U.S. rings alarm bells for war with Russia as its ranks become more fragile
Last week, Macron took the lead in talks with Russia to the chagrin of Putin as much as Biden; Scholz went in person to Washington to stage his resistance to the closure of NordStream 2 at the White House itself; and on his return, both co-opted and negotiated the Polish position, finally allowing the EU to break NATO's monolithic stance. Biden, plummeting in the US polls, responded by raising the tone and asserting the imminence of a Russian invasion. But a glance at the world press makes it clear that outside AUKUS, the US is encountering increasing resistance from its former allies around the world, from South Africa to Argentina.
Macron in Moscow
Macron and Putin meet in the Kremlin.
Last Sunday Macron started an opening by presenting in the French press his starting positions vis-à-vis Russia. The difference with the White House's approach was obvious. He put on the table the idea of a Finnish-style neutrality for Ukraine by accepting that "the fundamental question ... is to know how Russia coexists with this space of security that is NATO". The core of his message was however addressed more to the EU countries than to the US or Russia.
The recent period has confirmed that when you decide not to engage in talks, which was the choice of the Europeans last year when Chancellor Merkel and I proposed an EU-Russia summit, you cannot solve any conflict. Because then we let others speak in our place.
The US press picked up the French president's words with unease but was very careful not to disqualify French pretensions as had been done for instance in the previous weeks by Spain's El País, more bidenist than American bidenists.
Macron was arriving in Moscow "at his own risk", without the support of the countries of the East or of his traditional southern allies (Italy, Portugal, Romania) who had disengaged from the Ukrainian question by handing over their position to the US and hoping to get something out of it.
Macron's goal is not to "avoid a war" which he does not think excessively likely, but to move the Russian position so that the Kremlin accepts the Franco-German couple, by itself and through the EU as an interlocutor on an equal footing with the US on the future of Europe.
And he could not expect enthusiasm from Putin either. The very scenography of the meeting, which gave rise to all sorts of conspiracy fantasies, expressed it well.
Macron from the first to the last of his proposals to Putin made it clear that he did not really foresee a war and that his real goal was for Moscow to accept France and Germany as main negotiating partners on the future of Europe.
He promised Putin that "new solutions" crafted within the EU would move NATO's position on the substantive issues: INF missile deployment, mutual limitation of military deployments and maneuvers... and expansion of the Alliance to the East. And it agreed to join him in calling for "strict and full implementation of the Minsk agreements" - including autonomy within Ukraine for the Russian-speaking regions - if the Ukrainian issue returned to the "Normandy format", a four-way table of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.
And all this way for the modest price of a gesture: de-escalating maneuvers near the Ukrainian border and postponing joint maneuvers with Belarus. Or to put it another way: Macron offered Putin a victorious exit from the current standoff in exchange for the opportunity to displace the US.
On the return to Paris, the French delegation went overboard with enthusiasm and leaked to the Financial Times an alleged informal compromise between Macron and Putin to advance the French proposal, which the British newspaper put on its front page the next day. But the Kremlin was not in favor of recognizing compromises that would tie its hands without guarantees. Peskov, spokesman for the Russian presidency, was blunt with journalists:
France holds the EU presidency and France is a member of NATO, where Paris has no leadership. In this bloc, the leadership belongs to a completely different country. What kind of agreements can we talk about?Peskov, spokesman of the Russian presidency to journalists, reported by Interfax
France came out of the summit with nothing settled, but as events would show, with just a hint of its intentions, it could still play the game. Everything would depend on its ability to forge a European position distinct from that of the United States. And that would depend, to a large extent, on the perception of both time and the reality of the threat of war among the other European countries.
Scholz in Washington
Biden looks grimly at Scholz during the joint press conference after their meeting at the White House
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Scholz was making his first visit to Washington. To pave the way, he had promised to reinforce the German mission in Lithuania with new troops, although he was adamant about refusing to supply more weapons to Ukraine on the grounds of German law and the majority opinion of the polls.
But what Biden expected from Scholz went much further. Biden wanted Germany to organize the EU countries to sing to the American tune and to show willingness to make "relevant sacrifices" for the "common cause". In other words: that he would pledge to close Nord Stream 2 - which is finished but not open - forever in the event of clashes breaking out between Russia and Ukraine or an invasion.
No wonder the US president is reluctant to be left high and dry by the Germans in the Ukraine crisis. Then not only the Germans, but also he himself, would appear weak in the eyes of the American public. "Joe Biden has made a gamble in relation to Germany," says think tank expert Rathke. "Now everyone in Washington is watching to see whether this gamble pays off politically for him."
When it came to the crunch in Washington, Scholz openly avoided any compromise, both in front of Biden and in front of the media. The press conference after the meeting was strangely violent on the American side and passive-aggressive on the German side.
"If Russia invades, that means tanks and troops cross the Ukrainian border again, then there will no longer be a Nord Stream," Biden said. "We will put an end to it."
