Deutsche Welle: Mr. Krastev, the Ukrainian army is currently achieving impressive military successes in its counter-offensive against the Russian troops in your country. Will the war in Ukraine end soon?

Ivan Krastev: The wars of the past decades never really ended, the acts of war were simply frozen at some point. That will probably happen in this war as well. There will be a ceasefire, but no real peace. We hear and read that Russia is preparing “independence referenda” in the Moscow-controlled areas, which amounts to a de facto annexation of these territories. Under these conditions, peace negotiations are impossible.

Russian propaganda claims that Russia has long since defeated Ukraine. Now they are fighting against NATO, which is waging the war with Ukrainian cannon fodder. Is Moscow right?

Krastev: In every war, both sides claim victory. Indeed, Russia started the war as a “special operation,” believing that within weeks there would be no more pro-Western Ukraine. In this sense, Russia has already lost, because it has not achieved this goal.

The claim that Ukraine is actually fighting the West attempts to answer two questions. Firstly, why are the Russians killing people in Ukraine they used to live with? And secondly, why does Russia not have the expected military superiority? The only explanation that seems plausible in both cases: Russia is fighting the whole West. The thesis is: the West has betrayed Russia, Russia is the victim and not the aggressor.

This stereotype of good Russia versus bad Ukraine and the West seems to be widespread. Russian TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov recently said the following: Yes, Russians are not the richest people, they do not have the highest life expectancy, but they are fighting on the side of good. Is that how all Russians think?

Krastev: Portraying the Russians as the “chosen people” who keep saving the world is nothing new. What is new, however, is that this idea no longer catches on in Russian society. A consumer society has emerged that is willing to accept military operations in the post-Soviet space, but not the idea of ​​missionary self-sacrifice. This is precisely why the Russian government is trying to shield people in the big cities from the war. You can hardly see the infamous Z symbol in Moscow or Saint Petersburg.

Does that mean that the sanctions will affect the Russian population?

Krastev: In the medium term they will definitely have an effect, but so far they have not had a major impact on the everyday lives of ordinary Russians. Only the urban middle class and the business elite, i.e. the approximately ten million Russians who travel abroad, are affected. This has gotten a lot more complicated. In addition, when they are abroad, they are now looked at crookedly there. They are the real losers in this war on the Russian side.

And who is the winner? Another Moscow propaganda stereotype claims that the only winners are the US. Is that true?

Krastev: Yes, Russian propaganda relentlessly claims that everything that happens in the world is caused by the US and ultimately leads to US gains. In reality, however, the economic damage caused by this war is felt much more painfully in Europe than in the USA. At the same time, Europe has also painfully felt its dependence on the United States. Paradoxically, few have contributed more to this growing dependency than President Putin. By claiming that the United States profited from the war, Moscow is trying to drive a wedge between Brussels and Washington. Russian propaganda keeps repeating it: oil and gas prices in the EU are rising, but the US is not affected, they are selling their LNG.

They also sell their guns.

Krastev: In the case of Ukraine, the weapons tend to be given away. Yes, American arms and the US are indeed a key factor in this war. However, the Russian narrative tries to reinterpret the whole thing: the USA are not only involved, they also wanted and initiated the war. But this story is not at all convincing. Because before Russia’s attack, the US was strategically focused on China and did everything possible to prevent this war.

How will the war affect the next US presidential election?

Krastev: America is dramatically divided in many respects, Ukraine is by no means the focus of the public debate. The Senate and Congress elections in November will be decisive. Until two months ago, it appeared that the Democrats would lose both houses of parliament. That would have massively strengthened Donald Trump’s positions. One can imagine a next President Trump cheerfully claiming that the Ukraine war was Biden’s war. But if the Democrats retain control of the Senate and Congress, the question for Republicans is: Is Trump the right candidate?

It is said again and again that the USA and Russia are on the brink of nuclear war. Would you agree with that?

Krastev: The danger is there, but it’s not that serious at the moment. Because the only thing that the Russians and the Americans are currently mastering together is preventing a nuclear escalation. But the big risk is the Ukrainian nuclear power plants. The battles are dangerously close to the facilities, a mistake or human error could lead to a dramatic development. The use of nuclear weapons only becomes more likely in the event of a massive military success by Ukraine. Or if Kyiv tries to win back Crimea.

Will Moscow export the war to other countries, Moldova or the Baltic States?

Krastev: That depends on the course of the war in Ukraine. At the moment Russia is trying to avoid widespread mobilization. Under no circumstances does Moscow want to send the sons of the urban middle class to the front. Depending on how things go in Ukraine, Russia could actually attack Moldova – but not the Baltic states. They are NATO members and if they were attacked it would be a very different war.

The Baltics, but also the Poles, sounded the alarm within the EU long before Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and warned of the danger posed by Putin – but nobody was listening. Now the war is here. What impact will it have on the EU?

Krastev: First and foremost, it has led to a consolidation of the EU. The attitudes of governments, but also of citizens, have led to unprecedented sanctions against Russia. Support for Ukraine remains high, but tensions within the EU and in individual EU countries are now also growing. I fear that the next six to nine months will be the most difficult in the history of the EU.

Now we are paying an enormous price for war – but the EU has been beset by other crises before. In this sense, the war seems to me like a kind of long-COVID: The refugee crisis is back, twice as many refugees have come to Europe from Ukraine as during the Syrian war. The financial crisis is back, with the threat of instability and inflation.

Europe and Japan currently have to spend about 100 billion US dollars more per month on energy than a year ago. This enormous financial burden creates massive problems. And the companies are already tired. I’m afraid there will be more protests like the ones in Prague and Germany. Different groups have consolidated during different crises. People marginalized during the financial crisis, anti-refugees, anti-vaccination: today they all come together as anti-establishment and make demands. This will create massive turbulence in the EU.

But that’s still not the worst. In all previous crises, Germany has been the stability factor, a rock in the surf. Today, however, Germany is one of the countries that have been hit hardest by the economic crisis. In addition, the moral legitimacy of the Federal Republic is being questioned, especially by the Baltics and Poles, but also by the Czechs. These changed attitudes towards Germany – but also towards France – further complicate efforts to emerge from this massive crisis.

The Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev is head of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna.

The interview was conducted on 09/06/2022 and updated on 09/12/2022.

Autor: Alexander Andreev

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The original of this post “”The next few months will be the most difficult in the history of the EU”” comes from Deutsche Welle.