Europe Will Not be Strategically Sovereign, Unless it Compromises on the Russia Question

A strategically independent Europe needs, of course, some compromise, with an adversarial nuclear power next door, a form of “negative peace”. Unfortunately, the flaw in that plan, is that the EU is not a military power, and has no way to stop forces within which oppose this accommodation and compromises. by Sumantra Maitra

Eastern Europeans are livid at the German and French overture to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Dmytro Kuleba, foreign minister of non-EU member Ukraine”, the Telegraph reported, “said the German-French push was a “dangerous deviation” from the EU’s sanctions policy against Moscow.” That was not the only rebuke. Poland and the Baltic states are spearheading a vicious rebuttal against what is considered a Franco-German-led EU détente without any consideration for other EU countries. Particularly strong was Lithuania’s reaction, calling the Franco-German initiative “irresponsible” and a case of “historical myopia”. Faced with a growing split, the EU council also took a hard line against Russia, which was especially humiliating (per Politico) for Angela Merkel in her final days.

Germany and France did not obviously expect such a strong pushback. Especially, after the fact that there was almost zero pushback by any of the Eastern or Central European countries, after a very similar summit between President Biden and President Putin. What Merkel and Macron suggested was no different qualitatively than what Biden argued–that while Russia is an adversarial power, interests must be accommodated and Russia must be engaged in a dialogue. This was in a way the first instance where the objections of the frontiers led to a rebuke of the core, which is unprecedented and will have implications for the much-vaunted “strategic sovereignty” of Europe, as well as jeopardize any American reset with Russia.

The reality is that if the EU wants to be strategically self-sufficient, it needs some form of stable accommodation with Russia and to understand Russian interests. That is the nature of geopolitics: the clue is in the name, and geography is destiny. A strategically independent Europe needs, of course, some compromise with an adversarial nuclear power next door, a form of “negative peace”. That would in turn entail some tough decisions about limits of both EU and NATO expansion, as well as common interests with Russia. Unfortunately, the flaw in that plan, is that the EU is not a real military power, and has no way to stop forces within which oppose this accommodation and compromises.

For example, the Eastern European states, particularly Poland, are rightly somewhat cynical of Russian intentions. Their threat perception about Moscow is not the same as the ones shared by Paris and Berlin. They are geographically close to Russia and have historical skepticism of Russian power. They are also dependant on the American nuclear umbrella and subservient to neoliberal institutionalism. The Baltic states, for example, were at the forefront in their support of Euromaidan as well as the Ukrainian war against Russian-backed rebels. They are evangelizing about liberalism in Belarus, and are supportive of Belarussian dissidents; issues that are enough to jeopardize any reset between EU/US and Russia. The EU has no answer to this paradox, as the EU is a normative power. As Kadri Liik recently pointed out, “Biden managed to change the tone of the US relationship with Russia, and this is good. The EU, however, cannot replicate the trick right now. The US had agenda with Russia where progress was possible. The EU, for the moment, does not, because… the EU is a normative power.  Everything it does,  including what it aspires to do with Russia, includes a strong normative dimension, explicitly or implicitly. It cannot be avoided. But norms is the one thing where the West and Russia strongly disagree.”

This results in a curious dilemma for the U.S. America needs to pivot and focus on China, which means that American interest in Europe will relatively diminish, a realization that is now dawning on even most liberal internationalists and is reflected on the bipartisan American effort to counter China. That will also mean that like the EU, the U.S. also needs to come to a compromise and negative peace with Russia, an instinct shared in varying degrees by Presidents Obama, Trump, and now Biden. Strategy is about compromise, choices, relative gains, and ugly trade-offs. Unfortunately, Henry Kissinger’s quip about whom to call in Europe still rings true, evident from this latest move to accommodate Russia. Europe it appears is still stuck on that question. And without that elephant addressed, there is not going to be any European strategic sovereignty, or for that matter, an American buck-passing of Euro security to a united Europe.

Sumantra Maitra is a Doctoral Scholar at the University of Nottingham School of Politics and International Relations.

Image: Reuters

(c) The National Interest


  1. This is just more Russian propaganda from this outlet. The author sidetracks the invasion of a European country, the deaths/attempted deaths by chemical weapons committed on European soil, and the countless hacking by Russia. You don’t compromise with terrorists, or take into account their interests, you squash them like a fly. Biden was 100% wrong meeting Putin, and the EU 200% wrong for even thinking about meeting the stunted bastard.

  2. “Faced with a growing split, the EU council also took a hard line against Russia, which was especially humiliating (per Politico) for Angela Merkel in her final days.”
    The fat ugly bitch was or still is called the most powerful woman on earth. What makes people say that? It’s the money. It’s only the money. It’s the tax monies, ripped off from the people by her regime and distributed generously to other lands. This is her power. It is NOT the skills and foresight in politics, possessed by such great politicians as Margeret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Helmut Schmitt et al, who have shaped the world in the past and kept it safe.
    I don’t know what her motivation is or what makes her so utterly stupid when it comes to mafia land. I certainly believe that there is still some sort of a connection to the trash country from when she was still a citizen of the GDR, kept a tight secret. Nothing else can explain her infatuation with this trash-infested crime syndicate.
    At any rate, her actions during the so-called Ukraine Crisis can not and will not let her shine in any history books. There is nothing there that anyone can see as a positive thing. The half-hearted measures to “contain” the crime syndicate has only caused undue deaths in the Donbass, has allowed the increase of mafia land’s military presence in the Crimea, broken countless cease-fires, the downing of a civilian airliner, a murder spree across Europe, a propaganda campaign that puts anything from Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union had to shame, hacking of computer networks, election interference and so much more and she even whipped through the deplorable Nord Stream II project that will greatly benefit the country that should be punished. To top it all, Merkel managed to split the EU right down the middle and even NATO is not what it should be anymore and Brexit too happened thanks in large part to her.
    There is nothing – precisely nothing – that she has done that could be called positive, borne from a great political mind.
    From the start, her actions had reflected her narcissistic opinion that she is the unofficial leader of Europe and the Mother Teresa of the continent’s foreign policy. It is great to see certain European countries finally showing her where their red line is by refusing to let the Lilliputian goober engage in the talks. This should have been done more often. This would have prevented much of the damage that her actions have caused. But the damage has been done and when she finally leaves the political stage, she will leave behind a great shambles, both inside Germany as well as outside its borders.

  3. “This results in a curious dilemma for the U.S. America needs to pivot and focus on China, which means that American interest in Europe will relatively diminish…”
    This certainly is wishful thinking by this Moscow mouthpiece.
    There is not a smidgen of doubt that the US must focus on containing bat virus land. We are deeply involved with bat virus land’s economy and profoundly dependent on it. This must stop! As it grows richer and stronger it will grow in boldness too. Indeed, its tentacles are virtually everywhere … all across the globe there are chinks, chink industries and chink military is also spreading far and wide. Trump has recognized this during his term and Biden should pick up where he let off. Will he? Who knows. Biden, the old fart, doesn’t know it either, unfortunately.
    However, we are strong enough to keep our focus on Europe as we concentrate more on bat virus land. Europe is extremely important to us and we will never let the continent out of our sight. Containing mafia land can and should be a top priority just like it is with bat virus land. To lose focus on either region would be a deplorable and acute mistake. I hope very much that at least our Congress sees things this way.

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