Peace through Negotiations: A Conversation with Andrej Hunko

Andrej Hunko is Member of the German Bundestag for Aachen and belongs to The Left party. Here he sits down with Thomas Kaiser of the journal Zeitgeschehen im Focus and discusses the dire consequences for Germany in its participation in the redux of the Great Game.

Thomas Kaiser (TK): The energy issue is a topic of discussion particularly in Germany. What kind of scenario can be expected?

Andrej Hunko (AH): The German government, together with the EU, has initiated extensive economic sanctions against Russia. The completed gas pipeline Nord-Stream 2 was stopped and it was announced that no more oil or gas would be imported from Russia. Since then, oil and gas prices have exploded. Russia now sells more oil to India or China and profits from the high prices. In India, gasoline and diesel are refined from the oil and sold to Europe. So, the balance sheet so far from these economic sanctions, some talk about economic war, is devastating.

TK: Wasn’t the goal of the sanctions to get Putin to give in, or to put Russia under pressure so that the war would end?

AH: Yes, the sanctions were intended to lead to an end of the war. It has been apparent for some time that this goal has not been achieved. The war continues. That the sanctions would ruin Russia, as Annalena Baerbock grandiloquently proclaimed, is illusory—but that they will ruin Germany is increasingly realistic.

TK: Why is the population in Germany more and more now convinced of a horror scenario come winter?

AH: It is about the gas pipeline Nord-Stream 1. Siemens has repaired a turbine in a plant in Canada. Canada refused to return the turbine to Russia because of the sanctions against Russia there. Gazprom used this incident as an opportunity to reduce the throughput of gas to 40% a few weeks ago. This has caused alarm in Germany in particular.

Andrej Hunko, as Head of PACE Delegation (2018).

TK: How does Gazprom explain this?

AH: They say there are technical problems because the turbine is missing. But that could also be a kind of protest that is politically motivated. It might already be technically possible. On July 11, the annual maintenance work on Nord-Stream 1 began, for which the gas pipeline is set to zero.

TK: This maintenance work is on-going?

AH: Yes, this work needs to be done annually, and it usually takes 10 days. There is now panic in Germany that the pipeline may not be put back into operation after these 10 days, or that the maintenance work may be protracted. All this is for political reasons. As I said, we are in an economic war.

TK: So, if Canada refuses to deliver the turbine, there are strong repercussions?

AH: Yes, the Canadian government has released the turbine actually, but Ukrainian associations, which have a very strong lobby in Canada and where the Ukrainian World Congress is based, are appealing against this. Probably, the scandal website “Mirotworez” is also based in Canada.

TK: What kind of website is that?

AH: This is a kind of a hit-list, where the “enemies of Ukraine” are listed with their names and addresses, and almost blatantly the people listed there are ordered shot.

TK: Who is on this list?

AH: Many journalists and politicians who are enemies of Ukraine from the point of view of the website’s creators. Among them Gerhard Schröder, Sahra Wagenknecht, Gregor Gysi and also my name is on it—under the heading “Purgatory.” I have often made inquiries to the federal government about this. The federal government said that the web page was unacceptable and protested strongly against it. But it also said that there was no recourse because it was not known where the server was located. Moreover, it is a private website that is not under the influence of the Ukrainian government.

TK: Is that really true?

AH: The fact is that the Ukrainian government relies on this website. In an inquiry I made three years ago, the representative of the federal government said that the server was located in Canada. But the transcript of the oral answer no longer contains this passage. It seems to be an open secret. The Ukrainian World Congress is also located in Canada. In fact, there is a lot to be said about Canada.

TK: It is quite astonishing how massive Ukraine’s influence is on all this.

AH; In addition, the Canadian government has said that the end of Nord Stream 1 would drag the German economy into the abyss. It would lead to having too little heating fuel in the winter and people would have to freeze. Yet Ukraine is demanding that the turbine not be delivered. That is reverse solidarity.

TK: How do the German authorities react to this?

AH: At the beginning of July, I had a conversation with the State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection, Dr. Patrick Graichen, who is responsible for this. He told me that Nord-Stream 1, which is now operating at 40% capacity, will be zeroed out and will be put back into operation on July 21 after maintenance work. No one knows if that will actually take place. When I asked if there were still any contacts at the working level, not at the high political level, with Russia, the answer was no. There are no more channels of communication with Russia.

TK: What happens if there are technical problems?

AH: The communication is only done through the companies. They do it through Uniper, the company that imports the gas, which is facing bankruptcy at the moment and begging for state money; and on the Russian side, Gazprom. These two companies have communications contacts; but on the political level, which should be some kind of control, there is no communication at all anymore. That is inexcusable. In my estimation, we have fewer channels of communication than we had during the Cold War. And there doesn’t seem to be any need to restore them, to better assess the situation. The motto is “ruin Russia,” which can become a boomerang for Germany. Minister Habeck has spoken of a “nightmare scenario” that we could face.

TK: Is this not self-inflicted?

