by Erhard Crome Saturday, Apr. 23, 2022 at 2:58 PM

It was the West that, immediately after the end of the East-West confrontation, once again made war a "normal means" of international politics. Russia is now following suit, more than twenty years behind.


Distorted Reflection

Global rivalries. For 30 years, the U.S. and its allies waged wars for their world order. Now, with its war against Ukraine, Russia is playing its own tune for the West

By Erhard Crome

[This article published on 4/22/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Among Russia's elite and public, NATO has been perceived as a threat since the 1990s (anti-NATO protests in Moscow, April 2008)

Erhard Crome is a political scientist and founder and director of the Potsdam-based World Trends Institute for International Politics. Next week, Berlin-based Verlag am Park will publish a volume by him entitled "Nation, Nationalismus und der Krieg in der Ukraine. Texts on an old topic", 230 pages, 17 euros.

The following essay by Erhard Crome appears in the June issue of Z - Zeitschrift Marxistische Erneuerung. The author and the editors were kind enough to allow us to publish the article already now. (jW)

A current description of the world reads like this: "For three decades the illusion lasted. The illusion of a world that had become, as it were, a place of eternal peace after the Iron Curtain was torn down. Admittedly, this belief was repeatedly put to the test, whether in Iraq, the Western Balkans, Afghanistan or the Middle East. But the aforementioned conflicts, according to the perspective in the West, seemed to be narrowly localized. They could never seriously disturb the feeling of security in the domestic cocoon." This is the opinion of Swiss journalist Thomas Fuster in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of April 13. This is first of all an outgrowth of the illusion of the US-American political scientist Francis Fukuyama: After the Cold War the world had come to itself, the "end of history" had been reached and the so-called West was the guardian of this termination. Moreover, there are world order wars that the West is waging to ensure that Fukuyama world; therefore, it is allowed to do so, and others, such as Russia or China, are not.

Meanwhile, wars in Yemen and Ethiopia are hardly worth a five-line report in the newspaper, even if no fewer people die there than in Ukraine - while on television one special program on the subject of Ukraine follows another.

Geopolitical changes

In these times, I cannot deny myself the opportunity to bring out my old texts once again. In the last issue of the Berlin IPW Reports 1991 there was an article about the Gulf War of 1990/91. This war was later classified in historiography as the "first Iraq war" of the USA and its belligerents. My headline was couched in a question, "Menetecle of New World Struggles?" Yes, it was a portent.¹ U.S. President George Bush Sr. had not only proclaimed his "new world order," but had demonstrated with this war that the U.S. was determined to enforce it by military force. The casus belli was created by the U.S. ambassador when she told Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that the U.S. would not see its interests affected by the annexation of Kuwait, which the latter understood as an invitation to war. The U.S. ambassador was then disavowed by her government, Baghdad had invaded a sovereign country, and the UN Security Council gave the green light for war against Iraq. The Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, which was in agony, could not and would not stop this. This was also the first and last of the world order wars since 1990 to be formally sanctioned by international law. The fact that the West's wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan merely led to "failed states" and not to a stable internal order is another matter.

NATO's 1999 war in Yugoslavia, in turn, had five dimensions: It was 1. another war in the wake of the post-Yugoslav secessionist wars since the early 1990s; 2. a NATO war against the rest of Yugoslavia to insert it into the periphery of the West; 3. a U.S. war to further subjugate EU-Europe to its imperiousness; 4. "a war whose long-distance effect was also aimed at further chastening Russia"; and 5. a war to demonstrate "NATO's, resp. The "new German foreign policy", proclaimed by the then newly formed German government under Gerhard Schröder (SPD) and Joseph Fischer (Greens), resulted in the West's participation in a war that violated international law and in the first German involvement in a war since 1945. Now, too, the Greens are again calling particularly loudly for military aid to Ukraine.

