Karin Kneissl: The problem is that Putin does not have worthy interlocutors in the West

Komsomolskaya Pravda spoke with Karin Kneissl at the Eastern Economic Forum

Komsomolskaya Pravda spoke with Karin Kneissl at the Eastern Economic Forum

Photo: Artem KILKIN

In our country, Karin Kneissl is remembered primarily as “the same woman to whom Vladimir Putin came to his wedding.” However, in serious academic circles, the former Austrian Foreign Minister is known as the author of several books on geopolitics and an excellent lecturer. From this year, Kneissl will live and work in St. Petersburg, where she founded her new scientific project. And the former head of the Austrian Foreign Ministry spent the summer in a village near Ryazan. Komsomolskaya Pravda spoke with Karin Kneissl at the Eastern Economic Forum.

– What do you plan to do in Russia?

– I became the head of the institute in St. Petersburg, which I myself founded. We call it GORKI (short for Geopolitical Observatory of Key Russian Issues – Geopolitical Observatory of Key Russian Issues – editor’s note). And I am not the person who could afford to manage such a project remotely. I intend to do my best to make sure it works well. We are currently in the process of hiring teachers. And we are almost ready to start. For the sake of my work, I decided to move to St. Petersburg.

– What exactly will you teach your students?

– Indeed, I will give several lectures, but my main task will still be the management of the institute.

– This is not your first participation in the Eastern Forum. How useful are such events for politicians and businessmen? And share your feelings about the Far East?

– This forum is essentially a mirror of the processes that have taken place in the world over the past 30 years. The Eastern Forum is a response to global geopolitical changes. I like to say: “Today music is not played in the West, today music is played in the East.” As you know, the symbol of Russia is a double-headed eagle, which looks simultaneously to the East and the West. Much became possible thanks to Nicholas II, who built a railway to the Far East and partly populated it. Vladivostok became the gateway to Russia even under the Tsars. And now, almost a century and a half later, it becomes obvious that tectonic changes are taking place in the world. In 2017, I published a book called Changing of the Guard: From the Transatlantic to the Pacific Order. It is dedicated to these changes. And Russia is one of the driving forces of these changes.

– Aren’t you sad, as a citizen of Austria, that Russia and Europe are so far apart from each other today?

– It’s not a matter of whether I’m sad or happy. After all, this is, in fact, a medical diagnosis. I remember in February or March last year, Sergei Lavrov said that Russia was divorcing Europe. And then I thought about all the consequences of such a step. As with people, divorce involves a difficult division of everything you’ve built together. Remember last year’s confiscation of Russian assets, whether those of Rosneft or Gazprom in Germany or the private property of specific individuals on the sanctions lists. There were a lot of dirty decisions made at different levels. I don’t think normalization of relations is possible, especially at the macroeconomic level. When you change trade and production chains, you simply cannot roll everything back with a wave of your finger. At the level of science and art, I would like to hope that contacts will be restored. But with the current level of Russophobia in the West, this is also problematic. Sometimes I come across statements that Russophobia is only a problem of officials, and ordinary people have no complaints against each other. But unfortunately, I personally felt that a large part of society, especially in Austria and Germany, took part in attempts to cancel Russian culture.

The former head of the Austrian Foreign Ministry gave a long interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda after moving to Russia

The former head of the Austrian Foreign Ministry gave a long interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda after moving to Russia

Photo: Artem KILKIN

– What can you say about the “right turn” in Europe, the growing popularity of radical parties? Is this also a consequence of the divorce from Russia?

– I believe that new right-wing parties should be treated with great caution. We see a fragmentation of the political landscape in Europe. In countries such as Germany, Austria, France, there have always been strong left and right parties that took turns winning elections. However, under Macron, both conservative and socialist parties have been virtually destroyed in France. In Germany, according to polls, large parties do not even gain 20% of voters’ sympathy. Fragmentation began both on the left and on the right. The problem with the New Right is that it may be led by charismatic, interesting people, but there is virtually no structure underneath it. I never belonged to any political party, but in fact I was nominated to join the right-wing government in Austria. I have no confidence that if right-wing parties win elections today, it will lead to positive changes. First of all, we must take into account the economic decline, which leads to anger and despair among voters. It seems to me that the state of affairs will become even more fragile.

– Today, many European countries are on the verge of recession or have already found themselves in it. Is this also a consequence of their anti-Russian policy or is the process more complex? Will Europe be able to build a post-industrial society?

“I don’t remember which German politician said: “We Germans cannot afford to cut each other’s hair all day long.” He meant that a developed service industry should be based on a strong manufacturing base. The well-being of the Germans is based on chemistry, oil refining, and the automotive industry. Many giants of German industry were created before World War 1, and in this sense, Germany still benefits from the legacy of Rudolf Diesel, Karl Benz and Werner von Siemens. But I know firsthand that today Germany faces a huge problem: where to find qualified labor. Germany’s advantage has always been technological superiority and legal security. But today legal protection has also disappeared. Everyone saw what happened to Russian assets. And this is the damage that Germany inflicted on itself.

– What do you think is the most likely future for Europe?

– Europe is a large region. I prefer to look at countries individually. Countries such as Germany, Austria, as well as a number of Eastern European countries such as Bosnia and Slovenia, will be greatly affected by the crisis in the German automobile industry. This is a very powerful industry, the engine of the European economy, and many countries are involved in the supply chain. Some countries, such as Ireland or Portugal, on the contrary, can receive an influx of capital from expats. These are very attractive destinations for moving permanently.

– A major expansion of BRICS was recently announced. Will this bloc be able to become a real competitor to Western structures such as NATO?

– In 2017, when I became Austrian Foreign Minister, I requested documents that would mention the strategy for working with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And it turned out that there were no such documents, which literally infuriated me. As a lecturer, I always talked about the importance of such associations as BRICS or the SCO. I remember that when BRIC was created (the letter C was not yet in the name), its motto was: “Work with BRIC, because it concerns resources.” That is, it was an economic bloc. But today we see that decisions at the bloc level are taking on a political nature. Organizations are also being created that could become, for example, an alternative to the International Monetary Fund. I would compare BRICS with an association like the European Union, which combines political and economic components. And the SCO is more like an alternative to NATO, since energy and military security issues are discussed there.

– Did you manage to communicate with Vladimir Putin after your arrival in Russia? What do you think about his role in international politics today?

– I think that today he will be too busy to talk (on the day of the interview, Vladimir Putin held a plenary session at the EEF – editor’s note). Putin is certainly the guarantor of stability today. Until recently, I lived in Lebanon. This is a fairly Americanized society, with a large Lebanese diaspora living in Western countries. But even they, when it comes to Vladimir Putin, admit to great respect for him. Because he is a person who is responsible for his decisions. I think the main international problem today is that Putin does not have an interlocutor in the West with whom he would have good human relations. The same as Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel or George W. Bush were. Who should he talk to? It is impossible to solve problems alone.

– Has anything surprised you in Russia since you moved here?

– You know, I’ve only been here for two months, and I spent them in the village. What struck me most was the intensity of the Russian summer and Russian nature. In my garden in Austria, all the plants grew at different times. In Russia, everything grows simultaneously and suddenly. And now the short but powerful summer and the power of your nature are my greatest impressions here so far.

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