Angela’s Ashes: How Merkel Failed Greece and Europe – By Spiegel Online International

German chancellor Angela Merkel leaves after a session at the Bundestag lower house of parliament on the Greek crisis on July 1, 2015 in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "the future of Europe is not at stake" because of the crisis over Greece after the breakdown of debt talks and expiry of its aid programme. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN

German chancellor Angela Merkel leaves after a session at the Bundestag lower house of parliament on the Greek crisis on July 1, 2015 in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the future of Europe is not at stake” because of the crisis over Greece after the breakdown of debt talks and expiry of its aid programme. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN

Angela Merkel relishes her reputation as queen of Europe. But she hasn’t learned how to use her power, instead allowing a bad situation to heat up to the boiling point. Her inability to take unpopular stances badly exacerbated the Greek crisis.

By Peter Müller and René Pfister

July 03, 2015 – 08:17 PM

Angela Merkel was already leaving for the weekend when she received the call that would change everything. The chancellor had just had a grueling day, spending all of it in meetings with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras — sometimes as part of a larger group, and others with only him and French President François Hollande.

They discussed debt restructuring and billions of euros in additional investments. When it comes to issues important to him, Tsipras can be exhaustingly stubborn. In the end, though, Merkel was left with the feeling the EU summit was the milestone that could quite possibly mark a turn for the better.

Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, had pulled Merkel aside in Brussels and whispered to her that Tsipras was seeking allies in the opposition, with whom he could push a reform program through Greek parliament even without the consent of the radical wing of Syriza, if necessary. “Can you help me?” Tsipras had asked Schulz. Schulz has good connections in the Social Democratic PASOK Party.

But when Merkel returned to Berlin, she received a call from Tsipras. He told her that he was not interested in a deal, but that he intended to hold a referendum in Greece first. A short time later, he tweeted: “With a clear ‘NO,’ we send a message that Greece is not going to surrender.”

Merkel is known for not being easily fazed. She has made it this far in part because she has firm control of her emotions. And she remained silent throughout the weekend. But at a Monday meeting of leading members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), she hinted at the depth of her disappointment in Tsipras. His policies are “hard and ideological,” she said, adding that he is steering his country into a brick wall “with his eyes wide open.”

Merkel had always described Tsipras as a man who, while leading a crazy organization, was quite open and accommodating in person. She had hoped that Tsipras would ultimately help reason prevail. Now, though, it appears that he has handed Merkel the greatest debacle of her tenure as chancellor.

‘Nothing Left to Fear’

In the end, of course, it will primarily be the fault of the radical Greek government if the country is ejected from the euro zone. How should one deal with a prime minister who conducts negotiations using the language of military mobilization? “We have justice on our side. If we can overcome fear, then there is nothing left to fear,” Tsipras tweeted on Monday.

But the divide that is now opening up in Europe also has something to do with Merkel’s leadership style — and with her idiosyncrasy of allowing things to drift for extended periods. This method works when it comes to negotiating a compromise, and when everyone involved is interested in a favorable outcome. But it reaches its limits when someone like Tsipras is determined to carry things to the extreme.

It has long been clear that Greece is a special case in the context of the euro crisis. It is a country in which neither the taxation system nor the land registry system works, a country that is so deeply in debt that no reasonable economist still believes that it can ever repay what it owes. In addition, parties that habitually plundered the state ran the country for years. Then came Syriza, a movement that, at least in its radical quarters, dreamed of toppling the system.

Merkel knew all of this. Nevertheless, she tried to fix the problem with recipes she had used in German domestic politics: delaying, hiding and allowing things to remain vague. There was no lack of cautionary voices. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has long argued that Greece should be taken on an orderly path out of the euro.

Merkel hopes that the Greeks will vote against Tsipras and in favor of their creditors’ austerity proposals on Sunday. If that happens, the Greek prime minister will hardly be able to remain in office. But even so, Greece will remain a bankrupt country and would be faced with forming a new government in the midst of chaos.

The Greek crisis required leadership and a plan, but Merkel was unwilling to provide either. Although she likes power, when push comes to shove, she doesn’t know what to do with it. And now she faces the wreckage of her European policy. How could things have come to this?

McKinsey Policies

To understand Merkel’s policies, it is worth turning back the clock to 2003. She had only been head of her party for three years and was in the midst of writing a new agenda for the CDU. There were four-and-a-half million unemployed in Germany, social security coffers were empty and employers were groaning about an excessively high tax burden. Germany wasn’t nearly as badly off as Greece is today, but it was in urgent need of restructuring, and Merkel began to prescribe a strict reform program for the country. The McKinsey management-consulting firm provided the numbers to support her bitter message of austerity.

McKinsey specializes in delivering unpleasant truths and is normally hired by companies that need to cut costs and lay off employees. It is easier for managers if they are able to hide behind the consultants’ analyses. That’s the McKinsey principle.

Merkel applied the principle to politics. When the euro crisis erupted in 2010, she made sure that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was involved in Greece’s restructuring. She did so against the will of Finance Minister Schäuble, who believed that Europe should solve its own problems.

In a sense, the International Monetary Fund is the McKinsey of global politics. It helps out wherever countries face financial difficulties, granting loans if countries agree to enact reforms in return.

Reintroducing Mathematics

The idea made sense at first. One reason Europe had slid into the crisis was that the Continent, amid the euphoria of integration, had paid little attention to numbers. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl introduced the euro, but in doing so, he paid too much attention to his emotions and not enough to economic realities. The purpose of bringing in the IMF was to reintroduce mathematics to the equation.

But the McKinsey principle conflicts with Merkel’s claim to power. Her advisers like to portray the chancellor as the queen of Europe, as someone who shapes its guidelines. But in recent months, she has come across as a woman who is hiding behind the advice and recommendations of IMF experts — behind the “technocrats,” as Tsipras puts it.

In this sense, the struggle between Merkel and the Greek premier is also a battle over the definition of the political. Tsipras has turned the IMF into a symbol of oppression, into a group of technocrats who lack democratic legitimacy and yet are subjugating an entire country. He knew how to stylize resistance to the IMF into a battle over a nation’s self-determination. His aim was to elevate the conversations to the political level.

For Tsipras, politics is a magic wand that can make everything disappear: mountains of debt, reform requirements and the rule that prohibits the European Central Bank (ECB) from keeping countries liquid by printing money. It is hard to say what Syriza actually wants. The party is as much a home to former Maoists as it is to disillusioned social democrats. Some dream of a revolution, while others would be satisfied with debt forgiveness. But one thing is clear: Tsipras’ radicalism lies in his faith in the power of the decision. If he doesn’t accept rules, he demands that they be dissolved. This is the logic of Syriza.

Merkel’s real failure is that she did not decisively stand up to his way of thinking. First, she hid behind the troika, because she didn’t want to be the one to deliver the bitter truths to the Greek government. She followed the McKinsey principle.

Then, when Tsipras’ demands became more and more urgent, she bowed to his logic. She adopted the motto: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” In Germany, these words were interpreted as a sign of goodwill — of the desire to keep Greece in the euro zone. But Tsipras interpreted them completely differently: as a challenge to bring matters to a head.

