The EU’s Strategic Balance Sheet – Well, Good Luck With That…
By Alastair Crooke
How on earth did the EU get into such a strategic mess? The frank answer is by being unreflective, Atlanticist ‘bots’
“The United States will be hosting the online Summit for Democracy on 9 and 10th December, 2021, empowering itself to define who is to attend the event and who is not, who is a ‘democratic country’ and who is not … this will stoke up ideological confrontation and rift in the world, creating new ‘dividing lines’”: So write (jointly) the Ambassadors of Russia and China accredited to Washington.
“China and Russia firmly reject this move … [they] call on countries: to stop using ‘value-based diplomacy’ to provoke division and confrontation”, the Ambassadors warn.
Yet, this is clearly what Biden intends (strategic polarisation). Team Biden is aiming to build a strategic pro-U.S. bloc to pull in more states as adherents, so to isolate Russia and China. Taiwan is being instrumentalised against China (and to Beijing’s fury, has become an invitee to the conference), and Ukraine is being weaponised against Russia. Both are explosive issues. But of the two, it is Ukraine that is the most volatile.
We should not forget however, that America was dabbling with General Chiang Kai-shek from as long ago as 1925. (During WW2, there about one thousand U.S. military advisers in Chiang’s army). And after the war, the U.S. handed Taiwan over to the Kuomintang (Chiang’s political movement), as the platform for instigating insurrection against ‘the communist danger’ in mainland China.
Of course, the U.S. ultimately had to face reality, and switched recognition only in 1971, from the Kuomintang in Taiwan (its’ one-party dictatorship only ended in 1988), as the legal representative of all China, to the CCP.
However, with China’s meteoric rise causing concern in Washington, (the Chimerica narrative was losing its credibility), President Obama initiated the ‘Pivot to Asia’, with Taiwan becoming fifth in terms of global recipients of U.S. weapons. Team Biden now want to go one step further than Obama: by adding a diplomatic component to arms build-up. So, the ‘wheel of time turns’, and politics invert – and it is all ‘Let’s Back Taiwan’ again, as the CCP is demonised afresh.
And the EU goes along with this! In fact they are cheerleaders for ‘Let’s Back Taiwan’ (though Merkel expresses some reservations). It is strategic incoherence for the EU to play this U.S. game against China. President Xi has warned plainly: It is playing with fire. Why should Europe want a part in that?
The ploy here, is not for the U.S. to go to war with China, but to push Taiwan’s secessionist ambitions to the point that Xi ‘loses face’ (an unforgiveable lacuna in China), and the CCP is split. This at least, is the thrust of the anonymous ‘Longer Telegram’ written by a senior U.S. official, arguing that U.S. policy should be to exacerbate divisions in the Party command. It won’t work, but in the process, Europe’s relations with China will be ruined.
The Ukraine is the more pressing issue at this moment, because it is spiralling down into cascading systemic instability: Corrupt, oligarchic and dysfunctional. Economically bust: Ukraine has little prospect of replacing the energy (gas and coal), that it lost through its bitter clash with Russia; and it has no less than half of its army (100,000 men) sitting in muddy trenches, reminiscent of WW1 conditions, dug-in along a 250 Km contact line.
The boom of artillery and the crackle of small arms fire is continuous. It is a war against the Donbass militias, dug-in some few hundred metres back – a war that the Ukrainian soldiers openly admit – cannot be won without ‘outside help’. President Zelensky says that the slide to war is unstoppable, without outside help (dialogue with Putin).
Not only can the war not be won by the forces of Kiev, but those demoralised troops must know also, that – from the perspective of the Russian High Command – they face a demoralised Ukrainian army ‘just as they would want it’: Ripe for encircling, and ‘the taking’, should that become necessary.
The war situation spirals down. And something, sooner or later, will crack: conflict seems therefore, already ‘baked-in’. The U.S. and the EU see that Kiev cannot ‘do’ Minsk. This was the agreement reached by the Normandy Four Powers that the only solution was to be found in negotiations between the authorities in Kiev, together with the political leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The EU faces an impasse: The crisis worsens; all routes out are blocked. Kiev will not implement Minsk, yet Russia insists on it. It refuses to budge. There is no other known framework (to Minsk) on anyone’s ‘table’.
The West’s answer is to somehow get itself off the Minsk ‘hook’ (though they all approved, when the accord became a binding UN Security Council Resolution). Intense pressure on Putin to bypass Minsk and to negotiate directly with Zelensky in a summit, is the West’s response. To bypass, and cut the feet from under the Donetsk and Lugansk leaders – and, for Russia to ‘give way’ on the latter’s existential interests, in order ‘to save Ukraine’. That is to say, save a rabidly anti-Russian political élite (desperate to join NATO), from its own dysfunctional mess, and then to supply this hostile entity with Russian gas, and coal – and to pay it hefty gas transition fees.
Well, Putin won’t do it: he declines to participate in a summit with Zelensky – a summit that expressly would bypass the legal internal framework to Minsk, and transform it from that into an international bilateral treaty between Putin and Zelensky alone. Putin wants no part of it. Moscow regards the Kiev leadership as wholly incapable, and untrustworthy.
Where is the EU on this issue? It cheerleads – and joins with the U.S. in demanding that Putin ‘save Ukraine’ for them (negotiate with Zelensky). EU leaders hold out chimeric mirages of Ukraine ‘one day’ joining the EU and NATO.
