “revealed” the existence of a doctrine that would illustrate the Russian concept of hybrid warfare. Known as the “Gerasimov Doctrine,” it has never really been defined by the West as to what it consists of and how it could ensure military success. But it is used to explain how Russia wages war in Donbass without sending troops there and why Ukraine consistently loses its battles against the rebels. In 2018, realizing that he was wrong, Galeotti apologized—courageously and intelligently—in an article titled, “I’m Sorry for Creating the Gerasimov Doctrine” published in Foreign Policy magazine.
Despite this, and without knowing what it meant, our media and politicians continued to pretend that Russia was waging a hybrid war against Ukraine and the West. In other words, we imagined a type of war that does not exist and we prepared Ukraine for it. This is also what explains the challenge for Ukraine to have a coherent strategy to counter Russian operations.
The West does not want to see the situation as it really is. The Russian-speaking coalition has launched its offensive with an overall strength inferior to that of the Ukrainians in a ratio of 1-2:1. To be successful when you are outnumbered, you must create local and temporary superiorities by quickly moving your forces on the battlefield.
This is what the Russians call “operational art” (operativnoe iskoustvo). This notion is poorly understood in the West. The term “operational” used in NATO has two translations in Russian: “operative” (which refers to a command level) and “operational” (which defines a condition). It is the art of maneuvering military formations, much like a chess game, in order to defeat a superior opponent.
For example, the operation around Kiev was not intended to “deceive” the Ukrainians (and the West) about their intentions, but to force the Ukrainian army to keep large forces around the capital and thus “pin them down.” In technical terms, this is what is called a “shaping operation.” Contrary to the analysis of some “experts,” it was not a “deception operation,” which would have been conceived very differently and would have involved much larger forces. The aim was to prevent a reinforcement of the main body of the Ukrainian forces in the Donbass.
The main lesson of this war at this stage confirms what we know since the Second World War: the Russians master the operational art.
TP: Questions about Russia’s military raises the obvious question—how good is Ukraine’s military today? And more importantly, why do we not hear so much about the Ukrainian army?
JB: The Ukrainian servicemen are certainly brave soldiers who perform their duty conscientiously and courageously. But my personal experience shows that in almost every crisis, the problem is at the head. The inability to understand the opponent and his logic and to have a clear picture of the actual situation is the main reason for failures.
Since the beginning of the Russian offensive, we can distinguish two ways of conducting the war. On the Ukrainian side, the war is waged in the political and informational spaces, while on the Russian side the war is waged in the physical and operational space. The two sides are not fighting in the same spaces. This is a situation that I described in 2003 in my book, La guerre asymétrique ou la défaite du vainqueur (Asymmetric War, or the Defeat of the Winner). The trouble is that at the end of the day, the reality of the terrain prevails.
On the Russian side, decisions are made by the military, while on the Ukrainian side, Zelensky is omnipresent and the central element in the conduct of the war. He makes operational decisions, apparently often against the military’s advice. This explains the rising tensions between Zelensky and the military. According to Ukrainian media, Zelensky could dismiss General Valery Zoluzhny by appointing him Minister of Defence.
The Ukrainian army has been extensively trained by American, British and Canadian officers since 2014. The trouble is that for over 20 years, Westerners have been fighting armed groups and scattered adversaries and engaged entire armies against individuals. They fight wars at the tactical level and somehow have lost the ability to fight at the strategic and operative levels. This explains partly why Ukraine is waging its war at this level.
But there is a more conceptual dimension. Zelensky and the West see war as a numerical and technological balance of forces. This is why, since 2014, the Ukrainians have never tried to seduce the rebels and they now think that the solution will come from the weapons supplied by the West. The West provided Ukraine with a few dozen M777 guns and HIMARS and MLRS missile launchers, while Ukraine had several thousand equivalent artillery pieces in February. The Russian concept of “correlation of forces,” takes into account many more factors and is more holistic than the Western approach. That is why the Russians are winning.
To comply with ill-considered policies, our media have constructed a virtual reality that gives Russia the bad role. For those who observe the course of the crisis carefully, we could almost say they presented Russia as a “mirror image” of the situation in Ukraine. Thus, when the talk about Ukrainian losses began, Western communication turned to Russian losses (with figures given by Ukraine).
The so-called “counter-offensives” proclaimed by Ukraine and the West in Kharkov and Kherson in April-May were merely “counter-attacks.” The difference between the two is that counter-offensive is an operational notion, while counter-attack is a tactical notion, which is much more limited in scope. These counterattacks were possible because the density of Russian troops in these sectors was then 1 Battle Group (BTG) per 20 km of front. By comparison, in the Donbass sector, which was the primary focus, the Russian coalition had 1-3 BTG per km. As for the great August offensive on Kherson, which was supposed to take over the south of the country, it seems to have been nothing but a myth to maintain Western support.
Today, we see that the claimed Ukrainian successes were in fact failures. The human and material losses that were attributed to Russia were in fact more in line with those of Ukraine. In mid-June, David Arakhamia, Zelensky’s chief negotiator and close adviser, spoke of 200 to 500 deaths per day, and he mentioned casualties (dead, wounded, captured, deserters) of 1,000 men per day. If we add to this the renewed demands for arms by Zelensky, we can see that the idea of a victory for Ukraine appears quite an illusion.
Because Russia’s economy was thought to be comparable to Italy’s, it was assumed that it would be equally vulnerable. Thus, the West—and the Ukrainians—thought that economic sanctions and political isolation of Russia would quickly cause its collapse, without passing through a military defeat. Indeed, this is what we understand from the interview of Oleksei Arestovich, Zelensky’s advisor and spokesman, in March 2019. This also explains why Zelensky did not sound the alarm in early 2022, as he says in his interview with the Washington Post. I think he knew that Russia would respond to the offensive Ukraine was preparing in the Donbass (which is why the bulk of his troops were in that area) and thought that sanctions would quickly lead to Russia’s collapse and defeat. This is what Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of the Economy, had “predicted.” Clearly, the Westerners have made decisions without knowing their opponent.
As Arestovich said, the idea was that the defeat of Russia would be Ukraine’s entry ticket to NATO. So, the Ukrainians were pushed to prepare an offensive in the Donbass in order to make Russia react, and thus obtain an easy defeat through devastating sanctions. This is cynical and shows how much the West—led by the Americans—has misused Ukraine for its own objectives.
The result is that the Ukrainians did not seek Ukraine’s victory, but Russia’s defeat. This is very different and explains the Western narrative from the first days of the Russian offensive, which prophesied this defeat.
But the reality is that the sanctions did not work as expected, and Ukraine found itself dragged into combats that it had provoked, but for which it was not prepared to fight for so long.
This is why, from the outset, the Western narrative presented a mismatch between media reported and the reality on the ground. This had a perverse effect: it encouraged Ukraine to repeat its mistakes and prevented it from improving its conduct of operations. Under the pretext of fighting Vladimir Putin, we pushed Ukraine to sacrifice thousands of human lives unnecessarily.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the Ukrainians were consistently repeating their mistakes (and even the same mistakes as in 2014-2015), and soldiers were dying on the battlefield. For his part, Volodymyr Zelensky called for more and more sanctions, including the most absurd ones, because he was led to believe that they were decisive.
I am not the only one to have noticed these mistakes, and Western countries could certainly have stopped this disaster. But their leaders, excited by the (fanciful) reports of Russian losses and thinking they were paving the way for regime change, added sanctions to sanctions, turning down any possibility of negotiation. As the French Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire said, the objective was to provoke the collapse of the Russian economy and make the Russian people suffer. This is a form of state terrorism: the idea is to make the population suffer in order to push it into revolting against its leaders (here, Putin). I am not making this up. This mechanism is detailed by Richard Nephew, head of sanctions at the State Department under Obama and currently Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption, in his book entitled, The Art of Sanctions. Ironically, this is exactly the same logic that the Islamic State invoked to explain its attacks in France in 2015-2016. France probably does not encourage terrorism—but it does practice it.
The mainstream media do not present the war as it is, but as they would like it to be. This is pure wishful thinking. The apparent public support for the Ukrainian authorities, despite huge losses (some mention 70,000-80,000 fatalities), is achieved by banning the opposition, a ruthless hunt for officials who disagree with the government line, and “mirror” propaganda that attributes to the Russians the same failures as the Ukrainians. All this with the conscious support of the West.
TP: What should we make of the explosion at the Saki airbase in the Crimea?
JB: I do not know the details of the current security situation in Crimea. . We know that before February there were cells of volunteer fighters of Praviy Sektor (a neo-Nazi militia) in Crimea, ready to carry out terrorist-type attacks. Have these cells been neutralized? I don’t know; but one can assume so, since there is apparently very little sabotage activity in Crimea. Having said that, let us not forget that Ukrainians and Russians have lived together for many decades and there are certainly pro-Kiev individuals in the areas taken by the Russians. It is therefore realistic to think that there could be sleeper cells in these areas.
More likely it is a campaign conducted by the Ukrainian security service (SBU) in the territories occupied by the Russian-speaking coalition. This is a terrorist campaign targeting pro-Russian Ukrainian personalities and officials. It follows major changes in the leadership of the SBU, in Kiev, and in the regions, including Lvov, Ternopol since July. It is probably in the context of this same campaign that Darya Dugina was assassinated on August 21. The objective of this new campaign could be to convey the illusion that there is an ongoing resistance in the areas taken by the Russians and thus revive Western aid, which is starting to fatigue.
These sabotage activities do not really have an operational impact and seem more related to a psychological operation. It may be that these are actions like the one on Snake Island at the beginning of May, intended to demonstrate to the international public that Ukraine is acting.
What the incidents in Crimea indirectly show is that the popular resistance claimed by the West in February does not exist. It is most likely the action of Ukrainian and Western (probably British) clandestine operatives. Beyond the tactical actions, this shows the inability of the Ukrainians to activate a significant resistance movement in the areas seized by the Russian-speaking coalition.
TP: Zelensky has famously said, “Crimea is Ukrainian and we will never give it up.” Is this rhetoric, or is there a plan to attack Crimea? Are there Ukrainian operatives inside Crimea?
JB: First of all, Zelensky changes his opinion very often. In March 2022, he made a proposal to Russia, stating that he was ready to discuss a recognition of Russian sovereignty over the peninsula. It was upon the intervention of the European Union and Boris Johnson on 2 April and on 9 April that he withdrew his proposal, despite Russia’s favorable interest.
It is necessary to recall some historical facts. The cession of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 was never formally validated by the parliaments of the USSR, Russia and Ukraine during the communist era. Moreover, the Crimean people agreed to be subject to the authority of Moscow and no longer of Kiev as early as January 1991. In other words, Crimea was independent from Kiev even before Ukraine became independent from Moscow in December 1991.
In July, Aleksei Reznikov, the Ukrainian Minister of Defense, spoke loudly of a major counter-offensive on Kherson involving one million men to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In reality, Ukraine has not managed to gather the troops, armor and air cover needed for this far-fetched offensive. Sabotage actions in Crimea may be a substitute for this “counter-offensive.” They seem to be more of a communication exercise than a real military action. These actions seem to be aimed rather at reassuring Western countries which are questioning the relevance of their unconditional support to Ukraine.
TP: Would you tell us about the situation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility?
JB: In Energodar, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP), has been the target of several attacks by artillery, which Ukrainians and Russians attribute to the opposing side.
What we know is that the Russian coalition forces have occupied the ZNPP site since the beginning of March. The objective at that time was to secure the ZNPP quickly, in order to prevent it from being caught up in the fighting and thus avoid a nuclear incident. The Ukrainian personnel who were in charge of it have remained on site and continue to work under the supervision of the Ukrainian company Energoatom and the Ukrainian nuclear safety agency (SNRIU). There is therefore no fighting around the plant.