Merkel’s Europe

Last Monday, Merkel stood in front of a blue screen in the lobby of the Chancellery and uttered a sentence that typifies her European policy. She was discussing the question of whether a “no” vote by the Greeks to the creditors’ reform program was tantamount to a “no” to the euro. Instead of saying “yes” or “no,” she said: “I will say quite openly: I am divided on this issue.”

One cannot accuse Merkel of not having principles when it comes to foreign policy. Her fidelity to the US is unbreakable, a fact that the NSA’s surveillance of her mobile phone and of several German ministries has done nothing to change. She stands firmly behind Israel, even if the current government has done nothing to establish peace with the Palestinians. And in the end, she has managed to get along with every French president who has crossed her path, even with François Hollande, who campaigned against the German chancellor and her austerity policies.

Her position on Europe, however, is less clear. On the one hand, there is the Merkel of numbers. When she travels the world, to China or Indonesia, for example, she always has all the tables and diagrams at hand to show the great effort such countries are making and how good Europe has it with its prosperity. A typical Merkel triplet goes as follows: Europe contains just 7 percent of the global population and is responsible for just 25 percent of global economic output, but pays half of all global social welfare. From her perspective, a high school diploma isn’t necessary to realize that such a situation cannot continue forever.

On the other hand, she has learned over the years that it doesn’t come across well when she only casts a cold economic eye on Europe. It seems unfriendly. That helps explain why Tsipras was able to cast her as the villain — as the German dominatrix of austerity — because she was constantly talking about amortization and interest rates. In addition, she is the head of a party that pushed harder than any other for European integration and didn’t focus exclusively on money. She knows that she cannot simply ignore that tradition — which is why she sometimes has to slip into the role of the convinced European.

Just how divided Merkel is can also be seen by looking at her advisors. Chancellery head Peter Altmaier is a portly, unruffled man from the state of Saarbrücken near the French border. Prior to becoming involved in German politics, he worked for the European Commission and speaks fluent English, Dutch and French. In the past several months, Altmaier has done his part to ensure that Merkel remain committed to Greece, arguing that the European idea would be damaged were the community to allow a country to fall out. His answer to the crisis is: more Europe.

No Illusions

On the other side is Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, who has led the Chancellery’s Europe department for several years. He is a wiry bureaucrat with a sharp tongue, but not without humor. Meyer-Landrut’s view of Europe and its problems is free of emotion. He is the one who provides Merkel with all the numbers that show why progress isn’t being made in Greece. His answer to the crisis is: nation states need to take control.

Numbers-Merkel has no illusions about Greece. She doesn’t believe the political classes in Athens will be able to get the country on the right track. Once, during a flight she was suddenly gripped by a laughing fit. She said that the Greek government was refusing to pay the bill for German submarines it had purchased. Their justification was that the subs were crooked. “Crooked!” Merkel said as tears of hilarity rolled down her cheeks.

In October 2012, she visited then-Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in Athens. She didn’t have much respect for Samaras, who had won as head of the conservative party Nea Dimokratia by running against the reform program demanded by Greece’s creditors. Once he got into office though, he buckled — but as has so often been the case, his pledges to Brussels were never fulfilled.

On the return flight to Berlin, a bemused Merkel told of a boast Samaras had made in an interview — that his ministers could reach him on weekends as well. The moral of the story was clear for her: How can a country move forward when its leader sees something so banal as an act of heroism?

Back in 2012, Merkel was close to pushing Greece out of the euro, but she balked in the end. She was afraid that it could have a similar effect as the Lehman bankruptcy did in 2008. That was the spark that ignited the global financial crisis.

A Policy of Pedagogical Imperialism

Since then, the chancellor has gone back and forth. Sometimes she is Numbers-Merkel and sometimes she is Europe-Merkel. Numbers-Merkel sees the Grexit as the most reasonable solution. But Europe-Merkel is concerned about being seen as the EU’s grave-digger should she let Greece fall. There are decent arguments on both sides, but Merkel never made up her mind. She left things open.

The euro crisis opened up a new dimension of power for Merkel. Since 2010, there has been an endless series of crisis summits in Brussels and the German chancellor was always the center of attention. She was the one sitting on the biggest war chest, a fact which granted her far-reaching influence. And Merkel enjoyed her role as the queen of Europe. She didn’t lord it over the others: She wasn’t as loud as Gerhard Schröder and wasn’t as forceful as Helmut Kohl.

Instead, she did what no German chancellor had ever done before. She followed a policy of pedagogical imperialism, with the lesson plan calling for budgetary discipline, labor market reform and privatization. It worked in Spain, Portugal and Ireland, but in Greece, the conditions imposed by creditors were not seen as necessary medicine but as a poison that was destroying society.

Merkel saw what was happening, but she didn’t have the courage to face the consequences. And there were alternatives. She could have offered Greece a safe and supported path out of the euro zone. That is the course of action that Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has supported internally for years. She could also have offered Greece a debt haircut. Had she done so at the right moment, she could at least have prevented the radicalization of Greek politics.

None of these options would have been free of risk. They would have required courage and money, and they would have opened up Merkel to attack. And that is something she didn’t want.

So she hid behind the troika, behind the hated technocrats, thereby accelerating the rise of Syriza. Indeed, Tsipras is, to a certain extent, a product of Merkel’s vacillating leadership style. In the Chancellery, people are expressing relief that Tsipras was unable to drive Europe apart and that nobody is blaming Germany for the current impasse. That may be true, but it is also a rather simplistic view. Success for Merkel is when nobody is pointing their finger at her.

In the Shadow of the Giant

In just under five months from now, on Nov. 22, Merkel will have been in office for a full decade. Thus far, she hasn’t paid much attention to her legacy. Which makes sense. The mere fact of who she is makes her unique among German chancellors. Konrad Adenauer firmly anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reconciled Germans with democracy. Helmut Kohl is the chancellor of reunification.

Merkel is Germany’s first female chancellor. That’s not a small thing. It is important symbolically. But people who know her well say that Merkel is determined to run again in the next general elections. Because of Europe. She wants to use her power to reshape the Continent. Should the euro zone disintegrate, it would forever overshadow her time in office. She would be seen as a failed head of government.

Last Monday, Merkel held a speech on the occasion of the CDU’s 70th birthday, a good opportunity to say make a few things clear. Strangely, though, she remained trapped in the rhetoric that Helmut Kohl once used. The party was held in a power station, and Merkel noted in her speech that the facility had been part of the Wehrmacht’s last line of defense against the advancing Red Army. “Just like this factory, the entire country lay in ruins.”

Europe, she continued, is the answer to the horrors of that war. It is a nice thought and a vitally important one. But it is far from new. The consequence drawn by Kohl is that Europe must continually draw closer together. But Merkel has drawn no such conclusion. And therein lies her contradiction. She borrows from Kohl’s rhetoric, but not from his political convictions. Which explains why there is a growing gap between her words and her deeds.

What Does She Want?

Three days before the CDU celebration, Merkel was at an EU summit in Brussels. The Greek crisis was on the agenda, but there was another issue to discuss as well. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tentatively presented a paper in an effort to give Europe a new goal, a new idea that reaches beyond the day-to-day.

