Bohdan Nahaylo: The great betrayal from Merkel & Macron
We have just witnessed a disgusting act of treachery by the two leading powers in the European Union – Germany and France. Their shameful 11th-hour attempt to push through a proposal at the European Council summit in Brussels that the EU open direct talks with Russia left other European Union partners shocked and determined to resist this display of tactless arrogance and political affrontery.
Fortunately, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Netherlands, and other states expressed their outrage and blocked this arbitrary “initiative” that would have undermined the entire approach of the West towards an aggressive Russia. It would have played right into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who assumes that, because of weaknesses and differences in the West, he can get away with his deviant behavior and his country accepted as a pre-eminent power on its own pernicious terms.
And this occurred during the week when the 80th anniversary of the Nazi German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 was commemorated. It saw Berlin was once again expressing remorse and Moscow busy revising history, omitting to mention that Stalin and Hitler had been allies during the first two years of World War II, and insisting that the Red Army brought freedom and not enslavement to most of Eastern Europe.
Appeasement and collusion with tyrants and aggressors will never work. Yet it was the occasion for Germany and France, faced by Putin’s aggression revisionism, and open hostility to what the democratic world represents, to demonstrate their unquestioned commitment to its unity and common purpose.
Speaking in the Bundestag on June 24, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU should seek “direct contact” with Russia in the same way that Biden did. “It isn’t enough when US Oresident Joe Biden speaks to the Russian president,” she told German lawmakers. “I welcome it, but the EU must also create formats for dialogues. Otherwise, we won’t be able to solve conflicts.”
This from Merkel and Macron?
France and Germany have been “talking” to Russia for seven years in the Normandy Four format to end Russia’s war against Ukraine in the Donbas. They have kept the US and EU out of the “peacemaking” process and anointed themselves as exclusive mediators.
And what effect have they had? Blah, blah, blah, a few unproductive summits, and pressure on Ukraine to accept Minsk “accords” and “Steinmeier formulas” recycled from Moscow’s prescriptions.
By playing up to Putin, Berlin and Paris have in effect sustained a simmering ugly war in eastern Ukraine while its population has been ethnically cleansed and hundreds of thousands of Russian passports distributed. What relevance do the Minsk accords, which they along with Moscow still insist be adhered to, have in these vastly altered conditions?
Instead of being firm and punishing Russia for its aggression, Berlin and France have shown a blatant conflict of interest with the collaboration with Russia, despite the opposition of their partners, through the Nord Stream 2 projects and other business ventures.
In their latest obscene flirtation with Putin, they were prepared to betray not only Ukraine, but other European partners, the US, and the G7, and NATO at whose recent summits common strategic positions were reaffirmed and Berlin and Paris pretended they were fully on board.
It’s unclear why suddenly Merkel, followed promptly by Macron, without even bothering to consult with their partners, decided to launch the idea of direct talks with Russia even as if the question of strengthening the EU’s sanction against it, as well Moscow’s repressive vassal state, Lukashenko’s Belarus, were under consideration.
Not only was it an affront to other EU members, particularly those in eastern Europe who have no illusions about what Putin’s Russia represents, and President Biden’s attempts to reforge Western unity and hold a common line against the forces of autocracy.
It also looked particularly underhand at a time when, in stark contrast, a British naval vessel, courageously reminded Russia that it is an aggressor. That its occupation of Crimea, and the waters around it, are not recognized by the international community respecting international law. That it cannot continue its bullying and meddlesome tactics with impunity.
Meanwhile, Berlin still refuses to sell defensive weapons to Ukraine for fear of ruffling Putin’s feathers. No qualms about selling arms to hot spots in the Middle East, though.
Clearly, this devious Germano-French proposal was not slipped in at the last minute innocently. Was it meant to send a signal to Washington that they assume that all of Europe – but in fact mainly Berlin and Paris – don’t want the US to re-establish itself as the leading force in the democratic world breathing down the necks of their European would-be “strategic autonomy?”
If so, are they prepared to put their money where their mouths are and assume a more substantial share of the political and financial costs of defending Europe and the democratic world generally through NATO and the relevant international institutions? For example, revamp the ineffective OSCE by promoting a new East-West conference to review the rule of play and red lines?
For, without the EU’s Transatlantic, NATO and G7 partners, how seriously do Berlin and Paris expect Moscow to take it? Have they forgotten the embarrassing fiasco we saw the last time the EU attempted to speak directly with Russia? Only in February, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell was publicly humiliated in Moscow by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
So, it’s not clear what Merkel’s motives are in these final weeks of her 16-year tenure as chancellor of Germany. A pre-election gimmick to boost the chances of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in the parliamentary elections to be held in September. Perhaps a crack at the Nobel Peace piece with Macron and Putin? Or maybe, to ensure an offer from Putin that she join her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder on the board of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom?
Macron faces serious domestic problems and elections next April. Are he and Merkel seeking to assure their voters that business and prosperity come above politics and principles?
But as we know the Germano-French proposal was blocked and the leaders of Germany and France humiliated and put in their place. And this is good news because, after Britain’s exit from the EU following Brexit, the internal balance of power and influence within the EU was broken, and Merkel and Macron have acted as if Europe is only about them.
So, this was a timely victory for the EU’s eastern European contingent and, whether others like it or not, they are becoming a force to be reckoned with. And that is also good for Ukraine.
Also, positive was the fact that the EU has finally applied serious sanctions against official Minsk.vIn doing so, it has in effect recognized that Belarus falls within its “European” sphere of concern. This and its dangling the carrot of financial assistance to a future democratic Belarus appears to acknowledge that a reconfiguration of Europe’s east is well advanced and that Europe will de facto end at Ukraine’s and Belarus’s borders, and beyond it – Eurasia.
True, Merkel can still claim a victory of sorts because in the decisions of the EU summit dealing with Russia there was no mention of the controversial Nord Stream 2 project which has also encountered strong opposition within the EU. But Washington continues to voice its opposition to it.
Next month Merkel and Zelensky are both invited to visit Washington. We await to see what impact these latest developments will have and what lessons Putin may have drawn.