By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Before the summer holiday season starts in Europe, new trends are emerging in Europe that may pave the ground for new power constellations. While in the Persian Gulf a dangerous escalation -provoked by the US, that wants to draw Iran into a bellicose conflict, is escalating- the American president Trump faces growing criticism from Europe. A typical example was the reaction from the side of German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference (July 19th), who expressed full “solidarity” with the American Congressional deputies that because of their attacks against Trump’s migration policy had been rudely attacked by Trump. “I fully distance myself from such statements and I feel in complete solidarity with the women that got attacked,” Merkel stated. Such a public stance is unprecedented and goes in line with other statements like one from the side of the CEO from the German company Siemens Joe Kaeser who attacked the US presidency for its “racism” and “exclusion” policy.
The author of the article recently had the opportunity to listen to a speech given by the president of the “Federal Academy for Security Policy” (an academy which is in partnership with all relevant security policy foundations in Germany and in Europe) Dr. Karl- Heinz Kamp in Bonn. He described the shift of power constellation among what he called the “four strategic powers USA/ Russia / EU and China and emphasized that the most challenging problem at present is “transatlantic.” While the US militarily/ economically / politically represents a superpower, with a navy that is bigger than altogether 13 of the leading NATO countries, US President Donald Trump is engaged in “blackmail” against Europe. “He hates alliances” and he also “intensively dislikes Germany,” Kamp stated.
Europe – either a vassal of the US or taking its destiny in its own hands
Different strategic signals were also coming from the EU parliament which on July 16 elected former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen as new president of the “European Commission”, the first German since more than 60 years and the first woman in this post. The election result (383 votes from 747 in total in favor of von der Leyen) came for many as a surprise. Obviously what had happened to pave the way for von der Leyen’s election was the strong support which she got from French President Emanuel Macron and the Eastern European Visegrád states (Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland) as well as from the socialist governments of Spain and Portugal.
It is ironical that support was given by Eastern European states, which in the past months had been attacked by the European parliament for their “populist” and “nationalist” policy (most visible was the exclusion of Minister President Victor Orbán from the European EVP party group). Von der Leyen as Defense Minister is known for having chosen a harsh line against Russia and for her pro- sanction line. Yet her speech in the European parliament indicates that she aims at creating “unity” in the European parliament, bringing the opposing sides together. To the surprise of many, according to “Der Spiegel”, she announced a new chapter in “migration policy”, expressing her intent to strengthen the European border protection agency “Frontex”, give more assistance to Africa, spend more money on climate protection as well as introduce a “minimum wage” on a European scale.
Successful 18th St. Petersburg Dialogue at Petersberg (Bonn)
Another encouraging sign that may indicate that cards are getting mixed in a new and more flexible way was sent out from the “Petersburg Dialogue Forum” which took place 18th and 19th of July at “Petersberg”- a beautiful and idyllic site on top of a hill near Bonn. Having been founded in 2001 upon the initiative of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to promote open exchange of opinion between politicians, people of science and culture, businessmen and civil societies, the Petersberg location was used for meetings during tense periods, f.i. Soviet leaders Brezhnev, Yeltsin or Gorbachev were there in the past to discuss about German/ Russian cooperation. The St Petersburg Forum this year took place according to German Kremlin specialist Alexander Rahr “under a good star”.
What became clear from the working group meetings was that Russia is no more isolated. Several minister presidents from Eastern German federal states (all known to be against sanctions) had been invited and the Minister President from North Rhine Westphalia Dr. Armin Laschet (a strong opponent of anti- Russia sanctions) received strong applause when he reminded the audience in his welcome address that it was certainly not self-evident that Russia – after having lost 27 Million victims in World War II- would give Germany the “hand for reconciliation” after the war and that during the 70ies -at the height of the Cold War – key initiatives were launched from Bonn and from German industry to open a new phase of cooperation with Russia. In his greetings German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas underlined – under the applause of the audience- that according to a poll made in 2018, 94% (!!) of the German people want to have better relations with Russia. This is quite impressive if one takes into account the official governmental policy of harsh sanctions and the immense press hysteria over the last years.
For the first time after 5 years of the “political ice age” (since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis and Crimean annexation), the Foreign ministers from Russia and Germany came together at the St. Petersburg Forum in order to have a wide ranging dialogue, including discussion about perspectives for Ukraine, settling the war in Eastern Ukraine (Donbass), about Syria, Iran as well as about economic cooperation and new initiatives to promote a wide youth exchange (visa free travel). Both foreign ministers expressed “confidence” and “optimism” that the dialogue will be used to achieve further progress concerning the settlement of the war in Donbass – i.e. to prepare the ground for a new “Normandy Format Summit” (heads of states from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France who met the last time in Berlin February 2016). The two foreign ministers expressed agreement concerning the importance of the new gas pipeline Nord Stream II project between Russia and Germany (that will be finished end of 2019), which as Maas emphasized is economically highly important for Germany and Europe.
Small openings between Ukraine and Russia?
During the plenary session of the Petersburg Forum, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov underlined the positive signals that have been sent out by the new Ukraine President Zelensky (who won again with a strong majority during the Ukraine parliamentary elections July 21rst) and who had recently called by phone the Russian President Putin urging him for dialogue on Donbass. Lavrov further emphasized that “life has shown: the policy geared to hinder Russia’s economic and technological development has entailed negative impacts of European businesses and European consumers, (…)”. The “illegitimate unilateral sanctions” run counter to the “positive changes and prospects for cooperation between Russia and Germany.” He called on the world community to try to find a balance of interest on key problems rather than seek to suppress emerging centers of influence. “The world is changing rapidly, with new centers of economic and political influence emerging. Attempts at containing, drawing division lines, declaring states as outcasts – all this is repulsed by the majority of participants in international life,” Lavrov stated. “I think that much more attractive is creative work, the search of a balance of interest, either on Syria, Libya, and Yemen, the Middle East settlement, and Kosovo or on saving the Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program.” According to the Minister the global economy needs integration associations based on the principle of equality and mutual benefits… This is what the Eurasian Economic Union relies upon.” The Eurasian Economic Union, an initiative taken by President Putin, was to “create a greater Eurasia,” as Lavrov said, and “one could talk a lot about Germany to become part of a new architecture on the Eurasian continent.”
During a common press conference both German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov expressed the “positive will” to look for solutions concerning the different global crisis. Maas as well as Lavrov spoke about encouraging signs of “troop disengagement” in the Donbass region, referring to a recent highly constructive meeting of the Contact Group that had discussed about the need to implement the Donbass ceasefire to begin July 21. Both ministers spoke about “positive signals” coming from the new Ukraine President Zelensky. They underlined their determination to save the JCPOA agreement. Lavrov explicitly attacked the US for having broken and violated the UN resolution and called on the US “to show restraint.” He emphasized that relations between Russia and Germany once again are on the rise and that political dialogue is on the highest level cross culturally and historically and that Germany and Russia cooperate in energy. “We support North Stream 2 – and we agree with Germany and work on finding solutions for Ukraine and Iran,” Lavrov stated.
End of June the Russian press reported that steps are under way between Russia and France toward normalizing bilateral relations. At the end of June Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met his French counterpart Edouard Philippe in Le Havre. Both noted at this occasion that trade had grown despite sanctions, that French companies continue to take part in projects in Russia including in the oil- and -gas sector and that preparations of small and medium- sized businesses were underway under the direction of the Russian- French economic, financial, industrial and trade council.