At Large

European Tea Leaves

Unfortunately, their source is Vladimir Putin's samovar.

By 5.25.07

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While many in Europe pretend to perplexity over Russia's purposeful efforts to intimidate members of the European Union, the all too obvious reality is nothing less than the reemergence of Russia's desire to dominate the region. Inconvenient as it may be for exponents of liberal appeasement, the nationalist ambitions of Russia have been reborn absent their previous ideological mask of international communism.

With its newly gained wealth from exorbitant oil and gas prices, Russia's political economic offensive aims to exert influence on the EU, which they refer to as "our neighbor." Russia's bullying tactics with Poland, Lithuania and Estonia represent the first round.

The devices Moscow has used as a provocation of its three former captive states are a ban on meat imports from Poland, a cut-off of oil supplies to Lithuania, and a threatened trade blockade of tiny Estonia for the "crime" of moving a Soviet era war memorial. The real intent of these exploitive acts was to forcefully remind these new EU nations that, absent subservience to Russia, their national life could be severely impacted.

Most important militarily, the Russians want the Poles to realize that actions such as allowing the Americans to establish missile bases on their soil -- even if they are targeted at Iran -- will not be tolerated unless specifically approved by Moscow. Authoritarian Russia wishes to reinstate by economic and political means its dominant role that existed during the Cold War. It's as simple as that.

In spite of a vigorous protest by the European Union on behalf of its new members, Germany has persisted as an apologist in the EU for Moscow through the pro-Russian orientation of its foreign minister, the socialist Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel has been forced by the terms of her political grand alliance to allow Steinmeier full rein over Berlin's foreign affairs.

Germany's obsequious foreign policy toward Russia had been initiated by the previous chancellor, and SPD leader, Gerhard Schroeder. It was Chancellor Schroeder who had promoted the German- Russian pipeline (Nord Stream) controlled by the Russian oil and gas giant, Gazprom. That Russian super industry already supplies 25% of the gas consumed in the EU and plans to increase it to 33% by 2010.

Schroeder lost his government post to the conservative Merkel and swiftly became one of the executive chairmen of Nord Stream. It's amazing how these socialists can so quickly reinvent themselves as capitalists.

It's hard for Washington and the rest of the Western capitals to accept the fact that what had been hoped was a democratically transformed Russia would revert to its old aggressive national personality. But what is more shocking has been the apparent acceptance of this stance by the Russian public. Unfortunately the insularity of the earlier Soviet regime was far too easily reproduced by the newly confident, oil rich Kremlin run by former KGB stalwarts and their friends.

There is a new element in the international mix, however. The election of the avowedly pro-American Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France has created a changed power balance in the politics of the European Union. With her friend and fellow conservative, Sarkozy, backing her, Angela Merkel will have a stronger hand in the EU. With the less-than-friendly-toward-the-U.S. government of Jacques Chirac gone from France, the recent past knee-jerk anti-American posture in Europe may have a chance to dissipate.

Unless Sarkozy effects a 180 degree reversal of form, the United States will once again be able to consider France, as well as Britain, an ally. This can strengthen the entire Western alliance as Germany finds that hewing to a Moscow line will place it at odds with the majority of the EU.

Placing this degree of importance on the expectation of a more pro-U.S. France may be counting the proverbial eggs before hatching, but the initial signs of such a positive development certainly exist. In that sense, the manipulative bullying by Putin's Kremlin in European affairs has actually aided in Paris' transformation, and thus perhaps the rest of the EU.

If Washington can rise to the diplomatic occasion of having been dealt a possible new European hand, there may be reason to believe that future relations regarding Iran, and even Iraq, may also be aided. All in all, Moscow can't be happy with the thrust of politics in Europe. Will they step back or just get tougher? Unfortunately Putin and his fellow covert operators tend more to the latter than the former.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.