Mistakes and Shame

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

On May 9th, we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the victory against Nazi Germany. History will remember this date as one on which what we call “the West” and which in reality is only the circle of European allies of the United States, has committed a major political mistake. In this mistake, the responsibility of President François Hollande is significant, and could have profound consequences. It’s not only a mistake, it’s a shame, and a damning one!

Putin isolated ?

Under the pressure of the United States, a majority of European countries renounced sending a President or a Prime Minister to Moscow to attend the great parade commemorating Victory. But, and this is extremely important, China, India and numerous countries of Latin America made the trip as well as some European leaders like the Czech President or the Greek one. If we measure the demographic weight of these representatives, they make up over 50% of the World population. If one measures their economic weight, it is high, too, around 40%. To speak under these conditions of an “isolation” of Vladimir Putin is an absurdity.

But the political symbolism is even more important. The chiefs of State or chiefs of governments of the « BRICS » countries and of the countries of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation went to Moscow. The presence of the Chinese and of the Indians acquires an even greater, more particular significance. The population of China paid an extremely heavy tribute to a conflict which, for China, started not in 1939, but in 1937. In fact, it is – behind the USSR – the country which has suffered the most. The atrocities committed by the Japanese army were abominable. Indian troops fought against Germany and Italy as well as against Japan. The participation of contingents of the Chinese and Indian armies to the parade in Moscow reaches, from all evidence, beyond mere commemoration.

It was clear therefore that this 9th of May would assume particular importance. Because of the attitude of the United States, but also because of the cowardice, not to use a more injurious term, of the European leaders, this 9th of May 2015 has confirmed that the world is split in two. It has symbolized the opposition of an “old world” of the Atlantic Basin to this new world emerging around Asia which is constantly attracting new countries. One can only, in this regard, take due notice of the Chinese or Sino-Russian initiatives [1], of the Asiatic Bank of Investment in Infrastructures [2] (BAII/AIIB), all the way to the project of a Eurasian Union, which are constantly taking on importance. These initiatives could have been conceived in a frame of openness to the “old world.” It is the responsibility of the United States, but also of those who out of a herd instinct or out of fear have followed in their footsteps, to have provoked the symbolic rupture between these two worlds, which has been verified with the parade of May 9th.

The responsibility of François Hollande.

Traditionally, it is France who seeks to re-establish dialog and which strives, because it has a universalist conception of certain principles, to bring down prejudices and to reduce hostilities between blocks. General de Gaulle pronounced many speeches against the « blocks-politics, » of which the one at Phnom Penh, in 1967, remains the most famous. By deciding, in the last minute, to send Laurent Fabius, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, not only did François Hollande commit a heavy mistake, but he discredited himself durably on the international scene. Sending the Minister of Foreign Affairs clearly sends an undignified message of “neither-nor.” If one wanted to be present in Moscow, the President should have made the trip, or his Prime Minister (Manuel Valls) who, we must remember, according to the Constitution, « leads the politics of the country. » But François Hollande preferred to take in the sun in the Caribbean and Manuel Valls to engage in disgraceful polemics against Emmanuel Todd. History will remember this desertion, both physical and moral, of the two most important authorities in our country and the disgrace they inflicted not just to Russia but to France too.

But most serious is the fact that if, in the future, France should be – justifiably – troubled by this resurgence of “blocks-politics,” it will no longer have any legitimacy to speak up against it. François Mitterrand, who had a sense of History and of formula, used the expression «the little telegraph boy » to denounce the visit of Valery Giscard d’Estaing to Moscow at the beginning (1979) of the war against Afghanistan. But today, at a moment when it would have been important to be in Moscow, be it only to bear witness through his presence of the unity of the world and to enter into conversation with these leaders of the “new world,” the French President preferred to play the absentee subscriber. His absence is an abdication and a damning shame.

The consequences.

This abdication will doubtlessly have profound and durable consequences at least as long as the current political personnel will be in power. One forgets, or feigns to ignore that, within the government and the political class in Russia, Vladimir Putin is one of the most pro-Western [3]. In one sense, he took due notice of the principles of international politics which were the basis of international relations since the 1980s, at the moment when they were being increasingly abandoned by the United States and their allies.

