Certain European communities – usually from the business sector, but occasionally high-ranking politicians like Sigmar Gabriel – have publicly expressed resolve to make things up with Russia, and at least arrive at some sort of truce which will allow Europe to ease sanctions and hopefully re-enter the busy Russian market. And they probably mean it. But they are sardines swimming against the tide of ignorant European ideologues.
Just as an aside, NATO may well come to rue the day it went on its expansionist bender and incorporated much of post-Soviet eastern Europe. It’s kind of like being in a bar known for spontaneous brawls, with a tiny but loudmouthed acquaintance who won’t shut up. And no region so perfectly exemplifies that all-hat-no-cattle mouthiness like the Baltics, with their permanent maidenly apprehensions that Russia wants to bend them over a chair and roger them to bleeding, weeping unconsciousness.
Giving a voice to this maudlin it’s-all-about-us conceit is the outgoing EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Vygaudas Ušackas. It will surprise nobody that he is Lithuanian – it is an inevitable grim perversity that Brussels would have chosen an ambassador who despises the country in which he will serve. But busy! My, yes – in the space of two days he has penned two opinion editorials for The Guardian; “The West Must Defend its Values Against Putin’s Russia”, and “West’s Rift With Russia Will Last Until Vladimir Putin is Gone”.
Let me make a prediction here and now, Vygaudas Ušackas (I used his full name because I’m not sure which is his first and which the last); you’re going to regret the second one more than the first.
Because it’s probably already too late for the west to get back anything like half its previous market share in Russia, and if sanctions do indeed stay in place until Putin is gone, Russians will have forgotten what French cheese tastes like, and that apples ever grew in Poland.
The European market in Russia will have been completely replaced. Because barring sudden and unexpected death, Putin is not going anywhere for a long time. Russians know better than to replace the greatest statesman of their time just because Europe is having a bit of a paddy, and continued insistence will only be to Europe’s sorrow. The nation can smarten the hell up, or it can continue to let ignorant, pedantic, tunnel-vision ideologues like Vygaudas Ušackas speak for it.
But since we’re already here, let’s have a look at what he said.
Well, we don’t have to even get into the first article to get to the first poke in the eye – the caption accompanying the lead photo says, “‘The Russian leadership will continue to reject the outcome of the cold war”.
Is that so? The ‘outcome’ of the cold war was an affirmation of western values, was it? Tell you what – let’s ask the graduate students in military history at the oldest private military college in the USA, birthplace of the ROTC – Norwich University.
Hmmm….In their “Five Reasons for the Collapse of the Soviet Union”, I count (1) Perestroika and Glasnost, (2) Ideological Purity of the Politburo, (3) Western Aggression – Lord, have mercy!!!, (4) Guns and Butter (excessive expense of the defense budget, which you could subliminally tie to (3) since western aggression was manifested in driving the Soviet Union into an arms race), and (5) Nationalist Movements.
Conspicuous by its absence? (6) Pining for Western Values.
Look, analysts are still arguing over what caused the Soviet Union’s collapse, and what the Norwich graduate students think isn’t necessarily definitive, although their reasons cover the same hypotheses as many – if not most – of the western think tanks. But the notion that the Soviet Union fell apart because the population aspired to western values, I ….well…I just don’t know what to say. It’s not so much a stupid assumption as it is an example of completely unsupported thought, and its proponent should be watched closely in case he takes it into his head to fly from the balcony of a tall building.
Oh, wait; maybe that statement was just thrown in there to goad and annoy Russians, because NATO ‘won’ the cold war! Do you suppose? No; couldn’t be. Because the west has values, and taunting a former ally who lost 25 million dead in World War II to stop the Wehrmacht from raving throughout Europe would be a pretty poor demonstration of values, wouldn’t it? Startling statistic – for every American soldier killed in World War II, the Soviet Union lost 80: the butcher’s bill was high indeed.
At the heart of this clash are fundamental differences over the future of Ukraine and Georgia, and their right to choose their own alliances. This clash is also about core European values.
See, those are the kind of holier-than-thou, lofty bullshit statements that make otherwise-reasonable people swing for the chin. Ukraine, for example, had ‘the right to choose its own alliances’ only so long as it was choosing the west. Are people’s memories really so short? Russia and Ukraine separately proposed Ukraine could be a member both of the EU and the Eurasian Union, and serve as a bridge to both – can you imagine how much better off it would have been, had it been allowed to pursue that course, than it is now?
