Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Germans have united against their old partner Russia (NYT)

Seventy percent of 1,003 [German] adults polled last week by Infratest dimap for the public broadcaster ARD approved of stricter sanctions; just 15 percent viewed Russia as a reliable partner in a poll with a three-percentage-point margin of sampling error.

Germans are certainly feeling the pain of economic sanctions on Russia, much, much more so than the U.S., but without their leadership in the EU, there cannot be a united European response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. The UK, Netherlands and Eastern European states are not enough; the core of "Old Europe" must be on board.

Clearly, the downing of MH flight 17 was the straw that broke the camel's back vis-a-vis EU and Western public opinion; the attack by Russian-backed fighters in Ukraine showed Russia to be an unpredictable, reckless and dishonest "partner."  

Indeed, said German Social Democrat Gernot Erler, former deputy foreign minister and now commissioner for Russia and former Soviet states:

"The policy of Vladimir Putin is destroying reserves of trust with breathtaking speed. Russia is not naming its goals and has suddenly become unpredictable. And being unpredictable is the greatest enemy of partnership."

That phrase jumped out at me: "Russia is not naming its goals."  That's precisely it.  Putin seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach, with some weapons and fighters here, some diplomatic and economic pressure there, but not really saying what he thinks would be a realistic and desirable outcome for Russia. I suspect that Putin's cagey silence is as much about avoiding uncomfortable questions at home (where feverish nationalism could turn on its master) as it is about keeping the West guessing.

Yes, Putin has urged the establishment in Ukraine of a unique version of "federalism" for "Novorossiya" (Luhansk and Donetsk), where each federal state has its own domestic and foreign policy; but such a confederate (not federal) model would be completely unacceptable for Ukraine and the West, and certainly not practicable: it would make Ukraine a hobbled, disunited state always prone to political infighting. If this is Putin's ultimate goal then it's understandable why he cannot openly say so.

By Alison Smale
August 13, 2014 | New York Times

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