Gael de Santis: Independent France or EU is not enough, they must be social

Emmanuel Macron won the elections and received ovations together his wife Brigitte, but the very same night protests unfolded in France, which were supressed by police (source: YouTube)

Cross-border Talks speaks to the international editor of the French left-wing journal l’Humanite about the recent French presidential elections, about the voters and the political style of Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, about the ideas of independent and autonomous EU in international relations, French interests in Southeastern Europe and challenges in the second presidential term of Emmanuel Macron

Veronika Susova-Salminen, Vladimir Mitev

Gael de Santis is a French left-wing journalist, who has written extensively on populism in the EU, European affairs, defense matters, etc. He has discussed with Cross-border Talks about the current fracture of the French political system into three large currents – center (Emmanuel Macron), left (Jean-Luc Melenchon) and extreme right (Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour and others). He observes polarization between rural and urban areas, between older people with more capital and working population. Even though Macron won with a good majority, a number of challenges for  him as tries to affirm France’s independent voice in international relations. 

De Santis believes that in spite of the war in Ukraine the economic interests of France and Germany make them look for cooperation with Russia. He also sees the idea of “a strategic autonomy” of the EU as one that could return to the EU’s agenda if the crisis in Ukraine ends within 1-2 years. When asked about France’s interests in Southeastern Europe, he recalled the French special connection with Romania. And added that Macron and French public opinion are interested in countering negative tendencies such as social dumping (cheap labour) and corruption, while also affirming an independent EU defense. 

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Amerykańskie związki zawodowe mają pieniądze. Rumuńskie nie

The protest of the workers in the Bucharest’s land public transport disturbed the life in the capital (source: YouTube)

CbT, 01.04.2022

O ruchu związkowym w Stanach Zjednoczonych, o tym, jak wśród Amerykanów coraz słabsze są antyzwiązkowe uprzedzenia i jak związki zawodowe odpowiadają na obecny kryzys, wywołany rosyjską inwazją na Ukrainę, mówi Radu Stochița, rumuński aktywista związkowy, rzecznik centrali związkowej Cartel Alfa, obecnie studiujący w USA.

To jest wywiad wideo z polskimi napisami.

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Danièle Obono: Mamy kryzys egzystencjalny, rynek go nie rozwiąże 

Tysiące żółtych kamizelek (Gilets Jaunes) protestuje w Paryżu, domagając się obniżenia podatków od paliw, przywrócenia podatku solidarnościowego od majątku, podwyższenia płacy minimalnej oraz ustąpienia Emmanuela Macrona ze stanowiska prezydenta Francji, 09 lutego 2019 r. (źródło: Norbu Gyachung, CC BY-SA 4.0)

O szansach Jeana-Luca Mélenchona w nadchodzących wyborach prezydenckich, o tym, jak francuska lewica przekonuje do głosowania tych, którzy nie zamierzają głosować wcale i o tym, kto jest prawdziwym wrogiem pracowników rozmawiamy z Danièle Obono, parlamentarzystką Nieuległej Francji

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

Danièle Obono jest posłanką La France Insoumise od 2017 roku. Była rzeczniczką Jean-Luca Melenchona, a także partii. Ma tytuł magistra historii i pracowała jako bibliotekarka. Urodziła się w Gabonie, a w 2011 r. uzyskała obywatelstwo francuskie.

Kilka lat temu na ulice wychodziły miliony Francuzów. Ruch Żółtych Kamizelek ożywiał stare rewolucyjne hasła, domagał się równości, braterstwa, sprawiedliwości społecznej. Podstawowa intuicja podpowiada, że są to hasła lewicowe. Gdzie więc jest teraz francuska lewica, w przededniu wyborów prezydenckich? Co się stało z tamtą energią i wolą zmian?

Danièle Obono: To paradoks, ale faktycznie – po dwóch wielkich ruchach społecznych, największych w moim pokoleniu, notowania lewicy są dalekie od najlepszych w historii wyników, jakie potrafiła osiągać. Mówię o dwóch ruchach, bo oprócz Żółtych Kamizelek był jeszcze ruch sprzeciwu wobec reformy emerytalnej – innymi słowy, na porządku dziennym stanęły wszystkie kluczowe wyzwania naszych czasów. Miliony ludzi głośno wołały o sprawiedliwość społeczną, walkę o ratowanie klimatu i o to, by zmiany gospodarcze z nią związane nie pociągnęły za sobą nowych, drastycznych nierówności. Nieuległa Francja wspierała każdy z oddolnych ruchów. Protestowaliśmy też przeciwko brutalnemu pacyfikowaniu Żółtych Kamizelek przez policję. Nasza reprezentacja parlamentarna walczyła, korzystając z dostępnych narzędzi, przeciwko reformie emerytalnej. A jednak nie przełożyło się to na radykalny wzrost poparcia.