In 2004, during a visit to Spain, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his backing for Ukraine pursuing closer ties with the EU, in careful but unambiguous terms: “If Ukraine wants to join the EU and if the EU accepts Ukraine as a member, Russia, I think, would welcome this.” The trouble with the west – well, one of its troubles – is that its ideologues interpret any cooperation as a sign of weakness and desperation, and conclude this is the time to strike. What did Putin get for his offer of cooperation? The Orange Revolution in Kiev, an admitted western-backed and conceived intervention to put a pro-western President in the driver’s seat in Ukraine. Like that old country aphorism goes, the west is not interested in buying the cow if it can get the milk for free, and coups are just so exciting.
In his inaugural address in 2010, Yanukovych spelled out his intent that Ukraine should be neither a toady to Russia nor to the EU, but a bridge between west and east. Brussels was either tone-deaf, or was not listening, and presented him with a list of changes he must make in order for Ukraine to become accepted into the EU, and a corresponding list of financial rewards he could expect for making those changes.
A less naive and more cautious Moscow proposed the realization of Yanukovych’s vision:
The Kremlin then proposed to Brussels that negotiations be conducted between the EU and the Eurasian Union — directly between the two blocs of power. But European Commission President José Manuel Barroso refused to meet with the leaders of the Eurasian Union, a bloc he considered to be an EU competitor.
“One country cannot at the same time be a member of a customs union and be in a deep common free-trade area with the European Union,” the commission president said on February 25. He said that Kiev had to decide which path it wanted to take. The message was clear: Kiev had to choose either Brussels or Moscow.
That’s right – if you want to attribute individual blame to such a monumental catastrophe, a good place to start would be with the arrogant Jose Manuel Barroso. The catechism went “Ukraine must choose its own path”, until it chose to turn down the association agreement and continue a traditional alliance with Moscow. On paper, the EU – like its partner, the United States – pretends to champion freedom to make decisions without pressure: in practice, it only supports alliances and loyalties which are in its own favour. Nothing wrong with being driven by self-interest; it is largely a natural trait, and practically nobody but saints and martyrs works to help those they know owe them nothing – but for the love of God, drop the piety act.
Everyone who has not deliberately blocked out the memory of the Glorious Maidan, Revolution of Dignity, remembers the place as being stiff with US State Department bigwigs and European Union diplomats, egging the revolutionaries on. There was no state representation from the Russian Federation at all. Yet the narrative went that Russia was putting pressure on Ukraine to change its mind, and threatening punishments if it did not. The western press made much of the crippling blow to Petro Poroshenko – then just another Ukrainian ‘tycoon’ – caused by Russia’s embargo of his confectionery products: tell me now, is Poroshenko richer today, or poorer? He still can’t sell his candies in Russia. But his profits have continuously multiplied.
When you strip the event down to its most basic facts, the EU said more than once that it did not intend to get involved in a tug-of-war with Russia over Ukraine, and that the latter was free to choose its own alliances. When Ukraine chose an alliance with Moscow, the EU and its partner the United States intervened and nurtured a violent series of riots which toppled Yanukovych even though he had made concessions which satisfied all the opposition’s demands. Demonstrably, when the EU says states are free to choose their own path, it cannot be taken at its word, which is the kindest face I can put on lying.
What else you got, Vygaudas Ušackas? The cornerstones of European democracy? Let’s take a look at those, what do you say? How is Europe observing them? Civil society activism? According to Carnegie Europe’s Richard Youngs, senior fellow of their Democracy and Rule of Law Program, nearly 100 governments around the world have introduced legislation that restricts freedom of association and assembly; they can’t all be Putin’s Russia. I’ll bet one of them is England, where the new Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 allows a wider range of collection and analysis of formerly private data than anywhere else in the world.
How about in Lithuania? What did the US State Department’s Human Rights Report for 2016 have to say? Let’s look, how about?
…Intolerance took the form of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, prejudice against ethnic minorities and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; Roma continued to experience poor living conditions often in areas of high crime, and faced social exclusion and discrimination…Additional problems included “antipropaganda” laws restricting freedom of speech and expression, authorities’ refusal to grant asylum interviews to persons deemed to have arrived from “safe” countries of origin or transit, and isolated reports of government corruption. Laws against spousal rape were inadequate, and domestic violence was widespread. There was a culture of silence around sexual harassment. Trafficking in persons remained a problem, as did social integration and inadequate access to services and facilities for persons with disabilities…
The report does reflect the authorities took action to punish transgressors, but surely that did not include the government, for passing the ‘anti-propaganda’ law. Lithuanian activists were quick to point out that when Russia passed what they describe as a similar law, the EU was all over them like a fat kid on a chocolate cake. But when Lithuania did it? Crickets.