He proposed that the Commission be granted greater powers — on budgetary oversight, for example. Juncker wasn’t trying to launch a revolution, nor was he trying to lay the cornerstone of a European government or to eliminate European nation-states. It was nothing more than an attempt to draw a couple of practical consequences from the euro crisis.

But Merkel doesn’t even want that. At the press conference following the summit, she spoke about everything: about Greece, about refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean, about Jacques Delors, who had been named an honorary citizen of Europe. Regarding Juncker’s proposal, she had but one thing to say: she “took note of it.” In politician-speak, that essentially means: Forget it.

Merkel wants a Europe of nation-states and not a deeply integrated Europe. She was concerned about Juncker running as the lead conservative candidate in 2014 European elections, worried — correctly — that it could result in a reduction of power for European heads of state and government. Furthermore, she doesn’t trust the European Parliament because majorities aren’t as dependable as they are in the Bundestag back home in Berlin.

The chancellor says none of this openly because it would contradict the CDU’s founding principle. She can speak like Kohl, but she breaks with what he stood for. Left behind is a confused EU that doesn’t know what the most powerful woman on the Continent actually wants.

The Isolation of Donetsk: A Visit to Europe’s Absurd New Border- Spiegel Online International

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Borders can be annoying, but largely predictable — in Europe at least. That is what truck driver Yevgeny believed until recently. Many of them are no longer monitored at all, but even those that are guarded rarely hold surprises for those wishing to cross them. “You know if you can zip across them or if you have to plan for a five-hour wait. But this one? I have no idea how it works.”

The border he is referring to is that of a wartime stronghold on the edge of a largely borderless European continent. At the first checkpoint after Kurakhove, travelers must present their papers, open the trunks of their cars and submit to pat-downs as guards search for weapons. Another 500 meters down the road, there are blocks of concrete, barricades, antitank barriers and signs that curtly order travelers to switch off their headlights and stop immediately. After that, there are containers and hooded soldiers, their Kalashnikovs at the ready.

Fields line the road on both sides. It looks almost as though oversized moles have been at work in the brown soil, covered with dirty snow. Black smoke pours out of chimneys sticking out of the smaller mounds while tank canons protrude from the larger ones. Further along, a single excavator is digging a trench in the heavy, wet dirt.

One kilometer from here, the territory of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” begins, an area the Ukrainians treat as enemy territory and as a stronghold for terrorists. The Ukrainian army, though, is holed up here, just past the small city of Kurakhove. In between is the road that leads from Zaporizhia to Donetsk — at least when traffic is allowed to flow. Yevgeny’s truck is now parked on this road. He has the heat and the TV on, and the cab smells of coffee. You could almost call it cozy. “But not if you’ve been sitting here for three days and have no idea when you’ll start moving again,” he complains.

A seemingly endless chain of vehicles — big trucks, small delivery vans, long-distance buses and shared taxies — are parked on the shoulder. In the midst of it all is Yevgeny’s small, green-and-white truck, a Russian-made GAZelle designed to carry 1.5 tons of cargo.

Yevgeny drives for a businessman in Donetsk and he is carrying supplies for shops in the rebel capital — a load of canned goods, tomato paste, condensed milk and spices that he picked up in Mariupol, the port city 120 kilometers (75 miles) away that could be the separatists’ next target. Yevgeny has passed through six checkpoints since leaving Mariupol, but now his trip has come to a standstill near Kurakhove, 40 kilometers from his destination.

As Isolated as West Berlin

One can argue whether the separatists are to be blamed or whether Kiev is exacting revenge. But either way, Donetsk is now just as isolated as West Berlin once was. Even from the east, where the border to Russia lies nearby, hardly any goods are allowed through. The rebels control the border, and they only allow the propaganda-driven aid shipments from Moscow to pass. Everything from milk to meat and vegetables is becoming scarce in the city. And the Ukrainian government has all but sealed off access to the “People’s Republic.”

More recently, anyone wishing to cross the line between the two warring camps must present a “propusk,” a small, white identity card with a large “B” printed on it. The Ukrainians have divided the demarcation line between their forces and the separatists into sections. The propusk is the Open Sesame for crossing the line in “zone B.” Since January, no one has been able to cross the line without this propusk. The problem is that it’s difficult to get.

There is currently a two to four-week waiting period to obtain the propusk, which is issued in Velyka Novosilka, a village 90 kilometers west of Donetsk. But a “Sector B” propusk is required to reach Velyka Novosilka from Donetsk in the first place. The result is that people from Donetsk are in a paralyzing catch-22.

Even in divided Berlin, such problems were more effectively solved. West Berliners were able to obtain travel permits from East Berlin officials in West Berlin so that they could cross the Wall. It was a small gesture of goodwill in the Cold War.

“It’s a theater of the absurd,” says Yevgeny, while another driver calls the situation at the border Kafkaesque. “Just look at the people over there, who have come from Donetsk. They give their documents to Ukrainian soldiers, hoping that the documents will somehow reach Velyka Novosilka. And then they come back, two weeks later, and spend days standing outside in the cold here to get their propusk.”

Yevgeny obtained the pass, but it’s not much help now that the Ukrainians have come up with a new requirement: Anyone transporting goods into rebel-held territory must now present proof of permit from the tax authorities. All companies that sell products to the rebels must possess such a permit, including the company in Mariupol where Yevgeny picked up his canned goods.

‘Obama Is a Beast’

“Of course, the company doesn’t have the document,” says Yevgeny. “I went to the border anyway. Last week, we waited here for six days. Then we gave a police officer 1,000 hryvnia. That’s only about €35 ($38), but here it’s a month’s pension. The police officer guided us to Donetsk through villages where there were no checkpoints yet.” But even these loopholes have now been closed, leaving only the official crossing, which is also closed. No one, no matter which documents he presents, is crossing the border on this winter day. According to an officer at the checkpoint, the order to open the border hasn’t arrived yet.

Donetsk, which is east of the checkpoint, seems peaceful on this day, with a fragile ceasefire having been in effect since Feb. 15. City workers are cleaning the streets, damaged buildings are being repaired in the Kiev and Petrovsky district, and even the university is open. But the war-torn city seems to have lost its moral bearings, with the newspapers reporting 18 murders in the last three days.

Supporters of the new leaders have gathered on Lenin Square, carrying flags with images of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the words “Victory will be ours” and “Obama is a beast.”

War films are being shown on the “First Republican Channel,” with messages running across the bottom of the screen like: “The ‘Oplot’ special battalion seeks tank drivers and paramedics.” Interested parties are instructed to call the phone number listed and ask for “Natasha.” Similar recruitment efforts are also underway in the streets. One poster depicting a Kalashnikov with a scope, along with the phone number of the Donetsk Republic army, reads: “I am waiting for my hero.” Novorossiya, the separatist newspaper, writes: “Following our military victory, we have achieved a diplomatic victory in Minsk: We have become de facto independent.” A man like Russian President Vladimir Putin, the article continues, is “born only once in a thousand years. The day will come when he will also be our president.”

There is very little artillery fire to be heard, and yet hardly anyone ventures out onto the streets, especially at night. “After 6 p.m., 40 percent discount on vodka, wine and champagne,” reads a sign outside the El Torro Steakhouse on Pushkin Boulevard. But the restaurant remains empty even after 6 p.m. So does the fur shop on Artem Street, which promises a “20 percent discount for wives of soldiers in the People’s Army.”

