Volodymyr Zelensky: The dismantling of a Hero

Public opinion – it is a bloodthirsty beast. It purrs and cajoles when a hero is born, it mercilessly rips him apart as soon as he stumbles or even begins to fall. The Ukrainian comedian was a nonexistent entity before he assumed his country’s presidency; he was a shining light to the West and beyond as he stood up to injustice on behalf of an invaded nation.

The injustice continues to this day. Russians under Putin’s leadership continue to trample on international law and human rights. But our outrage has begun to subside since our well-being, standard of living, and even, possibly, peace is threatened. People remember that until half a year ago Ukraine meant nothing to them, many did not even know that this country existed. And now, all of a sudden, drivers are supposed to pay double for oil, while companies must lay off more and more workers because they run out of the gas required to run their operations or can no longer pay for it. In Davos, it is mainly millionaires and billionaires who are worried about the future, but common people, workers, and employees, suffer much more. Off the record, many are beginning to ask themselves whether we here in the West should really care whether Ukraine is ruled by a man like Zelensky or by Putin.

Already voices are being raised that this comedian-president has long since overstepped the mark. Are we supposed to give up our comfortable lives and our achievements as an exporting country just because the Ukrainians want to join NATO and even the EU, which even now is barely getting along with its existing members? It this country really that important?

Zelensky himself seems to suspect by now that public opinion, this terrible beast, is slowly baring its teeth. He is no longer as radiant as before. His voice has become hoarse, his countenance has darkened. On the one hand, this may be due to the fact that the triumphant cries about an impending Ukrainian victory were obviously premature. Russians are tough, and they are known for their staying power. They usually show their greatest strength just when you think you can write them off. True, Putin had completely miscalculated when he thought he could bring Ukraine to its knees with a lightning raid, and he miscalculated no less when he speculated that the decadent West, hooked on the Russian gas and oil drip, would turn a blind eye to the brutal assault.

 We know: the exact opposite was the case. Appalled and outraged by Putin’s actions in violation of international law, Sweden and Finland will place themselves under NATO’s protective umbrella: NATO thus became larger, not smaller, as Putin wanted. In general, the West confronted the Russian president with unexpected unity and singlemindedness. However, the sanctions imposed by the West will only hurt Russia in the long run, as they are virtually ineffective in the short term. Because war is cheap for Russia – destruction is always comparatively cheap, only construction is costly. As one of the best experts on the Russian economy, the now exiled economist Vladislav Inozemtsev, calculates, it costs no more than ten billion dollars a month, the equivalent of just two and a half days’ worth of Russian exports. Only Western arms deliveries to Ukraine do really harm Russia, so Inozemtsev. Only these are effective in the short term. But they, too, are so only, it should be added, because the Ukrainians under Zelensky’s surprisingly successful leadership have shown amazing resilience. Unfortunately, even the heroism of the Ukrainians did not prevent the the Russians from gaining a foothold in Lugansk and Donbass and on the Sea of Azov from Mariupol to just outside Odessa. In Kherson, Putin is already having Russian passports handed out to cut off any way back.

But the real reason for the growing dejection of the once shining hero Zelensky lies deeper. The Ukrainian president is beginning to realize that more and more he is nothing better than a make-believe hero. Despite all heroic resistance to the invader, he and his beloved country – which wants only one thing: freedom – have lost control of their destiny. No, not primarily because the millionaires and billionaires of Davos fear for their profits and because the workers, who are even more affected by incessantly rising prices, fear for their livelihood, and not even because all those Putin’s friends in the West are raising their head again. No, something more frightening has happened. Zelensky has come to understand that he and his country are merely puppets: puppets in the great game of two superpowers. The man is not only likeable as a personality but also very intelligent, so it cannot escape his notice that his repeated demand to talk to Putin, to face him in negotiations, will never be fulfilled – or only if he first concedes all the demands that his brutal, now no longer likeable but likewise highly intelligent adversary will pass on to him. 