AH: Yes, we seem to be walking into this catastrophe, into this nightmare scenario, with grandiose tones like “We’re ruining Russia,” or “We’re cutting the energy links,” even though we would be much more affected than the Russians, who sell their energy to countries like India or China. The gas storage facilities in Germany are less full than normal, only a good 60%; and if the pipeline doesn’t come back on line, there will be a real problem in the winter. People are already starting to prepare us for this scenario.

TK: How?

AH: For example, in our deputies’ offices there are sinks to wash up. To save energy, the hot water is now turned off, and room temperatures are lowered. Don’t take this as complaining, I have no reason and am privileged by my job as a member of parliament. But if they are already doing this in the Bundestag, what does it mean for the population?

TK: Hard to believe that you actually have to “freeze” for a failed policy in regards to Ukraine, and not only since the war.

AH: The large real estate company Vonovia, which manages 500,000 apartments and heats 50% of them with gas, wants to lower its apartments to 17 degrees at night, instead of the usual 20. This is done by a default setting that cannot be changed. This is called “freezing for the geopolitical course of the federal government.” Very many will also not be able to pay their bill. Even if this is somewhat curbed on the political side, in the long run this will have an impact on the population. This will be a major social problem.

TK: We have now looked at the effects on individuals. What does that mean for the economy?

AH: There is a risk that industrial nuclear plants in Germany, for example in the chemical industry, may be outsourced because of the high energy prices. Perhaps the plans have existed for some time, and people are now taking this as an opportunity. What is at stake here is the existence of Germany as a business center, which has never come under such pressure in recent decades. Economic institutes are predicting a recession of up to 12% if Nord Stream 1 is no longer put on stream. That would be the deepest economic slump in post-war history. This really is in total contradiction to the blabbermouth statements of Baerbock and Habeck.

TK: Are there any alternatives?

AH: The German government is looking for alternatives, but there aren’t really any. Negotiations have been held with Norway, which can supply a little more gas beginning 2024, but this is nowhere near enough. Qatar can supply a bit more beginning 2026. More fracked gas will be coming from the USA. Billions are being invested to build terminals so that ships can be unloaded with liquefied gas. This will take time and offers no real alternative, because this gas is firstly much more expensive to transport, and secondly much worse in terms of its ecological balance. Even under our Green government, lignite-fired power plants are being ramped up again.

TK: What happened to climate protection?

AH: We’ve always been told, and it’s probably true, that climate change must be fought by all means. The point is to achieve the Paris targets. Of course, I’m now wondering why this no longer plays any role at all when it comes to geopolitics. There suddenly seems to be a higher priority than climate change. So, the fight against Russia is more important than climate change. That’s staggering and harbors incredible social fallout. It also has to be said that the sanctions policy, as expected, has been a complete failure. They were designed to weaken Russia. Russia has not been weakened by them. They were imposed to stop the war. That has failed. The only thing that can stop the war is negotiations. They don’t want that. They want to fight a long war of attrition and accept that their own economic base will be jeopardized.

TK: It’s hard to believe, actually. Switzerland is also talking about possible shortages. Switzerland does not have its own underground gas storage facilities, but has an agreement with France.

AH: You have to keep in mind that Nord-Stream 2 is ready and could deliver enough energy immediately. But talking about it is an absolute taboo. Anyone who does it nevertheless gets the label, “Putin’s lackey” hurled at them. And that’s despite the fact that it’s primarily in Germany’s interest, not Russia’s. The Russians can simply deliver to India and China. There is also a kind of hubris going on here, because people believe that their own bubble of NATO states is the “international community.” But the international community is much larger, and the balance of power is shifting, rather to the detriment of the NATO states. You saw it at the G20 summit. Indonesia was asked to disinvite Lavrov—in vain. We should rethink our own foreign policy and not act as if we are the center of the world and can sanction the whole world if something doesn’t suit us. The discourse is no longer conducted rationally, but is characterized by moralizing emotionalism. This is similar to Covid. There we had similar mechanisms at play.

TK: The conflict in Ukraine is crying out for a diplomatic solution and urgently needs to be brought to an end. It can’t go on like this for weeks, and people are dying. How can we get the dialogue between the parties in conflict going again?

AH: One format for this would be the OSCE. The OSCE is well-suited for this because of its structure, with its 57 member states, including Russia. There are different levels, a ministerial level and a parliamentary level. The annual meeting at the parliamentary level was held in Birmingham from July 2 to 6. However, the British government refused visas to the Belarusian and Russian deputies, thus preventing direct dialogue between the parties in conflict.

TK: On what grounds?

AH: The MPs support the war. But specifically, there has been no vote on the war in either the Duma or the Belarusian parliament. Moreover, Belarus is not a direct party to the war, but only indirectly involved. In the Russian Duma, there was a vote on the recognition of Donetsk and Lugansk, but not on the war that is now taking place. There were even some deputies who said publicly that they would have voted for the recognition of Lugansk and Donetsk so that the attacks there would stop, but they would not have voted for the attack on Kiev. So, there was definitely opposition from the ranks of the deputies, but it has quieted down recently. Of course, the pressure in Russia is also great.

TK: Isn’t that a violation of the OSCE statutes?

