Russia's air campaign in Syria underscores the striking transformation of the Russian army since it entered Berlin in April of 1945 with crudely built tanks: Not only are Russian pilots flying sleek modern bombers fitted with the latest electronic gadgetry, they shop in the Russian equivalent of a US PX (post exchange), take saunas, and watch their favorite Russian TV shows and movies at the recently created air base on Syria's Latakia coast, not far from the naval base Russia took over in the seventies.
Recently, Ann Applebaum, the American neo-conservative wife of the Polish conservative politician Radek Sikorsky, published a snide attack on Russia in the Washington Post titled, rather awkwardly Russia's New Kinds of Friends file:///Users/deen/Documents/Russia's new kind of friends - The Washington Post.webarchive. In it she attacks the Russian-backed Dialogue of Civilizations, held every year since 2003 on the Greek Island of Rhodes-(perhaps channeling the famous 'Rhodes Scholars'). The gathering is chaired by the former head of Russian State Railways, who is close to Putin. When I first saw the link, I thought it referred to the Valdai Discussion Group that has just wound up in Sochi, a Russian initiative started in 2004. (The existence of both these gatherings suggests that Vladimir Putin may have realized relatively early in his presidency that the West had no intention of treating Russia as a partner, hence the wisdom of cementing ties between like-minded people from around the world.) Together they gather a wide array of academics, business people and politicians who share Vladimir Putin's preference for negotiations over military action. Unlike the Bilderberg Group and other Western-led high-level fora, his initiatives are seen by the mainstream media as just another excuse for Russia bashing.
The forum also continued, as in the past, to gather people willing to endorse Russian views of the world. There was Vaclav Klaus, the former Czech president, who called Putin's Syrian adventure a "logical step." There was John Laughland, political director of a Russian-backed think tank, the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, who argued that the European Union was conceived by the CIA, as part of a US plot to subjugate Europe. Plus dozens of others, from all around the world.
While Washington's mouthpieces continue to offer the dying Empire's take on events, Russia takes pages from its playbook: contrasting with John McCain selfies with Syrians armed to topple their democratically elected government, members of the Duma, Russia's parliament, are in Damascus to assess the chances of a peaceful solution to that war-torn country's ills, following Assad's visit to Moscow last Tuesday. (The Duma duly authorized President Putin to respond affirmatively to Assad's call for help, in contrast to US congressional orneriness.) Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron exults over his country's "golden era" of relations with China, as the US continues a lonely 'pivot to Asia' intended to isolate the Middle Kingdom.
America's other European allies are reassessing their need for American 'protection' as they desperately try to cope with the consequences of Washington's Middle East and African policies: hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into a once orderly and relatively egalitarian world that is still recovering from a Wall St inspired economic crisis. On both France's and Russia's English language channels, political and business leaders affirm daily that the US can no longer dictate Europe's relations with Russia, the latest being former French center-right Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
It is a time of reckoning for Europe: seventy years of North Atlantic "partnership" turn out to have been a vassalage for which Europe is paying dearly: its commitment to human rights and equity diluted by a slavish neo-liberalism failed its Arab and black neighbors, leading thousands to conclude that their only chance for a fair deal from Europe is to demand it on-site.
Having been turned toward the Atlantic for decades, EU leaders are incapable of coming up with ways to stem the flow of refugees from areas of the world it has neglected. They hold summit after summit in a hopeless attempt to rally the smaller countries to policies that benefit mainly the large countries. Having come together in the European Union to relegate intra-European wars to the dustbin, they are failing its first real continent-wide challenge. As thousands of refugees trekked through the Balkans en route to Germany, the French government allowed a makeshift camp in Calais to reach six thousand, (even adding a makeshift theatre), because Britain will not allow the economic migrants that have been gathering there for years to cross the Channel. (It seems the enmity between the two countries, going back hundreds of years, is still current. The French even have a word for it: 'perfide Albion'.) Meanwhile, Greek vigilante's have taken to the Mediterranean with arms against the smugglers that the Union shied from attacking.
These meetings should have happened months ago. The feeling that Europe is sliding uncontrollably into a 1930s remake cannot be reasoned away: the 2014 coup in Ukraine against a democratically elected President gave the continent's hitherto minority neo-fascist parties a major boost: brazenly, they parade across the lands Hitler invaded, claiming it for white Christians, as Muslim women and children huddle in the growing cold and rain. In an almost comical contrast, Germany's three term Chancellor, "Mutti" Merkel, in a rainbow series of suits, had to set the record straight when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu offered journalists a Pinocchiesque excuse for continuing to occupy Palestinian lands: it was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Palestinian Grand Mufti, who, in 1941, suggested the Holocaust to Hitler! Meanwhile she tries to lash her counterparts to the wheel of solidarity as her own right-wing militias torch buildings housing refugees and immigrants, including long-time Eastern European residents.
Does this confusing picture mean that Europe is uniquely condemned to repeat its historical mistakes? I believe it shows that the left/right antagonism is an eternal one. Russia's ascendancy goes far beyond a new physical presence as Europe evacuates its fabricated fear of the now defunct Soviet Union and the Communism it represented, correctly reading Russia as a powerful social-democratic ally. You have only to watch 'Putin's bullhorn' over time to read its ideological message: for third world development, against global warming, for democracy, against regime change, for freedom of religion but against consumerism, and above all, against war and for resolving conflicts through negotiations.
Europe appears to have concluded that Russia's conservative attitude toward gay marriage is a relatively small price to pay to prevent a fascist takeover that would doom many more human rights. But as the US corporate-inspired transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) comes up for adoption, will it have the spine to reject it in favor of closer economic ties with Eurasia? It's no exaggeration to suggest that the future of a world threatened with catastrophic climate change will partly turn on the existence of aEuropean spine .