by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
Once upon a time, America’s core allies in Europe were holding hands with the Russians under the table, and it was widely feared by Washington, and also by Berlin and Paris taken separately, that one or the other European ally would cut its own deal with Moscow at the expense of Atlantic unity.
The greatly diminished strategic importance of post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s put paid to these flirtations and to these suspicions. Then in the 2000s, following a brief misadventure in 2003 over French and German opposition to the US invasion of Iraq, the Continental allies fell into line in what became an increasingly virulent information war against Russia culminating in the confrontation over Crimea and Ukraine.
French Gaullisme was abandoned by the mainstream ever since the start of the Sarkozy presidency when the incoming leader made it plain that he was in love with the USA and aspired to the ‘special relationship’ traditionally held by the British. Sarkozy had at his side as Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a Russia-hater if ever there was one. A professional do-gooder who was long as the helm of the French NGO Medecins Sans Frontières, Kouchner brought to office the same ‘universal values’ as Obama’s Samantha Power with all of their geopolitical implications.
But in 2008, Sarkozy’s view of Russia took an awkward turn which resulted directly from his personal intervention in the escalating confrontation with Russia over the Russian-Georgian War acting in his capacity as President of the European Council. When immersed in the nitty-gritty, Sarkozy discovered the falseness of the Washington narrative and pulled back from reflexive anti-Russian positions. The Mistral deal was then negotiated and concluded under his direction.
This brief show of French independent thinking came to an end with the electoral defeat of Sarkozy.
The downfall of the highly intelligent and experienced Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a sex scandal that nearly sent him away to prison left the French with Francois Hollande, a limited and provincial politician who was clueless about foreign policy from the beginning and entrusted formulation to the cunning Laurent Fabius, an Atlanticist conformist. In this context, the French knuckled under to the American positions delivered by Joe Biden, to the point of jeopardizing their entire export-oriented defense industry by cancelling the Mistral sale.
It was left to the extreme right and Euro-skeptic Front National of Marine LePen to pick up the strands of Gaullisme and rebel against American tutelage over relations with Russia. But her chances of winning the presidency were always considered to be marginal.
For their part, the Germans had an approach to Russia on a special track that was embedded in the mainstream Left, the Social Democrats (SPD), going back to Willy Brandt and running for decades through the administration of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. It was called theirOstpolitik. Under the Ossie Merkel, that is now dead and has been replaced by strategic alignment with Mitteleuropa. The nice people of Poland, the Czech Republic, not to mention the swathe of economic losers in the Southeast (Bulgaria, Romania) are folks whom the Germans can boss around to their pleasure, all of which is so much more attractive than having to deal with the Russians and their pretensions at equality. Moreover, as the now disgraced Radoslaw Sikorski put it: the Poles were giving the US a blow job. The Germans decided it was their turn in line at the whorehouse.
Now with the French parliamentary visit to Crimea, it appears that Europe is truly cracking, andGaullisme is leading the way. After all, the delegation drew principally on the UMP, now self-styled Republicans, Sarkozy’s party, which is smack in the French mainstream as Center Right.
Yesterday's Vesti 24 reporting on the visit of the French parliamentary delegation to Crimea showed up a level of political sophistication that one would not have imagined from the day earlier account of the visitors' trying on "Obama is a Schmuck" tee-shirts featured on the Russia-insider.com alternative news website.
The top of their agenda was a visit to the French military cemetery dating back to the Crimean War which just happens to be the largest French military cemetery outside of France. The widely held belief in France was that the cemetery was in a state of disrepair and was about to be paved over for residential housing or a shopping center.
The delegation found to their surprise that it is in impeccable condition and they duly laid flowers.
Then they went to the Russian military cemetery at Sevastopol and paid their respects
All of that was an act of political theater that will be replayed in France when they get home and repeat on French soil their demand for the EU sanctions against Crimea and Russia to be repealed.
Vesti reports that Sarkozy is going to be the next visitor.
Where this all will lead one cannot say. But the Russians correctly report it as a breakthrough for common sense, perhaps of greater political moment than the current ongoing protests of farmers around France over the devastating effect of the Russian retaliatory embargo on their produce.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2015
G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book, Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide.
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