AH: Yes, the statutes clearly state that deputies must be able to travel to the meetings. But it seemed that none of those present was very bothered by it. Maybe one or the other didn’t agree with it, but nobody dared to say anything. When people talked privately, there was criticism that they couldn’t talk to the Russian deputies, because that’s exactly what a forum like this is for. But in the official debates I didn’t perceive any resistance to it.

TK: You had made a request, in fact.

AH: Yes, I had asked the British deputy John Whittingdale about it, who communicated the exclusion and gave the opening speech in which he claimed that the Russian deputies in the Duma had voted for the war, although this vote never took place. In his response, he told me that the Russian and Belarusian deputies had forfeited their statuary right by supporting their government. This, of course, raises the question of who has the right to define that.

TK: What was the mood at the conference?

AH: The whole session was very much dominated by the largest delegation, that of the USA, which came up with sharp accusations against the Russian side, but without proposing any solutions. They excelled in condemning the war with even harsher words. Those who considered how to get back into negotiations with Russia were clearly in the minority and on the defensive. That was very clear.

TK: There actually were such voices?

AH: Yes, but more on the sidelines. I was on the list of speakers and I was pushed so far to the back that I didn’t get a chance to speak. These comments were heard mainly in bilateral discussions. At such meetings, of course, one has many discussions. There was an amendment to one resolution, for example, that was supposed to explicitly exclude the nuclear right of first strike. And this was adopted by a majority of only one vote, against the votes of most of the U.S. delegates. If one of the deputies who voted against the option of nuclear first strike had voted differently, according to this OSCE resolution, nuclear first strike would even be legitimate.

TK: Even if this has now ended positively in that sense, it is quite frightening how the logic of deterrence has taken over.

AH: The concept of collective security, which was developed in the OSCE, is fundamentally different from the concept of military deterrence. Collective security assumes that security is guaranteed when my counterpart feels as secure as I do. At the Birmingham meeting, the concept of “security through deterrence” clearly prevailed, which is also the basis of NATO.

Another amendment was also important. This demanded that, in the event of a violation of the territorial integrity of a state, the accreditation of the delegates of the violating state could be withdrawn, as is possible in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. So far, this does not exist in the OSCE. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly does not yet have an exclusion procedure.

TK: Has the motion met with approval?

AH: This amendment has been adopted, but its concrete formulation still has to be made legally binding and adopted in the “Standing Committee” in Sofia in October. For this to happen, unanimity minus one vote is required. At most, one delegation may vote against for the motion to be adopted. But that seems rather unlikely.

TK: What fuels your optimism?

AH: I have talked to some delegations that do not want this possibility of exclusion. Another question remains, of course—what will happen in Sofia in October? When the “Standing Committee” meets there, it will not be a large-scale event like Birmingham. It is not clear whether Bulgaria will grant visas to the Russian and Belarusian delegates. Things will get really interesting in December. There, the OSCE Ministerial Meeting will take place in Lodz, as Poland is chairing the OSCE Ministerial Council this year. There the question will arise whether Lavrov will be allowed to attend and whether he even wants to. If visas are still denied there, what can you achieve in the OSCE when the other side is not at the table? You can issue resolutions three times as strong as the Birmingham one condemning Russian actions, but that takes away the function of promoting dialogue and seeking diplomatic solutions.

TK: Wasn’t that also a problem in the Council of Europe, that the Russians were no longer allowed after 2014?

AH: The Council of Europe and the OSCE function differently. At the Council of Europe, the focus is on legally binding international conventions, such as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) with its Court in Strasbourg (ECtHR). The OSCE does not have this legally binding character. For this reason, there are also fewer possibilities for sanctions there, for example by excluding a national delegation of deputies.

The far-reaching sanctioning of Russian deputies in the Council of Europe in 2014, for example by depriving them of their voting rights, led to the absurd situation that the governments of the Council of Europe continued to meet, but not the deputies. In the meantime, however, Russia has completely withdrawn from the Council of Europe, thus forestalling exclusion.

Now the possibility of exclusion for delegations of deputies is also to be created in the last remaining dialogue format, the OSCE. I think it is completely wrong to introduce this at the parliamentary level in particular.

TK: Could you explain that in more detail?

AH: At the parliamentary level, people still have different opinions. According to the motion in Birmingham, it can come to the point where Russian and Belarusian deputies could have their privileges revoked. At the ministerial level, people are always a bit more reluctant to take such measures. But it may be that credentials will be revoked here as well. The OSCE ambassadors meet every Thursday in Vienna. That is at the government level. As far as I know, these meetings still exist.

TK: In summary, can we say that the OSCE has actually missed the opportunity to start the dialogue and has added fuel to the fire with its behavior?

AH: At present, the OSCE is being pushed further and further to the sidelines. The OSCE is actually designed to create the conditions for talks and negotiations. It missed precisely this opportunity by excluding the Russian and Belarusian delegations in Birmingham.

TK: Mr. Hunko, thank you for this interview.

This interview appears through the kind courtesy of Zeitgeschehen im Focus.

Featured: “Allegory of Peace,” by Leopold Leopoldovich Survage; painted ca. early 20th century.