It was the West that, immediately after the end of the East-West confrontation, once again made war a "normal means" of international politics. Russia is now following suit, more than twenty years behind. However, current international law since the 1928 War Powers Pact requires condemning war "as a means of resolving international disputes" and renouncing it "as a tool of national policy." The Soviet Union had immediately acceded to the agreement at the time. The UN Charter, in turn, fixes the precept of peace as central to state relations. The invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops can only be qualified as an open breach of international law, an attempt to use war "as a tool of national policy." However, there is no "right to be treated equally in the wrong." The lies and crimes of the U.S. in no way justify those of Russia.

Belgian geopolitician David Criekemans speaks of an "unresolved Russian question"; perhaps future historians could view Russia's Ukrainian war in this way. Every era, he says, has its peculiarities, often not understood by contemporaries.³ The "Concert of Powers" that emerged from the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna in 1815 restored a system of conservative regimes in which the major European powers (Britain, France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia) kept each other in balance. In the Crimean War (1853-1856), Russia challenged this system by seeking to further weaken the Ottoman Empire and control the straits from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. A "limited European war" was again possible. However, Russia - though alone superior to the Ottoman Empire - was defeated because Britain, France, and the Kingdom of Piedmont (the forerunner of the unifying Italy) supported the High Porte. The "concert" of 1815 then broke up with the national unification of Italy and Germany.⁴ Defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 led to "French revanchism" and resulted in World War I (1914-1918). The defeat and humiliation of Germany with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 then resulted in "German revanchism," which was used politically by the Nazis and led to World War II (1939-1945). In the 20th century, the international order was "reordered" three times: with the Versailles system of peace treaties and the creation of the League of Nations in 1920, with the Potsdam Agreement and the United Nations in 1945, and after the end of the Cold War with the "Charter of Paris" in 1990 and the creation of the OSCE.

Criekemans raises the question of a "Russian revanchism" after the end of the Cold War and says: "In the 1990s the world missed a unique third chance (...). After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent successor states such as Russia and Ukraine, these countries could be integrated into a world community and a strengthened international legal order based on democracy."⁵ This opportunity was not used. He sees one reason in the consequences for Russia of the U.S. neoliberal shock therapy in the early 1990s, and the other in the different security, economic, and political perspectives. Thus, this historic geopolitical opportunity was already missed in the late 1990s. "West" and "East" did not share a common vision of reality, and a common future became a distant prospect.

The reasons for this Western policy are again to be found in the Fukuyama syndrome: The loser of the Cold War should finally give in and submit to its role as a "regional power". It had no other place to go than that of junior partner of the West. At the same time, hopes were pinned on a coming generation of the Moscow elite that would rather be junior to the Americans than junior to the Chinese.

Russian Detours

Regardless of whether one reinterprets the October Revolution - in the official Soviet interpretation before 1989 the great turning point in human history - as a Bolshevik coup or not, it stood for the unconditional will to end the killing of the First World War. The 1905 revolution had shaken tsarist autocracy but had not overthrown it. By brutal means, power had been secured and the country had been brought back under control. In 1914, the tsar and his government again felt strong enough to participate in the Great War of the Powers. With huge losses at the front, discontent in the country finally took on system-shattering forms.

Lenin characterized "imperialism" not simply as a world capitalist system based on colonial exploitation of large parts of the world by the bourgeoisie of some developed countries, especially Europe, but as the "highest stage of capitalism," as "dying capitalism." ⁶ Intensified by the ruin wrought by the war, he diagnosed a "world revolutionary crisis" that could end in no other way "than with the proletarian revolution and its victory."⁷ He concluded "that the victory of socialism is possible at first in a few capitalist countries or even in one country taken individually."⁸ The Russian Revolution of 1917 was proclaimed as the beginning of the world proletarian revolution.

The question of whether Russia was ready for it was left aside, although Lenin had also problematized it in his texts. The collapse of capitalism was derived from the state of the world as expressed in the world war, and not from a high development of capitalist relations in Russia. A purely Russian revolution - historically classified: as catching up with the French of 1789 - would not have achieved such a worldwide impact as the October Revolution had. In this respect, the question of whether the revolution led by Lenin was the "right" one in the sense of Marx's doctrine is completely misguided. Its characterization as the beginning of the world revolution was an effective disguise for the one actually made in 1917. Under this premise, the Soviet Union was supported for decades all over the world as a counter-power to imperialism.

