Vladimir Yakunin: Europe neglects the will of people (Le Figaro, France)

interview by Arnaud De La Grange

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According to a former senior Russian leader who presides over Dialogue of Civilizations think tank, divisions in Europe result in a democratic deficit for EU.

Former boss of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin, presides over the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC), a think tank based in Berlin and as of recently directed by a new French CEO, Jean-Christophe Bas. Trained by the KGB and close to Vladimir Putin, Yakunin is the author of a book published last spring in Great Britain, The Treacherous Path. The book explores Russian-Western relations according to his personal journey and experience.

Le Figaro: The 16th Rhodes Forum, which you have just organised, dealt with the theme of multilateralism, which Donald Trump is striving to kill…

Vladimir Yakunin: Trump promotes the same ideology as his predecessors. The policy of US leadership was always to ensure the superiority of the United States in all strategic areas. The only difference with Trump is that he is more straightforward in terms of communication and speaks openly about it, while previous administrations were more cautious and less forthright on the topic.

Does this sole rider seem dangerous to you?

This problem is at the heart of the conflicts that we are currently facing. Emerging countries produce 60% of the world’s GDP. But if you consider their membership quota and voting power within the IMF or the World Bank, we see an inverted proportion: They have less than 30% of the votes. Such a model of a single dominant power cannot continue.

Emmanuel Macron is pleading for a ‘complete update’ of the relationship between Europeans and Russia. Is such a revival possible?

Yes. But we have a saying in Russia: “It’s not possible to be half dead or partially pregnant”. Western leaders, President Macron above all, make important declarations in favour of establishing better relations with Russia. But then, at the Security Council, the reality is different. Things are done half way… The entire planet is being held hostage by such negative attitudes. We are in need of a new and significant conference on security, as have occurred previously in history.

Russia accuses NATO of having an interest in confrontation, while the West suspects Putin of maintaining conflict in order to sustain nationalist sentiments.

No field is immune to errors. On both sides, there are fantasies and conspiracy theories. I don’t think that the Russia of Putin is interested in confrontation with the West, because this is an obstacle to Russia’s economic and social development. And I cannot imagine that a Western leader would seriously consider it a good thing to have a general confrontation with Russia.

Russia seems to be getting closer – economically and strategically – to China. Is this a key movement, due to the cooled relationship with the West?

This is a reality of international relations today. And yes, this has been favoured due to the deterioration in relations between Russia and the West. But above all, Russia is geographically the biggest country in Asia, while China has the largest population and the strongest economy. The interaction between our two countries is inescapable. And among the biggest economies, China is the only one to have declared itself in favour of more globalisation.

What avenues could we explore for solutions to the migration crisis in Europe?

The polarisation of opinions on this subject and the rise of extremism, right and left, are a backlash against multicultural policies. The failure of multiculturalism is obvious, as has also been recognised by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. Among the hosting civilisations, one observes enclaves of other civilisations which are poorly integrated. This is the consequence of an incorrect understanding of the problem by politicians. This is not a problem connected to the arrival of Muslims or people of colour, but to the lack of institutions and appropriate political processes required to integrate newcomers. And this problem will only grow if political decisions are not taken.

Europe seems divided in two: A ‘liberal’ Europe on one side (embodied by Emmanuel Macron) and ‘illiberal democracies’ on the other (led by Viktor Orban). What does this separation suggest to you?

It’s a negative slope. The world’s tendency is towards globalisation and integration, and not regionalisation. The problem comes from neglecting what people truly wish. When somebody in an office decides what is good and what is bad, we dig divisions and get closer to totalitarianism. Europe is not divided by the blow of external attacks that aim at weakening it, as some want us to believe, but because of the containment of its democratic mechanisms.

We often hear Russian discourse on the moral decline of the West. Do you agree with this vision?

We are far from the period when the USSR proclaimed to be ascending while the West was in decline… And it is Western intellectuals who evoke this decline today. The reasons are the failure of multicultural policies and the demographic decline of European populations while immigrant populations are growing. European studies – and not Russian – show that in 2050, some European countries could become predominantly Muslim. Does this signify decline after all? It depends. Such Muslim citizens feel themselves to be French, German, or British, and not Syrian, Afghan, or Pakistani. It’s not the same problem anymore. This is the current challenge, which has a political as well as a civilisational dimension. But this is not an invention of Russia or Hungary…

Author: Arnaud De La Grange
Translation: Angelo D’Agostino / DOC Research Institute

Original publication: Vladimir Iakounine: ” L’Europe néglige la volonté des peuples “

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