It is hard to see why the Russians would shell a nuclear plant that is under their control. This allegation is even more peculiar since the Ukrainians themselves state that there are Russian troops in the premises of the site. According to a French “expert,” the Russians would attack the power plant they control to cut off the electricity flowing to Ukraine. Not only would there be simpler ways to cut off the electricity to Ukraine (a switch, perhaps?), but Russia has not stopped the electricity supply to the Ukrainians since March. Moreover, I remind you that Russia has not stopped the flow of natural gas to Ukraine and has continued to pay Ukraine the transit fees for gas to Europe. It is Zelensky who decided to shut down the Soyuz pipeline in May.
Moreover, it should be remembered that the Russians are in an area where the population is generally favorable to them and it is hard to understand why they would take the risk of a nuclear contamination of the region.
In reality, the Ukrainians have more credible motives than the Russians that may explain such attacks against the ZNPP. , which are not mutually exclusive: an alternative to the big counter-offensive on Kherson, which they are not able to implement, and to prevent the planned referendums in the region. Further, Zelensky’s calls for demilitarizing the area of the power plant and even returning it to Ukraine would be a political and operational success for him. One might even imagine that they seek to deliberately provoke a nuclear incident in order to create a “no man’s land” and thus render the area unusable for the Russians.
By bombing the plant, Ukraine could also be trying to pressure the West to intervene in the conflict, under the pretext that Russia is seeking to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid before the fall. This suicidal behavior—as stated by UN Secretary General António Guterres—would be in line with the war waged by Ukraine since 2014.
There is strong evidence that the attacks on Energodar are Ukrainian. The fragments of projectiles fired at the site from the other side of the Dnieper are of Western origin. It seems that they come from British BRIMSTONE missiles, which are precision missiles, whose use is monitored by the British. Apparently, the West is aware of the Ukrainian attacks on the ZNPP. This might explain why Ukraine is not very supportive of an international commission of inquiry and why Western countries are putting unrealistic conditions for sending investigators from the IAEA, an agency that has not shown much integrity so far.
TP: It is reported that Zelensky is freeing criminals to fight in this war? Does this mean that Ukraine’s army is not as strong as commonly assumed?
JB: Zelensky faces the same problem as the authorities that emerged from Euromaidan in 2014. At that time, the military did not want to fight because they did not want to confront their Russian-speaking compatriots. According to a report by the British Home Office, reservists overwhelmingly refuse to attend recruitment sessions . In October-November 2017, 70% of conscripts do not show up for recall . Suicide has become a problem. According to the chief Ukrainian military prosecutor Anatoly Matios, after four years of war in the Donbass, 615 servicemen had committed suicide. Desertions have increased and reached up to 30% of the forces in certain operational areas, often in favor of the rebels.
For this reason, it became necessary to integrate more motivated, highly politicized, ultra-nationalistic and fanatical fighters into the armed forces to fight in the Donbass. Many of them are neo-Nazis. It is to eliminate these fanatical fighters that Vladimir Putin has mentioned the objective of “denazification.”
Today, the problem is slightly different. The Russians have attacked Ukraine and the Ukrainian soldiers are not a priori opposed to fighting them. But they realize that the orders they receive are not consistent with the situation on the battlefield. They understood that the decisions affecting them are not linked to military factors, but to political considerations. Ukrainian units are mutinying en masse and are increasingly refusing to fight. They say they feel abandoned by their commanders and that they are given missions without the necessary resources to execute them.
That’s why it becomes necessary to send men who are ready for anything. Because they are condemned, they can be kept under pressure. This is the same principle as Marshal Konstantin Rokossovki, who was sentenced to death by Stalin, but was released from prison in 1941 to fight against the Germans. His death sentence was lifted only after Stalin’s death in 1956.
In order to overshadow the use of criminals in the armed forces, the Russians are accused of doing the same thing. The Ukrainians and the Westerners consistently use “mirror” propaganda. As in all recent conflicts, Western influence has not led to a moralization of the conflict.
TP: Everyone speaks of how corrupt Putin is? But what about Zelensky? Is he the “heroic saint” that we are all told to admire?
JB: In October 2021, the Pandora Papers showed that Ukraine and Zelensky were the most corrupt in Europe and practiced tax evasion on a large scale. Interestingly, these documents were apparently published with the help of an American intelligence agency, and Vladimir Putin is not mentioned. More precisely, the documents mention individuals ” associated ” with him, who are said to have links with undisclosed assets, which could belong to a woman, who is believed to have had a child with him.
Yet, when our media are reporting on these documents, they routinely put a picture of Vladimir Putin, but not of Volodymyr Zelensky.
I am not in a position to assess how corrupt Zelensky is. But there is no doubt that the Ukrainian society and its governance are. I contributed modestly to a NATO “Building Integrity” program in Ukraine and discovered that none of the contributing countries had any illusions about its effectiveness, and all saw the program as a kind of “window dressing” to justify Western support.
It is unlikely that the billions paid by the West to Ukraine will reach the Ukrainian people. A recent CBS News report stated that only 30-40% of the weapons supplied by the West make it to the battlefield. The rest enriches mafias and other corrupt people. Apparently, some high-tech Western weapons have been sold to the Russians, such as the French CAESAR system and presumably the American HIMARS. The CBS News report was censored to avoid undermining Western aid, but the fact remains that the US refused to supply MQ-1C drones to Ukraine for this reason.
Ukraine is a rich country, yet today it is the only country in the former USSR with a lower GDP than it had at the collapse of the Soviet Union. The problem is therefore not Zelensky himself, but the whole system, which is deeply corrupted, and which the West maintains for the sole purpose of fighting Russia.
Zelensky was elected in April 2019 on the program of reaching an agreement with Russia. But nobody let him carry out his program. The Germans and the French deliberately prevented him from implementing the Minsk agreements. The transcript of the telephone conversation of 20 February 2022 between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin shows that France deliberately kept Ukraine away from the solution. Moreover, in Ukraine, far right and neo-Nazi political forces have publicly threatened him with death. Dmitry Yarosh, commander of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, declared in May 2019 that Zelensky would be hanged if he carried out his program. In other words, Zelensky is trapped between his idea of reaching an agreement with Russia and the demands of the West. Moreover, the West realizes that its strategy of war through sanctions has failed. As the economic and social problems increase, the West will find it harder to back down without losing face. A way out for Britain, the US, the EU, or France would be to remove Zelensky. That is why, with the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, I think Zelensky starts to realize that his life is threatened.
At the end of the day, Zelensky is a poor guy, because his best enemies are those on whom he depends: the Western world.
TP: There are many videos (gruesome ones) on social media of Ukrainian soldiers engaging in serious war crimes? Why is there a “blind spot” in the West for such atrocities?
JB: First of all, we must be clear: in every war, every belligerent commit war crimes. Military personnel who deliberately commit such crimes dishonor their uniform and must be punished.
The problem arises when war crimes are part of a plan or result from orders given by the higher command. This was the case when the Netherlands let its military allow the Srebrenica massacre in 1995; the torture in Afghanistan by Canadian and British troops, not to mention the countless violations of international humanitarian law by the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere with the complicity of Poland, Lithuania or Estonia. If these are Western values, then Ukraine is in the right school.
In Ukraine, political crime has become commonplace, with the complicity of the West. Thus, those who are in favor of a negotiation are eliminated. This is the case of Denis Kireyev, one of the Ukrainian negotiators, assassinated on March 5 by the Ukrainian security service (SBU) because he was considered too favorable to Russia and as a traitor. The same thing happened to Dmitry Demyanenko, an officer of the SBU, who was assassinated on March 10, also because he was too favorable to an agreement with Russia. Remember that this is a country that considers that receiving or giving Russian humanitarian aid is “collaborationism.”
On 16 March 2022, a journalist on TV channel Ukraine 24 referred to the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and called for the massacre of Russian-speaking children. On 21 March, the military doctor Gennadiy Druzenko declared on the same channel that he had ordered his doctors to castrate Russian prisoners of war. On social networks, these statements quickly became propaganda for the Russians and the two Ukrainians apologized for having said so, but not for the substance. Ukrainian crimes were beginning to be revealed on social networks, and on 27 March Zelensky feared that this would jeopardize Western support. This was followed—rather opportunely—by the Bucha massacre on 3 April, the circumstances of which remain unclear.
Britain, which then had the chairmanship of the UN Security Council, refused three times the Russian request to set up an international commission of enquiry into the crimes of Bucha. Ukrainian socialist MP Ilya Kiva revealed on Telegram that the Bucha tragedy was planned by the British MI6 special services and implemented by the SBU.
The fundamental problem is that the Ukrainians have replaced the “operational art” with brutality. Since 2014, in order to fight the autonomists, the Ukrainian government has never tried to apply strategies based on “hearts & minds,” which the British used in the 1950s-1960s in South-East Asia, which were much less brutal but much more effective and long-lasting. Kiev preferred to conduct an Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the Donbass and to use the same strategies as the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fighting terrorists authorizes all kinds of brutality. It is the lack of a holistic approach to the conflict that led to the failure of the West in Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali.
Counter-Insurgency Operation (COIN) requires a more sophisticated and holistic approach. But NATO is incapable of developing such strategies as I have seen first-hand in Afghanistan. The war in Donbass has been brutal for 8 years and has resulted in the death of 10,000 Ukrainian citizens plus 4,000 Ukrainian military personnel. By comparison, in 30 years, the conflict in Northern Ireland resulted in 3,700 deaths. To justify this brutality, the Ukrainians had to invent the myth of a Russian intervention in Donbass.
The problem is that the philosophy of the new Maidan leaders was to have a racially pure Ukraine. In other words, the unity of the Ukrainian people was not to be achieved through the integration of communities, but through the exclusion of communities of “inferior races.” An idea that would no doubt have pleased the grandfathers of Ursula von der Leyen and Chrystia Freeland! This explains why Ukrainians have little empathy for the country’s Russian, Magyar and Romanian-speaking minorities. This in turn explains why Hungary and Romania do not want their territories to be used for the supply of arms to Ukraine.
This is why shooting at their own citizens to intimidate them is not a problem for the Ukrainians. This explains the spraying of thousands of PFM-1 (“butterfly”) anti-personnel mines, which look like toys, on the Russian-speaking city of Donetsk in July 2022. This type of mine is used by a defender, not an attacker in its main area of operation. Moreover, in this area, the Donbass militias are fighting “at home,” with populations they know personally.
I think that war crimes have been committed on both sides, but that their media coverage has been very different. Our media have reported extensively about crimes (true or false) attributed to Russia. On the other hand, they have been extremely silent about Ukrainian crimes. We do not know the whole truth about the Bucha massacre, but the available evidence supports the hypothesis that Ukraine staged the event to cover up its own crimes. By keeping these crimes quiet, our media have been complicit with them and have created a sense of impunity that has encouraged the Ukrainians to commit further crimes.
TP: Latvia wants the West (America) to designate Russia a “terrorist state.” What do you make of this? Does this mean that the war is actually over, and Russia has won?
JB: The Estonian and Latvian demands are in response to Zelensky’s call to designate Russia as a terrorist state. Interestingly, they come at the same time a Ukrainian terrorist campaign is being unleashed in Crimea, the occupied zone of Ukraine and the rest of Russian territory. It is also interesting that Estonia was apparently complicit in the attack on Darya Dugina in August 2022.
It seems that Ukrainians communicate in a mirror image of the crimes they commit or the problems they have, in order to hide them. For example, in late May 2022, as the Azovstal surrender in Mariupol showed neo-Nazi fighters, they began to allege that there are neo-Nazis in the Russian army. In August 2022, when Kiev was carrying out actions of a terrorist nature against the Energodar power plant in Crimea and on Russian territory, Zelensky called for Russia to be considered a terrorist state.
In fact, Zelensky continues to believe that he can only solve his problem by defeating Russia and that this defeat depends on sanctions against Russia. Declaring Russia a terrorist state would lead to further isolation. That is why he is making this appeal. This shows that the label “terrorist” is more political than operational, and that those who make such proposals do not have a very clear vision of the problem. The problem is that it has implications for international relations. This is why the US State Department is concerned that Zelensky’s request will be implemented by Congress.
