ASTANA – Events in Ukraine and the landmark accord between Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah dominated debate in the first session of the 12th Eurasian Media Forum being held in the Kazakh capital.
The session was billed “New Global Order. The Global Crisis and its Impact on the Rest of the World.”
Heavyweight panelists included Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States Countries Konstantin Zatulin, India’s former Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs Rajiv Sikri, NATO’s former Deputy Secretary General Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo and Chairman of Egypt’s Research Centre for Political and Security Studies Al-Jumhuriya Sameh Seif Elyazal.
The moderator was high-profile journalist and television presenter for Russia’s Channel One, Vladimir Pozner.
While the Ukraine conflict was to be the subject of further panel discussion, all participants in the first session concurred that the issue was way more complex and had much deeper consequences than portrayed in the media, particularly in the West.
In turn, each warned about the over simplification of the issue and also that it was not easy to comprehend whether states supported or rejected the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Heated discourse centred on Iran’s nuclear programme and former Israeli Premier Barak fielded what has to be the most contested issue in Middle East affairs. Russia’s Zatulin challenged Barak with the question,“Is Israel a nuclear power?” Barak retorted he wasn’t going to disclose that information “here and now.”
It is widely assumed that Israel has nuclear weapons and the capability to manufacture them, but this state secret has never been officially divulged, it being a criminal offence to talk about it in public.
Barak stirred the controversy further by saying it wouldn’t faze him to wake up one morning to discover Sweden and Switzerland had become nuclear powers, but the issue of Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons was non-negotiable.
The panel of pundits was largely in agreement that the historic pact between Hamas and Fatah had placed enormous pressure on the Palestinian peace talks with Israel and that after seven years of discord, the two factions now presented a united face, which might actually derail the current peace process.
Gingrich told delegates that while the U.S. was powerful militarily and economically, “we are not a superpower; there are no super powers in the world.”
“We do not have today, obviously from Washington which I know pretty well, we do not have any model, not a Republican model, not a Democratic model, not a State Department model, not a think tank model, we have no model capable of dealing with the complexity of the modern world,” Gingrich told the forum.
Turning to Crimea and President Putin, Gingrich warned against the rush by opponents to demonize him.
“I think that President Putin is a great Russian nationalist,” Gingrich said. “I don’t see President Putin as a demonic figure who may launch a world war because of his contempt for western democracy.”
He continued: “I urge my fellow Americans to slow down and think for a moment. President Putin has 1,700 nuclear weapons. This isn’t Iraq, this isn’t Afghanistan, this is a great country… and it has to have some sense of respect and understanding.”
He warned that, from the Western point of view, China was a much bigger challengethan Russia and the recent Chinese action of impounding a Japanese ship indicated how sensitive the issue was. The dispute over uninhabited islands between China, Japan and the Philippines showed how fragile the situation was.
Turning to the bigger picture of the new global order, Gingrich said, “all of us are connected to all of us.” But he reiterated that there was no actual model for dealing with the radical changes.