By William Pfaff
The Ukraine crisis and the German-American dispute over American intelligence and National Security Agency practices are without much doubt the beginning of the end of the American-dominated Europe we have known since the collapse of Communism. The breakup may be dramatic, or polite and prolonged, but it certainly will come.
I would argue that the European Union is chiefly responsible for what now is happening in Ukraine. The passion for expansion that has overtaken the EU Commission since the 1990s was founded in a reasonable and admirable concern for the political and economic rehabilitation and the future of the former Warsaw Pact states. The decision made was to offer them eventual EU membership.
The United States was, at the same time, a third party to the negotiation of the reunification of Germany, which created what Russia regarded as a troubling revision of the military balance in Europe. Russia was also suffering a series of domestic upheavals, beginning in 1991 with the coup which removed Mikhail Gorbachev from leadership of what was then the Soviet Union and his eventual replacement by Boris Yeltsin, who dissolved the U.S.S.R.
The U.S., disregarding the promise originally made to Chairman Gorbachev, launched a program to bring the ex-Warsaw Pact states into eventual full NATO membership. The deep involvement of American economists and advisers in the chaotic development of the Russian economy was accompanied by a well-meant, but seriously miscalculated effort, by non-official American groups to promote the independence of Ukraine. This meant breaking the political connection with Russia that had existed since the Middle Ages, formalized when Ukraine became part of the Russian Empire in 1793. This was understood by few in Washington.
The activities of Congressionally-financed NGOs sponsored by the two American political parties were directed towards Ukraine’s adoption of American-style democracy and becoming an independent nation. This happened in the so-called “Orange Revolution” of 2004, which inevitably created an internal crisis in Ukraine itself, which has always been divided between a Russian-speaking and Russian Orthodox minority (22 percent of the population) in the east, deeply imbedded culturally in Russian history. In the west, three-quarters of the population, Ukrainian-speaking, historically has been crucially entangled with the histories of Lithuania and Poland, Roman Catholic in religion, the latter (or the two combined) traditionally the great power of the region. Modern Poland has naturally been a sponsor of Ukrainian (and Belorussian) independence and their integration into the EU.
This might be a logical and profitable resolution of Ukraine’s present problems were it not that Vladimir Putin and his Russian supporters greatly resent the EU effort to annex the country (in effect) into a European Union, seen by Russia (not unreasonably) as dominated by Germany and the United States.
Putin is attempting to create a new customs union (inevitably political in implication) with Belarus and Kazakhstan, and possibly other states that are former members of the Soviet Union. His present battle of incentives and threats with the EU is assumed to be intended to bring Ukraine into this union. All have considerable natural resources, but Ukraine is an important industrial state, and with a temperate climate, owed to its proximity to the Black Sea, has in the past supplied the former U.S.S.R. with a third of its food supplies.
President Putin Tuesday made an unexpected proposal of a $15 billion loan to economically-troubled Ukraine together with a sharp discount on natural gas prices. Western critics of the move say it is meant to bring Ukraine eventually into Russia’s customs union, which Mr. Putin denies. Russia also has let it be known that short-range ballistic missiles have been deployed in western Russia, an obvious counter to the long American effort to build an anti-missile system near Russia’s frontiers, supposedly (and unconvincingly) to protect Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons—as if Iran had any reason to attack Western Europe, or possessed the means to do it.
The second crisis that jeopardizes American relations with Europe, and potentially with the Europe Union, is Germany’s embittered reaction against the activities inside their country of the NSA (a reaction whose violence is greatly underestimated in the U.S.). The indifferent and dismissive response of the Obama administration has strengthened this reaction, culminating when it was revealed that Chancellor Merkel’s own telephones are monitored, probably from American bases in Germany. A half century after the war, and three decades after the end of the Cold War, they have no strictly logical reason to exist there.
The cursory and patronizing rejection of the German request to be given the same intimate intelligence relationship with the U.S. as Britain, Canada and the Anzac countries contributed to German anger. (Any Anglophone observer could have told Berlin not even to ask.) No one in Washington, not to speak of Germany, has the least doubt that the NSA has been extensively used to collect economic, trade and technological intelligence in all of Europe, and the EU countries are fed up with this. American assurances of change in the future will never be believed. The only serious answer will be a polite invitation for the U.S. to go home, and eventually this will come.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
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