TP: One of the sadder outcomes of this Ukraine-Russia conflict is how the West has shown the worst of itself. Where do you think we will go from here? More of the same, or will there be changes that will have to be made in regards to NATO, neutral countries which are no longer neutral, and the way the West seeks to “govern” the world?
JB: This crisis reveals several things. First, that NATO and the European Union are only instruments of US foreign policy. These institutions no longer act in the interests of their members, but in the interests of the US. The sanctions adopted under American pressure are backfiring on Europe, which is the big loser in this whole crisis: it suffers its own sanctions and has to deal with the tensions resulting from its own decisions.
The decisions taken by Western governments reveal a generation of leaders who are young and inexperienced (such as Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin); ignorant, yet thinking they are smart (such as French President Emmanuel Macron); doctrinaire (such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen); and fanatical (such as the leaders of the Baltic States). They all share some of the same weaknesses, not least of which is their inability to manage a complex crisis.
When the head is unable to understand the complexity of a crisis, we respond with guts and dogmatism. This is what we see happening in Europe. The Eastern European countries, especially the Baltic States and Poland, have shown themselves to be loyal servants of American policy. They have also shown immature, confrontational, and short-sighted governance. These are countries that have never integrated Western values, that continue to celebrate the forces of the Third Reich and discriminate against their own Russian-speaking population.
I am not even mentioning the European Union, which has been vehemently opposed to any diplomatic solution and has only added fuel to the fire.
The more you are involved in a conflict, the more you are involved in its outcome. If you win, all is well. But if the conflict is a failure, you will bear the burden. This is what has happened to the United States in recent conflicts and what is happening in Ukraine. The defeat of Ukraine is becoming the defeat of the West.
Another big loser in this conflict is clearly Switzerland. Its neutral status has suddenly lost all credibility. Early August, Switzerland and Ukraine concluded an agreement that would allow the Swiss embassy in Moscow to offer protection to Ukrainian citizens in Russia. However, in order to enter into force, it has to be recognized by Russia. Quite logically, Russia refused and declared that “Switzerland had unfortunately lost its status as a neutral state and could not act as an intermediary or representative.”
This is a very serious development because neutrality is not simply a unilateral declaration. It must be accepted and recognized by all to be effective. Yet Switzerland not only aligned itself with the Western countries but was even more extreme than them. It can be said that in a few weeks, Switzerland has ruined a policy that has been recognized for almost 170 years. This is a problem for Switzerland, but it may also be a problem for other countries. A neutral state can offer a way out of a crisis. Today, Western countries are looking for a way out that would allow them to get closer to Russia in the perspective of an energy crisis without losing face. Turkey has taken on this role, but it is limited, as it is part of NATO.
The West has created an Iron Curtain 2.0 that will affect international relations for years to come. The West’s lack of strategic vision is astonishing. While NATO is aligning itself with US foreign policy and reorienting itself towards China, Western strategy has only strengthened the Moscow-Beijing axis.
TP: What do you think this war ultimately means for Europe, the US and China?
JB: In order to answer this question, we first must answer another question: “Why is this conflict more condemnable and sanctionable than previous conflicts started by the West?”
After the disasters of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Mali, the rest of the world expected the West to help resolve this crisis with common sense. The West responded in exactly the opposite way to these expectations. Not only has no one been able to explain why this conflict was more reprehensible than previous ones, but the difference in treatment between Russia and the United States has shown that more importance is attached to the aggressor than to the victims. Efforts to bring about the collapse of Russia contrast with the total impunity of countries that have lied to the UN Security Council, practiced torture, caused the deaths of over a million people and created 37 million refugees.
This difference in treatment went unnoticed in the West. But the “rest of the world” has understood that we have moved from a “law-based international order” to a “rules-based international order” determined by the West.
On a more material level, the confiscation of Venezuelan gold by the British in 2020, of Afghanistan’s sovereign funds in 2021, and then of Russia’s sovereign funds in 2022 by the US, has raised the mistrust of the West’s allies. This shows that the non-Western world is no longer protected by law and depends on the goodwill of the West.
This conflict is probably the starting point for a new world order. The world is not going to change all at once, but the conflict has raised the attention of the rest of the world. For when we say that the “international community” condemns Russia, we are in fact talking about 18% of the world’s population.
Some actors traditionally close to the West are gradually moving away from it. On 15 July 2022, Joe Biden visited Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) with two objectives: to prevent Saudi Arabia from moving closer to Russia and China, and to ask him to increase its oil production. But four days earlier, MbS made an official request to become a member of the BRICS, and a week later, on 21 July, MbS called Vladimir Putin to confirm that he would stand by the OPEC+ decision. In other words: no oil production increase. It was a slap in the face of the West and of its most powerful representative.
Saudi Arabia has now decided to accept Chinese currency as payment for its oil. This is a major event, which tends to indicate a loss of confidence in the dollar. The consequences are potentially huge. The petrodollar was established by the US in the 1970s to finance its deficit. By forcing other countries to buy dollars, it allows the US to print dollars without being caught in an inflationary loop. Thanks to the petrodollar, the US economy—which is essentially a consumer economy—is supported by the economies of other countries around the world. The demise of the petrodollar could have disastrous consequences for the US economy, as former Republican Senator Ron Paul puts it.
In addition, the sanctions have brought China and Russia, both targeted by the West, closer together. This has accelerated the formation of a Eurasian bloc and strengthened the position of both countries in the world. India, which the US has scorned as a “second-class” partner of the “Quad,” has moved closer to Russia and China, despite disputes with the latter.
Today, China is the main provider of infrastructure in the Third World. In particular, its way of interacting with African countries is more in line with the expectations of these countries. Collaboration with former colonial powers such as France and American imperialist paternalism are no longer welcome. For example, the Central African Republic and Mali have asked France to leave their countries and have turned to Russia.
At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, the US proudly announced a $150 million contribution to “strengthen its position in the broader geopolitical competition with China.” But in November 2021, President Xi Jinping offered $1.5 billion to the same countries to fight the pandemic and promote economic recovery. By using its money to wage war, the US has no money left to forge and consolidate alliances.
The West’s loss of influence stems from the fact that it continues to treat the “rest of the world” like “little children” and neglects the usefulness of good diplomacy.
The war in Ukraine is not the trigger for these phenomena, which started a few years ago, but it is most certainly an eye-opener and accelerator.
TP: The western media has been pushing that Putin may be seriously ill. If Putin suddenly dies, would this make any difference at all to the war?
This is wishful thinking and, on the higher end of the spectrum, it echoes the calls for terrorism and the physical elimination of Vladimir Putin.
The West has personalized Russian politics through Putin, because he is the one who promoted the reconstruction of Russia after the Yeltsin years. Americans like to be champions when there are no competitors and see others as enemies. This is the case with Germany, Europe, Russia and China.
But our “experts” know little about Russian politics. For in reality, Vladimir Putin is more of a “dove” in the Russian political landscape. Given the climate that we have created with Russia, it would not be impossible that his disappearance would lead to the emergence of more aggressive forces. We should not forget that countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland or Georgia have never developed European democratic values. They still have discriminatory policies towards their ethnic Russians that are far from European values, and they behave like immature agents provocateurs. I think that if Putin were to disappear for some reason, the conflicts with these countries would take on a new dimension.
TP: How unified is Russia presently? Has the war created a more serious opposition than what previously existed within Russia?
JB: No, on the contrary. The American and European leaders have a poor understanding of their enemy: the Russian people are very patriotic and cohesive. Western obsession to ” punish ” the Russian people has only brought them closer to their leaders. In fact, by seeking to divide Russian society in an effort to overthrow the government, Western sanctions—including the dumbest ones—have confirmed what the Kremlin has been saying for years: that the West has a profound hatred of Russians. What was once said to be a lie is now confirmed in Russian opinion. The consequence is that the people’s trust in the government has grown stronger.
The approval ratings given by the Levada Centre (considered by the Russian authorities as a “foreign agent”) show that public opinion has tightened around Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. In January 2022, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating was 69% and the government’s was 53%. Today, Putin’s approval rating has been stable at around 83% since March, and the government’s is at 71%. In January, 29% did not approve of Vladimir Putin’s decisions, in July it was only 15%.
According to the Levada Centre, even the Russian operation in Ukraine enjoys a majority of favorable opinions. In March, 81% of Russians were in favor of the operation; this figure dropped to 74%, probably due to the impact of sanctions at the end of March, and then it went back up. In July 2022, the operation had 76% popular support.
The problem is that our journalists have neither culture nor journalistic discipline and they replace them with their own beliefs. It is a form of conspiracy that aims to create a false reality based on what one believes and not on the facts. For example, few know (or want to know) that Aleksey Navalny said he would not return Crimea to Ukraine. The West’s actions have completely wiped out the opposition, not because of “Putin’s repression,” but because in Russia, resistance to foreign interference and the West’s deep contempt for Russians is a bipartisan cause. Exactly like the hatred of Russians in the West. This is why personalities like Aleksey Navalny, who never had a very high popularity, have completely disappeared from the popular media landscape.
Moreover, even if the sanctions have had a negative impact on the Russian economy, the way the government has handled things since 2014 shows a great mastery of economic mechanisms and a great realism in assessing the situation. There is a rise in prices in Russia, but it is much lower than in Europe, and while Western economies are raising their key interest rates, Russia is lowering its own.
The Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova has been exemplified as an expression of the opposition in Russia. Her case is interesting because, as usual, we do not say everything.
On 14 March 2022, she provoked international applause by interrupting the Russian First Channel news program with a poster calling for ending the war in Ukraine. She was arrested and fined $280.
As a result, in June 2022, she left Germany to live in Odessa, her hometown. But instead of being grateful, the Ukrainians put her on the Mirotvorets blacklist where she is accused of treason, “participation in the Kremlin’s special information and propaganda operations” and “complicity with the invaders.”
The Mirotvorets website is a “hit list” for politicians, journalists or personalities who do not share the opinion of the Ukrainian government. Several of the people on the list have been murdered. In October 2019, the UN requested the closure of the site, but this was refused by the Rada. It should be noted that none of our mainstream media has condemned this practice, which is very far from the values they claim to defend. In other words, our media support these practices that used to be attributed to South American regimes.
Ovsyannikova then returned to Russia, where she demonstrated against the war, calling Putin a “killer,” and was arrested by the police and placed under house arrest for three months. At this point, our media protested.
It is worth noting that Russian journalist Darya Dugina, the victim of a bomb attack in Moscow on 21 August 2022, was on the Mirotvorets list and her file was marked “liquidated.” Of course, no Western media mentioned that she was targeted by the Mirotvorets website, which is considered to be linked to the SBU, as this would tend to support Russia’s accusations.
German journalist Alina Lipp, whose revelations about Ukrainian and Western crimes in the Donbass are disturbing, has been placed on the website Mirotvorets. Moreover, Alina Lipp was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison by a German court for claiming that Russian troops had “liberated” areas in Ukraine and thus “glorified criminal activities.” As can be seen, the German authorities are functioning like the neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine. Today’s politicians are a credit to their grandparents!
One can conclude that even if there are some people who oppose the war, Russian public opinion is overwhelmingly behind its government. Western sanctions have only strengthened the credibility of the Russian president.
Ultimately, my point is not to take the same approach as our media and replace the hatred of Russia with that of Ukraine. On the contrary, it is to show that the world is not either black or white and that Western countries have taken the situation too far. Those who are compassionate about Ukraine should have pushed our governments to implement the agreed political solutions in 2014 and 2015. They haven’t done anything and are now pushing Ukraine to fight. But we are no longer in 2021. Today, we have to accept the consequences of our non-decisions and help Ukraine to recover. But this must not be done at the expense of its Russian-speaking population, as we have done until now, but with the Russian-speaking people, in an inclusive manner. If I look at the media in France, Switzerland and Belgium, we are still very far from the goal.