The question of the principles and rules, which must command over international relations is at the heart of the problematic defended by Vladimir Putin since the speech he pronounced in Munich in 2007[4]. He came back to this theme several times, particularly in 2012[5]. This latter declaration is particularly important because it predates the Ukrainian crisis. One of the points broached by Putin is the following: « The recent series of armed conflicts started under the pretext of humanitarian aims is undermining the time-honoured principle of state sovereignty, creating a moral and legal void in the practice of international relations. It is often said that human rights override state sovereignty. This is undoubtedly true – crimes against humanity must be punished by the International Court. However, when state sovereignty is too easily violated in the name of this provision, when human rights are protected from abroad and on a selective basis, and when the same rights of a population are trampled underfoot in the process of such “protection,” including the most basic and sacred right – the right to one’s life – these actions cannot be considered a noble mission but rather outright demagogy. » [6] .

This question was already in the air in 2007, when Vladimir Putin had called for a clarification of the rules of International Law. Since 2003, from the American intervention in Iraq, it became obvious that a tendency to interpret rules to their sole profit was driving the policies of the United-States[7]. We know that this drift of American policy towards ever more « interventionism » has only reinforced itself.

Similarly, in 2012, he expressed the following reflections as to the will of the United States to build themselves up into an invulnerable bastion: « By definition, absolute invulnerability for one country would in theory require absolute vulnerability for all others. This is something that cannot be accepted. » [8]. We see here the responsibility of the American policies in the progressive stiffening of the Russian position. The incapacity of the United States to admit that the XXI century will not be the American century is pregnant with conflict.

Multipolarity or unipolarity of the world.

The attitude of the United States, and of the countries which follow them or which they constrain into following them is in the process of welding together an alliance of the new world against the old one. This was not the initial project of Vladimir Putin who, in his 2007 speech, was talking about a multipolar world. The reconstruction of Russia did not imply a direct confrontation with the United States [9]. Russia, for all that it sought to free international institutions from the American grasp, did not want to monopolize them for itself. [10]. At the conference of Munich in 2007, we find this declaration of Vladimir Putin : “I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. And this is not only because if there was individual leadership in today’s – and precisely in today’s – world, then the military, political and economic resources would not suffice. What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilisation.

Not enough attention has been given to what Vladimir Putin said. Yet, he drove home the message again shortly after in the same speech: “We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.” [12].

He was not alone among Russian leaders to hold such a discourse. In an article published both in the Russian press and the Financial Times the then Minister of Finances, Alexis Kudrin, declared:  « It is not difficult to understand that if one of these structures [Kudrin is referring here to the IMF as well as to the World Bank] is perceived by a significant part of the world as insuring the domination of one country or of one group of countries, it will lose its legitimacy. It will cease to be an efficient instrument »[13].

This passage shows the Russian position articulating two elements which were distinct but linked. The first is a doubt about the capacities of one country (here he clearly means the United States) to assemble all the means required in order to exert its hegemony in an efficient way. It is an argument of realism. Even the most powerful and the richest country in the world cannot insure alone the stability of the world. The American project exceeds American strength. This is an observation against which little can be said. But there is a second argument which is no less important and which is situated at the level of the principles of Law. There exist no norms on which to found unipolarity.

In his book of 2002, Evguenni Primakov, who was Prime Minister of Russia in 1998 and 1999, and who remains one of the great connoisseurs of international politics, said just that[14]. Not that the various countries are not able to define common interests, or even that there exist common values. Putin’s speech is by no means “relativistic.” He only assesses that these values (the “moral and ethical basis”) cannot be the foundation of unipolarity, because the exercise of power, political or economic, cannot be defined in terms of values but must also be defined according to interests. This is tantamount to refuting the thesis of a de-politisation of international relations which, in the mind of those who promote it, is to become reduced to Human Rights and to the “laws” of economy. If international relations are not technical (the mere operating of common norms) but political (the management of different and potentially conflicting interests) including in economic relations, then any aspiration to hegemony becomes immoral.

In praise of Gaullian politics.

One understands then that it is important to break this new dynamic of “blocks-policy” in order to revert to the dynamics of a multipolar world, and this is what the Russian government was expecting from France. But we are forced to take act of the fact that the French government and its Prime Minister have failed on this point, as on many another. Beyond the shame and anger inspired to us by the attitude of François Hollande and of Manuel Valls, beyond the disgust we feel at the insult not only to the Russian people but to those of China and India, and to all those who have come to Moscow on May 9th, we must observe coldly that either by calculation or out of cowardice, the French leaders, by abdicating their natural role, contribute to precipitate the world into a future made of wars and conflicts. Their responsibility in having given up Gaullian politics at the moment when they were required, shows their congenital incapacity and will remain in History. It’s a mistake and – as we have known since Talleyrand – mistakes in politics are worse than crimes.