Other businesses lack products instead of customers. Not even aspirin makes it into the rebel-held territory, let alone pain medication for patients in the cancer clinics and methadone for the city’s drug addicts. “Either I hang myself or I join the People’s Army,” says a young man who has been in methadone therapy for four years. “Then I’ll fight with those guys, and I won’t be buried as a junkie but as someone who defended his homeland.”

Getting Out of Donetsk

As difficult as it is to get into Donetsk, it’s just as difficult to get out. Those hoping to escape the besieged city go to the southern bus terminal in Donetsk. Older women stand around holding out paper cups, quietly begging for money and a man digs through a trashcan, looking for anything of value. People are lined up at the information booths, where they pay 2.60 hryvnia for information. To prevent arguments, notes on the windows read: “We don’t know how to get a propusk either!”

There are 21 bus platforms at the terminal. The ones for buses traveling to destinations within the “People’s Republic” are empty, while the others are crowded, with buses departing for Mariupol, Sloviansk and the industrial city of Kramatorsk. The drivers only allow passengers holding a “Sector B” propusk to board their buses.

A rickety Indian-made Tata bus is ready for departure at platform four. As the passengers push their way inside, a young woman tells the driver that her mother is in the hospital in Kramatorsk and asks if he can take her along without a propusk. “Not without verification from the hospital,” says the driver. “But they won’t give it to me,” the desperate woman replies.

Another female passenger is more successful. She wants the driver to help her smuggle a relative into Donetsk on his way back. “Well,” the man says tentatively and then says “well” again, until she hands him a carton of “President” cigarettes. “How many are inside?” he asks. “Two hundred,” the woman replies. The driver opens the carton and pulls out four $50 bills. “Well,” he says again, but this time he sounds more approving. Although the war has officially cut off all connections to the outside world, ways around the blockade can still be bought.

Yevgeny, sitting in his truck over at the checkpoint, is familiar with these ways. In a country that is on the brink of economic disaster, why shouldn’t soldiers be open to bribery? “You simply go up to the checkpoint and pick out one of the more trustworthy-looking faces,” he says, “and then you strike up a conversation.”

No Future

How much does one have to pay to get a truck carrying food supplies through the front lines? Until recently, drivers had to pay the Ukrainians 10,000 hryvnia per truck, but now the price has spiked to 20,000 — the equivalent of five to six months’ salary for a soldier.

And that isn’t all. At the rebel checkpoint on the other side, soldiers from the “People’s Republic” demand “customs” payments. There is no fixed price, but the separatists normally requisition three out of five fuel tankers carrying gasoline. Even the richest businessman can’t afford such a price for long, says Yevgeny. Besides, he explains, the price of diesel has almost doubled since early February.

“I’ve spent almost my entire life in Donetsk. I have nothing bad to say about Viktor Yanukovych. When he was still in charge, he got us an apartment,” he says of the time prior to Yanukovych’s presidency when he was a local business leader. “Now I have a small house, where my wife is waiting for me. But we took our 16-year-old daughter to a school in Zaporizhia. There is no future for her in Donetsk anymore.”

The people in charge of the “People’s Republic” were unknowns until recently, Yevgeny says. “Now each of them has a Kalashnikov, and they behave like our new masters. I didn’t vote for independence.”

Then Yevgeny crawls into his sleeping bag. Another night at Europe’s new border? Or perhaps two or three?

Whether people are for or against the “People’s Republic” appears to have become a question of money. While Yevgeny waits at the border and curses the rebels, Fyodor Ilyishenko, at the Donetsk bus terminal, holds precisely the opposite views. He is holding an envelope that contains a letter to the district court in Kiev — a complaint againstPrime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. With his decision to impose an economic blockade on the People’s Republic, the premier was the one who caused the misery and suffering in the city in the first place, says Ilyishenko.

‘You Have to Fight’

“It was a criminal decision. Yatsenyuk is narrow-minded and as dull as a cork. He claims that we are no longer entitled to anything, because we live in occupied territory,” Ilyishenko continues.

Short and good-natured, Ilyishenko, 78, once served as an air force general in the far east of the Soviet Union and pulls out his veteran ID as proof. He fought against the Chinese in the 1960s, and he fought on the side of the Egyptians in the Six-Day War with Israel. Now he is a military adviser to the separatists. He no longer receives his pension, now that Kiev has cut off all payments to the “People’s Republics.”

“I have 70,000 hryvnia in my account with the state-owned Oshchadbank. The money is for my retirement, but I can’t get to it because there are no longer any banks in Donetsk. They have promised to give me all the money, but I would have to go to a branch in Ukrainian territory to get it” — which he is unable to do.

The government in Donetsk recently paid him 1,000 hryvnia in emergency assistance, he says, and he immediately spent half of the money on food. Now he is standing at the bus terminal holding a plastic bag with the words “Diamonds Delight” printed on it. The bag contains medicines.

The post office is also no longer in operation, which is why Ilyishenko is trying to find someone headed for Mariupol to take along his complaint letter. He has a friend there who can pass it on to the right place. He approaches a group of women, and one of them agrees to help. The old man shows her the letter, seals the envelope and gives her 25 hryvnia. “It will hardly change the situation, but you have to fight,” says the retired general.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Guantanamo Prisoner Diary: ‘We’re Gonna Teach You About Great American Sex’ – Spiegel

By Britta Sandberg

Photo Gallery: ‘Motherfucker, I Told You, You’re Gone’
01/20/2015

 

 

 SPIEGEL ONLINE INTERNATIONAL

Mauritanian national Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been held at Guantanamo for 12 years now without trial and despite a dearth of evidence. A diary he kept of his torture is now being published around the world. SPIEGEL presents some excerpts.

 Country roads and dirt tracks lead to Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s former home in a small village near the capital city of Nouakchott. Children play football in front of the house, using two empty cola bottles as makeshift goals. Goats rummage through the trash foraging for anything edible. There are no street names in these parts; the houses are simply numbered.

A 158 in Boudiane, Mauritania was Slahi’s address until 14 years ago. Soon after that, he was assigned another number, when he became prisoner number 760 at Guantanamo, Cuba. Slahi has been held at the American prison for the past 12 years.

He was accused of having been acquainted with the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and of having provided them with support and sending them to Afghanistan to receive training. He has also been accused of involvement in the Millennium Plot, the foiled terrorist attack targeting the Los Angeles International Airport. At least that’s the claim made by Ahmed Ressam, the man arrested in late 1999 at the US-Canadian border with 60 kilograms of explosives in the trunk of his car.

More than a decade later, though, these allegations have essentially collapsed. Sufficient evidence has never turned up, proper charges haven’t been filed and Slahi, now 44, has never been put on trial. US District Court Judge James Robertson, who had to review the lawfulness of his detention in 2010, likewise found no evidence of Slahi’s guilt nor, he said, could it be proven that Slahi had supported the 9/11 perpetrators. He ordered Slahi’s release.

Four days later, though, the American government appealed the decision and the case has since been remanded to a US District Court, where it is still pending. Neither Slahi, his family nor his lawyers know when and if he will ever be able to leave Guantanamo.

