Emmanuel Todd comments on the Russian-Ukrainian war – Jürg Altwegg

Dr. Emmanuel Todd

De WeltwocheFrench historian Emmanuel Todd predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today he sees the United States in decline. France is laughed at and the British act headlessly. Worst of all are the Germans, who have become targets for the Americans. Russia, on the other hand, is doing better than many Western observers would like to think. – Jürg Altwegg  

Weltwoche: Thank you, cher Emmanuel, for agreeing to this interview. You haven’t spoken out in public lately.

Emmanuel Todd: I was in Japan where a book of mine was published. It is a bestseller that does not have an original French edition. Its subject is the war in Ukraine. In France, I didn’t get involved in the debates. I’m giving you the first interview because you write in German. This war is about Germany.

Weltwoche: Before we talk about the Ukraine war, I am interested in your assessment of a piece of news that was recently circulating: The world population has passed the eight billion mark. What does the demographer say about this number?

Todd: It doesn’t scare me. What is worrying is that birth rates are declining in all developed countries. In Germany and Japan they have long been below average: 1.4 and 1.5 children per woman. This is not enough for the renewal of the population. Now the other countries have also fallen back to this level. In the US, a woman had two children, now there are 1.6; in China 1.3.

Weltwoche: At the same time, the world population is growing.

Todd: We have a difficult time with maybe ten billion people ahead of us. But it won’t last long. The demographic depression is really serious. Taiwan and Korea produce most of the semiconductors in the world. In South Korea, women give birth to 0.8 children. In the most productive industrialized countries, working people are collapsing. In China, the factory of the world, the workforce will decline by 35 percent over the next twenty years. This is one of the reasons for inflation.

Weltwoche: And the population explosion in Africa?

Todd: Maybe before long people will be very happy that there is an African workforce.

Weltwoche: In 1976 you predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union due to demographic developments. What role does demographics play in the war in Ukraine?

Todd: As in the first two world wars, it’s about the balance between the great powers. The difference: Back then we were dealing with a demographic expansion, today with a depression. For a century the population had increased: by 110 percent in Britain, 160 percent in Germany, 166 percent in Russia and 525 percent in the USA. In France, growth was limited to 16 percent. The country was a leader in the automobile, aircraft, film and nuclear industries.

Weltwoche: What was your certainty that the Soviet Union would collapse based on?

Todd: The increase in infant mortality. I was 25 then. Today I use the same parameters. When Putin came to power, child mortality fell rapidly. Today, infant mortality in the United States is higher than in Russia. Not Russia—America is in crisis.

Weltwoche: You described this decline in 2002 in “World Power USA: An Obituary”.

Todd: It’s confirmed. The US withdrew from Afghanistan and Iraq. They could not stop the rise of Iran. Just as little as that of China. The Saudis no longer take the US seriously. In America, mortality is rising and life expectancy is falling. All the newspapers write: The West is normal and Putin is insane. The Russians are bloodthirsty monsters. Demographics say otherwise: Russia has become more stable and its society more civilized. What is happening in Russia is perfectly clear to me. I understand Putin’s thoughts and actions and can explain it in three minutes. The Russians are brutal and rational, even their lies are quasi-reasonable. I am well aware that I think and feel completely differently than my contemporaries. That’s why I didn’t say anything more.

Weltwoche: A few days ago, when you also wanted to cancel this interview, you spoke quite desperately about “Western irrationality”.

Todd: The behavior of the West is a complete mystery to me. I was only able to understand the implosion of the Soviet Union at the time because I am an avid reader of science fiction novels. Now, in this war, it seems to me like in Philip K. Dick’s “Ubik”: You never know where you are. The newspapers tell us how the Russians are shooting at prisons they have occupied. That they shoot at nuclear power plants that they control locally. That they blow up pipelines that they built themselves.

Weltwoche: Who is responsible for the Nord Stream sabotage?