The reversion of the revolution to a capitalist Russia after the end of the Soviet Union, which adopted some attributes of Western parliamentarism and the election of the president - instead of a tsar exercising his office qua birth - make it clear that Russia from 1917 to 1991, seen from today's perspective, took the longest possible detour of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. At the same time, following Lenin, it can be summed up: After the end of the Soviet Union and real socialism in Eastern Europe, we find ourselves again in an epoch of imperialism, in a worldwide imperialist system. Russia is a "normal" capitalist country in the now again "normal" imperialist world.

Lenin wrote in 1916 that the capitalists could not but wage war "if they wish to preserve capitalism, for without a forcible redistribution of colonies the new imperialist countries cannot gain the privileges enjoyed by the older (...) imperialist powers."⁹ In this sense, the "oligarch capitalism" of Russia is waging war today against the "oligarch capitalism" of Ukraine in order not to abandon it to the old imperialist powers of the West. At the same time, it is a war for the redistribution of geopolitical and economic power on the territory of the former Soviet Union, revoking the compromises made with the nomenklatura in 1991.

Dream of retaliation

The sources of "Russian revisionism" were examined by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes in their book "The Light That Went Out" and confirmed the completely opposite views of realities in the West and in Russia. Ironically, they stated: No one "who today describes the end of the Cold War as a triumph of humanity's highest moral aspirations will ever make sense of Russia's current swing toward anti-Western belligerence, which is more vindictive than strategic."¹⁰ "Regime change" after the end of the Soviet Union "proved unpopular primarily because it involved a huge loss of territory and population." NATO's "bombing of Yugoslavia, despite Russia's sharp criticism, exposed the Western hoax that the end of the Cold War was actually a common victory, including for the Russian people."¹¹ About ten years ago, Russia therefore moved to selectively mirror Western foreign policy. "Many members of the Russian political elite secretly dreamed of retaliation, not caring at all whether it would bring them strategic gains or not."¹² The latter should not be taken literally. No one starts a war with the intention of losing it. But it leaves open what the strategic gain might be.

Russia's war in Ukraine was apparently intended as a demonstration of power politics, a "mirroring" of the West's wars. NATO's war in Yugoslavia lasted from March 24 to June 10, 1999, but consisted "only" of terrorist bombardments by NATO air forces, with no use of its own ground forces, until head of state Slobodan Milosevic finally capitulated in effect because he could no longer stand by and watch the casualties among Yugoslav civilians - who were supposedly only "collateral damage" - and had no effective countermeasures. On the ground, NATO would probably have suffered major casualties as well, as Russia is doing in Ukraine today. The Afghanistan war of the U.S. and its willing in the narrower sense went from October 7, 2001, until the fall of Kabul on November 13, 2001, with the U.S. initially securing indigenous ground forces of the so-called Northern Alliance, which kept its immediate losses within narrow limits. Those came later because the occupation policy failed. The Iraq war of the U.S. and its willing began on March 20 and ended on May 1, 2003, during which time the U.S. reported 171 soldiers killed and 2,300 on the Iraqi side. These numbers were vastly understated. Civilian casualties - albeit by 2011 - were in the millions.

The war in Ukraine shows a poor reflection. It did not turn into a "blitzkrieg." The resistance of Ukrainian troops has been greater and more sustained than Moscow originally thought. The losses of men and material are high. Those of the Ukrainian civilian population can only be estimated. 4.5 million people have fled so far. General Erich Vad, former military policy adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stressed in a statement circulated by Stern and several daily newspapers that the casualties were "inherent in the system" of the war and were not out of the ordinary compared to Iraq, Syria and Libya. This does not make the matter better, but the relations in the warfare have to be considered. Nevertheless, the longer the war lasts and the more weapons are supplied to Ukraine from various NATO countries, the more it is indeed a war between Russia and NATO.

