Germany and Russia
The media in Europe are telling us to hate Putin, Russia and the Russians. The occasion for this hostile outburst is the situation in Ukraine, which the West wants to incorporate into the Atlantic Alliance, against Russia’s wishes. Some in Europe however still see that Russia has a right to defend its borders.
For example Germany’s Foreign minister, M. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has said he is against Ukraine joining NATO. In an interview with Der Spiegel, he said he considers “that it is possible for NATO to have a partnership with Ukraine, but not membership.”
He does not believe it is realistic for Ukraine to join the European Union in the foreseeable future, as the economic and political modernization of Ukraine is a “project for a few generations.”
Steinmeier’s comments on Ukrainian membership of NATO are particularly important because he – a social democrat – had been seen as a prominent “westerner” in the German cabinet. There have also been other statements in just the last week from Merkel herself and others (Merkel speaking in Poland on Russia as part of Europe’s future etc.).
The Germans seem to be spurred into non-compliance in the new Cold War by basic economic self-interest; EU trade with Russia is $350bn a year, well over $100bn of that accounted for by Germany (export of machinery, cars etc.). A visitor to a large engineering plant (steel) in the Ruhr a year and a half ago reported that it produced all kinds of interesting things from sophisticated industrial furnace fittings to parts for Audi cars, but also drive and transmission shafts for Russian Railway locomotives.
Even at the time (18 months ago) the biggest worry of the Works Council chairman (a trade unionist) was that politics would undermine their substantial Russian trade. This is a picture that is probably common across German industry. German industry leaders have been vocal in their opposition to the US sanctions campaign, and Putin’s counter-sanctions have proved to be a masterstroke.
France and Russia
Is this pragmatic attitude also present in France?
There is an important pro-Russian current among top level French politicians.
Le Monde newspaper is one of those telling us to hate Putin, but on 17 November as part of a series of articles entitled ‘Putin’s French networks’ it detailed support among politicians in France for Putin, from the left (Parti de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélanchon), to the Socialist Party: Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who is Hollande’s special envoy in Moscow and Jacques Attali (and generally the Gaullists and Mitterandists). In the right coalition UMP (Sarkozy’s party): François Fillon, ex-prime minister, Thierry Mariani (and the old Gaullists in general); Sarkozy himself, at a public meeting on 14 November, said France must deliver the Mistral helicopter carriers ordered in 2010 to Russia. Both Fillon and Sarkozy met Putin personally and that seems to have made a big difference.
The National Assembly has a Franco-Russian friendship society, with 66 members, 2/3 of which are UMP. On the right: Philippe de Villiers and the National Front.
The Russian ambassador in France organised a conference on 1st September about Ukraine, attended by French politicians and top business people as well as members of the Russian Parliament. This was organised by another Franco-Russian association led by Mariani and the head of Russian Railways. The Russian ambassador had been a speaker at a UMP internal meeting the year before.
On 18 November Le Monde described the building of a new Russian Orthodox church in the centre of Paris on the banks of the Seine, including a cultural centre, primary school, Slavic institute, being built by the Russian government.
Putin lost a very rich and powerful French ally when Christophe de Margerie the head of Total was killed in an accident at Moscow airport last October; Margerie was skirting Western sanctions against Russia.
“A staunch defender of Russia and its energy policies amid the conflict in Ukraine, De Margerie told Reuters in a July interview that Europe should stop thinking about cutting its dependence on Russian gas and focus instead on making those deliveries safer.” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/21/total-oil-ceo-christophe-de-margeriekilled-in-moscow-plane-crash-say-reports
So it seems that there is quite a large not anti-Russian current in France, however there are differences with the German situation.
The politicians mentioned above are not in power, except the special envoy to Russia Jean-Pierre Chevenement. There is no telling what Sarkozy and Fillon would do as regards Russia if they get into power at the next elections. In favour of Sarkozy, in 2008 he played a positive role in negotiations between the EU and Russia during the Georgian conflict.
The other difference between Germany and France is public opinion; the visitor to Germany quoted above mentions ‘a general public scepticism about what they [Germans] are being told is happening in Russia and Ukraine’; the same scepticism may not exist in France. Television and press are overwhelmingly anti-Russian.
The newspaper Le Figaro may be an exception.
An article in Le Figaro of 13 November 2014 by Alexis Feertchak (http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/monde/2014/11/13/31002-20141113ARTFIG00154-ukraine-apres-le-mur-de-berlin-le-mur-de-kiev.php) blames Europe’s decision to offer a relationship with Ukraine that excluded Russia as the origin of the disastrous present situation. Setting up Putin and Russia as enemies of the West made public debate in Europe about Ukraine a farce. Well known public figures like Hubert Védrine, Dominique de Villepin, Vladimir Fédorovski, Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, Jacques Sapir or Jean-Pierre Chevènement have stood up against this demonization but with few echoes.
Alexis Feertchak quotes the historian Adler at a conference organized by the Institut Diderot; (Adler’s words are summarized in what follows). Historically there is no Ukrainian nation or state as such. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in 1990, just before the fall of the Soviet Union:
“To speak of the existence since the ninth century of a separate Ukrainian people, speaking a specific non Russian language, is a recent falsification of the truth. Together we come from the noble city of Kiev, cradle of the land of Russia according to the Nestor Chronicle, and source of the light of Christianity. We were governed by the same princes.” [note re language: Klitchko and Poroshenko are not fluent Ukrainian speakers.]
According to Alexandre Adler the common history of the Ukrainians and Russians during the Second World War should not be overshadowed by the joining of a small part of Western Ukrainians with the Nazi regime. This accusation of a reprehensible attitude of Ukraine during WW2 is explained by the fact that historically one part of Western Ukraine was not associated to Russia, but to the Kingdom of Poland and then of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In 1940, some of those who had belonged to this Mitteleuropa, acted with the 3rd Reich. But these acts, which did take place, are in no way representative of Ukraine, or even of Western Ukraine, said Adler.
Ukraine is a bridge, a step towards Russia, as the etymology of its name indicates. Europe must understand that the demands of the Ukrainians for closer cooperation with Europe must take place within a wider political cooperation which includes Russia.
Let us hope that the words of people like the historian Adler and other French public figures join those of German public figures to halt the present dangerous hostility to Russia.
Non interference in other countries policies.
Stephane Le Foll, French Minister for Agriculture and spokesman for the government, said on the occasion of the minister of justice criticizing the judicial ruling in Ferguson, USA: “The U.S. has its own rules and procedures,”. “One shouldn’t comment about what’s going on in the U.S.”
He should be reminded of this when he next spouts about ‘what’s going on in Russia’.