Geopolitics

Putin's Blunt Message For Germany: Forget Ukraine

The Russian president's article on the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union can be read on multiple levels. But one thing is sure, his mind is fixed on the future.

Merkel and Putin know each other well
Merkel and Putin know each other well
Alexander Demchenko

KYIV — The title itself is catchy enough: "To be open despite the past." True, it had nothing to do with the War or post-War years. The article, printed in the German newspaper Die Zeit is rather a call to Germans to forget about the Ukrainian issue and to engage as soon as possible in real, profitable policies, such as the launch of Nord Stream.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to convince the Germans to be open-minded, regardless of the past. But the past he urges Germans to forget has nothing to do with Nazism. Here the Russian president understands that Germans are still bound by the politics of memory, and are unlikely to allow themselves to change history any time soon.

Putin is also aware that the thought viruses propagated by Kremlin propaganda are effective enough to bind the Russian population together in a single aggressive impulse. What he wants the German people to forget about is another, not-so-distant and yet also unpleasant past: the war in Ukraine and the occupation of its territories.

In his Die Zeit article, the Russian president once again recalled the so-called coup d'etat in Kyiv in 2014, saying that he considered Ukraine's breakaway from Russia a tragedy, that there was no occupation of Crimea, but only a split in Ukraine that led to the separation of the peninsula. He recalled many of the old tropes of Kremlin propaganda. The same lines that he has been trying to introduce into the information space of Europe for eight years now.

One could say that Putin's article is an ode to Germany's ruling elite

Yet Putin's current article is not only aimed at the German and Russian masses, but more particularly at Germany's current political elite. The Russian leader is sending them a different message: an offer to pay off the Germans today in exchange for forgetting about Ukraine in the future.

"Russia stands for the restoration of a comprehensive partnership with Europe. We have many topics of mutual interest. These are security and strategic stability, health and education, digitalization, energy, culture, science, and technology, solving climate and environmental problems," Putin writes.

One could say that the text is an ode to Germany's ruling elite, and especially to the Social Democrats, who were able to include a clause in the German government's coalition agreement committing to complete the Nord Stream gas pipeline. It is also noticeable that the Russian president is trying to influence the conservative part of the German electorate, which supports the ruling elite. He understands that Russia's economic projects in Europe can only succeed if the current political landscape in Germany remains intact.

"It was German entrepreneurs who pioneered cooperation with our country in the post-War years. In 1970, the USSR and Germany struck a deal of the century on long-term supplies of natural gas to Europe, laying the foundation for constructive interdependence and giving rise to many subsequent grand projects, including the Nord Stream gas pipeline," Putin writes.

Welders working on the Nord Stream gas pipeline — Photo: Bair175

Naturally, a large part of Putin's article was devoted specifically to Russian-European relations. It was a counterargument against the U.S., with the Russian president advocating for security-building without Washington, the freeing of NATO's expansion to the East, and further integration and cooperation in Europe.

In general, his speeches on further expansion of NATO to the East are not just a reaction to U.S. President Joe Biden's words regarding the possible integration of Ukraine into the alliance without Crimea and Donbas. It is a request to the German elite to guarantee, as in 2008, that Kyiv will not be able to move forward on the issue of rapprochement, or join the alliance.

Putin speaks of a deteriorating security system, of excessive tension, and mentions the risks of a new arms race. What is he suggesting: cooperation? Not if you can read between the lines. When he mentions the concept of a Greater Europe — from Lisbon to Vladivostok — he certainly remembers its founder. No, not General de Gaulle, but philosopher McKinder, who said that Russia is a European heartland, which should influence Europe and manage its geopolitical processes.

When the president of the Russian Federation calls on the German elite for unification, he recalls Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, the course that the German chancellor chose to take in the 1970s to normalize relations between West Germany and East Germany, the Soviet Union and Poland. This was precisely what served to form Europe's single energy space when oil and gas transportation systems were built that linked the Western part of the continent with Soviet energy resources.

When Putin suggests cooperation, he means not a united Europe, but a Europe that depends on Russia.

"We are missing out on the enormous opportunities that cooperation gives us," he writes. "(It's) all the more important now that we are all facing common challenges: the pandemic and its dire socio-economic consequences."

When Putin suggests cooperation, he means not a united Europe, but a Europe that depends on Russia. This is the real point of his current article.

Vladislav Surkov, former deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, once said that Russia's main goal was to make Ukraine boring for the West. As Putin's current article showed, Russia's key goal is to make Europe actually forget about Ukraine.

Now it cannot be stated that the West has forgotten about Ukraine. Today's Europe, despite its economic ties, is to a certain extent afraid of further Russian aggression. It benefits from defending Ukraine for the sake of its security. However, this does not mean that Russia will stop trying to remove the Ukrainian issue from the European agenda. And this is why Kyiv needs to hurry up and figure out what its counter-strategy should be.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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