Business As Usual
March 27, 2014
Not long ago, as the Ukrainian crisis was unfolding but few could imagine that Russia would annex Crimea, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the EU was divided over what its stance on Russia should be. The farther west an EU member state is, the less likely it is to try to challenge Vladimir Putin’s imperial ambitions, Tusk said at the time. That in itself is not surprising. An unpredictable neighbor causes the most concern to the countries closest to it—and Poland has lived next door from Russia for hundreds of years.
On Sept. 17, 1939—in a move it described as “fraternal assistance to a friendly nation”—the Soviet Union invaded Poland and seized swathes of its eastern territory, by virtue of the infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.
Western European countries are not ready to risk a political conflict with Russia that could jeopardize their economic interests. A growing number of Western European politicians are saying just that. When Tusk suggested to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Warsaw that the EU should adopt a common policy on natural gas purchases from Russia, Merkel remarked that trade in natural gas is handled by private companies rather than governments. That, in fact, is true and one such private company in Russia is Gazprom, which offered a golden parachute to Gerhard Schröder, Merkel’s predecessor as chancellor. Weeks before Merkel took over, Schröder signed a deal with Russia to build the Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea, thus bypassing Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Shortly after that, Schröder took a seat on the supervisory board of the Russian-controlled Nord Stream consortium, which is building the pipeline. Schröder calls Putin a “good friend” and a “democrat.”
Another German bigwig, Günter Verheugen, former EU commissioner for enlargement, has said in an interview that Europe should scrap its policy of sanctions against Russia and react “calmly and reasonably” instead—as if any serious sanctions had been imposed on Russia in the first place, other than a list of Putin’s advisers being declared personae non gratae in the EU. That list is something of a joke in Moscow.
The developments in Crimea are not keeping France from going ahead with a $1-billion contract for the delivery of four state-of-the-art Mistral-class assault helicopter carriers to Russia. One of the ships, which the French defense industry takes great pride in, will soon be launched and become part of the Black Sea Fleet in Russia’s military base in Novorossiysk. Proudly named the Sevastopol, it will surely be perfect if the need to offer “fraternal assistance” arises.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the nationalist National Front party in France, has recently said that “the people of Europe do not want Ukraine in the EU just as they do not want Albania, Macedonia and Turkey.” According to Le Pen, France these days is treating Russia worse than it once treated the Soviet Union. “We need to talk with this great nation and great economy,” Le Pen has said, adding that the National Front, whose ratings in popularity polls are close to 35 percent, believes that “Kiev today does not have a legal government.”
While EU politicians condemn Russia for using force as an argument in international relations, they have been admitting that Crimea is a lost cause for Ukraine, just as Abkhazia and South Ossetia are for Georgia and Transniestria is for Moldova.
“We are learning another painful lesson in European realpolitik,” said Leszek Miller, one of Poland’s most seasoned politicians and a former left-wing prime minister, when asked if there is any hope that—in the face of the crisis in Ukraine—Europe can stand united. EU leaders are keen to stand up and talk about unity and similar values—but apparently only when there is no conflict going on.