Komsomolskaya Pravda spoke with Karin Kneissl at the Eastern Economic Forum
Photo: Artem Kilkin
In our country, Karin Kneissl is mainly remembered as “the same woman to whom Vladimir Putin went to his wedding.” However, in serious academic circles, the former Austrian Foreign Minister is known as the author of several books on geopolitics and as an excellent lecturer. Starting 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 director of the institute in St. Petersburg, which I founded myself. We call it GORKI (short for Russian Geopolitical Observatory on Key Issues – Russian Geopolitical Observatory on Key Issues – editor’s note). And I’m not the person who could afford to manage such a project remotely. I intend to do everything I can to make sure it works well. We are currently in the process of hiring teachers. And we’re almost ready to start. For work reasons I decided to move to Saint Petersburg.
– What exactly will you teach your students?
– In fact, I will give several lectures, but my main task will remain the management of the institute.
– This is not your first participation in the Eastern Forum. How useful are these 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 last 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 simultaneously faces the East and the West. Much was made possible by 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 is evident that tectonic changes are occurring in the world. In 2017, I published a book titled 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.
– Doesn’t it sadden you, as a citizen of Austria, that Russia and Europe are so far from each other today?
– It’s not about whether I’m sad or happy. After all, this is, in fact, a medical diagnosis. I remember that in February or March last year, Sergei Lavrov said that Russia was divorcing itself from Europe. And then I thought about all the consequences of such a step. As with people, divorce involves a difficult division of everything you have built together. Remember the seizure of Russian assets last year, whether those of Rosneft or Gazprom in Germany or the private property of specific individuals on the sanctions lists. Many dirty decisions were made at different levels. I do not believe that normalization of relations is possible, especially at the macroeconomic level. When trade and production chains are changed, you simply cannot turn everything back with the flick of a finger. In the scientific and artistic sphere, I hope that contacts will be reestablished. 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 that ordinary people have no complaints against each other. But unfortunately, I personally felt that a large part of society, especially in Austria and Germany, participated in the attempts to cancel Russian culture.
The former head of the Austrian Foreign Ministry gave a long interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda after his transfer to Russia
Photo: Artem Kilkin
– What can you say about the “turn to the right” in Europe, the growing popularity of radical parties? Is this also a consequence of the divorce from Russia?
– I think that the new right-wing parties should be treated with great caution. We see a fragmentation of the political landscape in Europe. In countries like 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, the big parties do not obtain even 20% of voters’ sympathy. Fragmentation began on both the left and the right. The problem with the New Right is that it may be led by charismatic and interesting people, but there is virtually no underlying structure. I never belonged to any political party, but I was actually nominated to join the right-wing government in Austria. I have no confidence that if the right-wing parties win the elections today, positive changes will occur. First, we must take into account the economic decline, which is generating anger and despair among voters. It seems to me that the situation will be even more fragile.
– Today, many European countries are on the brink of recession or are already in it. Is this also a consequence of your 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 can’t afford to cut each other’s hair all day.’ He meant that a developed service industry should be based on a solid manufacturing base. The well-being of the Germans is based on chemistry, oil refining and the automobile industry. Many giants of German industry were created before the First World War 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 certainty. But today the legal protection has also disappeared. Everyone saw what happened to the 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 several Eastern European countries, such as Bosnia and Slovenia, will be greatly affected by the crisis in the German automobile industry. It 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 other hand, may receive an influx of expatriate capital. These are very attractive destinations to move permanently.
– A major expansion of the BRICS was recently announced. Could this bloc become a real competitor to Western structures such as NATO?
– In 2017, when I took over as Foreign Minister of Austria, I requested documents mentioning the collaboration strategy 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 associations like BRICS or SCO. I remember that when the BRIC was created (the letter C was not yet in the name), its motto was: “Work with the BRIC, because it is about resources.” That is, it was an economic block. But today we see that decisions at the bloc level are acquiring a political character. Organizations are also being created that could become, for example, an alternative to the International Monetary Fund. I would compare the BRICS to 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 debated there.
– Did you manage to communicate with Vladimir Putin after your arrival in Russia? What do you think about his role in current international politics?
– I think you will be too busy to talk today (on the day of the interview, Vladimir Putin held a plenary session at the EEF – editor’s note). Putin is undoubtedly the guarantor of stability today. Until recently I lived in Lebanon. It is a fairly Americanized society, with a large Lebanese diaspora living in Western countries. But even they, when it comes to Vladimir Putin, admit that they have great respect for him. Because he is a person 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 can have good human relations. The same as Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel or George W. Bush were. Who should I 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 town. What caught my attention the 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.