The German government has recently refused overflight rights to the Royal Air Force who were sending planes to Ukraine loaded with weapons. The French government also refused overflight rights, which meant that the British planes had to make a long detour to eventually reach their destination.
A further development of note in this context was that the Italian government also joined their French and German colleagues in refusing to be a part of United States inspired sanctions against Russia. Is this a straw in the wind for finally marking growing European disagreement with the United States inspired sanctions policy against Russia?
One of the interesting points about the German attitude is that it was supported by the CDU, the main opposition party in Germany, who ran Germany for years under Angela Merkel and which could well be the German government again if the present for union of three political parties that makes up the present coalition government in Germany does not succeed in continuing in power.
It is also notable that the leaders of the three countries also opposed what was clearly a United States plan to remove Russia from the SWIFT global payments system. If the United States had succeeded with their ambition to expel Russia from the SWIFT system it would have had a devastating effect upon the European economies, all of whom have significant trading links with Russia. There is little doubt that removing Russia from SWIFT would also have impacted the United States economy as well. It is a measure of the extent of US hostility to Russia that such a self-defeating plan could even have been considered, let alone advanced as a serious policy option.
All of these moves took place in the context of United States secretary of state Blinken’s meeting in Geneva with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. The meeting occurred after a frantic series of meetings of Blinken with his counterparts in Ukraine and elsewhere. The meeting was held at the request of Blinken, whose country has yet to formally respond to the detailed Russian proposals put forward last year.
We were told that the United States answer would be supplied in the coming week. What has also been announced is that the United States answer to the Russian memorandum would be kept secret. This is astonishing. It suggests that United States answers to the Russian proposals are unlikely to find favour with their European allies. It is doubtful if the proposals will remain secret for very long. They are highly likely to be leaked, not by the Russians, but by a different faction within the United States government for whom they are likely to be anathema.
It is a fact of life that the United States does not have a singular view of how to present themselves to the challenges posed by the Russian proposals. The United States, nominally led by two foreign policy representatives, Victoria Nuland and Antony Blinken, are both notoriously anti-Russian in their outlook. Blinken recently made a speech against Russia that the kindest thing that could be said about it was that it was frankly unhinged. The United States is poorly served by his remaining as its principal foreign policy spokesman. He is clearly out of his depth. Nuland is no better, having a long history of antipathy, not only to Russia, but also to the truth. The latter’s role in her public pronouncements is purely coincidental.
The guidance from their nominal boss, the United States president Joe Biden, is scarcely any better. He has an unfortunate habit of saying one thing one week and being forced to clarify it a few days later. He is also prone to making unfortunate gaffs, as when he labelled Russia’s President Putin “a liar”. Putin’s record for truthfulness could be readily matched against United States pronouncements on multiple issues, with the disadvantage lying very much with the latter.
The other reason for the Americans wanting their written response to the Russian proposals remaining secret is that they are unlikely to please their European allies, and in particular Ukraine. The usual reason for secrecy is that the content is to someone’s disadvantage. In the present case the real loser of any compromise or concession by the Americans is that the one truly disadvantaged is the United States itself.
If it agrees to the Russian demand for an effective dismantling of the nuclear threats against Russia by withdrawing those missiles from several European allies that border Russia, it is unlikely to please those countries who have made a career out of the imminent Russian “threat” to their continued independent existence. Such an agreement would also signal to the Europeans the United States no longer itself believes their own propaganda about an imminent Russian attack across their borders.
Some commentators have also gone so far as to suggest that United States capitulation to the Russian demands spells the beginning of the end for the NATO alliance itself. That is unlikely. The United States has invested too much in its NATO program to meekly accept that it is hugely irrelevant, and quietly withdraw. They have after all invested a huge amount of money and political capital to meekly accept the Russian demands.
But clearly they have some sort of compromise in mind that disadvantages their European allies in some way. It is difficult to see any other possible explanation for the requested secrecy as to the contents of their answer to the Russian proposals.
One thing however, is abundantly clear. The three major western European nations, Germany, France and Italy are clearly sick and tired of being second fiddle to whatever scheme the United States drags out to try and maintain its hegemony.
It has surely not been lost on those three nations that Russia, through its increasing alliance with China, has options that do not depend on European goodwill. If Nord Stream 2 is cancelled, they will be the major losers and Russia will not care if they freeze as a result of their own stupidity.
The Europeans are also capable of reading the writing on the political wall. They know that the United States is definitely the wrong horse to back in the great realignment taking place in the world. Their at least partial capitulation to the Russian demands will truly reinforce that impression. The world is changing and they will not want to be left behind.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.