TP: Thank you so very much, Mr. Baud, for this most enlightening discussion.
How are we to analyze the Spanish Civil War, beyond the myths and political passions? How is a historian’s work to be done, given that history is often heated and subject to the passions of memory and partisan politics? Such is the work of Pío Moa in his book on the myths of the Spanish Civil War, which has just been translated into French. The book is prefaced by historian Arnaud Imatz, corresponding member of the Royal Academy of History in Spain, and author of numerous works on the history of Spain. He is here in conversation with Hadrien Desuin. This interview comes through the kind courtesy of Revue Conflits.
Please read our interview with Pío Moa, which we published earlier. Dr. Imatz has also published with us an extensive analysis of Pío Moa’s work, which you will find here and here.
Hadrien Desuin (HD): You wrote the Preface to the French translation of the latest best-selling book by Spanish historian Pío Moa. Is his work rigorous? And if so, why did it provoke controversy in France after an interview in Figaro histoire?
Arnaud Imatz (AI): I wrote the Preface for a number of reasons, both general and particular. The first reason, I believe, is the conception of the history of ideas and facts that was passed on to me by my teachers at a time already long past—the 1970s—when I was preparing my doctoral thesis in political science. My teachers taught me that the quality of historical research (which is not to be confused with historical memory, an emotional and reductive vision of history) depends on the author’s training, his intellectual curiosity, his capacity for discernment, his creativity, his conscience and his moral integrity. They instilled in me the idea that the historian must search ardently for the truth, knowing that he or she will only partially arrive at it. They also convinced me that everything in this regard is a matter of subtlety, proportion, nuance, common sense and honesty.
Having been at first, in a way, a collateral victim of the media lynching suffered by Moa in Spain, it took me years before I decided to overcome my prejudices to read this author who was labeled “inflammatory.” This is a step that the censors of Moa (who are for the most part socialist-Marxist academics in favor of the Popular Front, but also “specialists” eager to get ahead, not to mention the legions of neo-inquisitors who are rampant on social networks today) stubbornly refuse to take—because you don’t make deals with the devil! For my part, I came away, I confess, impressed and astonished by my reading of Moa, and above all with the firm conviction that, unlike many of his critics, he fulfills the criteria of the honest, disinterested historian who has integrity.
I must, of course, mention here my special interest in the Spanish Civil War. This interest has never wavered for almost half a century. It led me first to publish a doctoral thesis on the founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, to which the prestigious Spanish economist and academician, Juan Velarde Fuertes, wrote the Preface; and to publish a book with a Preface by Pierre Chaunu, member of the Institute of France (La guerre d’Espagne revisitée, 1989). Then, this led me to write the Preface to one of the best specialists on this topic (unjustly made victim in France of a real omerta for almost forty-five years) the American Stanley Payne (La guerre d’Espagne. L’histoire face à la confusion mémorielle, 2010). Finally, I have written multiple articles on the subject during the years 2000-2020. With all that said, there are of course, among the reasons for my interest, also those that relate specifically to the particular case of Moa’s life and work.
Moa is the bête noire of the left, of the extreme left and of a good part of the right. The hatred and insults to which he is periodically subjected, in journalistic and academic circles, are truly astounding. He is “the incarnation of evil,” a “negationist,” a “dangerous revisionist,” a “fascist,” a “camouflaged Nazi,” a “mediocre author,” a “historian without methodology,” “a pseudo-historian who is not an academic,” “a writer without any insight or culture,” “a provocateur,” “a liar” whose “intellectual indigence is well-known,” and worst of all, a “camouflaged agent of the Franco police.” The adepts of the ad hominem attack have a field day with him. For the most enthusiastic, he is nothing less than an “apologist for the crimes of humanity.” The infamous take-downs, the insults, the invectives and the calumnies—everything was good to silence him in the Peninsula; and the polemics that he arouses today in France, after his interesting and thorough interview in Figaro histoire (summer 2022), can only be a weak echo.
But the Moa question is not as simple as his many detractors would have us believe, who usually confuse, more or less consciously, diatribe with debate. A declared liberal democrat, Moa has repeatedly expressed his respect for and defense of the 1978 Constitution. So, it is really his past and his atypical path—an absolute sacrilege in the eyes of socialist-Marxists and other crypto-Marxists—that he is secretly and invariably reproached for. He was first a communist-Maoist under Franco’s regime. He belonged to the terrorist movement GRAPO, the armed wing of the PCr (the reconstituted Communist Party). He was not an operetta anti-Franco militant, as so many established intellectuals and politicians are today, but an armed and determined resistance fighter, ready to die for his cause. As a Marxist, a fighter against Francoism, an unsuspected leftist, and a librarian at the Ateneo de Madrid, he had access to the documentation of the Pablo Iglesias Socialist Foundation. This research was the main source of his first book, a real media sensation, Los orígenes de la guerra civil Española (The Origins of the Spanish Civil War).
After going through and studying these socialist archives in detail, Moa radically changed his ideas, not hesitating to sacrifice his professional future and social life for them. He discovered the overwhelming responsibility of the Socialist Party and the left in general for the 1934 putsch, and for the origins of the Civil War. Up till then, we used to talk about the “Asturias Strike” or the “Asturias Revolution.” After his book, we talk about the “Socialist Revolution of 1934.” In my Preface, I recounted in detail the amazing story of his first successful book. But it was his bestseller, Los mitos de la guerra civil [The Myths of the Civil War] published in 2003 (reprinted or republished some twenty times, selling more than 300,000 copies, and which was number one in the Spanish sales charts for more than six months) that aroused the truly hallucinatory anger of the mainstream media. Through the voice of the Christian Democrat historian Javier Tussell, the socialist newspaper El País demanded censorship of the unbearable “revisionist.” There were trade unions protested in front of the Cortes, and a hysterical propaganda campaign even suggested imprisonment and re-education of the culprit. Since then, Moa has been persona non grata at state universities and in the public service media.
Thereafter, few independent scholars, academics and historians have dared to take sides with Moa. Some, however, are famous. Among them are Hugh Thomas, José Manuel Cuenca Toribio, Carlos Seco Serrano, César Vidal, José Luis Orella, Jesús Larrazabal, José María Marco, Manuel Alvarez Tardío, Alfonso Bullón de Mendoza, José Andrés Gallego, David Gress, Robert Stradling, Richard Robinson, Sergio Fernández Riquelme, Ricardo de la Cierva, etc. There is also one of the most prestigious specialists, the American Stanley Payne, who wrote these particularly accurate and instructive words:
“Pío Moa’s work is innovative. It introduces fresh air into a vital area of contemporary Spanish historiography, which for too long has been locked into narrow, formal, antiquated, stereotyped monographs, subject to political correctness. Those who disagree with Moa must confront his work seriously. They must demonstrate their disagreement through historical research and rigorous analysis, and stop denouncing his work by way of censorship, silence and diatribe, methods that are more characteristic of fascist Italy and the Soviet Union than of democratic Spain.”
There is another important reason for my interest in the publication of the French version of Pío Moa’s bestseller—the defense of freedom of expression; the fight against all forms of censorship and official truth; the resistance to the rise of totalitarian Manicheism. Pío Moa did not hide his sympathy for Gil Robles, leader of the CEDA (Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas) during the Second Republic. A sympathy for the leader of the Spanish liberal conservative party of the 1930s that I do not share; nor do I share Moa’s justification, in my opinion excessive, of the long years of Franco’s dictatorship. It is true that as a Frenchman, I am neither a Francoist nor an anti-Francoist, but a historian of ideas and facts, with a passion for the history of the Hispanic world. But that said, I do not confuse Moa’s research with his political analyses, interpretations and daily commentaries, in which he gives free rein to his combative spirit, his penchant for polemics and his taste for diatribe, inherited, for good or ill, from his past as an insurgent and his solid Marxist training. I agree with him that the Civil War and Franco’s regime are distinct facts that, as such, can be judged and interpreted in very different ways. I also agree with him in denouncing the fundamentally subjective and false reasoning that the Second Republic, which is the founding myth of post-Franco Spanish democracy, was an almost perfect regime in which all of the left-wing parties acted impeccably.
There is a final reason which led me to become directly involved in the publication of Moa’s bestseller. In 2005, Tallandier Editions acquired the rights to Los mitos de la Guerra Civil. The publication of the French version was planned for 2006. A translator was hired, the book and its ISBN number were announced in bookstores. But strangely enough, the release date was postponed; and, finally, the publication was canceled without any explanation. In February 2008, during a program on the French channel Histoire (then directed by Patrick Buisson), dedicated to the Spanish War, in which I participated along with Anne Hidalgo, Éric Zemmour, Bartholomé Bennassar and François Godicheau, I was surprised to learn that another book on the Spanish War had just been published by Tallandier instead. The book was the proceedings of the colloquium, “Passé et actualité de la guerre d’Espagne,”(“Past and present of the Spanish Civil War”), edited by Roger Bourderon, a specialist in the PCF and former editor-in-chief of the Marxist-inspired journal Les Cahiers d’histoire, and preceded by an opening speech by the socialist militant Anne Hidalgo, then first deputy mayor of Paris. It was well after I was made aware of this astonishing experience that I decided to get directly involved in the search for a new publisher. The French-speaking reader would have to wait for fifteen more years to finally have access to this work. We can be sure that the book would not have seen the light of day without the open-mindedness, the independence and the intellectual courage of the management of Éditions l’Artilleur /Toucan.
HD: You yourself are also a specialist of this period. What new contributions does the book make to the historiography of the Spanish Civil War?
AI: It is often said that Moa does not bring anything new, nothing more than what was said before him by authors in favor of the national or “Francoist” camp, such as King Juan Carlos’ first Minister of Culture, Ricardo de la Cierva, or Jesús Larrazabal and Enrique Barco Teruel, or even by anti-Franco authors, such as Gabriel Jackson, Antonio Ramos Oliveira, Claudio Sánchez Albornoz or Gerald Brenan. Perhaps. But none of them ever had the aura of Pío Moa in public opinion. On the other hand, we must distinguish his research work [with his first books, the well-sourced and documented trilogy, Los origins de la Guerra Civil, Los personajes de la República vistos por ellos mismos and El derrumbe de la Republica y la Guerra Civil] from his successful synthesizing effort, which is The Myths of the Spanish War.
But the most innovative element of his work, the one that did not fail to make his opponents cringe, is the disclosure of the archives of the Socialist Party, a party that was totally Bolshevized from the end of 1933, and that was in the main responsible for the 1934 putsch. Many authors had had the same intuition before Moa. The anti-Francoist Salvador de Madariaga had even written: “With the rebellion of 1934, the Spanish left lost even the shadow of moral authority to condemn the rebellion of 1936.” And these harsh words were corroborated by the Founding Fathers of the Republic, Marañon, Ortega y Gasset and Perez de Ayala, and even by the Basque philosopher Unamuno. It was also known that Largo Caballero, the main socialist leader, nicknamed the “Spanish Lenin” by the Socialist Youth (which merged with the Communist Youth in the spring of 1936), had declared: “We do not differ in any way from the Communists… The main thing, the conquest of power, cannot be done through bourgeois democracy… Elections are only a stage in the conquest of power and their result is only accepted with the benefit of an inventory… if the Right wins we will have to go to civil war.” Or again (and note carefully): “When the Popular Front collapses, as it undoubtedly will, the triumph of the proletariat will be indisputable. We will then establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
And now, after the systematic exploration and public disclosure of the archives of the Pablo Iglesias Socialist Foundation by Moa in 1999, there is no room for doubt.
HD: Franco is portrayed as entering the war almost against his will. Isn’t that a bit exaggerated? Do the communists have a monopoly on the historical responsibility for the war?
