Friday 26 December 2014

Mark Sleboda on 2014

Agree or Disagree

What Will 2014 Be Remembered for?
Marina Dzhashi

19 December, 2014

Agree or Disagree reviews the year with Mark Sleboda, an international affairs analyst based in Moscow, and provides a look at the relations between Russia and the West, why they have worsened over the crisis in Ukraine and what it might take to normalize them.

2014 will also go down in history as the year of increased police brutality in the States. Agree or Disagree takes a look at the protests against police brutality and racial profiling that engulfed the whole country from coast to coast. Where are the roots of the problem and will there be any change following the public outcry? Tune in to find out.
The year started off on high for Russia. In February 2014 Russia hosted the Winter Olympic Games. It was a big thing for the country and for the world.
Mark Sleboda: It most certainly was. Time had a little video out today with President Putin as the runner up for their person of the year, and they were forced to admit that Russia, despite all the initial harping from the Western media, did indeed put off a fabulous show display for the world and turned Sochi into the first class resort.

Almost at the same time there was a conflict brewing in Ukraine and we all know what it developed into. How we got to where we are now?

Mark Sleboda: I think many people, you could say the more conspiratorially minded amongst us, have remarked that it is probably not a coincidence. We saw the events in 2008 during the Olympics when the world was distracted by Georgia, where the now deposed regime of Mikheil Saakashvili, supported by the US, tried to militarily reassert control over the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In 2014 we have another Olympics and Russia is distracted.
What we saw was that the EU presented an association agreement to Ukraine. It boiled down to being a very harsh, austerity laden neoliberal shock therapy dictate. The Ukrainian President was forced to turn this down, because he didn’t get the monetary aid to support these reform measures, he turned to a better deal presented by Russia. The EU simply couldn’t take “no” for an answer.
And at this particular situation there are no winners or losers.

Mark Sleboda: No, there are a few winners. Certainly the US wins. The US’s goal in this is purely geopolitical – it wants to prevent the reorganization of the post-Soviet space with the Eurasian Union. As long as Ukraine is denied to Russia by being fully absorbed into the West or being turned into a failed state, the US wins either way. Likewise, I think China benefits.

Yes, this is what a lot of European analysts are saying now. Look at the deals that were signed between Russia and China.

Mark Sleboda: I don’t want to say anything that would belittle the tragedy that is occurring in Ukraine, but in the long term I think this situation is to the benefit of Russia. I think Russia needs long-term partners that it can do both business and cooperate with on the world stage, countries that are simply want to do business, the countries that are looking forward to a multipolar world. I think that Russia for a long time has needed to pivot not only economically, but politically towards China and these other countries that are emerging as the new poles of power in the world.

Having such influence China may actually then turn into a state that will start dictating its rules.

Mark Sleboda: We hear a lot of such voices from the Western analysts and commentators. That is to be expected, because they still are, by some measures, at the top of the hill and they certainly don’t want to be dragged down even as equals with anyone else. And I don’t think the West is going to fall extremely hard and very fast, I think the US is still going to be first among equals, but will no longer be able to dictate to the rest of the world and they will have to sit down and negotiate.

Do you think that there might be a rivalry between the US and Russia over China, because Obama said that he would like to pivot to Asia too?

Mark Sleboda: I think it is important to look at the differences between the pivots. And I think it speaks volumes about the natures and foreign policies of the two countries. The US’s pivot to Asia is entirely military in nature, focused on erecting a strong of bases and forming a military alliance to contain the rise of China, as if they could. Russia’s pivot to Asia is the one purely of business and of cooperation across the scientific, military, political, cultural spheres. Russia welcomes the rise of China in many ways and Russia's pivot to Asia is a very positive development for both countries.

The standoff between Russia and the West has been going on for a long time now and there’s got to be a way out. What could be such a thing that would get things moving in the right direction?

Mark Sleboda: Ukraine is merely the latest flashpoint, the culmination of tensions. And the events in Ukraine are going to have to be settled before we can speak of any wider rapprochement between Russia and the West. And I don’t look to any rapprochement of Russia from the West. I think the era of rapprochement that started in the 1990s is over and I welcome it. I think that Russia and the West need a divorce, I think they need a few decades apart, at least. I think they do have certain irreconcilable cultural differences. They still can continue to do business in a nice and civilized fashion, but Russia as much as possible, and I think the EU actually wants to do the same, needs to pivot their economies, their cultures, their politics away from each other.

Another highlight of the year which will carry over to the next year, for sure, is the protest that engulfed the whole country – from coast to coast almost. Many say that what is happening in the States highlights the police brutality and racial profiling. But what is it really?

Mark Sleboda: This is not the first such killing, this is not the last such killing, there have been protests about other such killings now Brooklyn, New York. We've seen race riots in the US for decades. And on the one hand, it is definitely America’s long struggle with institutional racism and with inequality. I think the focus is not just on the racism element, but on the growing police state and the resort to military force in the US society. And this is a direct result of the war on terror and the militarization of the police force.

There is growing inequality – social, in terms of wealth, in terms of social mobility. Recently the researchers at the University of California have identified that social mobility has regressed in the US to the level of medieval Europe. The 2008 crisis was just the symptom, the American dream is dead. And some American comedians have reflected on the reason that we call it “the American dream”, it is because you had to be asleep to ever believe it.
And the third factor that we need to look at is the police themselves, who feel that the communities they are policing are the enemy. And part of the reason is simply that America is an armed society. This idea of security by mutually assured societal destruction where everyone can “defend themselves” has led many within the police and security circles to feel that they need to be increasingly over-armed to that much greater extent.
What is the way out? What is going to be happening next year and will something change?

Mark Sleboda: Ideally, the way out of this situation would be for the local communities to organize politically to take back their political system, to take back their police forces. But this isn’t going to happen for the simple reason that the American political system is thoroughly corrupt. So, unfortunately we are running into a brick wall of money which the US Supreme Court has declared to be the free speech somehow.

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