Sunday, February 9, 2014


The latest incident regarding a leaked conversation between Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State, and Geoffrey R. Pyatt, American Ambassador to Ukraine, has further highlighted the deterioration in the bilateral relationship between the United States and the European Union. The recording, in which the Americans made rather unflattering comments about the EU's handling of the Ukraine's showdown, is an other blow to the EU/US partnership.

Many European leaders are shocked by the disparaging tone of the Americans while Washington looks tone deaf, ignoring the rather harsh comments emanating from Brussels or Berlin.
President Putin must have a great time. He is accused by the American media of having had a hand in the posting of the recording by an aide to the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin. Yet again, as was the case in Iran, Syria, and the Snowden affair, President Putin must have another good time seeing the "embarrassment of the riches."  He is masterful at taking advantage of ''soft-power strategy,'' which leaves the other (American) side in a lethal conundrum and looking like some "hard-power" addict worldwide. The inherited KGB savoir faire of the Russian Federation's president (so wrongly assessed by president George Bush) is brilliant.

Obama is out of luck in Europe both with allies and with the Russian competitor. Remember the then-candidate Obama in Berlin addressing enraptured crowds? Today he would find few takers. His benign trip to Brussels next month will not be a miracle cure for restoring trust, partnership or a common denominator in matters such as trade or defense. The more the United States gets close to energy independence, the more the distance might overlap with unwelcome more isolationist tendencies overall. The EU is prey to Russian blackmail since it is dependent on Moscow in such matters as energy (mostly gas but including oil, coal, uranium.)  Germany, since Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (also tapped by the NSA), has played a major role in this ''dependency alchemy."

It is absurd to switch abruptly from the former Siegfried idyll to the current Liebestod in the larger Atlantic family. What we share with the United States is existential, both cultural and strategic. The relationships with Presidents Bush and Obama were never spontaneous even if public opinion in the EU was ready to grant Obama a free ride early on. The bumps in the road are real and Europeans (like Americans, lately) have to come to terms with a rude awakening. The EU sits without hard- power and with a reduced soft-power between (Ras)Putin and Hamlet wandering in the White House. The Europeans start to be perceived as some Hapsburg remake, which doesn't help either. 

There is actually a lot at stake mine de rien. Putin has an agenda and, since he does not encounter that much resistance, he starts to push and perversely recreate the former Soviet sphere of influence. History teaches us that Olympic Games are more than just about Coubertin's ideals. Despite the snub by the US and the generally pathetic criticisms, one would be wiser to look beyond Sochi (as the Chinese do). A successful Olympic show, Putin daring to hold court in the shadow of Dagestan or Chechnya will be yet again an other coup. I hope it will also be a wake-up call for the EU which is ideally suited to negotiate a Ukraine deal, but which had better hurry and no longer procrastinate. The paw of the bear might get agitated after Sochi.

The Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich must be asking himself why he is the victim of some Solomon duel between competing camps which have nothing but disregard for his own dubious relevance in all this.

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