For even more terrifying than the sometimes purring, then suddenly mercilessly biting monster we know as public opinion is the struggle of superpowers for power and influence, of which public opinion and ordinary citizens in general know little or nothing. The President of the Russian Federation has at his disposal an equally fearful instrument of extermination of all life on our planet as the United States – his power must be feared just as much as theirs. But it was not long ago that an American president unscrupulously dismissed his country as a third-rate regional power. The insult created deep resentment in Russia. As a result, a tremendous hatred of the West has spread over the country – not only among the elite. Without this hatred it would be hard to explain why the first Russian television channel dared to equate the current German chancellor with Hitler (see for instance the last edition of Besagon).

The Russians see Ukraine and its leadership as mere puppets of the United States, but they do not see Europe any differently. Since the war with Ukraine, Russian hatred toward Europe – especially Germany – is even greater than that toward the United States. Europeans try to overlook thisdevelopment. They don’t want to see that both Ukraine and Europe, which is militarily quite defenseless compared to the two superpowers, have become border areas between the fronts. What is happening in Ukraine today could tomorrow be the fate of the whole of Europe. The two superpowers themselves dare not attack each other. They know too well that they risk their own demise if they do, but the border areas between or beyond the fronts lend themselves to proxy wars below the nuclear threshold. So it was in Soviet times in Africa and the Middle East. And so it is today in Ukraine.

Zelensky seems to have suddenly realized that freedom or slavery of his country only seemingly depends on whether he makes glittering speeches at the UN or before Western parliaments. In truth, the fate of Ukraine solely depends on how far Russia and the U.S. can and will go without risking a nuclear holocaust. I assume that the war will by no means last for years, because the Russian armed forces, as well as the Western military arsenals, are already quite exhausted. This is, however, a most dangerous situation, because a sudden reversal of military achievements on one side or the other could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. In this critical situation, Russia and the United States will seek a compromise – Kissinger is already urging it. At this moment, Zelensky’s wishes will no longer count. In all likelihood, Ukraine will have to give up not only the Donbass and Lugansk, but possibly also part of its southern territory. Zelensky knows quite well that such a compromise would be nothing less than a political death sentence for him as for any other president. He would be accused of betraying his country.

Some compromise will have to be reached. After all the Russians are and will remain our neighbors. They are so under a moderate leadership, when we admire them as a great European cultural nation, and they remain so under Putin, who avowedly considers the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century, rehabilitates Stalin, and makes no secret of his desire to force decadent, fascist Europe once again under the Russian heel. If such a man meets with a lack of resistance – and without the U.S., Europe is no match for him militarily – there is no guarantee whatsoever that he will not achieve his goal. Toughness and willingness to compromise in this order, are both required in this situation.

From now on, there will probably be little talk of Volodymyr Zelensky. The Moor has done his duty, the Moor can go. Politics is that cruel – an even bigger beast than public opinion. In the end, the two superpowers will sacrifice this extraordinary man without hesitation. And we will even have to admit that their choice is inevitable. For what would be the alternative? A nuclear world conflagration. In the age of nuclear and hydrogen bombs, we must live together with our neighbors, even if, like Russia today, they are ruled by men who condemn the fascists, only to imitate them in every possible way.

*Just now (5/29/2022) Zelensky did a 180-degree turnaround. He let it be known that some territories occupied by the Russians could be recaptured only with hundreds of thousands of dead. It remains to be seen how and whether he will survive this bold move. If Putin understands Zelensky’s speech the way it is meant, namely as a peace offer, then the war could indeed soon be over.

Europe – Island of Pacifism?

This question is no longer discussed only behind closed doors. CDU politician and former environment minister Norbert Röttgen made the following statement in an interview with Der Spiegel: 

SPIEGEL: You write in your book that for Europe it is a matter of “to be or not to be.” A bit pathetic, isn’t it? Röttgen: No, it’s the naked truth. We have outsourced energy to Russia, the growth markets to China, security comes from the USA. At the same time, climate change and migration pose enormous challenges. Now we’re adding war to the mix. What is at stake is safeguarding our European way of life. If we do not defend it, it will not survive (Der Spiegel 21/2022).

