Politics, Analysis, Europe

The quandary facing Western Europe

Western European nations neither want to be abandoned by the Americans nor entrapped by them

The quandary facing Western Europe

By Prof. Tarik Oguzlu


The recent decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to sign a sanctions bill by the U.S. Congress on Russia, North Korea and Iran seems to have not only aggravated the ongoing crisis atmosphere in U.S-Russia relations but also caused strong consternation on the part of Western European allies, of which Germany voiced the loudest criticisms.

It is well-known that President Trump has bad times at home due to allegations and accusations by Washington elites, including Republican members of Congress, that the Trump team established close connections with the ‘Russians’ during the presidential election campaign last year.

The fact that Trump’s hand has weakened in recent months appears to account for why he could not resist the Congress-supported sanctions bill on Russia, even though Trump himself would have been quite a content with finding a way to help improve relations with Russia. Initiating a new reset with Russia was one of his campaign promises last year.

Despite the fact that the Russian authorities noted Trump’s reluctance to give wholehearted support to the new sanctions bill, they had to take some retaliatory measures to show their fury with this latest American decision.

Asking the U.S. government to scale down the number of American diplomats serving in Russia and taking control of some diplomatic properties were among the measures Russia adopted to show its anger.

It should be noted with concern that the worsening Russian-American relations over the last three years, particularly following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military involvement in Syria, has already caused alarm bells to ring across the world, with many rushing to the conclusion that a new world war is no longer beyond imagination.

An important by-product of the latest crisis in U.S.-Russia relations is the growing possibility that a new Cold War atmosphere between Washington and Moscow might also cause a serious rift in transatlantic relations.

The last time the Americans and their European allies experienced a serious crisis was on the eve of the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003 aimed at deposing Saddam Hussein.

At that time, major European allies, such as Germany and France, joined forces with Putin’s Russia in the United Nations Security Council to deprive the United States of any UN legitimacy for its military involvement in Iraq.

In such a way to underline its contempt with the lack of support for its Iraq policy from long-time European allies within NATO, the George W. Bush team adopted divisive rhetoric, blaming the old Western Europeans for their strategic myopia and inertia while appraising the new Eastern Europeans for demonstrating their solidarity with the transatlantic alliance and commitment to the U.S.-led world order.

A similar pattern seems to have resurfaced in the wake of the latest U.S. decision to tighten sanctions on Russia. Ranging from the key personalities of the European Commission to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a panoply of Western European leaders have criticized this American action severely.

The main criticism leveled against the U.S. was that American foreign policy decision makers did not take into account key EU interests, particularly economic and strategic interests concerning EU relations with Russia, and did not consult key European constituents before shaping the sanctions bill.

At the center of the Western European salvos against U.S.-sponsored sanctions was the German determination to go on with the construction of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline project that would potentially transform Germany into an energy hub in Europe by enabling Germany and key Western European states to buy Russian gas at much lower prices.

Putting sanctions on European commercial companies involved in the construction of this pipeline would severely hurt European economic interests.

From a German point of view, the new American sanctions would mainly punish European energy companies doing business with Russia, let alone convincing the Russian leadership that they had better change course in eastern Ukraine.

Moreover, the Germans also see traces of a pure economic motivation behind the new sanctions to help open new markets to American natural gas in the European continent.

Throwing Russia out of the market and bringing in American gas would not only serve U.S. economic interests but also help increase Washington’s geopolitical influence in those European countries where there exists a strong degree of resistance to Russia’s geopolitical and geo-economic patronage.

This is why Poland and many other central and eastern European countries threw their lot in with the United States in this latest episode.

It is worth noting that President Trump participated in the summit meeting of the 12 central and eastern European countries on the occasion of the Three Seas Initiative in Poland before his visit to Hamburg to attend the G-20 meeting in early July.

Co-sponsored by Poland and Croatia, this initiative brings together 12 European countries lying on the shores of the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas.

What unites all these countries is their high degree of dependence on Russian energy resources as well as growing mistrust of Russian foreign and security policy interests under Putin’s leadership.

This seems to explain why many of them, notably Poland and the three Baltic republics, now host NATO/U.S. troops in their territories and do not shy away from demonstrating their commitment to American leadership on various occasions.

The majority of these countries do not want to feel sandwiched between two behemoths -- a German-led European Union and Russia -- and use every opportunity to secure American commitment to their strategic and economic autonomy.

Any particular development that would help lessen their dependence on Russian energy resources, protect their geopolitical interests as regards Russia, lessen the prospects of potential German hegemony within Europe, and protect their national sovereignty against the eurocracy in Brussels would be more than welcome.

Looking at this issue from the German and Western European perspective reveals other dynamics.

Despite the fact that Germany and France took the lead as part of the Minsk process to help punish Russia for its unacceptable foreign and security policy behaviors in the Europe of the 21st century, the traditional pattern is that key Western European countries, cognizant of the fact they share the same strategic habitat with Russia, give utmost importance to engaging Russia constructively and make sure that any outside, particularly American, attempt at pushing Russia into corner does not impinge on vital European security and economic interests.

Western European nations have always been in a quandary since the early years of the Cold War era. They want neither to be abandoned by the Americans nor entrapped by them. That is why they now experience one of the most dangerous moments in their relations with the United States.

They need to deal with a particular U.S. president who continually rebukes them for their free-riding on U.S. commitments to European security and gives every signal he would likely pursue an ‘America First’ policy.

They also need to do business with a U.S. Congress which seems to have no problem with experiencing a new Cold War with Russia by defining Putin’s policies as extremely dangerous. May God help Western Europeans.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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