Kandydat Nieuległej Francji, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, jest obecnie w sondażach trzeci, za Macronem i Marine Le Pen. Wiele jeszcze może się zmienić. Pewne jest tylko jedno: jesteśmy jedyną lewicową alternatywą dla różnego rodzaju prawicy i skrajnej prawicy.

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Danièle Obono: We have an existential crisis and the market will not solve it 

Thousands of yellow vests (Gilets Jaunes) protests in Paris calling for lower fuel taxes, reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, a minimum wage increase, and Emmanuel Macron’s resignation as President of France, 09 February 2019 (source: Norbu Gyachung, CC BY-SA 4.0)

On Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s chances in the upcoming presidential election, on how the French left is talking to those who do not intend to vote at all and who is the real enemy of the working people – Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat  talks to Danièle Obono, MP of La France insoumise.

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

Danièle Obono is MP for La France Insoumise since 2017. She used to be the spokesperson of Jean-Luc Melenchon and the party as well. She has a master degree in history and used to work as a librarian. Born in Gabon, she has become naturalized French citizen in 2011.

Mrs. Obono, A few years ago, millions of French people took to the streets. The Yellow Vest Movement revived old revolutionary demands, among which equality, fraternity and social justice. Basic intuition suggests that these are leftist slogans. So where is the French left now, on the eve of the presidential election? What happened to that energy and the will to change?

Danièle Obono: It’s a paradox, but indeed – after two great social movements, the greatest we have seen in France, the left’s ratings are far from their highest. I am talking about two movements because, apart from the Yellow Vests, there was also a movement against the pension reform – in other words, all the key challenges of our time stood on the order of the day. Millions of people have  called for social justice, climate justice and economic justice. La France insoumise supported each of the grassroots movements. We also protested against the brutal pacification of the Yellow Vests by the police. Our parliamentary representation fought against the pension reform. However, this did not translate into a radical increase of support.

La France insoumise candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon is currently third in the polls, behind Macron and Marine Le Pen. A lot can still change. Only one thing is certain: we are the only left-wing alternative to all kinds of right and extreme right.

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War in Ukraine: Putin’s fatal mistake? What is at stake for Europe?

Mosaic at the cathedral of the Russian armed forces in Moscow shows Orthodox imagery next to Russian soldiers that fight for the fatherland (source: Malgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat)

Humane and conceptual approach to the Russian military invasion in Ukraine

Cbt, 28.02.2022

Cross-border Talks takes on the Russian military invasion in Ukraine together with Veronika Sušová-Salminen – a Czech-Finnish expert on Russia. Both she and Malgorzata (who speaks Russian and Ukrainian) comment on a number of issues:

– the fact that it was not a blitzkrieg and Ukrainians resist invasion;

– the reasons for what happened (different visions for the EU security, great powers competition and internal Ukrainian contradictions);

– what Russia’s detachment from Europe and West means for both Russia and Europe (including the countries of the Eastern flank of NATO) – with Russia becoming a junior partner of China and Central and Southeastern Europe getting militarized and part of a new Cold War;

– how is this war changing the Russian-Ukrainian relations (affirming the Ukrainian identity);

– what are the social consequences of this war for Russia itself (there could be a rupture inside its elites and society as many people oppose the war with Ukraine)’.

Here is the transcript:

Vladimir Mitev: Welcome to a special edition of Cross-border Talks dedicated to the ongoing military invasion of Ukraine by Russia. We’ll be speaking again with Malgorzata, but this time we also have special guest Veronika Sušová-Salminen, who is a Czech-Finnish expert on Russian affairs. She has books and has done a lot of academic and journalistic work that is focused on understanding the space to the east of the European Union, just as Malgorzata herself is knowledgeable with first-hand experiences from Russia and Ukraine. So we are moving fast into the issue. What is going on on the ground right now, Sunday evening, 27 February 2022? Malgorzata?

Malogrzata-Kulbaczewska-Figat: Well, first of all, hello everybody! This is a very hard moment for everybody in Central and Eastern Europe, for me in particular, as I have acquaintances, friends, relatives in both Russia and Ukraine. I have travelled to both of these countries. I have a lot of absolutely wonderful experiences from both of them, and it is absolutely heartbreaking for me now to see that Vladimir Putin in the end decided to escalate the events in the Eastern Europe into a full-scale war.

As many of the viewers, I also hoped until the very last moment that this would not happen. But it did. 24th February 2022 was the first day of the full-scale war in Ukraine. And what happened next, I think, is also a surprise to many of us because if Putin wanted this to be a quick war with Kiev being occupied in the few days and other major cities under Russian control also within a quick period of time, then he did not achieve his aims. Now as we speak on a Sunday evening (27th February 2022) new events may happen very swiftly, but what we see now is that Russian forces did not advance much over what they had occupied in the very first hours of the conflict. Kharkiv is still under shelling, and still in Ukrainian hands. Kyiv is also controlled by Ukraine, and so are the key cities in the south, the Black Sea coast.