AI: The three main people responsible for the Spanish war were, in order, the socialist leader Largo Caballero and presidents Azaña and Alcala-Zamora, who would later use terrible words to describe the Popular Front. For a long time, at least until the beginning of July 1936, Franco was the general who rejected the idea of a coup d’état. It seems that the assassination of one of the leaders of the right, Calvo Sotelo, was the determining event in Franco’s final decision to participate. The role of the communists, which later became essential, was relatively marginal on the eve of the uprising. Moa’s thesis about the background and course of the Civil War is broadly correct. The main parties and leaders of the left, supposedly defenders of the Republic, violated republican legality in 1934. They then planned a civil war throughout Spain. They then finished destroying the Republic in the fraudulent elections of February 1936, crushing freedom as soon as they took power. I refer you here to the essential work of Roberto Villa García and Manuel Álvarez, 1936: Fraude y violencia en las elecciones del Frente popular, 2019 [On the Fraud and Violence of the Popular Front in the February 1936 Elections]— without the 50 seats that the right was robbed of in a real parliamentary coup d’état, the left would never have been able to govern alone.
The Civil War was not a battle of the democrats against the fascists, any more than it was a battle of the reds against the defenders of Christianity. There were in fact three unequal forces in the Republican camp, or rather the Popular Front. The first, by far the most important, included the communists, the Trotskyites, the Bolshevik socialists and the anarchists, who aspired to establish a people’s democracy-type regime on the Soviet and/or anarchist collectivist model. The second, the nationalist-separatists (Catalans, Basques, Galicians, etc.). Finally, the third, which was much more of a minority, brought together the parties of the bourgeois-Jacobin or social-democratic left, which voluntarily or involuntarily played into the hands of the first force. It cannot be overemphasized that the French Popular Front was very moderate in comparison with the Spanish Popular Front, a left-wing coalition dominated on the eve of the uprising by an extremist, violent, putschist and revolutionary Bolshevik Socialist Party.
In the other camp, the national and not nationalist camp, as the French media repeated out of ignorance or Pavlovian reflex, there were also several political tendencies ranging from centrist-radicals (a group of whose former ministers were executed by the Popular Front), to republican-democrats, agrarians, liberals and conservatives, to liberal monarchists, monarchist-Carlists/traditionalists, phalangists and nationalists. The conflict was between left-wing “totalitarians” and right-wing “authoritarians,” and the true democrats were conspicuous by their absence on both sides.
HD: The Vox movement tries to defend the positive aspects of Franco’s legacy and Moa’s book sells very well. Is Spain rehabilitating Franco? Is it ready to look at its history with objectivity?
AI: The positive and negative aspects of Franco’s regime are known to historians. Among the errors that can be blamed on the Caudillo and the supporters of Franco’s regime are in particular: the drastic censorship applied until the early 1960s, the harshness of the repression in the immediate post-civil war period (not the 100,000 or even 200,000 executed according to the propaganda of the Comintern, but 14,000 judicially executed and almost 5,000 extrajudicial settlements of accounts or political assassinations), and the Caudillo’s unyielding will to remain in power until the end.
The Vox movement, generally described as populist, although in reality it is a pro-European liberal-conservative party, is in fact the only party that currently attempts to defend the positive aspects of Francoism. These positive aspects include the indisputable economic successes between 1961 and 1975 (the years of the “Spanish miracle,” with a GDP growth that oscillated between 3.5% and 12.8%, which allowed Spain to rise to 9th place among industrialized nations, whereas today it is in 14th place); the fact that Franco and the Francoists defeated communism (which was in the minority at the beginning of the Civil War, compared with the Socialist party that was completely Bolshevized, but became hegemonic during the conflict); that they also allowed Spain (which was neutral at first and then non-belligerent) to escape the Second World War; and, finally, that they stopped separatism and preserved the unity of the country. It was the moderate Francoist right that took the initiative to establish democracy; the left having had the political intelligence to adapt and help consolidate democracy.
There are not 36 ways to get out of a civil war; there is only one: total and unconditional amnesty. The actors of the democratic transition (1975-1986) knew this. That is why the Democratic Cortes (in which la Pasionaria, Santiago Carrillo and Rafael Alberti, to name but a few, sat) passed an amnesty law on October 15, 1977, for all political crimes and terrorist acts of both the right and the left (especially those of ETA and the extreme left).
The vast majority of the political class was motivated by two principles: mutual forgiveness and dialogue between government and opposition. It was not a question of imposing silence on historians and journalists, but of allowing them to debate freely among themselves, while being careful not to use their work for political purposes. Since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Memorial laws (Zapatero’s “Law of Historical Memory” in 2007 and the imminent project of a “Law of Democratic Memory” by Pedro Sánchez’s coalition—PSOE-PSC, Podemos/CatComú, PCE/IU—in 2022), were theoretically adopted to fight against “the apology of Francoism, violence and hatred;” but in reality, being totalitarian in nature, they are practically liberticidal. The Spanish authorities seem to want to seek social peace only through division, agitation, provocation, resentment and hatred. Spain is far from trying to heal its wounds once and for all and to look at its history with honesty, rigor and objectivity. Through the fault of its political caste, singularly mediocre, sectarian and irresponsible, it is reactivating the spirit of civil war and is slowly but inexorably sinking into a global economic, political, cultural, demographic and moral crisis of alarming proportions.
Historians know that in history there are facts, sometimes hidden, often underestimated or overestimated, depending on the authors; and that their analyses and interpretations are no less different, according to the convictions and sensibilities of each. But historians also know that no one can monopolize the word and make terroristic use of the so-called “scientific” argument without being outside the space of serious research and ultimately of democracy. Pío Moa knows and proclaims all of this; and for this reason we cannot recommend too highly the reading of his fine, well-argued, courageous and caustic book.
Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.
Featured: “To arms! Duty allows no excuses.” Poster from 1937.
Dr. Alena Douhan is the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the impact of sanctions on the lives of ordinary people. She holds a PhD and Dr. hab. in International and European law and is a professor of International Law at the Belarusian State University (Belarus), where is also serves as the Director of the Peace Research Center. She is and Associated member of the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict at Ruhr University Bochum. Here is speaks with Thomas Kaiser of the Swiss journal Zeitgeschehen im Fokus, through whose courtesy this interview is here translated.She is the author of numerous books and scholarly articles, includingRegional Mechanisms of Collective Security.
Thomas Kaiser (TK): In the media, we constantly hear about the sanctions against Russia. But we never talk about how the civilian population suffers as a result. How do you assess this current regimen of sanctions?
Alena Douhan (AD): As a professor of international law, I assess it from two sides. There must be a legal analysis, because countries, including the EU, never really even consider the legal basis. You cannot react to the behavior of other countries by illegal means.
TK: You visited Iran a few weeks ago. What kind of impression did you get during your visit?
AD: It was my fourth visit there. Before going to Iran, I visited Venezuela, Qatar, and Zimbabwe. I must say, each country has its own way of dealing with sanctions. Iran is a country that suffers from very serious sanctions. It is not only about the U.S. sanctions, but also about the sanctions of other countries. What is special about Iran’s situation is that it was under UN Security Council sanctions for 10 years until August 2020. These sanctions no longer exist today. But there are states that are still following these Security Council sanctions.
Then there are other sanctions that are not based on the Security Council. They are justified by human rights violations, for example, concerning women’s rights or rights of the LGBTQ community. That makes it complicated for me to assess the impact of these different sanctions. When people ask me how I assess the impact of the European Union sanctions, I can’t answer that on a case-by-case basis, but I look at the impact of sanctions imposed by different countries. At the same time, the humanitarian impact of the sanctions seems to be even greater—through over-implementation.
TK: How have you been able to get a picture of the situation in Iran?
AD: I spoke with all affected groups, governmental and non-governmental, and got the strong impression that the sanctions have a massive impact on people’s lives. I met officials in hospitals, visited hospitals and universities, and business enterprises. I spoke with all 17 U.N. missions in Iran, as well as with embassy officials from both countries that support the sanctions and those that oppose them. I was in various places in Iran such as Isfahan. There, I spoke directly with people affected by the sanctions.
TK: What was your main impression?
AD: What made a lasting impression on me was the impact of the sanctions on the health care system. I spoke with emergency patients, those suffering from genetic diseases, and some who were suffering from cancer. I also spoke with members of patient organizations that cared for people with serious diseases, such as various types of skin diseases, gynecological diseases, as well as blood diseases, severe forms of diabetes, etc. All of these people suffer from these diseases and even the appropriate medicines are not available.
TK: Is the lack of medication a result of the sanctions?
AD: The impact of the sanctions is not always clear. In some cases, it is unclear; in some it is obvious. In the cases where health is at stake, it is very clear. Let me give you an example to illustrate that. For a while, Iran tried to produce its own medicines for people with serious illnesses. It provided them to people who were particularly poor. Iran tried to buy all the components for it. When the sanctions were imposed, Iran largely lost access to the raw materials.
TK: Where do the medicines come from?
AD: The availability of medicines is another issue. After sanctions were imposed in 2010 and re-imposed in 2018, Iran made great efforts to continue production of much-needed medicines. As reports indicated, Iran was producing 90-95% of its own medicines. The problem was that although it would have been possible to produce the drugs in the country, this would require raw materials.
TK: Was it still possible to manufacture drugs?
AD: The procurement of individual components to manufacture the medicines is a special issue. This is because the countries that had previously supplied Iran with the relevant substances refused to do so due to the renewed sanctions. This was the reason why Iran had to look for alternatives, running the risk of obtaining basic substances for the production of medicines that were of inferior quality. They were not certified, and even if Iran could produce drugs with the basic substances it received, they were of inferior quality.
TK: Could all the needed medicines be produced through this route?
AD: Despite all efforts, only 90-95% of the drugs could be produced domestically. The missing 5-10% had to be imported from abroad. But what is happening today is that drug companies are refusing to send medicines to Iran, despite the clarification that it is a humanitarian exception.
Humanitarian exemption doesn’t work for a number of reasons—to activate humanitarian exemption, you have to get a license from OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control). This is very problematic, and costs an extreme amount of money. However, when you get a license, it is only valid for one month.
TK: What does that mean?
AD: I spoke with UN institutions like Unicef and UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund], and they confirmed that it is a big problem, even for individual UN institutions, to get a license from OFAC to guarantee the procurement of drugs.
Even if the license is there, the pharmaceutical companies usually say no. They are afraid that if they trade with Iran, they will then also fall under the sanctions.
TK: Can a company decide to supply the drugs? Is that possible in principle?
AD: If companies are willing to work with Iran, there is a problem—namely, the transfer of money. Even Unicef, which operates in Iran and works with a Swedish pharmaceutical company, cannot guarantee payment from Iran to Sweden. Thus, the payment had to be made in a roundabout way via Germany.
If everything has still worked up to this point, then there is only the problem of delivery. All transport companies in Iran are under sanctions. Anyone who delivers goods to Iran can be penalized by secondary sanctions. Any transportation insurance company is under sanctions against Iran. I have spoken with all these organizations. We have seen the documents that clearly show that they do not want to sell the drugs to Iran.
I have spoken with the Swedish government and to the pharmaceutical companies, because we have clear indications that there is a connection with the sanctions. Because of the lack of medicine, we have an increasing deterioration in the health of the population in Iran. You can see the increasing death rate not only in intensive care patients like diabetics, cancer patients and many others, but also in less dangerous diseases. Deaths have tripled.
TK: Are there any specific examples here of how you see the problem?
AD: I’ll give you an example. For the disease thalassemia, there was an average of 25-30 deaths per year. The average life expectancy for these people is 45 to 50 years, if the medicine they need is available. When sanctions were reinstated in 2018, deaths increased to 130-170 in the last three years, and the average life expectancy is now less than 20 years. There are several organizations that look at the problems and come up with the same numbers.
TK: Are all people affected by what is happening in the healthcare system?
