In recent months it has not been just Covid that raised the temperature in Europe’s hotheads: Cold War fever has set in among the Brussels leadership, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel rallying the troops against public enemy number one, the Russian Federation.
In the United States, ignorance about and disinterest in the world at large influences the judgment of the Opposition just as it shapes the policies of those in power. The prevailing assumption among the tiny minority of public critics of US foreign policy is that the United States calls all the shots, that the positions on any given international issue taken by our European allies, for example, are dictated from Washington or, if developed on their own, serve the single purpose of gaining favor with Washington and bolstering the “special relationship” held by London or Paris or Berlin.
If only things were that simple. In this essay I argue why they are not. Nor have they been that simple for many years now. As I look over my writings going back a decade that I published in a succession of “non-conformist” books, I was calling out the home grown nature of Neoconservatism in Europe which arose in parallel with but independent from the movement in States that gave us the horrors of the Iraqi invasion and the viciously anti-Russian policies culminating in the Maidan in Ukraine, with the change of geopolitical course in Kiev as wished by the US, namely inimical to Russia.
Intellectual leaders like Sweden’s Carl Bildt and Belgium’s Guy Verhofstadt were the equals of their buddy Robert Kagan in Washington as creators of Neocon ideology and they were its implementers from positions of power within Europe.
Today I see a similar parallelism in the roll-out of Cold War policies in the USA under Biden and in Europe under von der Leyen.
Why is this relevant to day-to-day developments? Because the latest appeals by my fellow thinkers in the USA addressed to Joe Biden and urging him to step back and reflect on the possible consequences of aiding and abetting a military strike by Kiev against the Donbas at present will not achieve much if Brussels continues on its merry way as arsonist. You may have no doubts that today Brussels is lighting delusional fires of revenge in Zelensky and his entourage, encouraging what would be a suicidal strike against Russia’s vital national interests in the belief that NATO will come to his rescue. It won’t.
Now why would von der Leyen espouse Cold War ideology and present Russia as Europe’s enemy number one?
Let us just consider for a moment whence she came: von der Leyen had been serving in German Chancellor Merkel’s cabinet as Minister of Defense. She was deeply involved in NATO affairs, and within NATO the “Russians did it!” mantra has been cynically exploited by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to rally members to his side even when Donald Trump’s verbal blows put the alliance in jeopardy.
For von der Leyen, the same rallying Russia-bashing talk helps her to address specific challenges to the Union at this moment: the problem of relations with Britain post-Brexit and the problem of taming Poland and preventing the formation of a socially conservative, pro-national sovereignty and anti-Brussels bloc between Poland, Hungary and Italy.
When it was within the EU, Britain was the loudest voice denouncing Russia at every turn except for the New Member States from the former Soviet bloc. Now that the EU’s relations with Britain are strained since the finalization of Brexit, a call to arms against Russia can bring Britain back into the European fold. Meanwhile, the formation of a socially conservative bloc of Hungary and Poland, joined by Salvini’s forces in Italy hinges on one contentious issue among them: how to deal with Russia. The Hungarians and Italians want to step back from sanctions and restore normal relations with the Kremlin, while Poland is the leading New Member State, alongside the Baltics, in denouncing Putin and raising Cold War ideology. Clearly von der Leyen sees political advantage by appealing to the foreign policy side of Polish politics to prevent any anti-Brussels coalition from forming over domestic policy issues like abortion, the LGBTQ movement and similar.
In my essays of the past month dealing with Covid, I pointed to the EU’s going slow in approving the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for use in Europe. I said there was “no way in hell” that von der Leyen would allow its approval. The justice of my analysis was supported this past week by the announcement of a new dimension to the approvals process of Sputnik V: one that violates directly the maxim of our day to “follow the science” and shifts the approval process to a purely political plane. I refer to an article in The Financial Times of 7 April entitled “EU regulator to probe ethical standards of Sputnik vaccine trials.”
The European Medicines Agency will now examine whether Sputnik V trials met ‘good clinical practice’ – not in its technical dimension but in its ‘ethical’ dimension. In particular, the EMA is questioning whether military servicemen and state employees who took part in trials did so under pressure from their superiors. It is crystal clear that the intention of EU regulators is to disqualify Sputnik V on the basis of spurious denunciations that have been solicited for this purpose.
All of these machinations come at a particularly interesting moment when Europe, already far short of vaccines to raise the general level of vaccinated population to herd immunity by autumn, has just suffered another blow to its ambitions by the revelations of rare and deadly blood clots associated with administration of the Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, compelling authorities to limit their use to specific age bands.
“Sticks and stones…”
There are many loyal supporters of Putin in Russia who wonder, or who are dismayed, by the Kremlin’s very restrained response the slings and arrows being hurled at Russia from Washington every week or two. The Kremlin speaks of its response being “asymmetrical” but that gives little satisfaction to many Russians who fret that their national pride is being insulted by Washington without a price being exacted.
In the most recent case of this kind, Vladimir Putin made light of Joe Biden’s televised characterization of him as “a killer.” With Putin’s certain approval, Russian state television decided that portraying Uncle Joe as “senile” was the best way of defusing the issue. Russians may have had a laugh, but Americans were not aware that their verbal aggression had been pushed back.
I see this as the Russian application of our old folk expression about “names will never harm me” and so can be excused, whereas “sticks and stones” do elicit a determined and unmistakably militant response from the Kremlin.
In this regard, I insist that what is saving us all from a hot war today is not the efforts of our minuscule peace movements or of the few reasonable politicians on Capitol Hill or in the European Quarter of Brussels. It is the almost daily telephone exchanges between the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon and their counterpart, General Gerasimov in Moscow.
Most recently Dmitry Kozak top security advisor to President Putin on Ukraine matters, has said publicly that an all-out attack on the Donbas by Kiev in an effort to restore direct rule through military force would result in the end of Ukrainian statehood. In this case, deeds have moved ahead of words, following the overall principles of Putin in power: Russian military exercises and buildup of forces directly adjacent to its borders with Ukraine leave no doubt about its ability and will to crush Kiev if and when Zelensky decides to tempt fate and attack. It would be nice if von der Leyen and Michel also paid attention.
Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book is Does Russia Have a Future? Reprinted with permission from his blog.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2021