Macron Seizes the Initiative
I’ve been tracking the rise of France’s 40 year old president since he took office in 2017, referring to himself as a Jupiterian figure. From the start, it was difficult to condemn his self-aggrandizement because of his intelligence and his ability to command attention,and now it’s clear that he is implementing his ambition of becoming the leader of twenty-first century Europe.
After three years of trying to play Pygmalion, helping the American President become the world leader his predecessors were, Macron took to the authority on all things economic and political, the British weekly The Economist, read by movers and shakers around the world to declare in a lengthy interview that NATO is brain dead, and to condemn Europe for continuing to adhere to Atlantic dogma while echoing Washington’s condemnation of misdeeds by Russia that cannot hold a candle to those routinely carried out by Washington.
Angela Merkel’s inability unable to sign on to Macron’s condemnation of a Europe directed by Washington (for Washington’s purposes), ended Macron’s two-year apprenticeship alongside the motherly German leader. Thirty years after the recently celebrated fall of the Berlin Wall, the gap between Europe’s image as the cradle of the Enlightenment and itstwenty-first century relevance has exploded. In 1989, Europe had reluctantly agreed to allow Pershing missiles pointed at Russia to be installed on its territory, hoping that the expected ‘convergence’ of capitalism and communism would allow the two superpowers to stand down before Europe became a nuclear battlefield.
A decade later, Europe began the creation of a union that, with America’s blessing, would replace war with business, and now, the former Rothschild banker denounces it for not becoming a real community. Piling on, he used NATO’s acquiescence to Trump’s green-lighting of a Turkish attack on Syria’s Kurds to declare that the alliance upon which Europe has relied for its security is ‘brain-dead’.
Although the 5’9” French leader wears the mantle of ‘le Grand Charles’ lightly, it is worth pointing out that in 1966, France having perfected its own nuclear weapons, De Gaulle abruptly took it out of the NATO Integrated Command. (The only other European country that had nukes was Great Britain, however, these were not ‘home made’ but the product of an air-tight alliance with the US.)
Who could have predicted that 28 years after the Soviet Union’s demise, the United States would accuse Russia of still being a threat, while being in flagrant violation of written and verbal promises to President Gorbachev by the Reagan administration that NATO would notadvance an inch beyond the border of a reunited Germany? Since 1990, NATO has marched steadily eastward, all the way to Russia’s westward borders, while trying to enroll Ukraine – and eventually Georgia? As the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2016:
“After discussing the issue with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on February 24-25, the U.S. gave the former East Germany “special military status,” limiting what NATO forces could be stationed there in deference to the Soviet Union. Beyond that, however, talk of proscribing NATO’s reach dropped out of the diplomatic conversation. Indeed, by March 1990, State Department officials were advising Baker that NATO could help organize Eastern Europe in the U.S. orbit; by October, U.S. policymakers were contemplating whether and when (as a National Security Council memo put it) to “signal to the new democracies of Eastern Europe NATO’s readiness to contemplate their future membership.”
At the same time, however, it appears the Americans still were trying to convince the Russians that their concerns about NATO would be respected. Baker pledged in Moscow on May 18, 1990, that the United States would cooperate with the Soviet Union in the “development of a new Europe.” And in June, per talking points prepared by the NSC, Bush was telling Soviet leaders that the United States sought “a new, inclusive Europe.”
It’s therefore not surprising that Russia was incensed when Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and others were ushered into NATO membership starting in the mid-1990s. Boris Yeltsin, Dmitry Medvedev and Gorbachev himself protested through both public and private channels that U.S. leaders had violated the non-expansion arrangement. As NATO began looking even further eastward, to Ukraine and Georgia, protests turned to outright aggression and saber-rattling. NATO’S widening umbrella doesn’t justify Putin’s bellicosity or his incursions in Ukraine or Georgia. Still, the evidence suggests that Russia’s protests have merit and that U.S. policy has contributed to current tensions in Europe.”
Published two months before the 2016 annual NATO Summit, this article by an international security expert suggested that NATO’s ‘deepening ties to Ukraine and Georgia are a major source of Russian anxieties’. Far from heeding this wisdom, the US, with Europe in tow, began condemning Russia for supporting Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern majority, as well as the referendum in which Crimeans voted to return to Russia, referring to both actions as ‘invasions’. Predictably, an obedient media glosses over the fact that in 2014, via the color revolution known as the Maidan, the US installed in Kiev proud descendants of militiamen who aided Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in the hopes of gaining Ukraine’s independence, and which Russian-speakers rejected by forming two independence-seeking ‘people’s republics’ (Donetsk and Lugansk), which Moscow supports militarily, while never moving into Ukraine proper.
President Macron is posing the crucial question: when NATO hosts its annual summit next week, will Europe end its participation in the Cold War? His capsule take on history, while not quite accurate, suggests why it should:
“[Russia is] a huge country with a feeling of being besieged from everywhere. President Putin experienced terrorism before we did, strengthening its political structure during the Chechen wars, but then he said: “It’s coming at us from the West”.
With that statement, Macron collapsed a thousands years of history: in reality, the West has been ‘coming at’ Russia since 1242, when Alexander Nevsky famously defeated the Teutonic Knights on Lake Peipus, who were eventually followed by Napoleon and Germany (twice), always via ‘the Eastern European corridor’. However, his reading of Europe’s current challenge is right: he wants the EU to proceed step by step to transform its relationship with Russia:
“What guarantee does [Putin] need? Is it in essence an EU and a NATO guarantee of no further advances on a given territory? What are their main fears? What are ours? How do we approach them together? Which issues can we work on together? Which issues can we decide no longer to attack each other on, if I can put it that way? On which issues can we decide to reconcile?
Referring to the afternoon during which he hosted Vladimir Putin at Fort Bregancon, his official southern residence, (taking a page from the Russian President’s habit of receiving important guests in Sochi), he signaled: “We are sharing, we have more discussions. And I think it’s very productive.
Unremarked by the media, Emanuel Macron has also adopted Vladimir Putin’s policy of bringing antagonists together. Skeptical as usual, the Economist asks: “And when you speak to your counterparts in Poland and the Baltic States about this vision, what do they say?”
“I can’t blame the Poles. They have a history, a relationship with Russia, and they wanted the American umbrella as soon as the wall fell. Things won’t happen overnight, but having a strategic vision of Europe means thinking about its neighborhood and its partnerships.”
Having tried for three years to make a statesman out of the American president, Macron is turning that failure into a roadmap for Europe’s future.
Deena Stryker is a US-born international expert, author and journalist that lived in Eastern and Western Europe and has been writing about the big picture for 50 years. Over the years she penned a number of books, including Russia’s Americans. Her essays can also be found at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.