AD: The so-called middle class in Iran is accustomed to using private medical care. They are able to pay more. But that has now changed; it can no longer pay for private services.
TK: What does it mean for Iran to be cut off from international payments?
AD: For example, it is not able to make any payments to international organizations. If it is unable to make the appropriate contributions, it loses its right to participate in international bodies. This excludes Iran from all talks, and the ability to participate in talks and develop solutions to problems. I have spoken with to some U.N. agencies that are assisting Iran in developing solutions to the payment problems, but so far there is no avenue available. Iran also cannot pay its dues to the UN like it does to WHO or Unicef.
TK: What does that mean for intercation at the diplomatic level?
AD: It is very limited. In addition, Iranian embassies in each of the countries that have adopted the sanctions are not able to pay wages to their embassy staff because Iran cannot open accounts. Iran is excluded from Swift, and therefore you can’t pay with a credit card in the country itself.
TK: What does this mean for trade?
AD: All countries that want to maintain international cooperation with Iran, not only on the diplomatic level, are completely restricted. There are also restrictions on freedom of action at the individual level. Because of the exclusion from Swift, no one is able to book a trip to Iran, a hotel, or a flight. They cannot do anything of the sort. Cooperation in the field of science, art and sports is also not possible. There is no possibility of membership in international bodies and therefore no cooperation between professional groups. Iranians cannot participate in any international discussion. Iranian athletes are limited in their ability to participate in international competitions because they cannot book a trip or stay in a hotel room.
TK: Are these sanctions compatible with human rights?
AD: There is clear evidence that some human rights are violated by the sanctions; for example, unrestricted trade or the possibility of scientific exchange in all fields. I have spoken with to many students, and for them it is incomprehensible why they are excluded from international cooperation. It is an absurdity to prohibit scientific cooperation, because that is a basic element for the economic and social development of a country. These are essential elements of economic and cultural rights. Iran is a clear example where these rights are being violated.
TK: What about the right to food?
AD: The situation in Iran is not so bad, because the country can produce a lot of things itself. The situation is much better in Iran than in Venezuela. Iran has an effective economy because it is a rich country.
TK: Have you also been able to talk to citizens?
AD: Yes, I was able to experience how ordinary people are directly affected by the sanctions. One Iranian told me that he and his wife decided to forgo having another child because, due to the inflation in the country, it would be too much of a financial burden. The country has hardly any income coming from outside, because nobody travels to the country. In addition to the limited supply of goods and low income, people suffer from extreme inflation. The state and companies cannot raise wages at the same rate and have to try to cut costs, so people are getting poorer and poorer.
TK: Besides the sanctions, doesn’t Iran have a large number of refugees to take care of?
AD: Yes, Iran has 5.5 million refugees from Afghanistan and since August 2021, 5 to 10 thousand refugees are added daily. All other countries neighboring Afghanistan have closed their borders. You can look it up on the UNHCR web page. There you can find the statistics. An additional problem for Iran is the fact that most of the refugees (90 percent) do not have papers or a valid visa. Before my trip to Iran, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, was in Iran. He was very appreciative of Iran’s efforts.
TK: How is Iran coping with this huge burden?
AD: For example, Iran gives refugees free access to primary health care and schooling, regardless of whether they have papers or not. This is all paid for by the state and is an extreme burden. If five to ten thousand people come into the country every day, that means a new school and a new hospital would have to be built every day. The Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan has confirmed—and this is also my impression—that more than half of the refugees are young people, because as a rule a family has five children. In addition to the shortage of medicines, the increase in patients who can no longer finance private care, and the large number of refugees, the health care system is under enormous strain.
TK: How can Iran finance this?
AD: This is a huge problem. Because of the shortfall in revenues, due to the sanctions, the state can hardly provide any support. Also, the number of social cases that rely on government support money is growing. Almost two months ago, just in when I visited Iran, there were big protests there against the change of the state support system. Basic foodstuffs have very low prices. That has changed now. The state has raised prices. But the very poorest still get financial support so they can afford the goods. Other people who used to get that were left out. The consequences have been protests all over the country.
TK: When you talk to the states that imposed the sanctions and tell them what you saw with your own eyes, what kind of reactions do you get?
AD: One of the most common responses from the states that imposed sanctions is that they didn’t think the situation in the country was that bad. They would not have heard from other sources that the impact was so severe. When I visited Venezuela, I saw how disastrous these sanctions are for the people, because Venezuela has no food production of its own.
I try to be very specific and look at every fact to be able to show specific impacts on health, nutrition, access to water, sanitation, electricity, education, and development. My intention is to remind all states that every human being around the world enjoys basic human rights and all actions can only be taken in accordance with international law.
TK: What sources do you rely on?
AD: To gather information, I talk to various stakeholders during country visits: governments, hospitals, university professors, non-governmental organizations, international and national humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, local associations, embassies, victims of human rights violations. One month before visiting the country, I publicly call for contributions. All information is collected and verified.
Unfortunately, some interlocutors have no intention of sharing information relevant to the work of the mandate, but instead launch smear campaigns and spread false news.
TK: Who is doing such smearing?
AD: UN Watch and other NGOs outside Iran called “Human Rights in Iran” called me a puppet of China or Iran. When I came back from Iran, the slurs were so strong that Michelle Bachelet and the president of the Human Rights Council took up the cause. The fact that I come from Belarus became the reason to question my integrity. I am a professor of international law and have never belonged to any party. I do research in countries according to scientific criteria and have no political agenda. I have informed the Special Procedures Coordinating Committee and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights about what is going on.
TK: Were the attacks related to your report?
AD: No, none of those who attacked me read the report. The goal was to shift the focus away from my findings and onto me and my person. This is something that is done all the time. People politicize the discussion instead of dealing with the specific content. I keep trying to point out that we should be dealing with the legal issues, not politics. It’s about international law and humanitarian issues. If there are any problems, you have to take legal means. It is about using legal means, not about punishing one country for not complying with another.
TK: After all the things you have told, the question I have is whether these sanctions and their devastating consequences on the economy, on politics, and therefore on the civilian population are compatible with human rights.
AD: That is an important question, and I hope I can answer it in brief, as we would have to talk more about the unilateral coercive measures than the political problems. But this area is so highly politicized. This is reflected in the number of sanctions imposed on “bad guys”—but which mainly affect the population.
Toward the end of the 1990s, the Security Council was very active in issuing sanctions, for example, against Sierra Leone or Iraq. In this context, the Security Council decided to examine the sanctions for possible violations of human rights. Security Council sanctions are always legal. But the effects were so catastrophic that they stopped comprehensive sanctions. There were also few sanctions that threatened the public. That hasn’t been seen recently with the sanctions on Iran or Russia. That is the reason why I think you should start to comply with the legal aspects.
TK: It is hardly known that sanctions have a devastating impact on the respective populations. What is the reason for that?
AD: The media hardly reports on it. They suppress the information, but people don’t want to hear it either. It is something very unpleasant. But it is a reality for those affected. Sanctions are the cause of people dying. That is the reason why I am very concerned about the concept of planned prevention of disinformation. The EU has decided to launch a law against “disinformation,” which is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil, Political and Cultural Rights, as well as calling into question the right to freedom of expression. I see this as a great danger to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
TK: Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to pass a law prohibiting sanctions that drive people into poverty?
AD: Yes, there is no mechanism for evaluating unilateral coercive measures. In March of this year, I organized an expert consultation with nongovernmental organizations and another with academics, at which they argued that there should be a monitoring mechanism to control unilateral coercive measures. This would be urgently needed so that binding indicators can be created to verify the impact of sanctions.
Also, there are no avenues of redress against unilateral coercive measures. Iran has referred individual cases to the International Court of Justice, and Venezuela to the International Criminal Court. But it is nearly impossible to refer a case of unilateral coercive measures to a U.N. body. Iran could indeed turn to a national court, such as in the United States. But that is too far away and extremely expensive. I am working on how to set up a mechanism that would allow legal action against unilateral coercive measures within the framework of the UN and help the victims to get their rights.
TK: Professor Douhan, thank you very much for this interview.
Featured: “Khor Sikkeh Mooshhai” (Coin-Eating Mice), by Kazem Chalipa; painted in 1984.
In this recent interview, Jacques Baud speaks with Thomas Kaiser about what is now happening in Ukraine, and the enthusiastic warmongering that still persists in the West. He is in conversation with Thomas Kaiser of Zeitgeschehen im Fokus, whose kindness has made this English version of this interview possible.
Thomas Kaiser (TK): In the past couple of weeks , the narrative in the mainstream media has slightly changed. We hear less and less directly about the war, nothing more about the high losses of the Russians and the military successes of the Ukrainians. What has changed?
Jacques Baud (JB): In reality, nothing has changed. It is a change in perception. It has been known for several weeks that the situation of Ukraine and its armed forces is catastrophic. The human and material losses of the country are very high. Initially, Ukraine and our media downplayed these losses in order to develop a narrative around a Russian defeat and a Ukrainian victory. Today, the reality on the battlefield forces Ukraine to acknowledge these losses. At the same time, Zelensky understood that these losses could be used as an argument to pressure the West for further aid.
TK: On the other hand, what is always an issue is the demanded arms deliveries. Who is supposed to operate the weapons when most of the army is encircled in the Donbas?
JB: First of all, it is important to realize that Western arms deliveries pose several problems. First, even U.S. intelligence agencies do not know if and where the delivered weapons will end up. The head of Interpol warns that some of these weapons could end up in the hands of criminal organizations. Already, Javelin anti-tank missiles are being offered on the Darknet for $30,000. Apparently, these weapons are resold as soon as they arrive in Kiev. Second, weapons are often distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and do not always reach those who need them most in the field. Finally, they often end up in the hands of the Russian coalition.
TK: How can we tell?
JB: Currently, the Donetsk Republic militias are equipped with Javelin missiles, which come from the Ukrainian stocks captured from the Russian army. Remember that Ukrainian helicopters that had come to exfiltrate fighters from Azovstal were shot down with US-supplied Stinger missiles. Furthermore, the weapons supplied by the West make up only a fraction of those destroyed by the Russians. For example, Britain and Germany are each sending three M270 multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine, but at the beginning of the war Ukraine had several hundred equivalent systems. In other words, these weapons will not change anything, but only prolong the conflict and delay the time for negotiations, as Davyd Arakhamia, chief negotiator, and close adviser to Zelensky, explained.
TK: This is actually unbelievable. There was always talk about high Russian losses. Can they be verified, and what are the losses on the Ukrainian side?
JB: In reality, the number of soldiers killed is not known, neither by the Russians nor by the Ukrainians. The numbers mentioned in the Western media are those spread by Ukrainian propaganda. However, in early June, President Zelensky unveiled the death rate of Ukrainian military and spoke of 60 to 100 soldiers killed per day. A week later, Mykhailo Podoliak, Zelensky’s adviser, stated that the Ukrainian armed forces were losing 100 to 200 men a day. Today, Arakhamia speaks of 200 to 500 fatalities per day and a total of 1000 casualties (dead, wounded, captured, deserters) per day. It is unclear whether these figures are correct.
TK: Are there any comments on the basis of which one can get a realistic picture of the numbers?
JB: Experts close to the intelligence community believe that these figures are far below reality. On the other hand, the Ukrainian figures are even higher than the estimates of the Russian military. Some say that Ukrainian forces have 60,000 dead and 50,000 missing. However, these numbers are not verifiable at this time.
TK: Why are the Ukrainians only now reporting such high casualty figures?
JB: It is very likely that the Ukrainians are reporting high numbers in order to press the West to increase its arms deliveries. However, this does not explain everything. The fundamental issue is the way the Ukrainian leadership conducts its operations. Instead of having a dynamic approach to the battlefield and taking advantage by moving troops, Ukraine—and Zelensky in particular—is ordering its troops to “stand and fight.” This is not unlike the situation in France during the First World War. This is the main difference between Ukraine and Russia: in Ukraine, operations are managed by the political leadership, while in Russia, operations are managed by the General Staff. This explains the failing Ukraine’s approach. Even the US military seem to have identified this problem.