Well, also what we need to say is the Ukrainian people are already paying the horrible price of war. A lot of you, I think, have seen the pictures from Kharkiv and Kyiv Metro, where people are seeking shelter from bombs. And as of Sunday evening, more than 150 000 refugees crossed to the Ukrainian Polish border, and even more people are now heading to other neighbors of Ukraine such as Hungary and Romania. So what is going on is that an imperialist war has been waged on Ukraine, the Ukrainian people are paying the price and yet it is defending their territory with the fierceness that I think a lot of people did not expect from them.

Well, there must be reasons for all that bloodshed to happen right now, and I’m now moving to Veronika. What is the explanation for this radical decision by the Russian government and president and why it happens now?

Veronika Sušová-Salminen: Hello, everybody. I have to add to Malgorzata that this is a very dark moment for all our region and of course, for people of Russia and Ukraine. And I will now speak more analytically. Even if I realize that there is a very important human dimension. But still, we have to analyze things. We have to search for reasons in order to understand what is going on and probably also how to stop it. 

What is now happening is a huge surprise because even I didn’t expect-  as an analyst – that Putin would go so far with escalation. I really believed that he would not take such a big risk. I see this as a discontinuity of Putin’s strategy towards Ukraine and towards the West.

Of course, the crisis itself has been going on for about eight years, and it is nothing new. It was more hope and less hope during the eight years, but it was never resolved. 

In my opinion, the first thing we have to realize is it is a systemic crisis in the security environment in Europe. So this is making it even more complex and more difficult to solve because we have here basically a collision between two concepts of the security environment as it was created by the end of the Cold War. I will simplify it into two concepts: the Atlanticist, which means the orientation to NATO and the United States and continental, which means one based more on the integration of Russia into the security system and more focused on Europe itself without the role of NATO and without the future of the United States. So this is the first thing Ukraine got in between of these conceptions and became to be the playground of this conflict.

Second factor is, of course, great power competition. I will not explain why the great power competition is happening now. In short, it is connected with the great shifts within international affairs during the last, let’s say, 10 years after the global financial crisis. But it is the competition between the United States of America and Russia, which is based on the fact that Russia is trying to keep the remains of this great power status and it perceives Ukraine as the instrument in order to do so. So for Russia, Russian perception of Ukraine is based on this: “we need Ukraine and all the post-Soviet space in order to keep our great power status within this region in order to aspire or have ambitions to be a global great power in a multi-polar world”.

The United States most probably wants to stop Russia from doing so, and it is unfortunately also using Ukraine for this, for this aim to stop Russia from being a great power to stop the ambitions of Russia within the post-Soviet space. And then, of course, we shouldn’t forget also about Ukrainians themselves because this sounds a bit like they don’t have any subjectivity. Of course they have.

So the third dimension of the crisis is that Ukraine is searching for its own identity. It is trying to redefine itself as more “pro-Western”, which is of course, fitting in its history and in its identity, and how it was basically evolving in the last centuries. And this really reorientation is basically connected, also with something which we can call as post-Soviet nation-state building. So there are at least three dimensions I will talk about at the moment. Of course, there are many other answers to the question, but for the moment I would still be here and maybe we can continue later and maybe I could develop them more.

OK. The fact that there is a war puts an end to some other ideas, maybe for Ukraine at least for the time being. Namely, Ukraine probably could have developed some kind of cooperation between the West and Russia. Maybe it could have moved a certain understanding between the great powers. So let us make a judgment on the West’s reaction to this ongoing conflict. How do you evaluate the gravity of these sanctions, which are now imposed on Russia technological and financial sanctions? And what does all that mean for the balance of forces between Russia and the West?

Well, as for now, the U.S. and its allies move to block certain Russian banks’ access to the SWIFT system, not the access of all, but just the one of certain banks. Also, Russian state media will be banned in the EU, and the European Union took a symbolic step to impose personal sanctions on both Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov. We don’t really know what the consequences would be. How strongly will the two be hit? But indeed the symbolic meaning of this step is huge.

Also, as I said, the Russian state media will be banned in the European Union just to stop this to stop a widening Russian propaganda. The head of the European Commission also followed the line and European airspace was closed today for any Russian aircraft. The European Union is also announcing new sanctions not only against Russia but also against Belarus. The state, which took part in the invasion as we know some of the Russian forces actually had their starting points in Belarus on 24 February 2022. So for some political actors in Europe, those sanctions are not enough.

In Poland, for instance, the Social Democrats are calling for even more. They say that the sanctions should hit Russia and not only in the technological and financial dimensions, but also in cultural exchanges, even sport exchanges, so that Russia would be virtually cut off from any exchange from the external world.

However, we should not forget that Russia is not left powerless even after all these sanctions. Russia has a Chinese ally, and there was already a signal from that party that China is going to help Russia in view of the sanctions. The moratorium against wheat import to China was the most rapidly lifted, which shows that China is willing to somehow secure Russian international trade, even though it will be severely hit with the sanctions against the Russian banks.