Europe owes its world-historical rise to the Industrial Revolution, which, beginning in England towards the end of the eighteenth century, enabled the rise of Germany – and this revolution was based on the exploitation of abundant coal deposits. By the time oil began to play a decisive role in the First World War, the old continent was already in trouble. Much more so in the Second World war. “The war in Europe was decided in the struggle for control of oil supplies in the Caspian Sea area. The German advance to Stalingrad was aimed at seizing these supplies and denying the Soviet Union access” (Ugo Bardi).

After the war, this problem seemed to be solved in an unexpectedly peaceful way. Even if Germany’s own energy sources were to dry up and coal abandoned because of its harmful effect on the environment, an increasingly globalized economy now provided it with all the energy it required: from the Gulf as well as from Africa or Russia, and later even as liquefied gas from the US.

Globalization seemed to be the panacea for scarcity. Germany produced its industrial goods, which were in demand all over the world, and the rest of the world was happy to supply it with raw materials in return. In this way, dependencies grew that were obviously to everyone’s advantage. In the early 1990s, no less a person than Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, was still singing a resounding song of praise for the blessings of globalization – and almost all leading economists were happily singing along with him (some still do so today). After all, the doctrine of sharing labor and resources is perfectly correct: everyone gives what he has or can do, and in return he receives what he lacks or cannot do. Can there be a more beautiful ideal of reciprocity? David Ricardo had already raved about it.

The stumbling block lies in the consequences that arise from the ingrained human need for power. When Robert Reich wrote “The Work of Nations” (possibly with the ambition to surpass Adam Smith’s well-known classic “The Wealth of Nations”), the American world power seemed willing and able to free its citizens from all dirty and routine industrial work by ceding it to the poor Chinese in what was then an underdeveloped country. In the name of his science, a leading economic expert thus opened the floodgates of outsourcing.*1* In quite a short time, U.S. industries were dismantled at home and rebuilt in China. In hindsight, we may say that Robert Reich laid the theoretical groundwork for the U.S. economy to sell both its nation’s work and wealth to China. This happened so quickly, thoroughly and with so much collectively mobilized energy that the Far Eastern country de facto became the world’s first economic power within just three decades.*2*

Americans had invented or developed to industrial maturity almost everything on which modern civilization is based – everything from computers to cell phones and the Internet, but since the beginning of the 21st century they are no longer the guardians of the treasures they had created. Donald Trump was the first to look with disgust and amazement at the Rust Belt in his own country and the many failed livelihoods that had sprung from it. Only then did Americans realize the monumental stupidity they had committed. Seduced by “experts” in the name of an abstract theory that ignores power because it has no place in economic theory, they had surrendered far more than just their industrial production to China – with the erosion of their economic base, their position as a superpower became endangered. Trump’s diagnosis was correct, but his therapy of reviving American industries by imposing import tariffs on Chinese products had little effect. That is because you can dismantle existing industrial plants so to speak overnight; but rebuilding ruins takes time and rarely succeeds.

Germany has only partially outsourced its industries. As Röttgen notes, the outsourcing mainly affects growth markets, the real source of wealth. But while the U.S. outsourced much of its manufacturing industries, Germany has moved into an even deeper dependency by getting most of its energy from Russia. In this case, too, the power factor was completely disregarded, as if this, too, were just some sort of normal business. But Putin has been thinking all along about how to strengthen this dependence on the one hand and how to abuse it all the better for political purposes on the other. That is why the whole of Europe is currently in an even more critical situation than the U.S. Apart from coal, which for environmental reasons should no longer be used and nuclear energy Germany rejects for the same reason, it has no sufficient energy sources to maintain its industries and with them its previous standard of living. This would not be possible even if Europe were to succeed in a massive effort to switch entirely to renewable energies. No matter how much the environmental expert Mojib Latif from Kiel university may insist: “Sustainably manufactured products must be cheaper than competing products that do not respect the demands of sustainability”. In the world we live in for the next decades, this cannot and will not be the case. A state that produces with dirty energy enjoys price advantages all over the world. “China is flooding the markets with dirty products that we simply shouldn’t be buying anymore,” the same expert rightly notes (Der Spiegel 21/2022). But how will Germany get rid of all its export articles, such as its cars in China, if we start such a boycott at home?