It won’t happen! But it raises hopes among some elements in Kiev that, were they to go for broke by attempting to recover the eastern provinces, that the EU and NATO would have no option but to dig them out from the deep hole in which the Kiev leadership finds itself.
So here we are. The question however, should be: How on earth did the EU get into such a strategic mess? The frank answer is by being unreflective, Atlanticist ‘bots’. The EU never questioned the direction or the consequence to U.S. policy, when in the wake of the USSR implosion – as American Chutzpah led Washington to resile from understandings and guarantees that precisely had given America an end to the Cold War (i.e. not extending NATO’s frontiers eastwards, beyond Germany). Rather, the EU watched admiringly as NATO began its march right up to the Russian doorstep.
Relations with Russia were bound to be problematic when the U.S. decided on an expanded, new EU – albeit one with Moscow shut out. The EU never truly baulked either, when, at the Clinton and Obama behest, the EU encroached both its, as well as NATO’s frontiers, ever deeper into Russia’s backyard. (The Euro-élites were too busy dreaming of their European ‘Empire’. I was there. I recall it well).
Then there was a second ‘ratchet’ towards problematic relations. What did the EU do when Obama developed his venomous antipathy towards President Putin personally? Well … nothing. They fell into ‘Merkelism’ – that mode of never taking hard decisions; playing for time; no real reform; ‘kicking the can’, and essential fudging. Angela Merkel played at empathy for Russia. She ‘talked the talk’ of good relations, whilst ‘walking the walk’ of the EU implementing each and every sanction proposed by the U.S. on Russia.
Let’s put that into context: As a Soviet official, Putin was posted to Germany, he speaks German well, and hails from St Petersburg, the most European of Russia’s cities. When he first came into the Presidency at the end of the Yeltsin era, Putin wanted Russia to be a part of Europe; he advocated for Greater Europe. He even once suggested that Russia join NATO!
Russia had expected that Europe’s need for energy and raw materials would translate into Russia somehow getting a seat at the Greater Europe table. Instead, the U.S. railed at the evils of Europe having energy dependency – and many Europeans actually fought against additional pipelines to increase gas supplies coming into the EU.
We all know that the EU was conceived on the basis that the U.S. has ‘its back’, whilst the EU anyway is treaty-bound to reflect NATO security interests. We understand that the Euro was deliberately shaped to be subordinate to the dollar, and that those who inhabit Brussels, forever have one eye on Washington, to confirm that they remain on the ‘magic career carpet’.
And so it becomes clearer … Obama couldn’t bear a Russian President that was smarter than him (he prided himself on being the smartest man in the room). Obama was an interventionist (though effaced, through ‘leading from behind’), but he was no out-and-out, neo-con. There were (and are) those in Washington, whose hatred for all things Russian reaches back to Trotskyist times, and who were then turbo-charged by the U.S. reversal following Yeltsin’s fall.
These U.S. hawks believe that a Ukraine war would finally achieve their long-standing objective to disrupt, and sever the energy corridor linking Russia to a gas-dependent European Union – leaving Russia weakened and vulnerable. In short, for this foreign policy constituency (and please note, it is but one faction, albeit an influential one), hurting Russia trumps any hurt to the EU (who they believe have no choice but to remain beholden to Washington).
For the moment, Biden is focussed more on keeping energy prices and inflation down. He does not want energy prices through the roof. The hawks may be silent for now, but they are not gone. They are acting in collusion with certain component Kiev hardliners who want Russia provoked into military intervention in Ukraine (by taking action, however futile, against Donbass). Sanctions on Russian energy would rain down, in the wake of Russian intervention: It could spell the end of gas pipelines to the EU. Some in the EU even would applaud (as their citizens freeze without heating). Is this what ‘having the EU’s back’ means?
So, let’s look at the strategic balance sheet: The EU has virtually ruptured its relations with both Russia and China – at the same time. Washington’s hawks wanted it. A ‘European Brzezinski’ certainly would have advised the EU differently: never lose both in tandem – you are never that powerful. In Moscow, where once there were many Europhiles, these sympathies now are rarer than hens’ teeth. Even the suave, courteous Foreign Minister does not deign to take the EU seriously.
Maybe some, enraptured by the supposed allure of European ‘values’ will feel this strategic ‘loss’ is just the price worth paying for upholding European ‘values’.
Well, good luck out there … But let’s remember that Europe doesn’t have much in the way of secure indigenous energy, or raw material supplies. But don’t let that stop you shouting and belittling Putin and Russia. Europe too, is a tad behind in technology, and finance for tech starts-up, but don’t let that stop you castigating Xi as a dictator; or alleging that China is practising ethnic cleansing in Xinjian province (evidence please!). And yes, please don’t stop vetoing all Chinese attempts to merge with, or acquire European firms, because … European and North Atlanticist Values! They evidently feel so warm (that’s good, given a cold winter is predicted).
I am sure that Team Biden ‘has your back’, and will come to your aid when the economic crisis bites (after all, we are all in the faltering ‘re-set’, the transition, and the health and ‘emergencies’ together). Aren’t we? Too bad for ECB, that Jay Powell just said that “inflation isn’t transitory”. Well, best of luck out there.