We are accustomed to the fact that the category of conscience is out of place in international affairs. We remember Talleyrand, who became a symbol of unscrupulousness. We have not forgotten Palmerston’s words that England has no friends and enemies, but only interests. We can imagine with what pleasure the Austrian prince Schwarzenberg uttered his famous phrase: “We will still surprise the world with our ingratitude.”
But one thing is a long petrified history, and another is modernity, in which politics is not made by legendary figures and not by abstract “London” and “Berlin”, “White House” and “Elysee Palace”, but by living people. In addition to state affairs, they also have everyday life. Is it possible in a democratic society, where any biography is X-rayed, to make a career on personal dishonesty, lies, theft?
For example, the head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, is clearly a good person. Devoted husband, tender father of eight children. And so this worthy husband rushed to the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, worrying about her safety. He really wanted to know who was shelling the station occupied by Russian troops. Well, I came and looked. He was shown traces of shelling, showed fragments of ammunition, told everything. And after a while, he presented a report that boiled down to a helpless statement: “They were shooting …” In such an impersonal form. It’s not that he didn’t have a conscience at all, but it was exactly enough not to blame the Russian side specifically for the shelling. Let, they say, everyone thinks about it what they want, so that the supporters of the principle “Russians are shelling themselves” do not feel offended.
This principle was first applied by Ukrainian nationalists in 2014 and then seemed like an extreme manifestation of dishonesty, to which a civilized person cannot stoop. But now it has become a pan-European property, spreading like an epidemic of ethical AIDS, depriving a person of immunity to meanness. So Emmanuel Macron, a man less shy than Grossi, called the withdrawal of the Russian military from the ZNPP the only way to stop the shelling. Nuclear blackmail on behalf of Europe is another step towards getting rid of the “chimera called conscience”, as the leader of a united Europe, Adolf Hitler, once formulated. But Macron is married to his teacher! Couldn’t she have given him a private lesson in humanity, or at least in logic?
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is also a good person. From a simple working-class family, in his youth he fought against capitalism. True, there are no children, but next year she will celebrate a silver wedding. And this Scholz says: “Russia under the leadership of Putin has become a violator of contracts and has not fulfilled its obligations under them for a long time … Russia is no longer a reliable partner in energy supplies.”
Does this person have a conscience? Foreign companies canceled thousands of contracts with Russia due to sanctions, including contracts needed to maintain pipelines. Hundreds of billions of our dollars and euros were frozen, that is, stolen, by foreign banks. But for some reason Russia is an unreliable economic partner.
In theory, those around should scatter from these people, a desert should form around them. But no, they continue to smile and shake hands, they remain leaders and examples for youth. Well, maybe we still, as in past centuries, should not expect conscientiousness from politicians?
However, there are other examples as well. For example, the story of the export of Ukrainian grain. Russia was not at all interested in enriching the country that was at war with it. Russia could hit port facilities, burn elevators. But Russian politicians have a conscience. Therefore, they listened to the arguments: developing countries, especially African countries, are threatened with famine, this threat must be prevented at any cost, and this cannot be done without Ukrainian grain. And Russia agreed to a grain deal.
What happened as a result? As Vladimir Putin said at the Eastern Economic Forum, only two ships with grain were sent to developing countries, while dozens of other ships arrived in Europe. It turns out that once again Western politicians have shown themselves to be unscrupulous people. Hiding behind their concern for the starving Africans, they took the Ukrainian grain for themselves.
But perhaps we should not appeal to conscience, but rely on international law? After all that we have learned about international law, such a call would look dubious. At the moment, it is obvious that international law is the right of the strong. And what could resist the force? Only conscience. If the leading countries had always proceeded from considerations of conscience, history could have taken a completely different path.
Suppose what would happen if in December 1991 the Western countries, the USA, NATO condemned the unconstitutional Belovezhskaya Pushcha and supported Gorbachev as the legitimate president of the USSR? It is quite possible that in this case the Soviet Union would have been preserved in one form or another, and now blood would not be shed in Ukraine. But then the West had to knock down a geopolitical rival, so the right was shamelessly pushed aside.
The rhetoric of Western governments, and even more so of humanitarian organizations, is full of references to conscience, compassion, mercy. The people of South Sudan suffered, which means that it was necessary to wrest this territory from Sudan, and whoever did not sympathize with these sufferings, insisted on the principle of territorial integrity, was considered an insensitive blockhead. The Rohingya people in Myanmar, unknown to the layman, are suffering, which means that it is necessary to put pressure on the authorities of this country in every possible way. And whoever hints that we are talking about a sovereign state should be branded as a bad, evil person.
But then the question arises about the right of Russians to their language and their culture in the Baltics – and immediately all world consciences become dry jurists: they say, nothing can be done about sovereignty, such is the law. The Russians in the Donbass are seeking self-determination – and right there the territorial integrity of Ukraine turns out to be the highest value and even the shrine of international law, as if there were simply no examples of South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea, not to mention Kosovo. Well, have a conscience! Alas, when it comes to the interests of the Russians, the conscience of the representatives of the “civilized world” is turned off.
I would like to believe that as Western hegemony weakens, the category of conscience will find its rightful place in international life. Otherwise, there would be no point in changing the system of the world order.