The power factor is ignored in economic science, which is why experts like Robert Reich regularly mislead entire countries. Let’s look at Ukraine. After its independence at the beginning of the 1990s, it acted economically quite correctly when it skillfully maneuvered between Europe and Russia so as to obtain the most favorable offer from each side. Likewise, Germany behaved in an economically correct way when it procured the oil and gas it needed from those countries where it was cheapest. Only a year ago, no state was blamed for doing what made sense economically. But economic activity and power cannot be separated in the long run. We cannot demand military protection from one power – the United States – and provide the other power – Russia – with foreign currency through gas and oil deals, which it then uses to build up armaments that threaten the US.

Ukraine has learned in the hardest way that no state can maneuver between the fronts with impunity. In an article of February 15, 2015 (Was hat Washington mit Europa vor?), I had already prophetically foreseen the consequences. “In view of the pressure coming from the victorious Republicans, the American president /Obama/ will probably soon have to give up his opposition to arms deliveries to Ukraine. Once that happens, the small-scale war on the European Union’s doorstep will turn into a hot one, in which Russia will undoubtedly have the better cards due to its geographic proximity.”

In the meantime, not only Germany but all of Europe is in a similar situation as Ukraine, namely between the fronts of the great powers. Both Russia and the US can cut off our gas supply at any time. To be sure, China, too, has few raw materials of its own, but compared to Germany, it dominates the growth markets and has been rapidly rearming, both conventionally and nuclear. It therefore has much less to worry about than Europe.

What are the conclusions to be drawn from this situation? First, one that we certainly do not want to draw, namely a return to coal or other dirty energies that irretrievably destroy the environment.

Norbert Röttgen has hinted at a second conclusion – now being stated in no uncertain terms in EU committies. Europe must not continue to be militarily dependent; it must be able to defend itself if necessary. Since convincing deterrence in our time is only possible with nuclear weapons, such a demand inevitably means that the whole of Europe – and not just France – must have its nuclear “force de frappe”. The French have long accepted their small nuclear power (which is not really taken seriously by Russia and the United States). German pacifists, on the other hand, react in a frightened, indignant and resolutely hostile manner. In a world already filled to the brim with weapons of mass destruction, each additional nuclear warhead only increases the likelihood of a nuclear holocaust. Europe should form a nuclear-weapon-free island instead of following the North Koreans and Iranians.

This is an evident and convincing argument, but only if we acknowledge its consequences. Those who follow the Christian commandment to turn the right cheek after a slap on the left must expect to end up as slaves, because as a rule individuals and peoples who could not or would not defend themselves have suffered precisely this fate. Shortly after gaining state independence, Ukraine offered both cheeks in the Christian way by signing the so-called Budapest Memorandum on December 5, 1994. In the memorandum, Ukraine renounced its entire nuclear arsenal, in return for which the United States, Great Britain and Russia agreed to respect Ukraine’s “existing borders”. The country thus voluntarily rendered itself defenseless. From the point of view of convinced pacifists this was the only right thing to do, from the point of view of Ukrainians living today it was an unforgivable mistake. Russia has shown the world that it respects treaty obligations less than the paper they are written on. Instead of protecting Ukraine’s “existing borders,” it first annexed Crimea and would now prefer to conquer the entire country. Far from guaranteeing Ukraine’s security after it renounced nuclear weapons, Russia now murders its citizend and reduces its cities to rubble.