Todd: Of course the Americans. But that is completely unimportant. It is normal. The important question is: How can a society believe that it could have been the Russians? We are dealing here with an inversion of possible reality. That’s a lot worse. The study of such a society is fascinating. I’m writing a book about it now. It will be my last. My work as an author began with the essay on the collapse of the Soviet Union. I want to close it with a work of reason on the third world war. I reject the prevailing loss of reality, from which Europeans in particular suffer, and I want to try to understand it. One of my hypotheses is the collapse of the Protestant world.

Weltwoche: The loss of reality distinguishes Europe from the Russians?

Todd: Also from the Americans, who know very well what they are doing. Their idea of ​​power is clear and cynical. In order to assert their interests, they have repeatedly waged wars—also instigated them. You can very well understand Putin. The Russians also talk about power relations, but their language is defensive. The Europeans rant about peace and the spread of their humanistic values ​​without an army. They have lost geopolitical thinking. Between the offensive strategy of the Americans and the defensive strategy of the Russians, the Europeans are in a breathtaking state of mental confusion. This applies particularly to Germany.

Weltwoche: How do you explain their confusion? Feeling guilty and trying to be on the good side in this third world war?

Todd: No! Not at all. I have a lot of sympathy for the Germans. France plays no role in this war. Its weight is zero. Macron talks, Macron travels—everyone laughs at Macron. He’s not the worst, because he’s far from the most anti-Russian. Germany is a country that has renounced war. A country with practically no army. Bearing so few children that its chief concern is to bring in labor to sustain its industry. It was in the same position as Japan. But Japan made a different choice. Japan doesn’t want immigrants, Japan wants to stay Japan. For this, it was willing to lose a lot of power and outsource its industry to China. Germany, on the other hand, has maintained its industry. It only cares about the economy. Its logic was: Russia supplies gas, our two countries are complementary. And since 1945, America has kept us safe in a world we no longer want to be a threat to. The Nord Stream project arose from this thoroughly rational consideration. The aim was to avoid taxes imposed by Ukraine and Poland. Germany’s tragedy is that it still believed it was protected by the United States.

Weltwoche: And that is no longer the case?

Todd: After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Zbigniew Brzezinski described Eurasia as the new “great chessboard” of world politics in “The Only World Power”. Indeed, Russian nationalists and ideologues like Alexander Dugin dream of Eurasia. It is on this “chessboard” that America must defend its supremacy—that is Brzezinski’s doctrine. So prevent the rapprochement of Russia and China. The financial crisis of 2008 made it clear that with reunification Germany became the leading power in Europe and thus also a rival of the USA. Until 1989 it was politically a dwarf. Now Berlin showed its willingness to get involved with the Russians. Combating this rapprochement became a priority of American strategy. That they wanted to torpedo the gas deal the US had always said clearly. The expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe was not primarily directed against Russia, but against Germany. Germany, which had entrusted its security to America, became a target for the Americans. I feel a lot of sympathy for Germany. It suffers from that trauma of betrayal by the protective friend—who was also a liberator in 1945.

Weltwoche: And Putin had no choice but to invade Ukraine!?

Todd: The West provoked Russia. The American political scientist John Mearsheimer soberly stated that the cooperation of the British and Americans with his army made Ukraine a de facto member of NATO. She was upgraded to attack Russia. Putin’s attack was a defensive invasion. He had announced this reaction and threatened war.

Weltwoche: And that’s how it happened?

Todd: Mearsheimer argued that Ukraine was of vital importance to Russia. He considered Putin’s victory a certainty. But he also thought that the US would give up Ukraine. On this second point he was wrong. This war is also of existential importance for them: If Russia wins, the imperial system of the United States will collapse. Its debt is phenomenal. To maintain its prosperity, the United States depends on the tribute of other countries.

Weltwoche: But was Ukraine really planning an attack on Russia?

Todd: It was in preparation. Along with America, Great Britain and Poland, Ukraine wanted the Russian—really Russian!—territories in Donbass. Crimea too.