Talking about reactions, I would like to focus again on a more human dimension as there are huge demonstrations against the war today (on Sunday) in Berlin, more than 100000 people marching in the city center. There are demonstrations against war and against invasion in virtually every single important city in Europe. In the Polish capital the demonstrations are going on for a third day in a row and the society’s willingness to help refugees is absolutely astonishing, given that not too long ago, the Polish people were divided on the issue of helping those refugees who are reaching the EU from Belarus. Now, the answer is unequivocal: almost everybody is trying to help refugees reach cities from the borders, to find shelter, to get basic help as they come to Poland and so on. 

So the reaction of societies is immense. The reaction of the big political centers is a little bit less decisive. Let us not forget we are living in a capitalist system, and Russian oligarchy is also a part of the world capitalist system. So apparently from the first reactions, we could have an impression that at least some of the countries in Europe want the crisis to finish swiftly so that the old good business can be continued. And now under the pressure of their own societies, they are also forced to change their position.

Well, I will ask you both a certain question taking ideas from your presentations. So on one hand, Malgorzata mentioned there is a huge wave, at least among the people, of condemnation of what is going on in Ukraine and the invasion. On the other hand, the EU has been having this dispute about its future strategic, foreign policy future. What happens now seems to somehow empower the euroatlantic tendency in the EU. And I would ask both of you to comment on what the future awaits this vision of Central and Southeastern Europe, which is the eastern flank of NATO as well. What follows now? What will be the role of this region if this for the time being given the information that we see and what you know?

So I will. Well, I think we, of course, shouldn’t decide everything based on the situation a few days after the invasion happened, because really we see that emotions are really high and that is understandable. The politicians feel under the pressure to decide things. So of course, in the long term, things can change and calm down. But still, I think for our region – Central and Southeastern Europe, let’s say for the so-called eastern flank of the European Union: the security situation will pretty much change. We can expect a high level of militarisation.

That was a tendency observable since 2014. But now we can expect a higher wave. The question is if, of course there, it will not also mean that the region will host more bases of the United States of America. It could also happen as a consequence of this development. I am pretty skeptical about the future of discussion about the strategic autonomy of the European Union, because the current situation will, of course, change the game. We can really see now that NATO’s got a new boost, new legitimacy for the time being. And the questions, of course, connected with the role of Europe itself.

And we have to say that the discussion about the strategic autonomy was really just beginning, in fact there was really no real discussion yet. We know that Macron was trying to push this discussion towards the European Union public space up at vis a vis the Vladimir Putin decision, what he did, or even considering the fact that he did this decision meaning to recognise Donetsk and Luhansk a few hours after promising to Mr. Macron to meet Biden for the next round of negotiation. I think this pretty much weakens this continental security vision of Macron, so I’m very skeptical about this. I think for the time being, we have to expect militarisation of the eastern flank, worsening the security environment for our countries and of course, also most probably other impacts connected with the freedom of speech, media environment and all these things.

Well, I just want to say that after three days of war, it sounds that Vladimir Putin achieved the exact opposite of what he might have hoped for. If he thought that a quick war would make Ukraine a neutral zone, not taking part in any pro-Western military block, then so far he gained this, as Veronica put it, legitimation boost for NATO in Central Europe.

Let me just remind you that there were actually demonstrations in Slovakia against the new military agreement with the US. And now these kinds of voices seem to be not removed from public space, but rather absolutely weakened. As for Poland, which was already NATO enthusiast, now I think there is no serious public figure that would even mention concepts like strategic autonomy of Europe and independent defense concept of Europe without the United States or even somebody who would oppose more American soldiers coming to Poland.

So it seems that instead of showing that Russia is a powerful actor whose voice must be taken into consideration Putin gave to NATO an excellent occasion to, you know, foster hopes that were already put in the alliance in Poland. We even hear voices that Ukraine should be accepted into the alliance right now and into the European Union too, without any preconditions, which is, of course, not very likely to happen.

But you see to what level the debate came. We have not yet started discussing the concept for strategic autonomy when we were pushed into the middle of something that may be a new Cold War, which perhaps already is a new Cold War with the Russian and Chinese bloc on one side and the Americans and their allies on the other side. For Central and Southeastern Europe it is a really difficult moment. We are now becoming a potential war zone or, you know, some kind of middle ground where the big powers would play their games. And from a human dimension these are terrifying prospects for our societies in this part of the world.

Can you comment both, in short, if Russia has acted against its interests, as you seem to suggest, why was this done and is a side question, how is China entering in that equation? If we look geopolitically at what is going on?

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the first question.

The question is, why did the mistake take place  or why Russia didn’t act according to its interests as it seems to be suggested. She acted counterwise.

Yes, it is interesting. We don’t have access to the head of Vladimir Putin and the people around him. So it is very difficult to guess why they decided so.

