By Russell Bruce
30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall Johnson faces questions over his own links to Russia and massive Russian oligarch funding of the Conservative party. Just how did we get here?
With the revelation the Conservatives have received £3.5 million since 2010, Russian oligarchs, well connected to the Kremlin and some with links back to the days of the KGB, have donated steadily so they must believe they are getting value and influence for their money.
In the last year, according to Open Democracy the Tories have received at least £489,850.
In the wider scheme of things Russian influence is buying Britain at bargain basement rates. In electoral terms it becomes very expensive to a crumbling democracy.
When the Berlin wall came down 30 years ago it changed the dynamic of geopolitics in eastern Europe as the Soviet Empire collapsed. The Berlin wall was erected to stop the continuous flow of people to the West. The oppressive regime of Erich Honecker lasted from 1971 until it collapsed in October 1989. Honecker was directly behind the building of the wall and responsible for the order to fire along the East German border on those still attempting to escape.
At the time of Mikhail Gorbachev’s ‘perestroika and glasnost’, initiatives that Honecker opposed urging Gorbachev to suppress the protests taking place is Eastern Europe by sending in Soviet forces as had happened in the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
The loss of prestige and influence has rankled with Russian nationalists ever since. Former Warsaw pact countries quickly moved to begin a process of alignment with the West, eventually leading to eight of the former communist states joining the EU in the major enlargement of 2004. Romania and Bulgaria followed in 2007 and Croatia in 2013.
As EU boundaries extended eastwards and into the Balkans, Russian angst rose to new heights as EU dialogue continued to grow with other former parts of the Russian Soviet Empire. This was a challenge too far for Vladimir Viadimirovich Putin, until 1991 a Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB. Putin joined Boris Yeltsin’s administration in 1996 as director of the ‘new’ Russian security service, the FSB. Taking over as acting President when Yeltsin became ill, he has ruled Russia ever since, either as President or Prime Minister.
The tension has built in the last few years including Russian military intervention in Ukraine with the ‘annexation’ of Crimea and the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. This year Trump abandoned Kurdish allies in Syria and Putin quickly increased his backing for Bashar al-Assad with heavy military intervention including devastating air power to bring parts of Syria under Assad’s control. Putin has defence bases in Syria on the eastern Mediterranean. His support is based on Russian interests and Assad just happens to be useful.
The EU is the largest global trading block with considerable political alignment on social issues, workers rights, defence and security issues. As Lisa (not her real name) from Bavaria told Newsnet: “This coming together of many European countries has kept the peace in Europe – not including the conflict in Yugoslavia.”
War related deaths in Europe between 1801 and 2016 total a staggering 63,573,005. Deaths in recent years include 1055 in the Russian-Georgian war of 2007 and between 2014 and 2016 another 6,493 deaths in the war in Donbass Ukraine.
Lisa is concerned about the rise of the far right in parts of eastern Europe and added: ”The success of the AfD in Germany, particularly in states of former East Germany, suggest to me a failure of mainstream politics.”
The rise of the far right is also due to Russia exploiting tensions in former Warsaw Pact countries and equally happy to bolster the far right in France, Italy and Brexit England. In a painstaking investigation, Carole Cadwalladr of The Guardian uncovered ‘gold play’ offers from the Russian Ambassador to Arron Banks on the day LeaveEU launched its campaign.
Russia has only directly funded Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Matteo Salvini of Lega Nord, a former Italian deputy prime minister who sought millions of Euros from Russia. One of Le Pen’s great admirers is Nigel Farage. Elsewhere Putin’s involvement has been more behind the scenes, except in countries where Russian interests involved direct military invasion, with or without Putin’s troops wearing uniforms with Russian identification.
German foreign security services Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) investigated early last year Alternative fúr Deutschland (AfD) links with Russia, concerned about Russian influence in the forthcoming EU elections and regional elections in Germany.
Since reunification in 1990 the democratic and economic outlook of East Germany has been transformed, yet it still lags well behind employment and prosperity levels in the West. Statista, reporting on the the continuing gap concluded, Germany is still divided 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The figures are interesting because Merkel’s government has invested heavily to raise living standards in the former GDR and bring in new industries. Those who think Brexit will mean a radical improvement in living standards in the UK should listen and learn, Jacob Rees-Mogg in a rare moment of honesty said Brexit will take 50 years to deliver the hoped for outcome.
Germany is the largest economy in the EU. Scotland currently has lower unemployment than the figure for West German states and has GDP per capita of $43,740. Statista give figures in euros quoting the source as the German Federal Statistical Office. Using International Monetary Fund GDP data for 2018 in international dollars for comparison, shows Scotland has higher GDP per capita than 16 EU nations, including Italy and Spain.
At $43.740 Scotland’s is comparable to the UK as a whole, Finland, France, and comfortably above that of New Zealand. The three poorest European countries 100 years ago – Norway, Ireland and Iceland are all doing very well. Scotland has the economic base to make rapid strides once freed from the continuing damage of Brexit and able to realise its own European future.
The cold war, as we remember it, has not ended – just entered a very different phase.
Lisa from Bavaria talked to me on the condition of anonymity. EU nationals living in Scotland remain very nervous as long as the Home Office hostile environment continues to control immigration, deciding who can stay here and who can not. I will be publishing a longer piece from our conversation in the next couple of days.