Weltwoche: The Donbass and Crimea were part of the sovereign state of Ukraine.

Todd: Let me finish.

Weltwoche: Please! We come back to the question.

Todd: I feel sorry for Ukraine, it’s terrible what is being done to her. She was never really the problem. In the beginning it was about thwarting European reunification under German hegemony. The geostrategic relations prove it. The truth of NATO is this: It consists of the Washington-London-Warsaw-Kyiv axis. Germany and France are their junior partners, their dominant position in Europe is over. The Poles and the Ukrainians constantly abuse and insult the Germans. For them it is unbearable. The power that professed to protect them left no stone unturned to crush Germany’s dominant position in Europe. Germany is in a situation that overwhelms it from a cognitive point of view.

Weltwoche: What do you mean?

Todd: The Germans didn’t want to go to war. Scholz, who seems to me to be a very sensible person, was criticized for not wanting to get involved. War is horrid, hideous, disgusting, awful. The Germans know only too well that Nord Stream was destroyed by the Americans. Through a joint military action by the Americans, British and Poles. Against Germany. But they can’t tell. In fact, the Germans were attacked by the Americans. They wanted to decouple them from Russian gas. After all, Germany has not completely capitulated: Scholz traveled to Beijing. Germany refuses to cut off the cord from China.

Weltwoche: That sounds pretty crazy.

Todd: This is the only way—rationally—to understand the bizarre and contradictory behaviors in this war. On the one hand, the merger of the Chinese and German economies makes sense. And because China will remain a long-term ally of the Russians, it also means that Germany is not fully absorbed into the Western camp. At the same time, this provocative trip to China is compensated by the recognition of the Holodomor as a genocide. That’s grotesque. In the context of the beginning of a third world war, the German parliament wants to determine what constitutes genocide and what does not. The Germans are not aware of the consequences of this step. They put the Holodomor—which, incidentally, claimed proportionately fewer lives than the Great Famine in Ireland—on a par with the Shoah. With a bit of spite, one could describe the vote in the Bundestag as anti-Semitic. That it puts Auschwitz into perspective. In this war one has the impression that the world wants to drive Germany insane.

Weltwoche: We meant this delusion when we said that this time Germany feels on the good side: It got into this state without any external compulsion. As compensation for his historical guilt.

Todd: No. No! Of course there is a shared responsibility. But this war is about interests that wars have always been fought to promote: gas, claims to power, territories.

Weltwoche: The West—Europe—speaks of freedom, democracy, human rights, which would be defended in Ukraine, and compares Putin with Hitler. Putin says he is fighting to denazify Ukraine. He sees neo-Nazis at work there, who seized power in 2014 and have been committing genocide against the Russians in the east of the country ever since. In every war speech he taunts the decline of Western LGBT civilization. That’s not particularly rational either.

Todd: The way in which LGBT issues have meddled with the rhetorical warfare is indeed quite remarkable. The West accuses Russians of homophobia, and the Duma responds with even stricter laws against LGBT propaganda. On this front, the rupture between the West and the rest of the world is clearly visible. The latter is indifferent to Western values ​​and its democracy, he protests against his moral lessons. The war in Ukraine doesn’t interest him. One can also explain this ditch with anthropological arguments. In the West, bilateral kinship systems are dominant: the fathers’ and mothers’ sides are equally important. The dominant way of life is the small family, individualism characterizes society. In the rest of the world, the culture of patrilinearity prevails: the social status of the child depends solely on the father. So it is in Russia, China, in the Arab world and in Africa. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this war: beneath the discourse of values ​​there is a different anthropological consciousness. The two worlds cannot understand and agree on the LGBT issue.

Weltwoche: Does that mean that the moral assessment of this war leads to hopelessness?

Todd: I do not underestimate the importance of morality. I hate war. I didn’t want to comment on it because I don’t feel particularly competent or even called to preach ethical values. However, I wish the Germans would understand: The side of the good they want to be on this time is not that of the United States. The good means: end this war. But as a historian I analyze it without sentimentality. And that begs the question: Who will win?

