Our Brussels correspondent reports on a cozy post-prandial chinwag with the towering political theorist and philosopher.
Gilbert Doctorow is the Founder of the European office, Committee on East-West Accord
George Soros’s press conference in Brussels on Thursday, 23 October, had one unifying theme, his loathing of Russia.
Nominally it was to publicize his latest essay, “Wake Up, Europe” released several days ago on the online edition of The New York Review of Books and already republished in various world newspapers of record in local languages.
But both in his introductory remarks and in answers to questions from the floor Soros also went into a variety of side issues, making at times some genuinely newsworthy statements. In this short essay we will examine first what Soros said and second what was written for him.
The setting for the event was a two-day Global Briefing seminar of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group which otherwise was taking place behind closed doors for the benefit of participants sponsored by their companies, embassies and NGO employers.
But when you put up more than $50,000 a year in sponsorship contributions, as Soros does for the ICG, you get perks like the 45 minutes of on-record prime time just after lunch with journalists invited in as Soros did on Thursday. The moderator was of appropriate stature, ICG co-chair Lord Malloch-Brown.
The anti-Russia sound bites came at the very beginning of Soros’s chat. The wake-up call he is making concerns an ‘existential threat’ to Europe’s values and way of life coming from the big neighbor to the East.
Russia is a ‘sham democracy.’ It is a ‘Mafia State.’ Russia represents the use of force. Russia is expansionist abroad and repressive at home. And Europe is unprepared to deal with this alternative and till now successful model of governance.
Europe is disunited, passive and unhappy with itself and with the measures put in place to deal with the 2008 global financial melt-down from which it never recovered. Instead of solidarity and equality of Member States, the crisis has pitted the strong states against the weak and too many of Europe’s citizens have turned against the ideals of a united Europe that works against their material interests.
So far, so good. But when Soros moved on to explain how the New Ukraine has a better grasp of European democracy than the EU itself and is fighting Europe’s fight against the Russian threat, he went off the rails and landed in the surreal.
This New Ukraine, in Soros’ view, is the embodiment of democratic principles: of rule of law, fighting corruption, structural reform. It is on the front line against an imperialist minded, aggressive Russia. Therefore, it is in Europe’s interest to provide this New Ukraine with military assistance and financial aid, which immediately equates to 19-20 billion dollars.
Soros insisted that he knows Ukraine well from the time in the 1990s when he set up his pro-democracy NGO there. And while his recent visits there came after an absence of ten years, he has no doubt of his grasp of the situation in Kiev nor does he question the sincerity of its new government.
Some in the audience were unconvinced. One representative of the Mafia State, a Russian political scientist who was a presenter in the morning session on Ukraine, courteously questioned Soros on the reality of a New Ukraine when so many oligarchs from the Old Ukraine continue to wield power and command militias around the country and when officials at the top including President Poroshenko himself served in previous governments. Soros was unmoved and did not deign to respond.
When asked about the just released Human Rights Watch condemnation of use of cluster bombs by the Kiev government, Soros agreed this was very regrettable and he said he himself flagged the issue in a tiny box that is part of his essay.
Of course, neither he nor anyone else in the room bothered to mention one nasty detail: the alleged use of cluster bombs by Government forces was directed against residential districts and schools, aimed almost exclusively at the civilian population.
Soros has never been bashful about leveraging his philanthropic/cultural activities to serve his speculative ventures as financier. And so he used the press conference to appeal to Europe to supervise a debt exchange program that would effectively bail out bond holders of Ukrainian sovereign debt, to the tune of the $19 billion falling due in the coming year, and not to accede to a Cyprus or Greek type ‘bail-in’ or ‘haircut’ for the investors that would amount to default and cut off Ukraine from international financing of its private industrial recovery.
This sounds nice, but as of the start of 2014, $7 billion of that sovereign debt was held by one U.S. company, Franklin Templeton. Turning those short term bonds into a modern day equivalent of Brady bonds with EU and US guarantees would clearly serve the interests of Soros’s friends in the investment community; and who knows, since Soros did not volunteer full disclosure and was asked by no one for transparency, how much of that debt he and companies he controls hold.
Soros was effusive in his praise for Angela Merkel whose background in the GDR had enlightened her to the real nature of Russia. He noted how Merkel has rallied Member States to face down Russia over Crimea and over the insurgency in the Donbas.
However, without missing a beat, Soros informed the audience that Merkel is leading the troops in the wrong direction. Her sanctions policy prompts tit for tat responses from Russia that are harming the still fragile European economy by pushing it into recession. Her austerity medicine to cure Europe’s indebtedness are leading to deflation, where what the EU needs right now is reflation. It is with reflation that Europe can afford to advance the $20 billion that Ukraine needs immediately to avoid default.
One journalist in the audience asked how as one of the world’s preeminent financiers George Soros could limit his discussion of Ukraine’s financial woes to the $20 billion it needs immediately to cover sovereign debt repayment and ignore the $200 billion that now is widely talked about as the cost of Ukraine’s implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU that it has signed and ratified, a number which matches, by the way, what some of Yanukovich’s staff put forward in November 2013 to explain their decision to postpone conclusion of that Agreement pending its revision.
Soros responded with a rambling allusion to how the Ukrainian diaspora and Ukrainian entrepreneurs released from the legacy of mismanagement and theft that despoiled this rich country in the 20 years since its independence would easily find this money, of course if they were not hindered by a default on sovereign debt held by his friends.
Soros’s introductory remarks picked many of the raisins from the cake of his article ‘Rise Up, Europe.’ It has many allegations against Vladimir Putin and his actions in and around Ukraine that are disputed and unproven, such as that Russia ‘established separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine,’ ‘invaded Ukraine with regular armed forces’ in August, ‘is offering but failing to sign a deal for gas supplies,’ and otherwise is engaged in machinations aimed at forcing Poroshenko to appoint a premier who abandons the Maidan program.
Soros predicts that the Russians will next ‘open by force a land route from Russia to Crimea and Transdnistria’ or, alternatively, they will ‘sit back and await the economic and financial collapse of Ukraine,’ anticipating ‘a grand bargain’ with the United States whereby Russia would be granted its hegemony over its Near Abroad.
Victorious Russia could then become ‘still more influential within the EU and pose a potent threat to the Baltic states with their large ethnic Russian populations.’
These emotive scenarios might be dismissed as intentionally alarmist and unrealistic if they did not bear the signature of the great philanthropist and financier. Who writes this tripe for Mr. Soros? He has no shortage of ghostwriters from the various publishing and think tank projects he finances.
This past week we saw in the scandal surrounding Ben Judah’s interview in Politico with former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski what comes of Soros giving free rein to his minions who believe they can defame Vladimir Putin and Russia with impunity.
Journalists and pundits receive grants and research appointments from institutions where George Soros is present at the creation and remains trustee or board member and significant financial contributor.
Such is the case of Ben Judah, who is not merely a widely published author and journalist but a Policy Fellow at the London-based European Council of Foreign Relations, headed by a journalist-administrator whom Soros has moved from one of his projects to another. Its policy interests reflecting Mr. Soros’s core beliefs. In simpler terms, the ECRF is merely a new face for his now discredited Open Society offices.
Press coverage of Soros’s appearance in Brussels has followed the master script of his handouts. Bloomberg.com was typically obsequious to the billionaire. However, not everyone was taken in. “Soros has gone mad.” Such was the remark of a worldly wise New York attorney who was in Paris on the 23rd and found the “Wake Up, Europe” in Le Monde. He e-mailed his shock to some friends in Manhattan.
The remark was passed along in typical digital age daisy chain. As Longfellow wrote some time ago, “Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad.”