Something fascinating about all that happened last week since Monday is that it was very, very sudden. I know the information about the troops, about training, about their military exercises, which were happening, by the way, not only (around) Ukraine and in Belarus, but they were happening also in the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, near the coast of Great Britain, in the sea and so on. So this looked like a demonstration of force, which was connected with diplomacy and then the switch between diplomacy and military solution was very, very quick.

That’s going to be maybe the reason why they were not so successful in the current operation because it was probably not so well prepared as it probably could be. I don’t know. I’m not a military expert, I could have a wrong perception. We have to ask how much Vladimir Putin was really connected with reality in the last two years.I don’t mean the everyday reality of Russia, our everyday reality. But with the everyday reality of the stakeholders of the Putin system, how much he really understands what is going on within that and how to define the interest. 

And second thing is, of course, the question how he got the intelligence information about the situation in Ukraine? Because as we can see, Ukraine didn’t crumble. I think the idea was to crumble them, to attack them and wait when they would start to capitulate. And this didn’t happen. Most probably it doesn’t look even now that they will crumble so easily.

So I think it was a miscalculation. I think it was a rational decision based on the Russian interest. They think that they have to have Ukraine in order to keep their independence status as a great power. And Ukraine is the key for them. Plus, of course, the environment, geography, all these things are important. But they miscalculated most probably the situation there. And as already Malgorzata said, they acted against their interest. Stoltenberg said a few days before that, Putin wanted less NATO, but he will have more NATO.

It’s also the part of the problem that he (Putin) didn’t realize, probably, or he can’t foresee that this will happen. And this could mean that we can discuss it together with China. And Russia decided that it is leaving the western flank in the way that it will try to secure it, but it will be totally relevant to China. It will leave basically the system, which was built already in the end of 17th century to the 18th centuries.  Russia was integrated into the European system and was an important player all the time, even during the Cold War. Russia will now totally change and turn back to us and will connect this with China.

 This is, of course, only hypothetical. We don’t know what will happen. But I think from this point of view, it could be a huge break in the sense of international relations in Europe. And it could also, by the way, mean, unfortunately for us, not only militarization and problems and basically a new Cold War in our backyard in our own territories because of Russia. But in my opinion, this could also mean a weakening of Europe, Europe’s global position. Unfortunately, that’s one of the, you know, one of the consequences, which will be like negative consequences, which can happen.

Well, I absolutely agree that if Europe now is limited to a kind of regional U.S. ally, then definitely the position of the whole continent is weakened and perhaps we can do really nothing against this, as European diplomacy was also unable to stop the war. And it is, I think, that the leaders like Macron and Scholz can even take it as a personal humiliation that Putin did take the decision to attack just after meeting them and promising further talks.

I think that the fact that what was said about Russian intelligence in Ukraine, I think, is one of the key questions we need to stop at. If we go back to Putin’s speech justifying the recognition of Donetsk and Lugansk republics as well, too many other comments on him to his many comments on Ukrainian topics, we might wonder to what extent he actually had an idea of what is in Ukrainians’ minds and to what are the popular sentiments in Ukraine. Of course, what the Ukrainian oligarchs think and what are their interests and what the ordinary people think are different questions. But one thing is for sure. Putin hoped that the Russian speaking part of Ukrainian society would welcome his soldiers and would be interested in the prospect of living in Russia, having their homeland join Russia – and it was an absolute mistake. Let us remember that even in 2014 on Maidan, the Russian speaking citizens of Kiev and other cities were also on the pro-European side. For ordinary citizens of Ukraine Russia has not been an attractive alternative for quite a while. Ukrainians were tired with their oligarchy, with their corrupted political system, but they knew too well that they can expect nothing better from Russia, which is also an oligarchic state. Perhaps more, perhaps for sure, more militarized and less messy than the Ukrainian oligarchical environment. But still, Russia is not a Soviet Union. Russia is not even pretending to be a socialist state, and I think that Putin also made this point clear enough in his address when mocking Ukraine as Lenin’s creation. 

So for everybody who saw some continuation of the Soviet Union in modern Russia, now it is no longer valid, Russian state ideology is the neoconservatives is also instrumentalized in the Orthodox Church. More precisely, we can talk about some kind of return to Tsarist Russia rather than a continuation of what the Soviet Union once stood for.

So at the end of the talk, what are the social consequences of this war for the Russians and Ukrainians on one hand and for the Europeans on the other?

Oh, and I forgot to comment on China because you also asked about China. So I think we can switch to social consequences at the moment, but that China definitely deserves a minute of reflection. 

Well, how do things look from my perspective, is that by this miscalculation that Veronika pointed out now, Putin put himself in the position of junior partner to China. I think that is the case now with China, which is helping Russia to go over past the Western sanctions, not the other way round. China needs Russian resources for at least for a moment, but it is China, which is the demographic power of this China, which is a military superpower already. And Russia has apparently lost any possibilities of influencing other countries. The Russian model is not interesting for others or for its neighbors. Russia has now virtually lost all its soft power, its head. And now it will be also dependent on China to be able to keep the international trade in place. So it may turn out that Putin made a catastrophic mistake with this invasion because Russia and China will never be equal players with their potential. All that happens now could be seen as a prologue to future confrontations between the US and China in which Russia’s position seems now to be already decided.