We should remember the poem The Scythians, written by Alexander Blok in 1918. His words still resound today with an eery force. Did he not write then: « Comrades! We shall be brothers!/ But if you refuse, – we have nothing to lose./ And we can be perfidious, too.

For centuries you will be cursed/By generations of sick children! /Everywhere we shall withdraw/ into the thickness of our forests. And to seductive Europe,/We shall show our Asiatic grin. »



The Scythians


You are millions. We are hordes and hordes and hordes.

Try and take us on!

Yes, Scythians – we! Yes, Asians – we!

With slanted, greedy eyes!


To you – the centuries, to us – but an hour.

We, like obedient slaves,

Held up a shield between two enemy races –

The Mongols and Europe!


For centuries and centuries your old furnace raged

And drowned out the roar of avalanches,

And Lisbon and Messina’s fall

To you was but a monstrous tale!


For hundreds of years you gazed at the East,

Storing up and melting down our jewels,

And, jeering, you merely counted the days

Until you could point at us your guns!


The time is come. Trouble beats its wings –

And every day our grudges grow,

And the day will come when every trace

Of your Paestums may vanish!


O, old world! While you still survive,

While you still suffer your sweet torture,

Come to a halt, sage as Oedipus,

Before the ancient riddle of the Sphinx!


Russia is the Sphinx. Rejoicing, grieving,

And drenched in black blood,

It gazes, gazes, gazes at you,

With hatred and with love!


It has been centuries since you’ve loved

As our blood still loves!

You have forgotten that the world holds love

To burn and to destroy!


We love everything – the fire of cold maths,

The inspiration of divine vision,

We understand everything – sharp Gallic thinking

And gloomy Teutonic genius…


We remember everything – the hell of Parisian streets,

And Venetian chills,

The distant aroma of lemon groves

And the smoke towers of Cologne…


We love the flesh – its flavor and its color,

The stifling, mortal scent of flesh…

Will you blame us, if your bones crack

Under our strong and tender paws?


Come to us! Out of the horrors of war,

Come into our peaceful arms!

While there is still time – sheathe the old sword,

Comrades! We shall be brothers!


But if you will not – we have nothing to lose,

And we can be perfidious, too!

For centuries and centuries you will be cursed

By generations of sick children!


Everywhere into our woods and thickets

We shall withdraw! And to seductive Europe

We shall show our Asiatic grins…

Translators: Tatiana Tulchinsky, Andrew Wachtel, and Gwenan Wilbur


[1] Garibov K., « La Russie a adhéré officiellement au pool de réserves monétaires des BRICS », text posted on SPUTNIK 27 April 2015, http://fr.sputniknews.com/opinion/20150427/1015850582.html

[2] http://www.lefigaro.fr/conjoncture/2015/04/17/20002-20150417ARTFIG00363-cette-banque-chinoise-qui-veut-concurrencer-la-banque-mondiale.php

[3] See discussion between Fyodor Lyukanov and Max Fisher published on http://valdaiclub.com/usa/77200.html

[4] A complete and faithful translation of this speech can be found in the review La lettre Sentinel, n° 43-44, January-February 2007, pp. 24-29

[5] Vladimir Putin on foreign policy: Russia and the changing world, declaration published in http://valdaiclub.com/politics/39300.html

[6] Idem, page 2. [7] J. Sapir, “Endiguer l’isolationnisme interventionniste providentialiste américain” in La Revue Internationale et Stratégique, n°51, autumn 2003, pp. 37-44

[8] Vladimir Putin on foreign policy: Russia and the changing world, declaration published in http://valdaiclub.com/politics/39300.html, p.2, « By definition, absolute invulnerability for one country would in theory require absolute vulnerability for all others. This is something that cannot be accepted. »

[9] Sapir J., “ Russie : retour gagnant ” in La Revue pour l’intelligence du monde, n°7, March-April 2007, pp. 28-38.

[10] A. Kudrin, « Bretton Woods Redux », in Moscow Times, 2 October 2007 (tribune also published in The Financial Times).

[11] See the review La lettre Sentinel, n° 43-44, January-February 2007, pp. 25.

[12] La lettre Sentinel, n° 43-44, p. 25 and ssq.

[13] A. Kudrin, op.cit..

[14] E. Primakov, Le monde après le 11 septembre et la guerre en Irak, Presses de la renaissance, Paris, 2003, Mir Posle 11 sentjabrja, Mysl,., pp. 138-151.


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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