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Ukraine and Gaza (or perhaps Russia and Israel?). Where to Start?
Václav Klaus in Munich

Good friend of us all asked me to say a few words here this evening about both the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Israel-Gaza tragedy, with a supplementary question whether these two wars could be over in the next six months. I didn’t dare protest. Let me, therefore, make a few unambitious remarks. Really only remarks.

Does Shafik assume that these two, the course of history changing events coexist in time only by chance, more or less independently, or does he presuppose that they might have a common cause, a common starter? Or, eventually, did they both happen because of the presence of other history changing factor (or factors)? These are serious and difficult questions.

I am not sure I know Shafik’s view, but I am convinced that these two events did not accidentally happen in the same era. Both were made possible by the distinct shift in the distribution of power in the world which has been undergoing in the last years, perhaps decades. We witness the rise of China and of other BRICS or BRICS-like countries, we see the consolidation of Putin’s Russia, and we have to accept the unpleasant fact of the diminishing power of the US and, of course, of Europe. At the beginning of the 1990s, US and Europe controlled 70 percent of the world GDP, whereas it is only 40 percent now. Even bigger changes occur in the world’s population structure. All that leads to a fundamental geopolitical shift.

It creates to a new state of affairs. I don’t like historic analogies. They are mostly doubtful and are – many times – made with an insufficiently concealed purpose. They might be suggestive, however. The highly respected Harvard Professor Graham Allison (e.g. “The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?, The Atlantic, September 2015) argued ten years ago – using the experience of Greece in the fifth century B.C. – that the former hegemon, when starts losing its previously unchallenged position, makes use of its still undeniable strength and influence and tries to reshuffle the cards, to build new coalitions and break the old ones, to complicate things and increase chaos and instability. Such a behaviour can trigger a large-scale conflict in case some of the other main players make strategic miscalculations. But as I said the analogies are alluring.

When discussing Ukraine and Gaza we shouldn’t pay attention to the first day events only. We have to carefully study the days before. The war in the Ukraine didn’t start on February 24, 2022. There was no peace and friendship on its territory the day before. Undoubtedly not since the first Maidan in 2004. The same is true about the Israel-Arab world conflict. I remember I cancelled my state visit to Israel (with a huge delegation, already sitting on the plane) shortly before taking off because of rockets fired on Tel Aviv from Gaza exactly at that moment. It was 12 years ago.

The Russian army’s crossing Ukraine borders as well as the horrific Hamas attack on Israel didn’t fall from the clear sky. No one of these attacks can be accepted, justified or downplayed. They caused hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. And if not stopped, they will lead to millions of the dead and injured.

I feel very strongly that the rest of the world – of course in a differing degree – is co-responsible for both these tragic wars and for the enormous suffering of millions of men, women and children on all sides of the fighting. I am afraid the international community, and especially its main players, haven’t done all what is possible to do. Both in the days before the outbreak of the fighting and in the days after it. More rapidly they must act now.

Serious negotiations must begin and they must be made possible without ambitions to return to the point zero. This request sounds unacceptable for many people, including the current Czech government, but there is no other way out. To de-escalate the wars immediately is a necessity. And the obligation.

Václav Klaus, Expecting the Unexpected dinner series, Hotel Bayerischer Hof, Munich, February 15, 2024