‘Don’t Worry Mom, I’ll Be Back Soon’

There’s a pavilion roof over the courtyard of the Slahi family’s two-story house in Boudiane. Slahi’s former bedroom is a bare room with windows facing the courtyard and mattresses that have been stacked up against the wall. Slahi’s mother gave a SPIEGEL reporter a tour of the house in 2008.

“Mohamedou needs to finally come home,” she said tearfully at the time. “He didn’t do anything and he’s my favorite son.” Thanks to mediation efforts undertaken by the International Red Cross, she was able to speak to her son by phone twice a year. But Slahi’s mother would never see him again. She died in March 2013.

“Don’t worry mom, I’ll be back soon,” Slahi told her on Nov. 20, 2001 as police stood in front of the house to pick him up for questioning. He had just gotten out of the shower. He followed behind the officials, who had already interrogated him several times, in his gray Nissan.

Mauritanian and FBI officials questioned him for days. Ramzi Binalshibh, the coordinator of the 9/11 attacks, had allegedly incriminated Slahi, saying that he had had contact with the Hamburg terror cell while studying electrical engineering on a scholarship in Duisburg. Slahi had, in fact, promoted jihad in the early 1990s in small German mosques and travelled himself to a training camp in Afghanistan in 1991. He had wanted to help the Mujahedeen in their fight against the Soviets, he later said. But he claimed he had had nothing to do with 9/11.

‘A Lot of Smoke and No Fire’

After eight days, the Americans flew him to Jordan. In July 2002, they flew him from there to Afghanistan, and in August of the same year to Guantanamo. At the US prison camp, they considered him to be a big fish, a dangerous terrorist. The more insistent he became in refusing to confess, the greater the more suspicious his interlocuters became. Slahi, after all, had visited several suspect locations. Guantanamo’s former chief prosecutor, Morris Davis, recalled ina 2013 interview with Slate: “In early 2007, we had a big meeting with the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice, and we got a briefing from the investigators who worked on the Slahi case, and their conclusion was there’s a lot of smoke and no fire.”

In 2007, Davis resigned in protest over the methods used in handling prisoners at Guantanamo. US military lawyer Stuart Couch, who had been responsible for Slahi’s prosecution, also withdrew from the team when he learned that the inmate had been tortured at Guantanamo. As a Christian, he wrote to his superiors at the time, he had the moral obligation to resign. In Slahi’s case, he argued, the US had acted incorrectly in legal, ethical and moral terms.

Weeks of Torture

Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved Slahi’s “special interrogation” program personally in August 2003. It included sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, extreme cold, a simulated kidnapping, a simulated execution on a boat and the threat that his mother would also be arrested and brought to Guantanamo.

After weeks of torture, Slahi decided to give his torturers what they wanted: He began talking, implicating people he didn’t know and delivering one false statement after the other. He was rewarded for it as well. Even today, Slahi is a privileged prisoner at Guantanamo, with a television and computer, and he’s even allowed to grow his own herb garden. During the summer of 2005, he completed a 460-page Guantanamo Diary that he had written by hand. From the beginning, his hope was to someday publish it. He waited a decade. But on Tuesday, his writings are being published in book form around the world for the first time.

The military administration had classified Slahi’s notes as top secret, stamped with “noforn” (“no foreign nationals”), making them inaccessible to intelligence agencies in other countries. They remained stored at a secure site in Washington. For six years, Slahi’s lawyers fought for their release on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act and in 2012, they finally succeeded. Names and other details had been blacked out, redactions that are reflected in the book as well.

The book is the first comprehensive report given by a prisoner who is still being held at Guantanamo. His lawyer Nancy Hollander says it is also the first to provide details about the torture practices at the military prison. “Slahi provides us with a glimpse of life there,” she says. “I hope this book will change some things and that he will finally be released.”

Mohamedou Ould Slahi wrote the following excerpts from his “Guantanamo Diary” during the summer of 2003.


I was deprived of my comfort items, except for a thin iso-mat and a very thin, small, worn-out blanket. I was deprived of my books, which I owned, I was deprived of my Koran, I was deprived of my soap. I was deprived of my toothpaste and of the roll of toilet paper I had. The cell — better, the box — was cooled down to the point that I was shaking most of the time. I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day; every once in a while they gave me a rec-time at night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. For the next 70 days, I wouldn’t know the sweetness of sleeping: interrogation 24 hours a day, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off. I don’t remember sleeping one night quietly. “If you start to cooperate you’ll have some sleep and hot meals,” _________________ used to tell me repeatedly.

Force Sex as a Torture Method

“Then today, we’re gonna teach you about great American sex. Get up!” said ________. I stood up in the same painful position as I had every day for about 70 days. I would rather follow the orders and reduce the pain that would be caused when the guards come to play; the guards used every contact opportunity to beat the hell out of the detainee.

“Detainee tried to resist,” was the “gospel truth” they came up with, and guess who was going to be believed? “You’re very smart, because if you don’t stand up it’s gonna be ugly,” ____________.

As soon as I stood up, the two _______ took off their blouses, and started to talk all kind of dirty stuff you can imagine, which I minded less. What hurt me most was them forcing me to take part in a sexual threesome in the most degrading manner. What many _______ don’t realize is that men get hurt the same as women if they’re forced to have sex, maybe more due to the traditional position of the man. Both _______ stuck on me, literally one on the front and the other older _______ stuck on my back rubbing ____ whole body on mine.

At the same time they were talking dirty to me, and playing with my sexual parts. I am saving you here from quoting the disgusting and degrading talk I had to listen to from noon or before until 10 p.m. when they turned me over to _______, the new character you’ll soon meet.

To be fair and honest, the _______ didn’t deprive me from my clothes at any time; everything happened with my uniform on. The senior _______________ was watching everything _____________________________________________________. I kept praying all the time.

“Stop the fuck praying! You’re having sex with American _______ and you’re praying? What a hypocrite you are!” said ______________ angrily, entering the room.

I refused to stop speaking my prayers, and after that, I was forbidden to perform my ritual prayers for about one year to come. I also was forbidden to fast during the sacred month of Ramadan October 2003, and fed by force. During this session I also refused to eat or to drink, although they offered me water every once in a while. “We must give you food and water; if you don’t eat it’s fine.”

I was just wishing to pass out so I didn’t have to suffer, and that was really the main reason for my hunger strike; I knew people like these don’t get impressed by hunger strikes. Of course they didn’t want me to die, but they understand there are many steps before one dies. “You’re not gonna die, we’re gonna feed you up your ass,” said ____________.

I have never felt as violated in myself as I had since the DoD team started to torture me to get me admit to things I haven’t done. (…)

Humiliation, sexual harassment, fear and starvation was the order of the day until around 10 p.m. Interrogators made sure that I had no clue about the time, but nobody is perfect; their watches always revealed it. I would be using this mistake later, when they put me in dark isolation.

“I’m gonna send you to your cell now, and tomorrow you’ll experience even worse,” said _______ after consulting with ____ colleagues. I was happy to be relieved; I just wanted to have a break and be left alone. I was so worn out, and only God knew how I looked. But _______ lied to me; ____ just organized a psychological trick to hurt me more. I was far from being relieved. The D.O.C., which was fully cooperating when it came to torture, sent another escort team. As soon as I reached the doorstep __________________________ I fell face down, my legs refused to carry me, and every inch in my body was conspiring against me. The guards failed to make me stand up, so they had to drag me on the tips of my toes.