Weltwoche: And, in your opinion?

Todd: It’s always the same with world wars: it turns out completely differently than you think. When the First World War broke out, everyone was convinced that it would be over very quickly. In 1940, the Maginot Line was considered insurmountable and France’s army the strongest in the world. This time the idea of ​​the overpowering Russians prevailed. Completely unexpectedly, the Ukrainian army withstood the attack—thanks to the support. The sanctions were imposed in the belief that they would bring Russia to its knees. But its economy has not collapsed. Nobody can explain that. The gross national product of Russia—including Belarus—is 3.3 percent of the total gross national product of the West. The ruble has appreciated 23 percent against the dollar since the outbreak of war, and 36 percent against the euro. In the meantime, the question no longer arises as to whether the Russian economy can resist the European one. That’s why I talk so little about Ukraine.

Weltwoche: We experienced the Holodomor and the Holocaust. Now it is the scene of World War III.

Todd: Forget that. I am well aware of the price Ukraine is paying. The destruction of the country. The dead and injured. Life in war is terrible. It is increasingly a war of attrition, a war of attrition in which military and industrial might converge. Especially with regard to the industrial potency of the opponents, we had completely wrong ideas. Although a sober analysis would have forced a different assessment. After World War II, the United States accounted for 45 percent of world industrial production. In the meantime, it is still a maximum of 27 percent. In the field of mechanical engineering, China is the leader with 29 percent. Germany and Japan follow with around 15 percent each. Italy and the USA compete for fourth place with 7 percent each.

Weltwoche: What about the industrial strength and reserves of the Russians?

Todd: Both sides are using less and less sophisticated weapons, there’s no telling which side will give up first. The war made the Americans aware of the fundamental problem: they lack engineers. In the US, 7 percent of students are trained to be engineers. In Russia it is 25 percent.

Weltwoche: At a comparable intellectual level?

Todd: It is undoubtedly higher in Russia. Americans compensate for their deficit with immigration. Half of American scientists and engineers were born outside the country. These are mainly Indians and Chinese. One can calculate what will happen if China bans the emigration of its students. The arms industry depends on engineers. Even a modern army consists of engineers. I have read Putin’s texts. He knows about the weakness of the Americans and deindustrialization. He is aware that their economy is partly based on fictitious values ​​and that they owe their prosperity to the printing press. That’s why he dared to attack her. I have no idea what the current balance of power is. NATO is in the process of using up its reserves. Russia as well. Despite its ridiculously small gross national product, it is able to stand up to the Americans. The West has completely underestimated the Russians, their intellectual deficit is appalling.

Weltwoche: Putin and the Russians are smarter?

Todd: There strategy relies on the longue durée of America’s decline. America compensates by putting pressure on its old protectorates. Control of Europe—especially Germany—and Japan has become his priority. At a joint press conference, Chirac, Schröder and Putin protested against their war in Iraq. Since then, America has achieved what in German is called the Gleichschaltung of Europe. But the rest of the world sticks with Russia. When it was Communist, it spread fear and terror. It was atheist, imperialist. Today, Russia represents a conservative worldview and defends the sovereignty of peoples and nations, all of which have the right to exist.

Weltwoche: Except Ukraine. Putin not only denied her this right. He has almost negated their existence.

Todd: Putin had demanded that the language be respected in the Russian-speaking areas. And he didn’t want Ukraine to join NATO. This war could have been avoided.

Weltwoche: Quite simply: Nobody forced Putin to attack.

Todd: Germany and France share responsibility. They were constantly in Kyiv. Europe dreamed of expanding eastward into Ukraine. The Russian reaction triggered the military build-up, training and “advising” of the Ukrainian army. If NATO had refrained from making Ukraine part of its military posture, this war would not have happened.

Weltwoche: All this happened with Ukraine’s consent, and no one forced Putin to fall into the trap of this provocation.

