Unfounded optimism of Franco-German opposition to the US

A series of statements by President Macron, Chancellor Scholz and some other European politicians have recorded a deep contradiction between Europe and the US regarding the pace and format of negotiations with Russia on a comprehensive settlement and security guarantees, as well as the advisability of imposing further sanctions against Russia

Unfounded optimism of Franco-German opposition to the US

Europe is openly saying that it does not want further aggravation, seeks to negotiate, does not want to be held hostage to US policy based on Ukrainian provocations, etc.

All this has given grounds to our numerous colleagues, who were recently wallowing in pessimism and claiming that Europe would never emerge from the American shadow, to suddenly become incorrigible optimists and start arguing that the US will lose Europe if it does not immediately engage in constructive dialogue with Russia and that new EU sanctions against Russia will never be introduced, no matter what is happening in and around Ukraine.

In this context, I should note that the state of Russian-European relations is far from as rosy as it first appears and the chance of maintaining the current state of affairs where European policy follows strictly in the wake of US international policy is far from trivial. Certainly, Russia is fighting for Europe and will continue to do so, but the problem is far from resolved and the chances of success are not as great as one would hope.

Indeed, European politicians have not only realised but are explicitly saying that US policy is not in the interests of the EU. Moreover, Europe is offended by Washington’s indifference to its position: in the month since discussions on the Russian proposals began, the US has not bothered to make an attempt to harmonise its position with that of its European allies, continuing to speak on behalf of the collective West, without being authorised to do so by anyone. The contradictions are indeed acute and the resentment against the egoistic position of the Americans is so great that European opposition to the Americans, which until a week or two ago was spoken about only by “knowledgeable sources” from behind the scenes of NATO (because outwardly it showed complete unity in the West), has now become public, with the top officials of key EU players making statements about it.

However, when assessing the prospects of attracting an international player (or group of such) to our side, we should not only rely on the formal content of his statements, but also assess the real goals he is pursuing, as well as his ability to seriously influence the situation. What do we see in the case of the European front?

Firstly, it is a front, not a revolutionary action. It is a redistribution of influence within the system without breaking the system itself. Moreover, unlike Kazakh rebels, who tried to redistribute influence by means of intra-system violence, with rejection of legitimate rules of the game within the system, Europeans refuse to break intra-system rules in advance, stressing that preservation of civilizational unity of the West is a sacred cow for them. But playing strictly by the rules does not leave them any chance to outplay the US. Because.

Secondly, the US, as has been said, speaks for the collective West, while France and Germany try to speak for the EU. But half of the EU are American allies. Moreover, pro-American politicians have a steady preponderance in pan-European structures (from the European Commission, to the European Parliament). It will be virtually impossible to formulate a unified EU anti-American position – Eastern European literalist regimes see the guarantee of their salvation and continued existence on European subsidies in a continued confrontation between the US and Russia and its support for the EU. Having said that.

Thirdly, all hitherto EU decisions have articulated precisely a pro-American position. To change them requires consensus, which does not exist. It is possible, for example, to block the next (in six months) extension of EU sanctions against Russia (if there is no consensus), but for the same reason it is impossible to cancel the sanctions policy altogether – it was approved by consensus and requires consensus to be lifted.

Fourth, the EU leaders, who are in opposition to the US, have trapped themselves. For almost a decade, they claimed that Russia was pursuing an aggressive policy towards Ukraine and held Moscow responsible for the failure to implement the Minsk agreements. Yes, now they have “seen” that Ukraine is in principle not going to implement them. But so far they are only talking about “the responsibility of both sides”, for they cannot dramatically change the content of state propaganda and therefore the course of the state ship. Both take time, and there is no time for either – a decision needs to be made now.

France and Germany are being held hostage by their previous Ukrainian policies. The US may well shrug its shoulders and ask: “In 2014 you supported Kiev, and in the following years you also supported Kiev, you always thought Ukraine was subjected to Russian aggression, but what has happened now? You argue that you are bearing material costs, so we are, and Ukraine has lost its economy altogether in this struggle. This is

the essence of Western unity: for the sake of the ultimate victory, everybody has to bear the costs.

And who can say that Washington would be wrong to claim so? It is not Europe that was forced to support the Ukrainian coup d’état and sign the Association Agreement with the coup plotters. Did something go wrong? The Europeans were hoping to make money, and now they have to spend it? Well, business is business – Gazprom also regularly has to invest billions of not at all unnecessary dollars to fight American-European-Ukrainian intrigues.

Given that decades of propaganda have created a significant layer of voters in Western societies who distrust Russia and seek to maintain US tutelage over Europe at all costs, it will be impossible to break with the US abruptly.

Fifth, Paris and Berlin are well aware of this. That is why they are not aiming to break with America and move to the Russian camp. They only want to bargain for a more compromise position with the United States – to exclude projects important to Europeans, such as Nord Stream 2, from the sanctions package. Officially, Europeans’ claims are as follows: “Russia talks to us, while the U.S. is pushing us around. Washington should talk to Europe too”. In fact, the European front is nothing more than an attempt to force the U.S. not to command the European partners, but to bargain with them. The possibility to negotiate with Russia is only used as a lever to put pressure on the Americans.

Washington understands all this and is in no hurry to meet the European wishes. Since the Second World War, both Europe as a whole and individual EU countries have repeatedly expressed their displeasure with American diktat, but in the end each time they have complied. The U.S. believes, not without reason, that a significant pro-American lobby in European politics and European societies, a mass of financial and economic interests linking European elites with the U.S., at least a century and a half (if not three centuries) of tradition of Euro-American unity in international politics, and the global information and political situation created with direct European participation are necessary and sufficient leverage to determine the influence of Washington on the formation of an official European policy.

Undoubtedly, times have changed and Washington cannot expect unconditional submission either (the Europeans are not unreasonably going to extort concessions from the Americans). If the U.S. gets mad and overdict, a revolt, at least on the German ship, seems quite realistic. But the Americans have some time to pause with Europe, trying to get the Eurofronters to reduce the scope of their demands as much as possible.

Thus, we should understand that there is no predetermination about Europe’s position. This is the subject of a fierce and brutal struggle. You cannot shrug off work with the Europeans saying they have always been, are and will always be pro-American, but you cannot rest on your laurels thinking that ‘they will come and give you everything’.

Russia can play along with its European counterparts, as the more concessions they squeeze from Washington, the more independent they will become in the future and the more room for manoeuvre Russia will have in its relations with the West at the next stage. It should be borne in mind that within the EU, Germany is the force most interested in strengthening trade and economic relations with Russia. So, while trying not to demonstrate the priority of the German direction, it is worth giving Berlin all possible indirect support in its struggle with Paris for the position of EU leader.

Not only is politics not deterministic, it is also not limited by some kind of “end of history”. No political process has a finite end: successive crises and settlements flow seamlessly into one another in a perpetual struggle for the same positions. What is unnecessary today becomes necessary tomorrow and what is impossible becomes possible. Consequently, it is necessary to plan actions and assess achievements based on a continuous dynamic, without trying to put a final point and declare the fatal inevitability of any one solution.

If you think you’ve conquered all the monsters, make no mistake – you’ve simply moved on to the next level: the difficulty has increased while the problems remain the same.

Rostislav Ischenko, Ukraina.ru