Staunton, November 14 – The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago did not end the division between East and West as some imagine. Instead, that division, although it now runs along a line several hundred kilometers further east, has turned out to be far more significant and longer-lasting than many want to believe, according to Moscow commentator Ivan Sukhov.
It is difficult to avoid the sense, he writes on Profile.ru, that “the disappearance of the wall in distant 1989 was something ephemeral” because “the wall has not ceased to exist.” It has moved eastward. And the responsibility for that lies on both sides.
The East to this day still does not fully understand that “walls and partitions are not the most reliable means of winning sympathies,” he writes, and the West does not understand that for the Russian leadership, what is going on in Ukraine is not about Ukraine but about where a new partition line will be.
“Crudely speaking,” Sukhov says, “the European integration of Ukraine from the Russian point of view would mean the shift of that very same wall which fell in Berlin but which continues to be felt in the air somewhere between Belarus and Poland would move directly under [their] windows at Bryansk and Rostov-na-Donu.”
Moscow would like the East-West divide to remain at the western border of Ukraine or “alas, more realistically” along the front in the Donbas. What it finds impossible to swallow is the notion that it should follow the Russian-Ukrainian border as recognized by the international community in 1991 and “confirmed by the Budapest memorandum of 1994.”
“It is obvious that the negative emotions of the Russian president are to a large extent with the fact that the conversation now is in the language of partition,” especially given his own experience in East Germany and his memories of what happened when the wall suddenly came down and Germans came together.
But what Putin and most Russians do not acknowledge even now, Sukhov says, is that “the wall in Berlin ceased its existence not because Mikhail Gorbachev gave his agreement to that. And not because Vladimir Putin, a KGB officer of the USSR prohibited his subordinates from shooting at the crowd of citizens who came out to demand reunification.”
Instead, the wall fell “because the system which existed on its eastern side had ceased to be attractive to the point that people were prepared to tolerate the existence of the wall. What happened after that was in general only a technical question.”
In March, Putin tried to put the issue of the annexation of Crimea in terms of the reunification of peoples, including that of the Germans. But he failed to convince many of that because his actions in Crimea recalled in the West not the fall of the Berlin Wall but rather Hitler’s occupation of the Sudetenland.
“In a world in which the Berlin Wall had really fallen and not moved several hundred kilometers eastward, there would not have arisen a situation of such mutual misunderstanding.” A debate about Ukraine “would have been possible, but the methods of resolving it wouldnot have presupposed the application of heavy artillery.”
That this is happening 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Sukhov says, shows that “we are much closer to the world where Sudetenlands are possible – and that means also Coventry and Stalingrad and Dresden.” And in that event, the situation could become even worse because of the “uninterrupted military industrial progress” since those times.