The Russians are displaying more maturity and a stronger nerve over Ukraine. Do they suspect there is no longer any such animal as the West? And does Merkel want to change sides? An analysis from The Slog.
Whether “the West” likes it or not, the Russian deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov, pulled a masterstroke of persuasion yesterday when he demanded that the MH17 black box recordings be published in full. In this context, I do not use the word ‘propaganda’, and therein lies the genius of his move: for most people’s assumption will be that Antonov would never make the demand if he thought that there was the remotest chance the recorder would accuse the Russians of involvement in the shooting down of the Malaysian Boeing.
There’s a cynical particle inside me, of course, that wonders if Mr Antonov already knows that the black box is (a) missing (b) inconclusive or (c) has been snaffled by Moscow. But I doubt all that – otherwise he would’ve made the call much earlier. The deputy defence minister has put “the West” on the spot.
Except he hasn’t in terms of mass communications, because the vast majority of people seem to me not to have noticed his demand. But neverthless, the contrast between “Western” press hysteria and the relatively calm assurance of Putin and his entourage is there for all the objective folks to see quite clearly. Today’s screamer from the Daily Telegraph insists that ‘Ukrainian volunteer battalions claim “hundreds” of their men have been killed and dozens taken prisoner after pro-Russian forces reneged on an agreement to allow them to withdraw from a besieged town 20 miles east of Donetsk’. The entire thing is hearsay that comes under the heading of “they would say that wouldn’t they?”.
You may have spotted that I’ve put ‘the West’ in inverted commas three times above. This is because my one formative insight this Monday morning is to wonder if the term The West means anything any longer. As I’ve posted before, it is clear that Berlin is not enjoying any of this EU/US pressurising of the Russians. It is equally clear (if 35 contacts around the EU are anything to go by) that Europeans with a functioning brain have – at the very least – doubts about what they’re being told…and in almost every case, see Germany’s idea of a federal solution in the Ukraine as perfectly sensible. More generally, I have to add that they regard the idea of “going to war” over Ukraine as ridiculous bordering on surreal, and an obvious bluff. I agree with them wholeheartedly: Barroso talking of a ‘point of no return’ only affirms my conviction that the universal mediocrity of EC officialdom is the only environment in which this former pro-Moscow booby could ever thrive.
All of which makes me doubt if there is any such thing in 2014 as The West. The dislike of American commercial imperialism so strongly expressed by Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s has long since spread across Europe, and although British governments continue to spout “special relationship” at every opportunity, I’d be prepared to bet that – were there to be an Ashton Poll tomorrow – the majority would wish Westminster to be much less closely aligned to Washington. Certainly, there is no doubt in my mind that inside the Chancellery, the key players are fed up to the back teeth of knee-jerk US energy-supply obsession. Merkel in particular (I’m told) has several times asked her aides rhetorically if President Obama has spotted that the EU has a bigger problem in that area…but seems less willing than Washington to blow up the planet in pursuit of a solution.
In many ways, the Ukraine tit-for-tat is a close replay of the Syrian saga, during which blatant attempts by the US State Department to whitewash the Muslim Brotherhood and blacken Assad’s Alawhites became so silly in the end, we were asked to believe that the Syrian leader was both about to surrender at any moment and busy alienating a traditional ally (Turkey) by bombing its airfields. When Recep Erdogan tried to pump up that particular balloon further, his citizens and poll advisers quickly stuck a pin in it.
I hold no brief for Putin, or for Bashar Assad: and as regular Sloggers know, the simplistic support for Hamas is a phenomenon I regard as akin to claiming Evangelos Venizelos could cross the Atlantic on a lawnmower. But equally, I regard Netanyahu as a necessary evil – as do many Israelis, by the way – and have long since ceased to believe anything uttered by John Kerry, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
I do not believe I am atypical in this regard. So I ask again, ‘What exactly is The West in 2014?’.
For me, it looks like this: an America increasingly out of step with its allies, a Britain out of step with the EU, an Australia heavily dependent on China as a customer, a Russia keen to move closer to Beijing, a Japan looking after Number One as always, a Germany tired of America and ClubMed – and an utterly divided EU on the subject of neoliberal austerity.
Looked at from this perspective, exactly who are all these clowns speaking on behalf of when they warn Russia of dire consequences: the Greeks, who have never trusted the US? The Hungarians, who see Brussels as merely an agent of globalist colonialism? The British, whose dash towards UKip gathers momentum? The French, whose ruling Party has a large minority against Brussels-am-Berlin economic policy that is spookily close to the views of Marine LePen? The Italians, who display – with every month – a growing desire to exit the euro?
I think not. Rather, they speak – as always these days – for puffed-up functionaries, deeply disturbed globalists, panicky bankers, and the eclectic gestalt that goes to make up what most people these days casually call The Elite.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, the Ukraine and Syria would not be so much as a pinpoint on the global radar screen if our species wasn’t still dependent on fossil fuel energy. We remain dependent on that energy form because, over some forty years or more, the US oil business and the Saudis have done pretty much everything in their power to maintain and nurture that dependence. Given that history, the Russians hold both the best and worst of the cards: they have an energy deal with China and the power to cut the gas supply to Europe; but equally, they face a world depression in which the demand for that energy is (for the first time in the last two months) now visibly falling.
That balance is what all this bollocks is really about. Call me naive, but I do not believe any Government anywhere has either the balls or the mandate to start a war right now. This is 2014, not 1914: there are no hard and strong alliances to dictate a timetable to war, there is nowhere near enough jingoism to kick-start any enthusiasm, and above all there is no longer something on can realistically call The West….just a lot of increasingly corporacratic troughers on the make.
You need solidarity and certainty to start big wars. It is the sole argument I can find in support of division. With a West so divided, we The People should should be planning the reversal of corporatocracy, not lapping up main-media nonsense about never turning back from points of no return.