Rein Muellerson is former president of l’Institut de Droit International, and President of the Academy of Law of Tallinn University, Estonia.
Resume: One can find too much proof of Russophobia in mainstream Western media that prevents straight thinking. It is not about the winning the war on terror or containing the climate change, it is about the winning the war against Russia.
In summer of 2015 I had pleasure of reading Guy Matten’s book on Russophobia in the West. It is not often that somebody so competently and comprehensively analyses historical sources of the current negative attitudes towards Russia in several Western countries. The book of the Swiss intellectual and journalist reveals the current manifestations of Russophobia in Western media and among the political elites (related, e.g., to the Ukrainian crisis, the Olympics in Sochi and the war of 2008 between Georgia and Russia) as well as its historical roots. However, when I read half a year back in this book that ‘in fact, Russophobia, in contradistinction to French Anglophobia or Germanophobia, is a phenomenon that is somewhat similar to anti-Semitism’ and that ‘like the latter, it is not a transitional phenomenon related to concrete historical events; it resides in the brain of the person having such phobia independent from the behaviour of the victim’, I believed that such a statement went too far. But today, when one global crisis after another threatens to engulf the whole humankind, when in one of the most beautiful cities of the world – Paris – one of the severest terrorist attack coincides with the meeting of COP 21 in an effort to save the Planet from overheating, political elites, experts and journalists from many Western (or aspiring to be seen as Western) countries have nothing better to do than to concentrate their criticism on Russia, I must admit that even that remark of Guy Mettan was not overblown. It seemed only natural that after the tragedy in Paris President François Holland proposed to create a wide coalition to fight ISIS. It was also to be expected that his immediate visits in the aftermath of the tragedy were to Washington and Moscow. This was a sincere, almost inevitable, response to the clear and present danger to France, to Europe and even to the world as a whole. But President Holland was soon brought to earth. First, President Obama was not at all enthusiastic about such a wide coalition, and then Turkey of President Erdogan, whom the Western media had so far scolded for his authoritarian tendencies, muzzling of media, imprisoning of journalists and attacking the Kurds instead of ISIS and also blackmailing the European Union (visa-free travelling and other concessions for not sending so many refugees to Europe), had nothing better to do than downing a Russian bombardier.
I have no access to intelligence materials and therefore I cannot claim with any authority (most of those who write about the matter are in the same position but quite a few of them nevertheless know how things exactly were) whether the aircraft had entered into the Turkish airspace or not, whether the warnings were given or not but these are – though important, but nevertheless not the most crucial questions. The world of secret services and what they can give to policy-makers is the domain of poker players where everybody keeps the cards close to the chest. Bluffing, keeping the straight face and even having a pack of marked cards are among the means and methods of such games. However, there is also a chessboard of world politics, where all the figures are on the table to be seen. At this chessboard level of world politics, decision-making depends more on the vision, intelligence (in the better meaning of the word), open-mindedness and the ability to think beyond the box, without ideological blinders than on the information given by intelligence services. At this level, it is not so terribly important to know where the Russian military aircraft was. What is terribly important is that it was hitting those (even if not only those, but this is a different matter) who had cold-heartedly killed 130 innocent persons in Paris and also, of course, earlier more than 200 Russians above the Sinai Peninsula. No one in sound mind could have thought that Russian planes were going to attack Turkey.
