When Victoria Nuland, the neoconservative éminence grise of the Obama administration, uttered her now infamous "F—k the EU!" in a phone call with US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, it was a supremely embarrassing moment for Washington. Aside from the scandal of a top US official in referring to our European allies in such vulgar terms, not to mention the ease with which Russian intelligence tapped into presumably secure phone lines, the revelation of growing hostility between the US and the EU was akin to having the ugly domestic disputes of a supposedly happily married couple made public.
Uncle Sam – a wife-abuser? Could this formerly private dispute wind up in Divorce Court?
The behind-closed-doors arguments are out of the closet now that a bipartisan group of the usual suspects in Washington is advocating sending arms to Ukraine to crush a popular rebellion in the eastern part of the country. The other day EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini came out against the arms proposal: the EU, she said, "is doing enough," echoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s warning against the idea that there is a military solution to the Ukraine crisis. Mogerhini was joined by Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, who bluntly stated "Our goal must be a ceasefire, not escalation."
Yet escalation is what Washington is intent on, as exemplified not only by the braying of our bipartisan warmongers in Congress but also by the deliberate stoking of tensions emanating from NATO headquarters. As pointed out in a scathing article in Der Spiegel, the public pronouncements of Gen. Philip Breedlove, top NATO commander in Europe, seem designed to destroy the Minsk agreement and destabilize the shaky ceasefire – and the Germans are getting angry. The piece opens with a telling timeline:
"It was quiet in eastern Ukraine last Wednesday. Indeed, it was another quiet day in an extended stretch of relative calm. The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding.
"On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again ‘upped the ante’ in eastern Ukraine – with ‘well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery’ having been sent to the Donbass. ‘What is clear,’ Breedlove said, ‘is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.’
"German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about…."
The Germans may have been stunned, but they probably weren’t surprised. German intelligence saw no evidence of a Russian military buildup, but this "wasn’t the first time" Breedlove had been guilty of breeding the mistrust that could destroy the Minsk agreement. After all, the Spiegel piece continues, "The pattern has become a familiar one."
With each step taken by the Minsk negotiators toward a ceasefire and a lasting peace, Breedlove has sought to undo the progress made with yet another off-the-wall pronouncement about alleged Russian military intervention that, according to the Germans, has no basis in fact. The Germans are muttering that Breedlove’s provocations are "dangerous propaganda," and wonder aloud if Washington is trying to torpedo Minsk. That’s because Breedlove isn’t a loose cannon: he has powerful allies within the Obama administration.
Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, is a holdover from the administration of George W. Bush, where she served as Dick Cheney’s chief foreign policy advisor and subsequently US ambassador to NATO. She goes farther back than that, however, having served under Strobe Talbott at the State Department during the Clinton years – yes, the same Strobe Talbott who, only the other day, tweeted:
"It’s time to heed a common Russian phrase that #Putin violates with every breath: ‘Call things by their own name.’ We’re in a new cold war."
Here the continuity of US foreign policy since the end of the cold war is dramatized, and Nuland’s career trajectory epitomizes this consistency. The Clinton regime was implacably hostile to the Russians, as the Kosovo intervention demonstrated, but it didn’t end there: Clintonian incursions into Russia’s "near abroad" in Central Asia were formalized by the creation of a special US agency to promote US oil interests in the region, and the regime change operation in Kosovo and Serbia only served to underscore the seriousness with which they approached this project.
With the implosion of the Soviet Union and Russia losing its near abroad, the US moved quickly to advance NATO eastward. Now Nuland is carrying that "rollback" strategy forward with her aggressive rhetoric and interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine: every time she opens her mouth, the Europeans wonder what kind of belligerent propaganda will come out next.
Breedlove’s inaccurate – one might even say lying – assessments of Russian military moves in the region recall the Bush administration’s Iraq talking points in the run up to the invasion. Spiegel points out that when the crisis first broke Breedlove said 40,000 troops were massing on Russia’s border with Ukraine, warning that an invasion was imminent. European intelligence officials were appalled, not because Europe is from Venus, as Nuland’s husband would have it, but because "The experts contradicted Breedlove’s view in almost every respect." As it turned out,
"There weren’t 40,000 soldiers on the border, they believed, rather there were much less than 30,000 and perhaps even fewer than 20,000. Furthermore, most of the military equipment had not been brought to the border for a possible invasion, but had already been there prior to the beginning of the conflict. Furthermore, there was no evidence of logistical preparation for an invasion, such as a field headquarters." [Emphasis added]
And the lies just kept coming. Breedlove told a German paper that there are "regular Russian army units in eastern Ukraine," without citing any evidence. The next day he told the German magazine Stern that they weren’t actually fighters but "mostly trainers and advisors." As to how many of these Russians there were, it depended on what day you asked him: at first, he put the number at "between 250 and 300," and then it escalated to "between 300 and 500," finally making it all the way to 1,000.
Shades of Iraq’s "weapons of mass destruction"!
No one doubts the Russians are backing the "separatists," but to do so with "regular Russian army units" just doesn’t make sense – when there are plenty of civilian volunteers ready, willing, and quite able to take up arms in the rebels’ cause. This is also a problem for Putin, however, since he clearly doesn’t want to annex eastern Ukraine, with all its problems, and with all the blowback it would provoke.
Which brings us to the underlying issue in Ukraine: Russia’s strategy is strictly defensive. Putin’s goal is to maintain a neutral buffer zone between the Russian core and the advance of NATO. For reasons even our hawkiest Russia-haters may understand, if not acknowledge, he doesn’t want to see NATO’s armies poised a few hundred kilometers from Moscow.
Washington’s strategy, on the other hand, is militantly offensive: the goal is to go after the Russians by encircling them and inching ever closer to the heartland. Caught in the middle are the Europeans, who revel in their dream of a continent united and at peace – and are being rudely contradicted by the warlords of Washington, who insist it’s all a pipedream.
The Europeans, however, have only themselves to blame: the Lisbon Treaty, which established an inextricable link between NATO and EU membership, ties them to America’s apron strings. The EU, in short, is not an independent political-military entity, but one inherently dependent on the "Atlanticist" connection, i.e. it owes fealty to Washington. The Germans are stuck with Breedlove, and Nuland, whether they like it or not.
As Stratfor’s George Friedman said in this interview, US foreign policy for the past century or so has been to maintain a balance of power tension in Europe, preventing any one country from achieving dominance, and effectively sabotaging European unity on any basis. Washington is, for this reason, determined to exclude Russia from Europe, and the current campaign in Ukraine – destabilization of the Yanukovych government, the coup, and US support for the new regime’s war on its own rebellious citizens – underscores the unchanging aggressiveness of US foreign policy.
Breedlove’s provocations, Spiegel reports, are all cleared by Washington: he’s not a rogue element, but the representative of a jealous hegemon who brooks no rivals.
The Germans, however, are waking up to the reality of Washington’s domination – because they, after all, will be in the free-fire zone if and when an actual shooting war erupts between Russia and the US. That they will be happy to be America’s pawns in such a deadly game is rather doubtful. If the Strobe Talbotts of this world insist on a new cold war, then we will see a revival of Euro-neutralism – and that’s a good thing. Perhaps the time for a true European declaration of independence is not far – a circumstance in which case Nuland’s "F—k the EU" will take on new meaning.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).