TK: In what way?
JB: According to Arakhamia, the attempts to gain ground against the Russian army serve only to ensure a better starting position for negotiations with the Russians later. This is purely political warfare, with no regard for the lives of soldiers. This approach is supported by Western countries and our diplomacy. This is very concerning.
TK: At the beginning of the war, the will of the Ukrainians to resist was emphasized. Does this not exist anymore?
JB: I think the Ukrainian soldiers are doing their job with bravery. They fight from reinforced positions and trenches that they dug back in 2014 surrounding the Donbas. Unfortunately, once confronted to artillery and a mobile enemy, their chances of success are slim . It seems that the Ukrainian general staff wanted to withdraw these men to more favorable fighting positions, but the country’s political leadership refused. In this context, our media and politicians have played a perverse role by perpetuating the illusion of a Ukrainian victory and the promise of large-scale arms deliveries.
TK: In doing so, they led the public, including Ukrainians, by the nose.
JB: Yes. Today it is clear that the Ukrainians and the West lied to each other just to get Russia in trouble. Ukrainians are now constrained to send their ill-equipped and ill-prepared territorial units from the west of the country to the Donbas. This creates discontent, and there have been numerous demonstrations against Zelensky in the west of the country and in Kiev. Because of this, Kiev has had to enact new laws to silence those who disagree with the government. Our diplomacy has clearly actively contributed to the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian military personnel. However, it seems today that it is the Western military that is trying to bring sanity to the way we approach this conflict today.
TK: But are there no resistance movements in the Russian-occupied territories?
JB: Interestingly, there are no movements of popular resistance to the Russian presence. The Western narrative of a heroic popular resistance against Russia is essentially based on the declarations of nationalists in the western part of the country. In fact, the areas occupied by the Russian coalition in the east and south of the country are inhabited by Russian speakers. Ukrainians have never really considered this population as Ukrainian, as evidenced by the Law on Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine, adopted in early July 2021. After having been bombed regularly since 2014 by their own army, such as Donetsk, the Russian-speaking population in the south of the country is not completely opposed to the Russian presence. They even tend see the Russians as liberators.
TK: Based on this, can we already foresee what Russia intends to do further in Ukraine?
JB: The Russians are being very discreet about their intentions as they adjust their goals to the Ukrainians’ willingness to negotiate. As long as the Ukrainians refuse to negotiate, the Russians will continue to advance and gain territory. In March, they were ready to negotiate on the basis of Zelensky’s proposals. However, under pressure from Boris Johnson, Zelensky withdrew his offer. So, the Russians continued to make progress.
TK: What does that mean now?
JB: They will not put back on the negotiating table what the Ukrainians could have salvaged in March. At this stage, it is likely that the Russians will push further towards Odessa to establish a link with Transnistria. It is not unlikely that a “re-creation” of Novorossiya will occur in southern Ukraine. The most important consequence of the Russian actions is that Ukraine will lose its access to the sea.
TK: What has been reported in our media lately is that Russia is responsible for the rising wheat prices and a consequent famine. Do you have any information on this?
JB: The charges against Russia are part of Western narrative to isolate Russia from the rest of the world and for the West to absolve itself of its own mistakes. First of all, the global rise in grain prices is not directly due to the war, but came as a result of measures taken to deal with the CoViD-19, and to the conditions created by Western sanctions by deliberately trying to dramatize the situation. The same phenomenon can be observed in oil prices.
The current rise in grain prices is the result of several factors. First, payment restrictions that lead buyers to fear U.S. sanctions against them. Second, shipments have become too expensive because the oil market has shrunk due to Western sanctions. Third, Western sanctions prevent fertilizers from entering the market; these products are not sanctioned, but there have been restrictions on means of payment that cause buyers to fear them.
TK: However, there is an accusation that Ukraine cannot supply grain because of the Russians. Is that really the case?
JB: No, it is not true, for two main reasons. The first is that our media, of course, do not report that the Black Sea ports were mined by Ukraine because it feared an attack from the Black Sea. As a result of storms, many of these mines have broken loose and are moving freely. They became a danger to maritime navigation. The Turkish Navy had to defuse several of them that had reached the Bosporus.
The second reason is that Russia does not block Ukrainian ports. On the contrary, it allows ship convoys to supply Ukrainian ports; it even guarantees maritime corridors whose coordinates are broadcast at regular intervals over international maritime radio frequencies. The problem is that these corridors are not used because of the Ukrainian mines. Incidentally, Davyd Arakhamia has made it clear that Ukraine has no intention of removing its mines from the Black Sea. It has become a bit fashionable to blame Putin for Western decisions that are not thoroughly thought out and not embedded in a coherent strategy.
TK: Has this actually created a shortage in the market? Or is this an artificial process to drive prices up?
JB: I am not a specialist of grain trade. But for one thing, Ukraine failed to sell its 2021 grain crop before the Russian offensive, and for another, Russia seems to be expecting an exceptional crop in 2022. Consequently, it does not look like there is a grain shortage. The problem is that the grain cannot reach the market. This is mainly due to the Western sanctions against Russia and Belarus. Of course, this situation has aroused the interest of speculators, but I am not in a position to assess this aspect.
TK: Poland has repeatedly shown itself to be quite concerned that a Russian attack on its territory will take place soon. How realistic is this scenario?
JB: Poland has repeatedly poured oil on the fire in this conflict. It dreams of realizing its old Intermarium project, which Marshal Pilsudski had wanted in the 1930s and which would unite the countries between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. This is reminiscent from the nostalgy of the 17th century Kingdom of Poland. Poland dreams of an open conflict with Russia because it believes—like Ukraine—that with the help of NATO, it could deliver the final blow to defeat Russia once and for all, in order to make this old dream come true. This shows, by the way, that Poland’s interest in Europe is only superficial.
TK: Why don’t the European countries notice what a dirty game is being played here?
JB: The goal of the Western countries (which of course includes Switzerland) is to destabilize the Russian government in one way or another. For these countries, the end justifies the means. Therefore, we have no compunction about attacking the Russian population (including in our countries) and sacrificing the Ukrainian population. As Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico, said about NATO’s policy toward Ukraine, “We supply the weapons, you supply the corpses! This is immoral.”
TK: Mr. Baud, thank you very much for this interview.
Featured: “Dawn,” by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson; painted in 1914.
Jacques Baud continues his analysis of the crisis in the Ukraine, this time focusing on the failures that are now facing the West in its confrontation with Russia. The only real winner in the West seems to be a revitalized NATO. Thomas Kaiser of Zeitgeschehen im Fokus leads the discussion.
Thomas Kaiser (TK): The May 19th New York Times editorial questioned the point of U.S. war strategy in Ukraine and questioned further involvement. How should this be understood?
Jacques Baud (JB): In the English-speaking world, the U.S. and European Union strategy is increasingly being questioned by military and intelligence officials. This trend is reinforced by U.S. domestic politics. Republicans and Democrats have a very similar view of Russia. The difference, however, lies in the effectiveness of the investments in support of Ukraine. Both share the goal of “regime change” in Russia; but Republicans have noted that the billions spent tend to backfire against the Western economy. In other words, they seem unable to achieve their intended goal while our economies and influence weaken.
TK: So, the Republicans don’t really have a different position from the Democrats?
JB: In Europe, we tend to think of the Republicans and the Democrats as the political “right” and “left.” That’s not quite true. First of all, we have to remember that historically, until the beginning of the 20th century, the Republicans were “on the left” and the Democrats “on the right”. Today, they differ not so much in their vision of the United States in the world as in how they want to achieve that vision. That’s why you have Democrats who are more to the right than some Republicans and Republicans who are more to the left than some Democrats.
TK: What does this mean for the Ukraine crisis?
JB: The Ukraine crisis has been managed by a small minority of Democrats who hate Russia. They seem more interested in weakening Russia than strengthening the United States. Republicans see that not only this strategy against Russia does not work, but it leads to a loss of credibility of the United States. The upcoming midterm elections and the growing unpopularity of Joe Biden are fueling criticism of U.S. strategy in Ukraine.
TK: Is this “rethinking” taking place only in the English-language media?
JB: In Europe, and in the French-language media in French-speaking Switzerland, France and Belgium, the rhetoric faithfully follows what the Ukrainian propaganda says. We are shown a fictitious reality that announces victory against Russia. The result is that we are not able to help Ukraine overcome its real problems.
TK: Do people in the EU really see it that way?
JB: Yes, there is a general anti-Russian mood there. People are more Catholic than the Pope. That was also the case with the oil embargo. The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, advised the EU against an oil embargo. But the EU wanted to do it anyway, leading to skyrocketing oil prices. So, it is obvious that there is a certain dynamic in the EU related to the generation of the current political leadership. European leaders are very young, have no real experience, but are ideologically fixed. That is the reason why European leadership tends not to have a mature assessment of the situation.
TK: What are the consequences of this?
JB: In Europe, our understanding of the problem lags behind that of the USA. We are not able to discuss the situation calmly. In the French-language media, it is impossible to take an alternative view of the problems without being called “Putin’s agent.” This is not only an intellectual issue, but first and foremost a problem for Ukraine. By confirming the view proposed by Ukrainian propaganda, our media have pushed Ukraine towards a strategy that costs a huge number of lives and leads to the destruction of the country. Our media believes that this strategy is effective to weaken Vladimir Putin and that Ukrainians should continue on this path. However, the Americans seem to start realizing that this is a dead end, as Joe Biden stated that military aid to Ukraine is only to strengthen Ukraine’s negotiating position.
TK: What is the view in the U.S.?
JB: In the United States, a distinction must be made between the government and the mainstream media on the one hand, and the military and intelligence professionals on the other. Among the latter, there is a growing sense that Ukraine will suffer more from Western strategy than from a war with Russia. This sounds like a paradox , but more and more intelligence people seem to recognize that. In French-speaking Switzerland—in my experience—people do not understand that. They follow the rhetoric of the American government. This is an intellectually limited, extremely primitive, extremely dogmatic and ultimately extremely brutal view towards the Ukrainians. It is, again, a view that is more Catholic than the Pope, because even the US military seems to understand that this approach will lead to failure.
TK: What does this mean in practical terms?
JB: Let us consider the situation in Mariupol. Our media seem to deplore that the fighters of the Azov Movement surrendered. They feel sorry for them. They would have preferred that they all died. This is extremely inhumane. But now it appears their fighting had no longer any impact on the situation. If you read the Swiss French media, they should have fought to the death, to the last man. These media would have done a “wonderful job” during the defense of Berlin in April 1945! By an irony of history, the two situations are very similar. The situation in Berlin at that time was completely hopeless, and among the last fighters of the Third Reich—the last defenders of the Führer—were French volunteers of the “Charlemagne” division!
TK: What does the use of such volunteers mean?
JB: It is something quite remarkable, actually, because foreign volunteers go to combat not out of patriotic duty, but because of conviction, because of dogmatism—and this is exactly the same mentality as some of our media. A soldier who defends his country does not do so out of hatred for the enemy, but out of a sense of duty and respect for his community and his country. A volunteer who becomes politically involved, like the volunteers of the SS division “Charlemagne” in their time, follows a kind of vocation to fight. It is a different intellectual mechanism. The same thing can be observed in Ukraine. These volunteers of the Azov Movement, called “republicans” by some Swiss politicians, threatened to kill Zelensky for accepting the surrender of Mariupol. These volunteers are not fighting for Ukraine, but against Russia. This is the same mindset as that of the journalists in French-speaking Switzerland. They are just as vehemently against Putin as these volunteer fighters.
TK: What is the worldview behind this?