And after the downing of the Russian military plane by Turkey most of instant reactions in the West were genuine and humane. So, the very next morning after the Turkish attack against Russia the French Figaro had an editorial headlined ‘La Turquie a cessé d’être notre alliée’ (‘Turkey has ceased to be our ally’). However, such thinking beyond the box was not for long. Soon the dominant narrative was squeezed back into the box. Another French newspaper L’Obs published a day before the Turkish attack against Russia, when it was already becoming clear that President Holland’s frantic efforts to create a wide coalition were running into the sand entitled its article ‘La France renonce à une "coalition unique" contre Daech’ (France gives up the idea of the ‘unified coalition’ against ISIS). Furthermore, the Secretary General of NATO as well as President Obama both claimed that, as a NATO member, Turkey had the absolute right to defend its airspace. Moreover, the European Union has also become the hostage of Turkey. French military and security expert Hadrien Desuin in an interview of 28 November of 2015 to Mediapart entitled ‘The West has been mistaken by Turkey’, speaks of Erdogan’s authoritarianism and his relations with the jihadists of ISIS and Al-Nusra. He says that Erdogan’s decision to join the fight against ISIS only served as a pretext to bomb the Kurds. Answering the question, why the Western leaders hadn’t had any reaction to Erdogan’s dealings with ISIS, Mr Desuin responds that ‘the French public opinion is not informed about such things since the media tries to play down such awkward questions’ notwithstanding that, if not anything else then at least the Turkish behaviour during the battle for the Syrian town Kobane between ISIS and the Kurds should have opened eyes of everybody to Erdogan’s duplicity. A couple of days later, the same expert writing in Le Figaro in an article entitled ‘How Turkey is Cheating Europe in the Poker Game’ on the deal between the EU and Turkey of 29 November in accordance of which in exchange of 3 billion euros and acceleration of EU membership negotiations for Turkey the latter has promised to hold back refugee flows to Europe, admits that thereby ‘the refugees and migrants have become a bargaining chip’ as Europe, by letting Ankara to blackmail itself, is forgetting its values and principles.
Too much talk about values, especially shared or universal, in international relations should always make one doubt about real intentions of those who do the talking. Already in the 1920’s, German philosopher and legal theoretician Carl Schmitt incisively wrote: ‘When a state fights its political enemy in the name of humanity, it is not a war for the sake of humanity, but a war wherein a particular state seeks to usurp a universal concept against its military opponent. … The concept of humanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism. Here one can be reminded of a somewhat modified expression of Proudhon’s: whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat’. This warning from the 1920s is especially apt today since it is not only Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan that sees itself as the bastion of Europe against the barbarians at the gates, but it is also President Poroshenko of Ukraine who pretends to the same role. In his interview of 4th December to Le Figaro he without any irony, without blinking an eye, claimed that ‘today, in Ukraine, we are fighting to defend European values – liberty and democracy – and also the security of the continent’.
It would not be difficult, if one were to think without ideological blinkers, to see what is hidden behind Erdogan’s and Poroshenko’s words about European values. However, one can find too much proof of Russophobia in mainstream Western media that prevents straight thinking. So, 30 November Foreign Affairs – one of the most (if not the most) prestigious American foreign policy magazines – publishes an article by journalist Gregory Feifer ‘Putin’s Game of Chicken and How the West can Win’. And it is not about the winning the war on terror or containing the climate change, it is about the winning the war against Russia. A lot in the article is about Turkish-Russian relations and if somebody who is not familiar with the facts would read it one may be left with the impression that it was Russia who had downed the Turkish aircraft and not the other way round. And finishing his wild imaginations the journalist writes: ‘Even in this [fight against jihadists in Syria], cooperation with Russia would be a loosing proposition. It would also send the wrong message to Russians by indicating that Putin’s behavior works [so, this is what worries him - R.M.]. So far, he has compounded the killing and suffering in Syria because it contravenes Western interests and values [once again about values but this time even worse – killings in Syria happen because Russia contravenes Western values], fueling the threat of terrorism and Europe’s migration crisis’. Sorry for having quoted him verbatim and at length, but otherwise the reader would not probably believe me. But what is the worst in all this is that Mr. Feifer, and I am almost sure of that, sincerely believes in what he is writing. And this can be explained only by Russophobia, whatever its roots in this concrete case. Therefore, the correctness of Guy Matten analysis, even on the point on which initially I had doubts, was once again proven. However, alongside with such rabid Russophobia there are more and more sober voices in the West who see the way out of the crises facing the humankind in cooperative efforts between all responsible actors and this makes especially nervous those politicians who are playing with Russophobic cards and who start behaving irrationally whenever signs of cooperation between the West and Russia become visible. This also energizes those who have built their careers on spreading Russophobia in the media. However, it is not time to let phobias prevail over reason; too much is at stake.