“The day Lithuania joined the EU was one of the happiest days of my life. We thought it meant that we would be safe. But now the EU seems like an elite club, where it’s not appropriate to tell members off even when they are badly mannered.”
Let’s see…we already kind of covered freedom of speech…let’s look at political pluralism. The 2014 presidential election in Lithuania featured 7 candidates. Polls prior to the vote indicated nobody running against Grybauskaitė had a hope in hell of winning, and that’s exactly how it turned out – she pulled in more than 3 times the votes of her closest competitor in the first round. She won with 57.9% of the vote.
How does that demonstrate political pluralism?
The Russian presidential election in 2012 featured 5 candidates. Polls prior to the vote indicated nobody running against Vladimir Putin had a hope in hell of winning, and that’s exactly how it turned out – he pulled in more than 3 times the votes of his closest competitor in the first round. He won with 63.6% of the vote.
How is that less a demonstration of political pluralism than the process in Lithuania? In both cases the winner was a foregone conclusion – what the fuck do we do polling for, if not to get a picture of who is likely to win? In how many cases in Europe is the election result a complete surprise? In both elections, you could have expanded the field to a hundred candidates – not to mention financed a hundred political campaigns at public expense – and the results would have been exactly the same. So stop pretending the Russian elections are some kind of nefarious perversion of democracy, while European elections make one want to weep with the purity of their cliffhanger deliberations.
I nearly sighed myself to death when I read this ridiculous canard; ” The Nord Stream II project does not comply with EU energy objectives on diversification.” EU popinjays have given up on reporting that the pipeline project violates EU law, because it doesn’t – any fool could have seen that, it follows the same route as Nord Stream I, and the EU didn’t block that. So now unimaginative dullards appealing to the even-more-halfwitted have taken the line that it is Russia’s fault a gas-spouting volcano has failed to emerge in the English Channel, and evil Putin is scheming to benefit from that non-appearance.
What it essentially boils down to is that the EU needs the gas, wants the gas, and Russia has the gas. What remains is a brawl to make sure – from Russia’s point of view – that the EU does not get the gas on its own terms. The EU, naturally, is trying to do just that; it wants to get the gas, but only exactly as much as it needs regardless how that differs from forecasts, and to set the price it wants to pay.
That’s why Vygaudas Ušackas did not make any friends in Germany when he included the next spiteful lines: “We should also retain vigilance when attempts are made to award states business contracts as a quid pro quo for questioning the sanctions regime or broader EU policies.”
Perhaps when he returns to Lithuania, Vygaudas will discover a gas-spouting volcano just outside of Vilnius. That would save the Lithuanian parliament from storming off in a snit to build more LNG terminals, and paying more for its energy than Gazprom charges, just to make a point and rather than simply negotiating with Gazprom for a lower rate.
I stopped reading when he quacked that it is high time for the EU to be involved in the Normandy Four format, making it the Normandy Five, I guess. The Normandy Four group has gotten the square root of nil decimal fuck-all accomplished, considering both Kiev and Moscow are immovable. Kiev wants the restive east to settle down and come back to taxpayer-land and for Russia to give back Crimea, and Russia will never do that. Any negotiation forum in which the two principal parties will not change their positions is doomed to accomplish nothing, and the last thing the Normandy Four needs is a bunch of EU freeloaders gobbling up full per-diem and hogging all the best hotel rooms just so they can get nothing accomplished.
The second article reiterates many of the points from the first and is essentially a collection of many of the same tired Baltic talking points. It does, however, reiterate the theme that the EU needs to stick together, and prevent Moscow from using business deals to reward certain states and splinter the union. He really has it in for Germany and Nord Stream; perhaps he fancies Lithuania could become Europe’s gas hub, with its Magik LNG Terminal Of Democracy and Freedom.
I can’t wait to see who the new EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation will be – it can’t be Dmytro Yarosh, because Ukraine is not a member of the EU, but I’m sure the selectmen considered him with a covetous eye. H.G. Wells, of “War of the Worlds” fame, saw where the world is heading more clearly than most – it’s always the philosophers, isn’t it? He said, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe”.
I wonder for how much longer we can avoid the latter.