JB: Of course, this event [Mariupol’s surrender] upsets the narrative that Ukraine is defending itself heroically and that its determination is bringing about Russia’s defeat. Little David (Ukraine) defends itself against Goliath (Russia) and succeeds. However, the reality is quite different. More and more soldiers of the Ukrainian regular army say that they do not want to fight anymore. They feel abandoned by their leadership. Moreover, the Russians have a reputation for treating their prisoners well. Those who still are eager to fight for Ukraine are the paramilitary volunteers. The myth of a victorious resistance was created; but today the Ukrainian military feels betrayed. That Ukraine is losing this war is, paradoxically, perhaps due in large part to the narrative spread by our media.
TK: The fact that reality is being misunderstood can also be seen in the case of NATO. Those responsible are only too happy to declare that NATO keeps the peace and guarantees freedom and security in Europe.
JB: These statements must be put into perspective. First of all, NATO is not a peace organization. NATO is fundamentally a nuclear-power organization, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. That is the purpose of NATO—to put allies under the nuclear umbrella. NATO was founded in 1949, when there were only two nuclear powers—the U.S. and the USSR. At that time, an organization like NATO was justified. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, there were people who wanted war. That was the case under Stalin, but also in the United States.
TK: Some Western political leaders wanted to keep the war going?
JB: Yes, that was the reason why Winston Churchill did not want to disarm part of the German Wehrmacht that had surrendered. A war against the Soviet Union was expected. The idea of a nuclear umbrella can be justified under these circumstances. But with the end of the Cold War, when the Warsaw Pact dissolved, this justification faded.
TK: Can a military organization be completely eliminated?
JB: It is certainly necessary to have a collective security organization in Europe. There is no question that certain arrangements should be made for a common defense. This idea is relatively well accepted. The problem lies more in the form of this organization and in the way the defense should be conceived.
TK: What should have happened with Russia?
JB: Since the early 1990s, the Russians had a conception of security in Europe that was inspired by the OSCE: security through cooperation, not confrontation. That’s why the Russians were interested in joining NATO at that time. But the very concept of NATO, with a dominant power tied to the very nature of the organization itself, cannot integrate the Russian perspective. If you look at the current challenges in the world, the Russian vision can be seen as much more realistic than the Western vision.
TK: Why do you judge it that way?
JB: Humanity is facing multiple complex challenges. We forget that in 1967, NATO published the Harmel Report in which it reflected on its own future. This is now more than 50 years ago. This report was exemplary and extremely modern. In it, NATO outlined all the current and future challenges and laid down certain guidelines for the organization’s development. It was forward-looking; and I see it as a model for what NATO could look like. In this report, the security concept was rethought. That is, you find there environmental and social problems that were integrated into the security concept. When I look at the problems we face worldwide, and also in Europe, in particular, the Harmel Report offers a lot of food for thought and ideas.
TK: What happened to this report, or its ideas?
JB: The Gulf War and then the Balkan War put us back into conventional thinking. Thus, NATO missed the chance to think in a new direction. Tanks, artillery, aircraft, etc. still define NATO’s model of thinking. Not only was this model unsuitable for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but NATO did not really learn the right lessons from those wars. So, we have increased suffering and misery, without containing terrorism. This is a complete failure at the operational, strategic, intellectual, and human levels.
TK: What do you see as the cause of this obvious failure?
JB: The very concept of war was not adapted to the realities. NATO is a regional security and defense organization. It was designed in 1949 for a war in Europe with nuclear weapons, tanks, artillery, etc. In Afghanistan, however, there were no nuclear weapons, tanks, or fighter-bombers. That was a very different kind of war. But NATO did not identify the problem.
TK: Why did NATO not grasp the situation correctly?
JB: To make it simple, let’s say that a war in Europe is a technical challenge. A war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is a societal challenge. NATO has not understood this essential difference. I mentioned the war in Afghanistan because NATO was engaged there as an organization. In Iraq, it is better to talk about “NATO countries.” But the fact remains that they did not understand that they were waging totally different types of war. Western armies are not prepared for it and have a dogmatic understanding of war.
TK: What does this mean for NATO?
JB: The alliance has remained at the 1949 level, of course with more modern weapons; but the logic has remained the same. We see this also in the Ukraine crisis. NATO is certainly not involved in the fighting, but it is providing support through training, advice and reconnaissance. Ukraine’s weaknesses are therefore NATO’s weaknesses: they wage a war at tactical level, while the Russians are fighting at operational level. Ukraine was in the same operational conundrum in 2014. The Ukrainian army was poorly advised. Since then, NATO has trained more and more Ukrainian instructors who are making the same mistakes today as they did eight years ago. We see that NATO’s conception of war is inadequate and does not follow developments in world’s societies. War is thought of as it was in the First World War. It is seen as a balance of power.
TK: What should happen here?
JB: I think that NATO should dissolve itself to be reborn in a different form. I think we need a collective security organization in Europe that is independent of the United States. But it needs to be tailored to modern security challenges and be able to deal with them cooperatively.
TK: I would like to come back to the OSCE. You said that Russia favors this model. Wouldn’t that be an alternative to NATO?
JB: Yes, of course. By the way, this was a proposal of the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. He was inspired by an idea of former French President Charles de Gaulle—a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Gorbachev called it “the common European house.” Even today, it is a truism—the best way to avoid war is to have good relations with your neighbors. It sounds banal, but it is so.
TK: Why don’t states manage to do that?
JB: There are several reasons. The first is the U.S. “obsession” since the 1970s with preventing closer cooperation between Europe and Russia. The Russian idea of a “common European house” would be a rapprochement between Russia and Europe that the U.S. does not want. This has focused particularly on Germany. Germany is the largest economic power in Europe, has historically been a strong military power, and has had a special relationship with the Soviet Union. The U.S. has always been afraid of having a large Europe as a competitor.
The second reason is that the former Eastern bloc countries that are now part of the EU and NATO have no intention of getting closer to Russia. Their reasons are historical, cultural and political. But they are also a culture of intransigence that has been observed since the 1920s and continues to be seen in their domestic policies.
TK: In what respect?
JB: For example, in the supply of gas from Siberia. The U.S. arguments against “Nord Stream 2” are not new. Germany has been receiving gas from Siberia since the 1960s and 1970s. Even then, the U.S. feared that closer cooperation between the FRG and the USSR would have an impact on Germany’s determination to remain in NATO. Therefore, they did everything they could to sabotage the gas pipelines.
TK: Yes, I can still remember that. There were articles in Der Spiegel and other German newspapers reporting cruel working conditions for workers in Siberia, etc. It was the prevailing mood like we find again today.
JB: In 1982 Ronald Reagan signed a Presidential Executive Order authorizing the CIA to sabotage the “Brotherhood” gas pipeline between Urengoy (Siberia) and Uzhhorod (Ukraine). The pipeline was sabotaged but quickly repaired by the Soviets. Yes, that was the same rhetoric as today. It is tragic, but we are still in the same intellectual dynamic.
TK: This shows that tangible U.S. interests are at stake here, and this will influence the whole development in Europe.
JB: Yes, the idea of a common European house, as formulated by Gorbachev and favored by the Russians, is inconceivable to the United States. For this reason, Russia has always had a certain respect for the OSCE. After the end of the Cold War, this model could have been expanded to build security through cooperation rather than confrontation. This could have been a viable model. But NATO lacked the intellectual flexibility to rethink itself. NATO remained incapable of formulating genuine strategic thinking. NATO’s output is intellectually extremely weak.
TK: So, would Switzerland’s rapprochement with NATO definitely be a step backwards into the Cold War?
JB: No, not really, since we were never in NATO. Besides, a 2017 US Army study found that the USSR did not attack Europe because it never intended to. So, our security does not depend on NATO, but on our ability to have good relations with our neighbors. In fact, I believe that NATO membership would put our security at risk. That applies equally to Finland and Sweden.
TK: Can you explain that in more detail?
JB: There are two reasons. First, as a member, Switzerland could be involved in operations that are not necessarily related to its own national interests. In the fight against terrorism, for example, NATO does not have the doctrinal capacity to address this issue effectively. If we were to engage alongside NATO, we would only attract terrorism to ourselves. That’s what happened with Germany, for example. Besides, it is not very satisfying intellectually to be involved in defeats. Secondly, our neutrality; and I am talking here about Swiss neutrality, which, unlike other countries, like Belgium, has been confirmed and internationally recognized by the major European powers. This recognition has successfully protected us over the last two centuries.
TK: Even from attacks by Nazi Germany?
JB: The Third Reich had planned at least three operations against Switzerland, but Germany never had the opportunity to implement them. That said, we have to remember that this planning was done because Switzerland had not behaved according to its neutrality policy.
TK: In what respect?
JB: One must not forget that the headquarters of the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] in Europe, under the direction of Alan Dulles, had been in Bern since 1942.
The OSS was the predecessor organization of the CIA. Swiss intelligence worked with the OSS and the British services to support resistance networks against the Nazis in Germany, in France and northern Italy. In addition, members of the 2nd Polish Infantry Division interned in Switzerland were clandestinely trained with the help of the Swiss Army to fight with the Resistance in France. Obviously, the neutrality policy was only a façade.
TK: What were the consequences?
JB: I certainly don’t want to criticize Switzerland’s involvement, especially because part of my family fought in the French Resistance. On the other hand, if we take a step back, we must acknowledge that Switzerland was not entirely neutral. And this had its price, because the Nazis knew about these activities. For this reason, Switzerland had to make concessions to the German Reich. The reasons for these concessions were never really explained to the Swiss people, but in 1995-1999 they were widely criticized in Switzerland.
TK: What conclusions can we draw from this?
JB: If neutrality is applied consistently, it also has a protective function. On the other hand, the protection that NATO would offer Switzerland is very limited. If an enemy were to reach the Swiss border in the event of a conventional conflict, this would mean that NATO already had an existential problem. In such a situation, Swiss neutrality would de facto fall. In case of a nuclear conflict, the USA would never bomb Moscow in order to liberate Bern. Anyone who believes this is a fantasist.
TK: What about the new applicant countries?
JB: The same applies to Helsinki and Stockholm. Anyone who believes that the USA would put Los Angeles, New York or Washington in danger is absolutely not of this world. The U.S. would attack Russia with nuclear weapons only in an extreme situation. In fact, the U.S. would do anything to keep a possible nuclear exchange on European soil. So, membership in NATO only has the effect of increasing the likelihood of being hit directly by tactical-operational nuclear weapons. The idea of improving Swiss national security through a rapprochement with NATO is one of incredible naiveté.
TK: The military chief strategist of the Swiss Department of Defense, Pälvi Pulli, openly pleads for closer ties to NATO. All this stems from the mood that has been created in recent years and months that Putin is pursuing an imperialist policy and wants to expand the country further and, in the end, even attack Switzerland. Surely this is nonsense?
JB: I know Mrs. Pälvi Pulli. She is an intelligent person. But she is making the mistake that people in the West make and that results from the disinformation spread by our media. We depart from the idea that Russia wants to conquer Europe and that Vladimir Putin is an irrational person. This is wrong. We know from Ukrainian and Western sources that the Russian decision had its origin in the planned Ukrainian offensive against the Donbas. So, Vladimir Putin’s decision was perfectly rational, even if one can argue whether it was the best one. It is also clear that the Russians have tried to resolve all this diplomatically. This includes other sets of issues, such as nuclear weapons in Ukraine, joining NATO, etc.
Clearly, the West has not even tried to implement the Minsk agreements, or to solve the other problems politically. Russia perceives these problems as existential. It was ready to negotiate. Since the beginning of the Russian offensive, Zelensky was also ready to negotiate. He was prevented from doing so by the U.S. and the U.K., as well as by the far-right elements of the Ukrainian security apparatus, which is very strongly supported by our media. I don’t think NATO is playing a stabilizing role in this crisis. On the contrary.
TK: Mr. Baud, thank you for the interview.
We are grateful to Zeitgeschehen im Fokus for their gracious cooperation in making the English-version of this interview. [Translated from the German by N. Dass.]