Todd: Donetsk is a hundred kilometers from the Russian border. The distance to Washington is 8,400 kilometers. The war is taking place on the border of Russia. This is another reason why it is a defensive war. I do not question Ukraine’s right to exist. And as an anthropologist, I have good arguments to support their existence: family structures in Ukraine are much closer to the liberal and individualistic tradition of Europe than to the patriarchal, authoritarian system of Russia.

Weltwoche: What do demographics say about Ukraine?

Todd: There hasn’t been a census since 2001. The population is rapidly declining. Which regions are affected, who emigrated, who stayed? One does not know. Today the country is glorified as a budding democracy. At the beginning of the war it was a failed state and totally corrupt. Ukraine is financed from outside, it is no longer a classic state. The little I know—the country is capable of waging war. But I have no idea how. Once liberated, it refused to relinquish control of the Russian territories. This is a behavior, this case occurred several times between the world wars. Ukraine’s claim that it wants to keep two relatively small regions against its will and that of its ten times more powerful neighbor Russia is not reasonable. It’s absurd. Russia demanded guarantees for its security. And it demanded for the Russian populations of Donbass and Crimea, which are truly Russian, a life that respects their cultural autonomy. This war should not have broken out. Like all wars.

Weltwoche: And now it’s a world war.

Todd: If Russia survives, keeps the Donbass and Crimea, if its economy continues to function and it can rebuild its trade relations with China and India, then America has lost the war. And as a result, it will lose its allies. That is why America and NATO will continue. And that is why this is a world war that will continue. Its main cause is the crisis of the West.

Weltwoche: Which they justify with demographics and de-industrialization.

Todd: The West consists of the Atlantic states USA, Great Britain and France. They bestowed enlightenment, reason and liberalism on the world. What they have in common is the liquidation of industry in favor of a knowledge and service society. In this sense, Japan and Germany, which continue to bet on industry, are not Western countries. In Germany, women’s emancipation is less advanced and gender roles are more traditional than in France and England. And because women study less, there are more engineers. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, no one would have thought of calling Germany a Western country.

Weltwoche: This affiliation came with the defeat in 1945?

Todd: The affiliation of Japan and Germany to the West is the result of a military conquest. The Japanese are fully aware of this. I know the country, I’ve been to Japan more than twenty times, where I’m really well known. The Japanese talk about it quite normally. But they have no desire to belong to the West. They are very modern, but at the same time they hold on to their tradition and culture. The Germans act as if they belong to the West. That too is part of their neurosis. The war has turned Europe’s leading economic power back into a frightened, patronized protectorate. But I can understand the Germans very well. This war has also thrown me into a deep crisis of meaning. I can tell you this because we have known each other for so long. I always thought we, the French, were fools. And I consoled myself with England, where three of my grandchildren live. I studied in Cambridge, it’s my spiritual home. But today England is a confused country in decline. Its press and government indulge in a war delirium such as cannot even be observed in Germany. With everything I’ve written over the past few decades, including the Iraq war, I’ve never once criticized the British with a single word. Now they drive me crazy. Also, on the Iraq war, I have never criticized the British with a single word. Now they drive me crazy.

Weltwoche: How do you see the world of tomorrow?

Todd: The West has lost its values ​​and is in a spiral of self-destruction. Europe falls back under American rule. Because of its weak demographics, China will not rule the world, but India will rise to become a superpower. Russia is in the process of redefining itself as a culturally conservative, technologically advanced superpower. But despite defending traditional family values ​​and fighting the LGBT movement, its birth rate isn’t improving. That means it’s already in the same metaphysical crisis as the West. In Ukraine they are at war with each other. If they is not stopped, everyone will lose. – Die Weltwoche, 10 January 2023

Jürg Altwegg is a Swiss author and journalist in Zurich. 

Dr. Emmanuel Todd is a French historian, anthropologist, demographer, sociologist and political scientist at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) in Paris.

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