On Wednesday, RT showed a few shots of the meeting in Moscow between John Kerry, Sergei Lavrov and Vladimir Putin, the first high level American encounter with the Russian president in months, due to the situation in Ukraine. I was struck by the Russian President's gentle smile as he greeted Kerry, and remembered George Bush's comment after his meeting with the then new Russian President, something like, 'I looked into his eyes and saw his soul. I can work with this man."(tag)
Recently there has been much speculation - at least in the alternative press - about Europe's uncomfortable position between a rock and a hard place: as Kerry himself admitted, the US has had to pressure the EU to enact sanctions against its important trading partner, Russia, and this, coupled with recent revelations about French and German spooks spying on each other for the benefit of the CIA appears to have had a greater detrimental effect on the Atlantic Alliance since it came into being in 1949 than all the wars in which the US has involved its reluctant partners.
Anyone interested in digging deeper into the state of US-Europe/Europe-Russia relations would do well to listen to the half-hour long conversation between RT's most sophisticated journalist, Oxana Boyko, and a veteran German diplomat, who currently chairs the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger. It can be found on RT's website at: click here/.
The conversation was probably recorded some days ago, however its airing on the day after John Kerry's visit to Moscow, during which both he and President Putin appeared to want to smooth over a relationship that has been increasingly fraught over the past year and a half, is noteworthy. Beyond Ischinger's call for dialogue between the warring parties in Ukraine, Boyko's adept questioning allowed the German diplomat to spell out Europe's position vis a vis Russia, and by inference, vis a vis the US, confirming the impression that we are witnessing a watershed.
Calling for measures to foster a dialogue between all groups in Ukraine, Ischinger recognized that Russia doesn't want to see its neighbor 'carved up into two portions', but affirmed that President Putin was not doing enough to avoid this happening, a far gentler rebuke than what we have been hearing from Washington.
When Boyko doubted the advisability of arming Kiev, even with defensive weapons, pointing out that the allies had hoped arming a moderate Syrian opposition had failed to restrain anyone, the German agreed, but added: "A defenseless Ukraine is also not a good idea, but a source of instability in Europe. We have not reached a point where countries can get rid of their armies and live in eternal peace." Then he asked a question that many listeners probably found astonishing, given the amount of money the US spends on defense and its almost one thousand bases around the world:
"Does your audience understand to what extent we in NATO, including the US, have disarmed in Europe? Germany used to have thousands of US tanks, thousands of nuclear-armed aircraft. We had several thousand heavy tanks, we are now down to 250. Does Russia understand that we have practically totally disarmed?"
Perhaps to suggest that the German arms may have been sent to the Baltic countries, Boyko countered that NATO has two parallel narratives. "There was supposed to be an agreement that no country would advance its claims at the expense of others. Russia would agree to that, but what about Washington?"
Protesting that he is not an Obama spokesperson, the German diplomat asserted that there is a widespread view that it was Russia that violated "what we thought were established principles of behavior, that you don't change borders without the consent of".everybody (or,as Obama would put it, 'the international community'). Ischinger, who negotiated with Lavrov for years over Kosovo, said he was "amazed, because Russia had consistently affirmed that we couldn't change Kosovo's borders, let it be independent, because this would go against Belgrade, but now it's only important what the people in Crimea say. To me that is extremely difficult to digest."
Instead of pointing out that Kosovo was in fact allowed to become independent, with the consent of the international community, over Russia's objections and over Belgrade's head, Boyko chose to point out incon-sistencies:
"But this has happened many times in the past. We can agree that right now there are no rules. You've said the West and Russia need to discuss what kind of system they want to live in. Putin has often talked about this, including at the Munich conference." Then, with feigned innocence: "Wasn't this the only way for Russia to persuade the West that things need to change, that we need to agree on rules that all will follow?"
Not to be deterred, Ischinger countered: "I find very difficult to understand what the problem really was from a Russian point of view. I can't believe Russia thought we intended to create any kind of threat to Russia. I've written hundreds of pages about how we want to create a partnership, a Euroatlantic community with Russia. It's true we failed to create the kind of cooperative relationship we wanted in the nineties, however Germany was not part of (the war on) Libya"."
Instead of allowing the conversation to identify the cause of that failure as Washington's heavy handed presence in European affairs, Ischinger directed it toward NATO's wars, asking Russia to 'differentiate' between individual countries and NATO. Germany, he said, never came close to violating international principles: "We only acted under UN mandate. Germans will not drop a pencil without an international mandate to act."
But surely the elephant in the room was the Neo-con doctrine of 'full spectrum dominance', Brzezinski's old plan to carve Russia up into smaller, manageable states, and the current plan to somehow provoke 'regime change' in Moscow to force Russia to share its mineral wealth. (Medvedev, who has alternated with Putin as President and Prime Minister, is said to be part of the pro-Atlantic faction in Moscow, as opposed to Putin's Eurasian faction.) The European Union has never acted independently from Washington, and now Boyko asks:
"We already touched on the issue of trust, and you say it's the most vital commodity in international relations. Russia may be at fault in Ukraine, but has trust ever existed?
Ischinger: "Yes, there were big ideas, there was a vision of how we would create a win-win situation between Russia's assets and ours."