The Boat Trip

Suddenly a commando team consisting of three soldiers and a German shepherd broke into our interrogation room. Everything happened quicker than you could think about it. __________ punched me violently, which made me fall face down on the floor.

“Motherfucker, I told you, you’re gone!” said _____. His partner kept punching me everywhere, mainly on my face and my ribs. He, too, was masked from head to toe; he punched me the whole time without saying a word, because he didn’t want to be recognized. The third man was not masked; he stayed at the door holding the dog’s collar, ready to release it on me.

“Who told you to do that? You’re hurting the detainee!” screamed _______, who was no less terrified than I was. _____ was the leader of the assailing guards, and he was executing _________________ orders. As to me, I couldn’t digest the situation. My first thought was, They mistook me for somebody else. My second thought was to try to recognize my environment by looking around while one of the guards was squeezing my face against the floor. I saw the dog fighting to get loose. I saw _______ standing up, looking helplessly at the guards working on me. “Blindfold the Motherfucker, if he tries to look –“

One of them hit me hard across the face, and quickly put the goggles on my eyes, ear muffs on my ears, and a small bag over my head. I couldn’t tell who did what. They tightened the chains around my ankles and my wrists; afterwards, I started to bleed. All I could hear was _____ cursing, “F-this and F-that!” I didn’t say a word, I was overwhelmingly surprised, I thought they were going to execute me.

Thanks to the beating I wasn’t able to stand, so _____ and the other guard dragged me out with my toes tracing the way and threw me in a truck, which immediately took off. The beating party would go on for the next three or four hours before they turned me over to another team that was going to use different torture techniques.

“Stop praying, Motherfucker, you’re killing people,” _____ said, and punched me hard on my mouth. My mouth and nose started to bleed, and my lips grew so big that I technically could not speak anymore. The colleague of _____ turned out to be one of my guards, ______________________________. _____ and __________ each took a side and started to punch me and smash me against the metal of the truck. One of the guys hit me so hard that my breath stopped and I was choking; I felt like I was breathing through my ribs.

I almost suffocated without their knowledge. I was having a hard time breathing due to the head cover anyway, plus they hit me so many times on my ribs that I stopped breathing for a moment.

Did I pass out? Maybe not; all I know is that I kept noticing _____ several times spraying Ammonia in my nose. The funny thing was that Mr. __ was at the same time my “lifesaver,” as were all the guards I would be dealing with for the next year, or most of them. All of them were allowed to give me medication and first aid.

After 10 to 15 minutes, the truck stopped at the beach, and my escorting team dragged me out of the truck and put me in a high-speed boat. __________________ never gave me a break; they kept hitting me and ________________________ in order to make them stab me. “You’re killing people,” said _____. I believe he was thinking out loud: He knew his was the most cowardly crime in the world, torturing a helpless detainee who completely went into submission and turned himself in. What a brave operation! _____ was trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing.

Inside the boat, _____ made me drink salt water, I believe it was directly from the ocean. It was so nasty I threw up. They would put any object in my mouth and shout, “Swallow, Motherfucker!”, but I decided inside not to swallow the organ-damaging salt water, which choked me when they kept pouring it in my mouth. “Swallow, you idiot!” I contemplated quickly, and decided for the nasty, damaging water rather than death.

_____ and ____________ escorted me for about three hours in the high-speed boat. The goal of such a trip was, first, to torture the detainee and claim that “the detainee hurt himself during transport,” and second, to make the detainee believe he was being transferred to some far, faraway secret prison. We detainees knew all of that; we had detainees reporting they had been flown around for four hours and found themselves in the same jail where they started. I knew from the beginning that I was going to be transferred to __________________ about a five-minute ride. _______ had a very bad reputation: just hearing the name gave me nausea.


At a Secret Site

Over the next several days, I almost lost my mind. Their recipe for me went like this: I must be kidnapped from ______________ and put in a secret place. I must be made to believe I was on a far, faraway island. I must be informed by _____________ that my mom was captured and put in a special facility.

In the secret place, the physical and psychological suffering must be at their highest extremes. I must not know the difference between day and night. I couldn’t tell a thing about days going by or time passing; my time consisted of a crazy darkness all the time. My diet times were deliberately messed up. I was starved for long periods and then given food but not given time to eat.

“You have three minutes: Eat!” a guard would yell at me, and then after about half a minute he would grab the plate. “You’re done!” And then it was the opposite extreme: I was given too much food and a guard came into my cell and forced me to eat all of it. When I said “I need water” because the food got stuck in my throat, he punished me by making me drink two 25-ounce water bottles.

“I can’t drink,” I said when my abdomen felt as if it was going to explode. But __________ screamed and threatened me, pushing me against the wall and raising his hand to hit me. I figured drinking would be better, and drank until I vomited.

All the guards were masked with Halloween-like masks, and so were the Medics, and the guards were briefed that I was a high-level, smart-beyond-belief terrorist.

“You know who you are?” said ___________ friend. “You’re a terrorist who helped kill 3,000 people!”

“Indeed I am!” I answered. I realized it was futile to discuss my case with a guard, especially when he knew nothing about me. The guards were all very hostile. They cursed, shouted, and constantly put me through rough military-like basic training. “Get up,” “Walk to the bin hole.” “Stop!” “Grab the shit!” “Eat.” “You got two minutes!” “You’re done!” “Give the shit back!” “Drink!” “You better drink the whole water bottle!” “Hurry up!” “Sit down!” “Don’t sit down unless I say it!” “Search the piece of shit!”.

Most of the guards rarely attacked me physically, but ________ hit me once until I fell face-down on the floor, and whenever he and his associate grabbed me they held me very tight and made me run in the heavy chains: “Move!”

No sleep was allowed. In order to enforce this, I was given 25-ounce water bottles at intervals of one to two hours, depending on the mood of the guards, 24 hours a day. The consequences were devastating. I couldn’t close my eyes for 10 minutes because I was sitting most of the time on the bathroom. Later on, after the tension was relieved, I asked one of the guards, “Why the water diet? Why don’t you just make me stay awake by standing up, like in _____________?

“Psychologically it’s devastating to make somebody stay awake on his own, without ordering him,” said _______________. “Believe me, you haven’t seen anything. We have put detainees naked under the shower for days, eating, pissing, and shitting in the shower!” he continued. Other guards told me about other torture methods that I wasn’t really eager to know about.

I was allowed to say three sentences: “Yes, sir!” “Need my interrogator!” and “Need the medics.” Every once in a while the whole guard team stormed my cell, dragged me out, put me facing the wall, and threw out whatever was in my cell, shouting and cursing in order to humiliate me. It wasn’t much: I was deprived from all comfort items that a detainee needs except for a mattress and a small, thin, worn-out blanket. For the first weeks I also had no shower, no laundry, no brushing. I almost developed bugs. I hated my smell.

No sleep. Water diet. Every move behind my door made me stand up in a military-like position with my heart pounding like boiling water. My appetite was non-existent. I was waiting every minute on the next session of torture. I hoped I would die and go to heaven.