Should Europe decide to become a nuclear power like Russia, China and the U.S., this will definitely mean even greater danger, even greater risk for humanity as a whole – this is what our great technological progress and our inability to control it have done to us. Conversely, if Europe persists in being an island of defenselessness and pacifism (at least in comparison with nuclear-armed states like Russia, China and the US), it must be prepared and even willing to accept the same fate as Ukraine. In my view, the credibility of German pacifists depends, on whether or not they are willing to commit themselves to this consequence and accept it without reservation.

Let me conclude with a more hopeful note. Immanuel Kant was right. There will be no end to this insoluble dilemma unless the disastrous arms race of mankind against itself is ended by a supranational authority accepted by all. Then the power factor too will finally cease to play a role in the equally murderous economic race.

1 1 More realistically, we may of course argue that the U.S. economy does what it wants anyway. But it feels doubly comfortable and secure when it also receives the blessing of science – ex cattedra so to speak.

2 In conscious opposition to Robert Reich, I warned against outsourcing in my most successful book (Die Arbeitslose Gesellschaft, S. Fischer, 4th ed. 1999). In order to fend it off, the German economy would have had to give up about a quarter of its exports (in the meantime, it is much more). This was not only against the spirit of the times, but above all against profit. Meinhard Miegel wrote to me at the time: “Mr. Jenner, try to persuade German industry to reduce its profits.

Wrong: Checkmate! Ukraine will capitulate and Europe is brought to its knees

Self-correction two days after publication. The demand for payment in rubles could have led to a halt in gas supplies and the destructive economic and social effects mentioned below. However, Putin left himself a loophole (see footnote *0* below). Nevertheless, I am not deleting the article because it shows Europe’s fatal dependence on foreign resources and its possible consequences.

Continue reading Wrong: Checkmate! Ukraine will capitulate and Europe is brought to its knees

Brotherly Love the Russian way – Struggling for the New World Order

The Russian president recently let the world know that the Ukrainians are a nation of brothers, but that they have been subjected to Western brainwashing which turned them into Nazis. Apparently, he assumes that the largest and most powerful among the brothers, the Russians, are legitimized to impose their law on the smaller and weaker ones, that is, to bring them under the Russian heel. Continue reading Brotherly Love the Russian way – Struggling for the New World Order

Putin’s vision for Ukraine and for Europe

So now we can finally be sure: The Russian knout is in the window. For Putin, not only Ukraine is a failed state, but he and Xi Jinping already prophetically foresee the end of the free Western world. The territorially largest nuclear power offers a political alternative that can draw on a long imperial tradition – from the tsars to Stalin to Vladimir Putin himself. The Russian president offers us an imposed Gleichschaltung, safely backed by the police, the military, the state security service, and the systematic suppression of all opposition. Continue reading Putin’s vision for Ukraine and for Europe

Germany – a Banana Republic?

The critics of representative democracy suspect it of disenfranchising voters because they are prevented from voting directly on legislative proposals. This accusation ignores social reality, which has changed fundamentally since ancient Greece and the Germanic Thing, where free men (women were still excluded) decided on war and peace and many other basic concerns. Modern society has become so complex that most decisions require technical expertise that can only be provided by specialists. Continue reading Germany – a Banana Republic?

Delta – Is democracy losing the battle against dictatorship and autocracy?

Although we usually hear populists in both camps saying, that the realm of good – their own – is facing that of evil – the other side, U.S. and Chinese students and scholars move effortlessly from one country to the other. After the Chinese conformed most of their institutions to the Western model, the similarities between them are significantly greater than anything that still separates them. Continue reading Delta – Is democracy losing the battle against dictatorship and autocracy?

The Verdikt

The ruling against oil company Shell, forcing it to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030, is a landmark – the dawn of a new era. For the first time, the fate of a major corporation is no longer exclusively in its own hands, nor ruled by government regulations; instead, it is civil society that determines its freedom of action. Continue reading The Verdikt