And the social consequences…

Veronika has something to say on China

I just forgot about it, I will get it in brief. I think in the case of China and Russia, now I agree with Malgorzata totally that this is basically what is going on. Putin will be more dependent on China. And this is the first point. He was dependent before, but , and this is interesting,  Russia has always been trying to balance. Russia was balancing China with the West and balancing the West with China. And now they will lose this opportunity. As they really turn their back to the West, the West will do all possible to isolate Russia. It doesn’t mean catastrophe, of course, because we have to remember that the West is not the whole world these days.

There will be others who want to do business with Russia. I can just remind that at the day of invasion or one day after the invasion the Pakistani Prime Minister was in Russia and last year Russia and Pakistan signed an energy deal. So Russia is switching not only towards China, but what matters for us is Russia will be the junior partner of China. It was something they were trying to go around. And now I think these financial sanctions are significant. We know that the West is especially strong in financial spheres, and in technologies, but in technologies China is already getting on track vis-a-vis the US. But Russia, not. Russia will be not only dependent financially, but there will also be technological dependence, which was, by the way, in making because I read that the Chinese technological companies are very present in Russia already. So this presence will probably get a boost.

From this point of view, it’s also one of the negative consequences, I think, for Russian foreign policy. And they will have to try to balance China, probably with some Asian countries. I don’t know if it will be India, because India is very much West-oriented. So in this sense, I think it’s also the decision which will have negative consequences for Russia and for its autonomy. They need autonomy in order to, you know, be a great power. Also that is the most important definition of being autonomous, being sovereign in taking decisions. So this is in question if they don’t achieve the opposite of what they wanted.

OK, and so now we could look at the societies, Ukrainian and Russian society. I think very interesting things are going on in the Russian society as there were people getting out to the streets to protest the war, which was pretty unexpected given the fact that also Russian media are now being stopped from disseminating information. They are like, not that just advised, but strongly advised to just reprint official communications of the Defense Ministry. And so, well, also a lot of analysts also commented that in the above, in view of worsening life conditions in Russia, worsening inequalities, Putin’s strategy to hold his power firmly was to feed not nationalism, but I would say a cult of Russian victory, a cult of 1945, a huge enthusiasm, for Russian militarism.

So if some of the people find courage to protest against war, even if they know they risk arrest, if they risk different consequences, then it shows that they are really a part of Russian society for those younger segments of Russian society. But not only do they see that their country is not heading in this direction that the government promised them to go.

And I wanted to say also a word about the Ukrainian-Russian relations on this human level because there was a certain dose of contradiction in Russian comments on Ukraine over the previous eight years. On one hand, we heard that there is a terrible nationalist junta ruling in Kiev and that after the Maidan that Ukraine was taken by the most extreme nationalist circles. But on the other hand, we heard from Russians that Ukrainians are a brotherly nation. They are that there is a particular common history shared by the two and that these links are not so easily destroyed. 

Well, today I would say with a big degree of certainty that they are no longer brotherly nations. Nobody in Ukraine is going just to forgive an armed invasion, a full scale invasion that was yet cloaked under the name of special operation. And it’s portrayed as demilitarization. And denazification as Putin did it. This really sounds like the worst cases of war propaganda from the past, when what was an actual war was portrayed as a just defense or operation that does not influence the civilian population.

Ukrainians now see that the war has come to their cities. There were already cases of street fighting in cities like Sumy, Kharkiv or Mariupol, the first two in the Northeast and the third one by the Sea of Azov So well, how can you be a brotherly nation if you decide to invade your younger brothers or older brothers?

I would also like to say that this process of Ukraine getting more and more detached from Russia was, to a large extent, provoked by Russia itself. I wanted to say again, that had Russia been an interesting social model as a welfare state or something like this, it would be much harder for the West, for the European Union to get approval in Ukraine as the geopolitical option. I am now talking about ordinary people – people who were protesting in 2014, who hoped for a better life in the European Union, not for the European Union as some abstract concept, but basically for a better life in the European Union. Had Russia offered a better life and the Brotherhood of Nations perhaps the Brotherhood would be flourishing now as well, or at least there would be people still willing to invest in that concept. But not now.

And one more personal impression from my journalism to the south of Ukraine more than 10 years ago, it was pretty obvious to everybody coming to cities like Odessa, Nikolaev or Kherson that you will meet Russian speaking populations there. You will meet Russian monuments there. There is still a monument to Suvorov in Ochakiv, a town in the south, which also hosts a naval base of the Ukrainian navy and you may see the figure of Catherine the Second, the empress of Russia, in Odessa. And you know, everybody knows that this will be the kind of other world that this is Ukrainian territory, but with a unique history with a particular approach to the past.