The geopolitical picture has a number of blurs. From the perspective of today's West, with its tendency to dwindle power-political resources, the conflict with Russia on the one hand and that with China on the other is a "two-front war." In Germany, we know these were always lost. In this sense, from Russia's point of view, the Ukraine war was intended as a strengthening of its own positions in the struggle for a non-Western world order, which is more like the former "concert of powers," except that its main players are now the United States, China, India, the EU and Russia itself.

The longer the war lasts and the more losses Russia suffers, the less any real strengthening of Russia's position in Europe can be expected. The West has abandoned earlier limitations on the stationing of troops and weapons systems in Eastern Europe, in the countries of NATO's "eastward expansion." Germany and other NATO countries want to significantly increase their military capabilities, both materially and financially. Finland and Sweden are about to join NATO. If so, Russia's position on the map would look as bad as if it had accepted Ukraine's NATO accession. In other words, even if a negotiated settlement with Ukraine is reached, not only will the mutual relationship be permanently strained, but Russia's geopolitical position will be rather less favorable than before the war or than without it.

It should be added: For the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the Russian invasion on March 2, 2022, 141 states voted yes, only five, including Russia, voted no. Carefully overlooked is the fact that there were 35 abstentions, including China, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which together make up about half of humanity. Michael von der Schulenburg, formerly a top diplomat for the UN and the OSCE, drew attention (Berliner Zeitung, March 26/27, 2022) to the fact that most small and medium-sized countries supported this resolution not because they shared the West's position, but because they wanted to strengthen the UN Charter and the ban on all military action for political reasons, after three other permanent members of the Security Council, the United States, Great Britain and France, had previously also broken international law and waged illegal wars. In Asia, only the usual allies of the West, such as Japan, Australia and Singapore, participate in the sanctions against Russia; other states in Asia, Africa and Latin America do not. For the world of the South, this is again a war of white men in the North - like the First and Second World Wars of the 20th century and the Cold War.

Opportunity lost

It is too early to draw a conclusion. All those who in many countries in recent years have stood up against the demonization of the Russians and for more understanding between the West and Russia have been knocked on their heads. Those who saw a multipolar world order emerging must now focus on a Russia that is discrediting itself and is being weakened by Ukrainian resistance and Western counteractions, at least in the medium term. The opportunity to rebrand Russia as a great power, something Putin has been working on for twenty years, has been lost. Whether there will be another one historically is questionable. The winners seem to be the United States. Losers not only Ukraine and Russia, but also the EU and Germany, which are dwarfed by the US. What is needed to end the killing is not more weapons but a wise policy of détente.


1 Erhard Crome: Menetekel neuer Weltenauseinandersetzung? Once again on the Gulf War, in: IPW-Berichte, Berlin, issue 11/12 (1991). It was the last issue, because the renowned journal, in which analyses of current capitalism and Western politics had been presented for many years, was sold by the Treuhand and the acquirer only wanted to acquire the subscriber file, but not to continue the journal.

2 Ders.: In tempore belli, in: Welttrends (1999), No. 23, p. 138.

3 David Criekemans: Into another geopolitical era? Emergence of "Eurasia" or "geopolitical synthesis"? The War in Ukraine as a Geopolitical Catalyst, pdf.

4 Cf. Crome: Deutschland auf Machtwegen, Hamburg 2019, pp. 56 ff.

5 Criekemans, op. cit. p. 2.

6 W. I. Lenin: Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism, in ders: Werke (LW), vol. 22, Berlin 1971, pp. 305, 307.

7 Ibid, p. 196

8 Ders.: On the slogan of the United States of Europe, in: LW, vol. 21, Berlin 1972, p. 345.

9 Ders.: Imperialism and the Division of Socialism, in: LW, vol. 23; Berlin 1957, p. 111

10 Ivan Krastev/Stephen Holmes: The Light That Went Out, Berlin 2019, p. 127.

11 Ibid, p. 132

12 Ibid, pp. 120, 134

Original: Imperialism