By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
A fresh look at the European situation indicates that a new “strategic response pattern” is emerging from Europe, which may open new strategic flanks for the future: While the Europeans have understood that President Trump’s trade war and sanctions against them have the aim to create maximum economic disadvantage and damage for Europe’s economic and strategic interests, it is also clear that the Europeans must respond in a much more aggressive and determined way, rather than getting intimidated by the new “colonial style attitude” from the US government. The harsh sanctions which the US has announced for those European companies which continue doing business in Iran are indeed quite damaging and intimidating.
A typical example is the French automobile Company PSA Citroen which – given that their business is denominated in dollars – fear that big US banks will get involved in the sanctions scheme (as was the case against BNP Paris Bas years ago which got a 8.9 Billion dollar fine by the US for having circumvented sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Iran). According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ 4.6.18), companies like TOTAL and PSA (Peugeot and Citroen) will end their joint venture operation with two local partners in Iran end of August 2018. In 2017 Iran was the biggest foreign market of PSA with 450.000 more sold automobiles: 70% more than in Germany. The company till 2021 wanted to produce 350.000 automobiles a year and invest together with Iran 400 million Euro. Even if PSA tries to get exempted from the US sanctions, the French Oil company TOTAL last month also withdrew from Iran, having invested in the huge gas field in the south Pars in the Persian Gulf. Other European companies that are hit by sanctions are Airbus, Siemens, BASF and the AccorHotels Group. The situation is getting complicated by the fact that “international banks” are not allowed to cooperate with business companies which are doing business with Iran. The Europeans in order to counter this US blackmail should think about using the “European Investment Bank” (EIB) as well as diversify payments from the Dollar. Yet since the SWIFT system is in American hands the dominance of the dollar is not yet broken on the international markets.
Chances open for a new multilateral strategic orientation
The US /EU crisis has underlined the need for the Europeans to intensify their multilateral relations with other partners — including Russia, China and BRICS. The recent visits which were made by European state leaders to Russia during the months of May indicate a significant change in Russia /EU relations. This included German Chancellor Merkel’s visit to President Putin in Sochi in mid May. During the joint press conference the two leaders stated that confidence between the two countries had significantly increased. Both mentioned favorably the Russian-German Trade which, as Putin stressed, last year had increased by 2%. Unlike previous years when the joint trade volume was at 80 Billion Euro, today the volume is at 50 Billion Euro. This involves 5000 German companies operating in Russia, according to Putin ,securing of 100.000 work places. Both Merkel and Putin stressed that they kept working in favor of maintaining the Iran JPOAC nuclear agreement. In respect to Ukraine they both saw the importance for a renewed Normandy- format summit, which according to Merkel could include the idea of a UN Peace mission in Eastern Ukraine. Both Merkel and Putin underlined the need to cooperate in the settlement of the Syrian conflict- a peaceful settlement which also involves the return of many Syrian and the creation of living conditions on the ground, as well as a peaceful constitutional settlement along the model of Astana and Sochi. Both also stressed the need to cooperate in the field of culture and science.
ISS Mission with Russian, US and German Astronauts – inspiration for scientific optimism
An interesting signal to the world is in this respect the new ISS Mission which began its drive into orbit May 6th . On board there is a crew of Russian, American and German Astronauts. For the first time a German Astronaut, Dr. Alexander Gerst, is the commander of the ISS crew. It is Gerst’s second ISS mission, his first one was in 2014, and it has contributed to an enthusiastic press echo. This kind of “extraterrestrial impulse” (in the words of space scientist, Dr. Krafft A.Ehrike) may be the right perspective from which to take a fresh look at this world. Under Gerst’s command, over 70 experiments will be carried out in his “Mission Horizon” in biological, material processing and medical areas. (F.I. more precise studies, what type of training of muscles, et cetera can best work against the zero gravity effects on the human body.) This is being prepared in the research lab “Columbus” on the ISS.
New diplomatic initiatives
The visit of French President Macron at the St Petersburg forum who side by side with President Putin at the joint press conference spoke about the French -Russian trade, could open the door to slowly force a different type of discussion between Russia and “the West”. Macron spoke about large projects including the automobile industry, machine and aircraft building, the food industry and agriculture. French businesses have localized high – tech manufacturing in Russia. He further referred to a distinctive feature of Russian- French relations , which is the “mutual interest and sympathy of our peoples, rooted in the centuries of history and deep inter-penetration of cultures.” Macron called for a “multilateral approach in international relations,” which “follow the principles in which I have faith”. In the same vein he criticized the policies of isolationism ad protectionism calling Russia “an inalienable part of Europe.”
Vienna receives President Putin with full honors
In the first week of June, Russian President Putin made a state visit to Vienna, the capital of Austria, the first of his state visits since he got reelected in March. His state visit was very much hailed by the Austrian media and he was warmly received by both Austrian President van der Bellen and by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. One of the reasons for this visit was the 50. th anniversary of the signing of the Gas delivery treaty between the Soviet Union and the Austrian oil and gas company OMV. During a press conference with Austrian President van der Bellen, the president stated that despite the difficult relation between Russia and the EU, he does not see any “crisis of confidence”(sic!). Indeed Austria sees itself as “bridge- builder” between East and West – unlike other EU states it did not participate in the expulsion of diplomats during the so called Skripal affair.
Austria, as Chancellor Kurz made clear, wants to do everything to normalize relations with Russia. Beginning July 2018, Austria becomes the chairman of the EU Council and it will certainly use its role as chairman to give Russian EU relations a fresh start. As Chancellor Kurz emphasized when he spoke about the need to normalize relations, “we believe that a win-win situation is better for both sides, instead of a lose-lose situation,” Kurz said. During a press conference with Putin, Kurz stated, “as a superpower Russia not only plays a big role in trouble spots – in Syria, in the East of Ukraine and in the other ones. But it also has a big responsibility… and we hope and expect that Russia will make its contribution so that people there could live the way they would like to, that is in peace.” During Putin’s visit in Vienna several economic agreements were signed including the agreement for gas deliveries till 2040 between the Gazprom and OMV oil and gas company from Austria. As the former chairman of the Austrian OMV, said during an interview on Austrian TV(ZIB) “ in 50 year Russia always has reliably abided by its treaties.” There is big trust between Austria and Russia and big potential for further cooperation in the field of energy. Austria like Germany cooperates in the Nord Stream II energy project – which also Merkel and Putin had qualified as an important project based on economic interests.
Watch out for provocations during the World Cup in Russia
From different sources it was reported that because of the qualitatively more visible progress in Russian – EU relations, as well as in a reaction to the potential new cooperation between Russia and the EU, there are people who are interested to spoil the World Cup games with major and nasty provocations. One such provocation could for example be a huge German Tabloid that could launch a disgusting anti-Russia campaign, with the aim to intimidate psychologically the population and discredit Russia. The aim of the psychological campaign is to poison the positive image which many foreign guests would probably receive in Russia during the World cup games in beautiful cities such as Nizhniy Novgorod, St Petersburg, Samara, Moscow and Kazan. It’s the attempt to disrupt whatever positive image the normal Russian citizen would potentially leave on foreign guests rather than seeing in the average Russian “a monster” or a “slave”, suffering under a horrendous “empire”. Another possible scenario against which the Russian president Putin in these days is warning, is that from the Ukraine there could be military plans to launch a dirty military escalation in Donbass – which would have consequences for those EU countries that try a new cooperative approach with Russia.