A Turning Point and Fabrications

“Obviously there is no way out with you guys,” I addressed _________.

“I’m telling you how!” ____ responded.

Now, thanks to the unbearable pain I was suffering, I had nothing to lose, and I allowed myself to say anything to satisfy my assailants. Session followed session since I called _______________.

“People are very happy with what you’re saying,” said ______________ after the first session. I answered all the questions he asked me with incriminating answers. I tried my best to make myself look as bad as I could, which is exactly the way you can make your interrogator happy.

I made my mind up to spend the rest of my life in jail. You see most people can put up with being imprisoned unjustly, but nobody can bear agony day in and day out for the rest of his life.

They dedicated the whole time until around Nov.10, 2003 to questioning me about Canada and Sept. 11; they didn’t ask me a single question about Germany, where I really had the center of gravity of my life. Whenever they asked me about somebody in Canada I had some incriminating information about that person, even if I didn’t know him. Whenever I thought about the words, “I don’t know,” I got nauseous, because I remembered the words of ______________, “All you have to say is, “I don’t know, I don’t remember, and we’ll fuck you!” Or __________ “We don’t want to hear your denials anymore!” And so I erased these words from my dictionary. (…)

So far, I have personally cost American taxpayers at least $1 million, and the counter is ticking higher every day. The other detainees are costing more or less the same. Under these circumstances, Americans need and have the right to know what the hell is going on.

 

 

Interview with UN Peace Envoy Brahimi: ‘Syria Will Become Another Somalia’

Destroyed buildings are pictured, after the cessation of fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Syria's President Assad, in Homs city

Homs in May: “People are telling me that Homs looks like Berlin in 1945.” Photo: Reuters

Published by Spiegel Online International

Interview by Susanne Koelbl

For almost two years, Lakhdar Brahimi sought to bring peace to Syria. But in May, the United Nations special envoy stepped down. He speaks with SPIEGEL about the stubbornness of Syrian President Assad, the mistakes of the West and the dangers presented by Islamic radicals.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Brahimi, in May, you stepped down as the United Nations special envoy to Syria. When you took the position in 2012, many considered the task of achieving peace in Syria to be a mission impossible. What did you hope to achieve?

Brahimi: The idea was, and still is, for Bashar al-Assad to agree to become the kingmaker instead of staying on as president, an orderly transition with his participation to go to the new Syria. This is what I was and still am dreaming of.

SPIEGEL: Can you point to a particular incident that showed you that it was time to give up?

Brahimi: When I ended the second round of discussions at the so-called Geneva II conference at the beginning of this year, I realized that this process was not going to move forward any time soon.

SPIEGEL: What happened?

Brahimi: Neither Russia nor the US could convince their friends to participate in the negotiations with serious intent.

SPIEGEL: To what degree is the dispute about the person of President Bashar al Assad?

Brahimi: The issue of President Assad was a huge hurdle. The Syrian regime only came to Geneva to please the Russians, thinking that they were winning militarily. I told them “I’m sure that your instructions were: ‘Go to Geneva. But not only don’t make any concessions, don’t discuss anything seriously.'”

SPIEGEL: What about on the other side?

Brahimi: The majority among the opposition were against coming to Geneva. They preferred a military solution and they came completely unprepared. But at least they were willing to start talking with President Assad still there as long as it was clear that, somewhere along the line, he would go.

SPIEGEL: So, you didn’t have a chance at all?

Brahimi: I told the Americans and the Russians several times while we were preparing for Geneva that they were bringing these two delegations kicking and screaming, against their will.

SPIEGEL: For the sake of his country, why couldn’t President Bashar accept a replacement leader that everybody could live with?

Brahimi: It is his regime. He still has an appetite for power. The regime is built around his person and he still has enough authority over people that having him stay in power is a fundamental part of their vision of the future. The way he puts it is, “The people want me there and I cannot say no.” He said, “I am a Syrian national. If I have 50 percent plus one vote at the elections, I’ll stay. If I have 50 percent less one vote, I will go.” Yesterday he was just re-elected for another seven years! You have a situation where one side says there can be no solution unless Assad stays in power. While the other side says there can be no solution unless Assad goes. Do you know how to square a circle?

SPIEGEL: Is Assad aware of the way the war is being conducted by his army?

Brahimi: One-hundred percent.

SPIEGEL: The barrel bombs being thrown from helicopters on civilian populations? The targeted bombing of hospitals? The systematic torture and killing of thousands or tens-of-thousands?

Brahimi: He knows a hell of a lot. Maybe he doesn’t know every single detail of what is happening, but I’m sure he is aware that people are being tortured, that people are being killed, that bombs are being thrown, that cities are being destroyed. He cannot ignore the fact that there are 2.5 million refugees. That number is going to be 4 million next year, and there are 6 million people who are internally displaced. He knows that there are 50,000 to 100,000 people in his jails. And that some of them are tortured every day.

SPIEGEL: Did you confront him with those facts?

Brahimi: Sure! I spoke to him of a list of 29,000 people in his prisons and I gave a copy of the list to his office.

SPIEGEL: Is the regime the major culprit or are war crimes also committed by others?

Brahimi: War crimes are being committed every day, by both sides. Starvation is being used as a weapon. When you prevent water and food from reaching 250,000 people, what else can you call that? And at the same time, some of the armed groups are using civilians as human shields. But the regime has a state, has an army with 300,000 men, has airplanes, which the opposition doesn’t have.

SPIEGEL: Does anybody track those war crimes and hold people responsible?

Brahimi: There is an investigation commission, working under the umbrella of the High Commission of Human Rights, that has been trying to look at all these human rights abuses and they are systematically collecting facts. People will be held responsible one day.

SPIEGEL: Who is the dominating force in the armed opposition?

Brahimi: The opposition is very fragmented, even the Free Syrian Army. But everybody understands that the jihadi group ISIS (Eds. Note: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is not really interested in Syria. They seek to establish a new order in the region. As long as there are no negotiations, the armed groups as well as the political opposition will continue to be fragmented.

SPIEGEL: Are any of those groups capable of winning the fight against Assad and his regime?

Brahimi: The United Nations secretary general has been saying all along that there is no military solution. Neither the regime, nor the opposition can win a decisive military victory.

SPIEGEL: What is your prediction for the future of Syria and the region?

Brahimi: Unless there is a real, sustained effort to work out a political solution, there is a serious risk that the entire region will blow up. The conflict is not going to stay inside Syria. It will spill over into the region. It’s already destabilizing Lebanon, there are 1.5 million refugees in the country; that represents one third of the population. If it were Germany, it would be the equivalent of 20 million. It is destabilizing because ISIS …

SPIEGEL: … the most radical and brutal armed opposition group, which seeks to establish a militant Islamic state …

Brahimi: … is active in both Syria and Iraq already, and Jordan is really struggling to continue resisting. Even Turkey! According to a senior Iraqi official, ISIS has carried out 100 operations in Syria and 1,000 operations in Iraq in just three months.

SPIEGEL: How could these radical forces emerge so quickly? Sources say that the Syrian regime itself helped unleash this phenomenon deliberately — that they have released hundreds of extremists from their prisons, even encouraging them to create an enemy that they can legitimately fight against. Is this correct?

