By ANDREI AKULOV
The prospects for improvement of Russia-US relations become a matter of grave concern for European politicians. With Donald Trump’s «America First» policy, Europe may be left on its own. The calls for lifting the sanctions against Russia are getting louder – loud enough to make this issue become a part of EU’s shaping external strategy.
Italy’s former Prime Minister and European Commission ex-President Romano Prodi called on Europe to scrap immediately the anti-Russian sanctions, rather than wait for US president Donald Trump to do it first. His opinion on the sanctions is very illustrative. According to the patriarch of European politics, «The fact that it is necessary to lift the sanctions with Russia immediately. I am deeply convinced of this. You can sacrifice themselves for the sake of reaching a consensus, but when neither of which Solidarity has no question, there is no point in continuing to fight. One wise Calabrian proverb says, who pretend to be sheep, the wolf will eat that. First you need to play the card of not allowing American to occupy a privileged position in its relations with Russia».
Confusion reigns in Germany. Trump attacks Berlin despite the fact that Germany has always been loyal to Washington. It was the first to impose sanctions on Russia, even though it was contrary to its own immediate interests. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned of a «drastic radicalization» in American politics and said Berlin stood ready to fill the void left by an isolationist Washington. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current Minister for Foreign Affairs and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), believes that «by choosing Donald Trump, the old world of the 20th century is over». «The order of the 21st century and the way the world of tomorrow will look is not settled; it is completely open […] I know we have to adjust to troubled times, to some unpredictability and new uncertainties», Mr. Steinmeier wrote in his piece published by Bild on January 23.
Other Europeans see things in the same light. «Hostile inauguration speech. We can’t sit around &hope for US support & cooperation. Europe must take its destiny & security in its own hands», Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister, wrote on Twitter in his comments on Donald Trump’s inaugural address. Speaking after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 23, the frontrunner in France’s presidential election Francois Fillon said, «European Union sanctions on Russia are pointless, warning Russia and the United States under Donald Trump could forge links that exclude the EU». He warned against US President Donald Trump talking with Russia at Europe’s expense. «It would be damaging for Europe if Trump went above our heads, which is not inconceivable», the presidential hopeful stressed.
As one can see, European political heavyweights emphasize that Europe needs drastic changes in its relationships with the US and Russia. The US may belittle the EU by using the sanctions as a bargaining chip to make what President Trump calls «good deals». First Washington made the EU introduce the sanctions detrimental to its economy. Then the US would «allow» the EU to lift the restrictive measures as fresh winds started to blow in Washington! Thus, the US benefited from making Europe impose the sanctions and now it will reap the full advantage derived from making Brussels lift them! From point of view of geopolitical interests, in both cases the US will gain to make Europe lose.
This scenario is quite feasible. To prevent it from happening, the EU must move really fast to be one step ahead of Trump. By restoring normal relationship with Russia, Brussels will gain as a geopolitical actor. As a result, it will have a much more advantageous position to start from when it comes to shaping its new relationship of new configuration with Washington.
It would be a right thing to do at the time the «establishment» forces are under attack from all sides by the right and the left. The points of criticism include immigration policies, the integration process going too fast to make countries lose national identity and anti-Russian sanctions that have resulted in economic damage without exerting any influence whatsoever on Russia’s foreign policy. This is the time when Europe is at crossroads facing the prospects of most drastic changes since WWII. This is also the time when the «big brother» is intent to leave it fend for itself.
Mr. Trump has never promised anything to Europeans and he is adamant in his desire to change the existing order of things. The incoming elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany are going to undermine the position of ruling elites. Looks like Romano Prodi hit the nail right on the head – there is no time to lose. The time to normalize the relations with Moscow is now.