The Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine and the collapse of the post-war system of international relations, in particular the absolute ineffectiveness of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the West’s confusion regarding “post-Weimar” Russia brought to life a discussion about why Moscow, with its authoritarian-totalitarian system, has such a huge impact on the democratic world. Why, indeed, is Russia able to dictate its agenda to the West, while enthusiastically ignoring all norms of intergovernmental coexistence?
It is a question not only of the Kremlin’s painstaking efforts to employ its traditional and insidious “byzantine” diplomacy (although it relies more on brutal force than skill), but also of the fundamental objective duality of Western civilization. For the West, the market is the basis of the economy, and democracy is the basis of policy. If democracy represents the West’s values, then the market stands for its interests. The two are in constant conflict with each other, yet one does not always win over the other. There are many factors that ensure the triumph of values over interests or vice versa. The West is essentially torn between these contradictory realities.
One living example of this is the controversy regarding France’s sale of Mistral aircraft carriers to Russia. Moscow has learned to skillfully play on the contradictions between the idea and commercial interests. It is a great temptation … However, such tactics are not unique to Moscow; the democratic West has been tempted by other anti-democratic regimes before. One may recall that until the beginning of World War II, the attitude of Western democratic powers toward Nazi Germany was relatively tolerant (and this despite the gloomy Nuremberg racial laws!), and in 1936 they willingly and enthusiastically attended Hitler's Olympics …
The following principle continues to drive the West: “Business at any price! Business in spite of everything!” This confirms the classical Marxist thesis that for a large enough profit, the bourgeois is ready to sell even the rope with which he will be hanged.
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The US and Europe actively collaborated with the Bolshevik Soviet Union in the 1920s and 30s, despite the fact that the latter made no secret of its intentions toward the bourgeois world. Little must be said of extreme communists; even the relatively liberal Khrushchev, during his visit to the United States in the late 1950s gently promised the Americans, “We will bury you!” Significantly, the United States established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union during the Holodomor (Stalin’s forced famine) in Ukraine.
During the Soviet Union’s first Five Year Plan, industrialization was doomed to end in failure (especially after the abolition of the NEP) without comprehensive help from Western companies, especially in the military-industrial complex. In their book, Russian historians Dyakov and Bushuyeva describe how the Soviet Union helped Germany to rebuild its military-industrial complex following World War I, stating that the “Nazi sword was forged in the USSR.” Meanwhile, the communist sword was forged by democratic Western countries…
Until the early 1930s, there was no tractor-building or tank-building industry in the Soviet Union. After just 12 years, the USSR already had 24,000 domestically-produced tanks in service. It is impossible to understand this phenomenon without acknowledging the role of American specialist Albert Kahn in this organizational miracle. According to historian Dmitriy Khmyelnitskiy, Kahn’s firm “…designed 521 facilities between 1929 and 1932 (other sources state 571). These are foremost tractor (i.e. tank) factories in Stalingrad, Chelyabinsk, Kharkiv, and Tomsk; Automobile factories in Chelyabinsk, Moscow, Stalingrad, Nizhny Novgorod, and Samara; and machine plants in Kaluga, Novosibirsk, and Upper Salda; a rolling mill in Moscow and foundries in Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kolomna, Lyubertsy, Magnitogorsk, Sormovo, and Stalingrad…”
Kahn’s activities encompassed almost the entire Soviet military industry. For many years, these facts are carefully concealed in the USSR and were unpopular in the United States.
Dmitriy Khmyelnitskiy writes: “In 1931, upon returning to the US, Kahn employee William H. Brass shared his impressions about the work in the USSR with a Detroit newspaper reporter. He described the black market, the inability to leave the country, the wild judiciary, the secret police and the housing problems. And about what the Americans feared most – the transformation of civilian industry into military industry. Even more serious was Brass’ assumption that Kahn’s contract with the Soviet Union included a stipulation for the promotion of communism in the United States. Albert Kahn immediately delivered a rebuttal in the press, but doubts about his firm’s activities in the Soviet Union could not be dispelled.”
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In 1930, the Soviet government proposed to Kahn a package of orders for the construction of industrial enterprises in the Soviet Union amounting to USD 2 billion, which in the early 2000s was equivalent to USD 220 billion USD.
Where did the Soviets get the money for such fantastically expensive projects? That was the cost of the lives of the millions of Ukrainian peasants who died in 1932-1933 when theirgrain was requisitioned for export. Stalin admitted in a letter to Molotov: “Mikoyan reports that the harvests are increasing andwe are exporting 1-1.5 million poods [16,400– 24,600 tonnes]. This is not enough. We must increase the daily norm to export at least 3.4 million poods [55,760 tonnes]. Otherwise, we risk being left without our new metallurgical and engineering factories (Automobile plant, Chelyabinsk plant, etc.)… In other words, we must violently force the export of grain.”
Interestingly, even then, as now, Moscow masterfully exploited rivalries between Western countries and firms, including competition between the US and Europe. Stalin wrote to Kaganovich about this in summer 1931: “Because of the difficulties with currency and unacceptable credit terms in America, I oppose any further orders for America. I proposea ban on new orders for America, the end of all negotiations on new orders, and possibly the discontinuation of already concluded agreements on pre-orders, and the transfer of these orders to Europe…” Kaganovich backed the leader, stating: “It was found that 80-90% of orders for Chelyabinsk can be placed in England.” The Americans were slowly displaced in favor of the Europeans, and in 1935 Soviet plants employed 1,719 Germans, 871 Austrians, and only 308 Americans. Interestingly, before Hitler came to power, the number of German specialists employed at Soviet enterprises was much lower.
It is difficult to disagree with Khmyelnitskiy when he states, “There is a very high probability that if Kahn had not gotten along with Stalin in 1929 and had not designed the world’s largest tank factories, Stalin might not have had the clout nor abilitysign his 1939 pact with Hitler in order to jointly start a war for the re-division of the world.” And Albert Kahn’s company still existsto this day…
What prevails today in Western society: values or interests? Of course, this is a very important and painful issue for Ukrainians. The question is not academic, but a matter of life or death, not only for Ukraine, but at least for the whole of Central and Eastern Europe.
Today, using the most rational approach, it can be stated that the interests and values of the West do coincide, because if the Kremlin is allowed to destroy the world order, then it will not be the rule of law that dominates, nor economic calculations, but brutal force and arrogance that rapidly transform life into total chaos and endless war, making it ultimately impossible to create a world free of nuclear weapons. In the absence of any reliable guarantee of safety provided by international agreements, every state that wants to survive will be forced to create its own balance of fear to ward off potential aggressors.
Political and economic anachronism cannot be a compulsory model for humanity. Today, the West has to protect its values in order to protect its interests.