Brahimi: I have heard this several times. People will tell you that ISIS controls one province and the government never attacks them. It is probably the government’s way of saying: “This is the future you will have if we are not there anymore.”

SPIEGEL: Will the states of Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria be able to survive?

Brahimi: They will not completely disappear as states, but it reminds me a lot of 1999. Then, I resigned from my first assignment as UN special envoy to Afghanistan because the UN Security Council had no interest in Afghanistan, a small country, poor, far away. I said one day it’s going to blow up in your faces. It did.

SPIEGEL: What is the link to Syria?

Brahimi: Syria is so much worse! This ISIS, they don’t believe in just staying there. And they are training people. Your countries are terribly scared that the few Europeans that are there may come back and create all sorts of problems. So just imagine what the feelings are next door!

SPIEGEL: Did the West make significant mistakes when the conflict broke out?

Brahimi: Most people did, the product of a wrong reading of the situation inside Syria — just as events in Tunisia and even in Libya were misread by most people. People have got it wrong every time. Which is understandable. It is complicated and these events erupted on us when we weren’t looking. What is difficult to understand is that the early, mistaken assumptions have not been revised. On all sides, people still help the war effort instead of the peace effort, and it is making things worse.

SPIEGEL: If the international community had only supported the Free Syrian Army with the right weaponry in the early stages, Assad could have been ousted and a peaceful transition could have prevailed. Do you share this assessment?

Brahimi: No, because I think they did help the Free Syria Army. But the thing is they thought that the regime was going to fall easily — complete misconception. Syria has a state, it has an army, and it was assumed that it was going to fall just like Libya did.

SPIEGEL: Might the Assad regime fall at some point?

Brahimi: So far he is still President and Russia and Iran still support him.

SPIEGEL: Is there any plan you can think of that might put an end to this conflict?

Brahimi: Iraq tells us that military intervention is a very, very dangerous way of solving problems. UN intervention is something else. If you have a peace-keeping mission that comes as part of an agreed solution, that would be different.

SPIEGEL: What should such a mission look like?

Brahimi: The UN has, I think, 20,000 or 30,000 soldiers that would be there to help the Syrians implement something they have agreed upon. And then you would need to face the ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra and (other radical groups). But first, the Syrians would have to agree for the UN to come in. It doesn’t look likely today or tomorrow, but this conflict has got to be resolved. And it will be at some point. The question is: How much killing and destruction are we going to have before that happens? People are telling me that Homs looks like Berlin in 1945.

SPIEGEL: Could the recent ceasefire in Homs be a model for other places like Aleppo?

Brahimi: The government starved the people there into surrender. The negotiation in Homs took place within the war project of the government, and it led to a victory by the government. But a lot of the things that have taken place during the last phase of negotiations over Homs could be part of a peace process. On previous occasions, many among the people who surrendered were arrested. It is alleged that some have been tortured or even killed.

SPIEGEL: What role do the countries backing each party play?

Brahimi: The Russians have consistently said it was not up to them to ask President Assad to leave office: “We do not have that much influence over him, even if we wanted,” they said. The Iranians said they accept that the crisis needs to be solved through negotiations, that at the end there must be free and fair elections and that this could be organized and observed by the United Nations. But then they said that, of course Assad would be allowed to stand if he wants. All three — Russia, Iran and Iraq — are supporting Damascus and delivering a lot of aid to them; probably money and definitely weapons.

SPIEGEL: How about the support for the armed opposition?

Brahimi: The Saudis, the Qataris and the Turks are supporting all kinds of political groups and armed groups. The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia said several times that the Syrian people are defending themselves against a brutal regime and it is legitimate to help them protect themselves.

SPIEGEL: We have been told that the Saudis even refused to meet with you.

Brahimi: That’s a fact. I think they didn’t like what I was saying about a peaceful and negotiated settlement with concessions from both sides. I am only guessing because I did not hear that from them. The irony is that hired pens for the regime are saying that I am Saudi Arabia’s man!

SPIEGEL: Could the Saudis and the Iranians come up with a solution if they were just to sit down together instead of letting their proxies fight about who will dominate the region?

Brahimi: Saudi Arabia is a very important country. King Abdullah is a very wise man and the Iranians, I think, with the new government that they have, also want to be constructive and responsible. Both countries have a responsibility. The region has to start discussing not how to help warring parties, but how to help the Syrian people, their neighbors. The other country that can help is Egypt.

SPIEGEL: To what degree does this conflict pose a threat to Israel?

Brahimi: Israel is very happy. Things are going very, very well for them. If Bashar goes it’s great; if Bashar stays it’s great. Syria is being weakened. Syria had some kind of strategic weapon with their chemical weapons and that’s gone. So Israel is doing very well, thank you very much. You don’t need to worry about them.

SPIEGEL: It sounds like you are saying that the Israelis are leaning back and saying: “Great, our enemies are killing each other.” Is the world that cynical?

Brahimi: I’m sure they are saying that. It’s a realistic point of view. Ask your Israeli friends; they will tell you it’s so.

SPIEGEL: What is the true story about the use of chemical weapons in this war?

Brahimi: They have been used, but there are conflicting views about who the culprits were. The UN was specifically requested by the Security Council to merely establish that chemical weapons were used. Not everyone agrees that it was the Syrian government who used these chemical weapons.

SPIEGEL: The West considers it fact that the Syrian government was responsible.

Brahimi: As I said, the UN investigating mission was strictly ordered NOT to try to determinate who the guilty party was. Now, from the little I know, it does seem that in Khan al-Assal, in the north, the first time chemical weapons were used, there is a likelihood that it was used by the opposition. Regarding the use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21, 2013 in the suburbs of Damascus, it is a fact that for the West and perhaps most people in the region, the responsibility lies with the regime. Moscow and Tehran say they are equally certain that the government DID NOT use chemical weapons anywhere. It is a great pity the UN was under strict instructions not to try to point the finger at anyone. More recently, there are again allegations that chemical substances have being used. I hope this time the UN will be asked to do its best to find out who the guilty party is.

SPIEGEL: What was the effect of US President Barack Obama not having done anything after poison gas was deployed in Syria; after the red line had clearly been crossed twice? Is America’s unwillingness, or inability, to intervene a dangerous portent?

Brahimi: I think that Obama — and the Russians — decided that, rather than take punishing action, they would solve the problem at its roots, and they may have done that. From their point of view, and from Israel’s, that is the better solution. But many Syrians on both sides are rather unhappy that the government is giving up the only strategic weapons they have; a weapon that was acquired at enormous cost to the people of Syria.

SPIEGEL: What do you think will ultimately become of Syria?

Brahimi: It will be become another Somalia. It will not be divided, as many have predicted. It’s going to be a failed state, with warlords all over the place.

SPIEGEL: What can the international community do, Europe in particular? What should Germany do?

Brahimi: The people in your governments know how dangerous this crisis is and how important it is to support a political solution.

SPIEGEL: Are you referring to the 320 Germans that have thus far joined ISIS?

Brahimi: And to the 500 or 600 French, the 500 or 600 British, and so on and so forth. There are several thousand non-Syrians. My goodness! These are your nationals that are training in Syria and that are part of ISIS, which believes that you have got to build an Islamic state all over the world, starting with Berlin. That’s a threat to you, isn’t it?