What has happened after 2014 is that these people are still speaking Russian, but they are firmly advocating their Ukrainian identity and they are the first to assume that speaking Russian language does not mean being a Putin’s follower. Let me close this personal impression with what I saw with my own eyes in Kherson, a city which is now basically the object of fighting.

There were a lot of accusations in Ukraine against Russian-speaking populations to be potentially disloyal to the state. And so the Russian speaking cities in the South decided to put a lot of national symbols in the public space so that the Ukrainian colors are visible everywhere. And it was a clear message that we are Ukrainians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians, but still Ukrainians. So of course, Ukrainian language policy in the last year also imposed Ukrainian language in public spaces. It was banned to use Russian on a range of occasions. But this also had an endorsement from a big part of the population seeing what was going on.

There is one more issue which maybe we need to discuss now, and probably in short, Veronika: the protests in Russia. It was announced that tens of cities have protesters against this military invasion and important people from Russian elites, even curiously, the daughter of Dmitry Peskov, a well-known figure close to Putin, seemed to be against what is going on in Ukraine. What are we to expect? How to read those protests? What could they hint with regards to power in Russia, do they hint at a certain division in Russian elites or society which could be long-term?

Well, I think also the Russian public was actually not ready for this scenario. I don’t watch the First channel of the state Tv, neither do I watch the state news. I am seeing all the possible outlets on the internet, but still some of them are owned by the people connected with the state and basically all big media in Russia, oligarchic owned and connected with the state. So I didn’t see the same kind of strong propaganda for, you know, for the invasion. To the contrary, I think what happened was also a surprise for the Russian public. The discourse about the invasion coming from the US, from the Western side was even ridiculised  in Russia. So I think one of the effects is that also the Russian public is in shock from what happened. But of course, not everybody is showing it directly.

I know that in the public space before there were people who were absolutely refusing such an invasion was possible. They thought Russians couldn’t do it because we are a brother nation with the Ukrainians. This was their answer. “They are our brothers. We couldn’t do that.” This was what the ordinary people were saying in the media and in chats.

So now this, of course, totally changed the situation. I am not surprised there were some protests. Of course, the regime is so much securitized that they don’t want people to show their opinions on the streets and people are getting put in jail for a while and so on. There is definitely a negative direction. I can’t foresee the future, but I would guess that if the war gets complicated, if it continues, there could be more people like that. If the Russian army tries to really do some kind of big attacks on Ukraine  and there will be more dead people, I think there will be more and more negative reaction in the public, plus, of course, social and economic consequences.

And Putin, for all 20 years, he was always seen as a leader who stabilized the society, who was the stabilizer of society who was probably not giving big social welfare, but who at least pays the salaries, who is indexing the pensions. Basic things always worked. And now, this could be the huge question: what will happen with the sanctions? How will they influence the Russian economy, which is not in good shape? There is high inflation, lower real wages and so on. So this is one aspect which is important.

Second aspect is to ask about the elites. Everybody knows, but I will point it out. Russia has very pro-Western elites in lifestyle. It doesn’t mean that they are necessarily geopolitically pro-Western. But Russia is still Peter the Great type of Russia. You know, Russia, which Westernised, which sees models in the West. The elites will probably not see it as an advantage that now they cannot fly to and visit Paris. Beijing will be not the, you know, replacement for Paris. Let us put it like this.

And of course, the war itself, the consequences of it for all… It’s very unpleasant because you (oligarchs) will probably lose a lot of money, a lot of opportunities, investment, assets in the banks and so on. So what we saw could be only the tip of the iceberg because I have to say that the Russian system is very untransparent, very Byzantine. You don’t know what is going on within elites. What are their opinions? We only know there are fractions. We know there are different groups which can fight for money.

We also know now that with the Green Deal, which probably will not happen, but with the changes in the energy market vis-a-vis all this, there is already a fight for new oil. What will be the new oil for the Russian elites because they live from this? So this everything can make the situation for Putin more complicated. Even as I say, I cannot say 100 percent. I cannot tell you who was against and who was not against, but I would say business  is not pretty much happy about what is going on. And I would say that in general the disbalance which will change the situation. So in Russia, it means that the siloviki (security apparatus) will be stronger. This can destabilize the system of Putin because it was always based on stabilization and balance within the society and within the elites.

The invasion in Ukraine is obviously a great disturbance in the force. Cross-border Talks will continue to reflect on this issue and I believe we have the knowledge and the experience to do that. So let us, our listeners and viewers continue following our channel on YouTube and stay tuned for further episodes and Cross-border Talks stuff.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

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Photo: A damaged Ukrainian building in the first days of the Russian military invasion (source: YouTube)

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The war in Ukraine is no excuse to crush the anti-war idea.

Stoyo Tetevenski (source: Stoyo Tetevenski)

Some myths in the Bulgarian public consciousness about the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Stoyo Tetevenski, Dversia.net, 25.02.2022

For two days there has been war in Europe. This war has a clear aggressor, and his name is Putin. However, among the thousands of Facebook posts expressing people’s outrage, fears, anger and empathy, there is something else: a myth-making operation that will define the terms of the post-war order. The possibility of war has been ridiculed by some, encouraged by others, and filled others with panicked fear. Now that it is a fact, the field has been cleared for the defenders of American imperialism to say not only how we are allowed to condemn the war, but also what we should believe is happening.

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The Solaris strike: workers fight, the management remains silent

One of the key strike sites in the Solaris compound, shot in peaceful times: the building with manager’s offices with working halls behing (source: Solarisbus.com)

A report on the ongoing protests at the Solarus bus plant in Bolechowo, Poland

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

This article was published on 9 February 2022 at the Polish site Strajk.eu.

When they stood behind the factory barrier, with their flags, some serious, others happy and full of verve, it was as if the old images of the workers fighting came to life. For the core of the conflict is as old as the capitalist system. Solaris workers had been negotiating with the management for several months, they demanded pay rises but were ready to make some concessions. The employer wanted to give even less – so on 24 January they went on strike, and the strike goes on.

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The fight for the rule of law in EU is only just beginning

A part of the cover page of Binding the Guardian report (source: Cross-border Talks)

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat interviewed the left-wing member of the European Parliament Clare Daly in the context of the report Binding the Guardian, commissioned by her office. Binding the Guardian deals with abuses of rule of law in three EU countries, which the European Commission failed to expose and counter maneuver

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

This article was published on 10 December 2021 at the Polish site Strajk.eu

When the European Commission reports on the rule of law in individual states, does it really always act as an impartial arbiter? And what if the answer to this question is negative? The report prepared by a team of political scientists and commissioned by Irish left-wing MEP Clare Daly shows, on the example of Spain, France and Bulgaria, the scale of Brussels’ “oversights” and inconsistencies. And its authors prove: the rule of law is a great thing, democracy is worth fighting for, but… A perfectly law-abiding government can equally perfectly well pursue the interests of big business, not its own working citizens.

Perhaps it is because of these conclusions that the report entitled Binding the Guardian has gone almost unnoticed in the mainstream media. It would be very different if the leading authors – Bulgarian-British political scientist Albena Azmanova and young researcher-trainee Bethany Howard, supported by five other academics from universities from Berlin to Oxford – had followed the usual path and drawn a simple opposition between liberal democracy and populism. However, they deviate from this path in the very first paragraph of the report.

“The development of autocratic, unaccountable governments – more ostentatious in the East, more insidious in the West – is a trans-European pathology. Such governments have developed in countries led by Eurosceptic leaders (such as Viktor Orban’s Hungary) as well as those ruled by European loyalists (Borisov’s Bulgaria). They arose in old European countries (Spain, France, Austria) and in new ones (Poland, Romania). Safeguarding the rule of law has become a matter of political emergency.”, we read in the report.

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Where’s the hope in Bulgaria?

The hosts of Cross-border Talks (source: The Cross-border Talks, YouTube)

Bulgarians are caught in a game of mutual domination between the interests of oligarchs and the agendas of Biden-ists and Trump-ists

The Cross-border Talks

This is the transcript of the first segment of the fourth episode of the Cross-border Talks podcast. The Cross-border Talks is a podcast on international relations, hosted by the Polish journalist Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat and her Bulgarian colleague Vladimir Mitev in cooperation with Strajk, The Barricade and Foundation Naprzod.

In this segment Małgorzata and Vladimir speak about current affairs in Bulgarian politics in the context of the forthcoming 14 November 2021 presidential and parliamentary elections. They discuss the protests of 2020, the issue of social change, the influence of internal and international lobbies in Bulgarian politics and what could be territory of hope in it. 

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Iran’s ambiguous attitude towards the Taliban, “the West” and “the East”

Iran and Afghanistan in the focus of attention (source: Pixabay, CC0)

The foreign policy ambiguity in Iran is mixed with an large diversity of internal crises

The Cross-border Talks

The second segment of the third episode of Cross-border Talks deals with the Iranian attitude towards the takeover of power in Afghanistan by the Taliban, which happened in August 2021. It also studies the recalibration of the Iranian foreign policy following the start of the presidency of Ebrahim Raisi and its relative orientation towards what Iran considers “The East” and the region. Also, the issue of the negotiations in Vienna over the renewal of the nuclear deal between Iran and the international community is reviewed. Finally, the discussions deal with the various crises in the country: the economic, social, medical, corona crisis and water shortages. In an international system focused on power relations, the Iranian people are paying the price on one hand for Iran’s tendency for strict control over domestic affairs and being part of “the axis of resistance”, and also for the economic warfare against the country coming from leading countries in the West. 

This video was released on 24 August 2021. Subscribe to the YouTube channel of the Cross-border Talks podcast here

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