Asked exactly how, Biden said, "I promise you we can do it." Mr. Scholz, when asked the same question, did not answer as forcefully. He has been vague about whether he would agree to finish the pipeline project, but on Monday he repeated what he has often said, "We are absolutely united."
Biden says a pipeline from Russia to Germany would not go forward if Moscow invades Ukraine, New York Times.
The most important meeting: Morawiecki in Berlin
Morawiecki, Scholz and Macron in Berlin last Tuesday.
But the most important meeting of the Franco-German offensive was not actually with Putin or Biden, but with Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister.
Poland is, with the Baltic states, the head of the anti-Russian belligerence in the EU. The German refusal to slam the door on Nord Stream 2 and Macron's initiatives had been openly attacked from Warsaw, reaffirmed by the prospect of forging, through the current conflict, a direct and privileged relationship with the US whose first achievement would have consisted in sending 3,000 American soldiers to its soil.
At the famous far-right Madrid summit, Morawiecki not only succeeded in rallying his cohorts from all over the continent against Russia but also called on NATO to "wake up from its geopolitical nap" by taking a more aggressive stance. However, the Atlanticist successes did not compensate for the Polish government's ultra enthusiasm for the US.
Washington was suspicious because attacking Russia is one thing, supporting Ukraine is another. And Polish nationalism is as anti-Russian as it is anti-Ukrainian, so Morawiecki has been very careful about delaying the delivery of arms - few and "defensive" - or committing troops. He feared an electoral base rupture should he be too explicit in his support for Kiev.
With its reluctance to help Ukraine, its "damned" status in the EU and its relations with Trump and the European far right the Polish government, despite its warmongering against Russia, failed to establish the peer-to-peer relationship with Washington to which it aspired.
In reality, Morawiecki, confronted with what he calls the "Fourth Reich" in Brussels and unwilling to provide any material support to Ukraine could only be a hindrance to the US. In Biden's circle, moreover, the relations between the Polish ruling party and Trump are not helping to overcome mistrust. The Polish game is very limited and it did not find its West, a favorable place to prosper its interests. Hence also Warsaw's attempt to bring the Ukrainian issue to the OSCE, in a "vintage" nod immediately dismissed by Russia.
The opportunity was there for Scholz and Macron, ready to unearth the "Weimar format" and decide the future of Europe with a country they are still trying to sanction and discipline from Brussels. In fact the promise of easing or withdrawal of sanctions within the EU became an argument to sell "unity". The slogan "Europe for Europeans" has a curious flavor in that format, somewhat dissonant with the democratic lyric Macron likes so much. But for Berlin and Paris it was worth swallowing a rhetorical toad to twist Biden's arm.
The supposedly "unbreakable unity" of the EU was upheld, but it was now pointing towards Paris, not towards Washington. Last Saturday, the European press opened with the EU's readiness to discuss with Russia, outside NATO, its "security problems".
U.S. ranks beyond AUKUS are breaking formation...
Countries grouped around their main trading partner in 2000 and 2020
The Franco-German strategy has not achieved - at least for the moment - anything resembling a balancing act that would avert, even temporarily, the danger of war. It has, however, begun to produce unexpected cracks between the US and its old allies, which could, if anything, pull in the opposite direction by reassuring Moscow and pushing Washington.
CNN polls in the US showed that the "imminent threat" of a European war was not quite "uniting the nation around the President". Biden was setting new disapproval records and the rift between Republicans and Democrats was not even budging.
The almost immediate reaction of the White House has been to sound the trumpets again and assure anyone who wants to listen to the information coming out of Washington that "an invasion could begin at any moment", that "Russia is not going to wait for the end of the Olympics" and that last Wednesday would be the opening day of hostilities. Once again evacuation orders were given and it was pretended that the outbreak of a war would depend on a video call between Biden and Putin last Saturday.
Stressing "imminence" generates too many doubts even among America's own allies, who by now no longer have the reverential attitude they had towards confidential Anglo-American military intelligence reports prior to the Iraq war. That's why the Kremlin's response last Saturday was a direct hit.
The White House's hysteria is more telling than ever. The Anglo-Saxons need a war. Whatever it takes
Maria Sakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Interfax.
While the Russian threat is real and a massive deployment such as the one already underway is inherently dangerous, Russia's interest is not to invade immediately in order to add to its problems without having achieved anything, but to keep up the tension while negotiating. The paradox is that the US has the same interests, even a little more creaky because only under the direct threat of war in Europe does the US believe it can maintain the initiative and keep the allies minimally disciplined beyond AUKUS.
This ability to discipline on the basis of an external threat, which characterized the early stages of this crisis, is what France and Germany seem to have broken. And it is what is taking hold globally. Despite the pressures and arguments, countries as important as South Africa have refused to condemn Russia or threaten sanctions.
In a media as unsuspicious of anti-Americanism as Clarín (Argentina), we could read last week analyses equating the US "authoritarian drift" to that denounced by Washington in China and Russia; and openly anti-Atlantist articles stating that "what is in crisis in Europe is a security system based on NATO's military power, which has revealed itself to be absolutely anachronistic in the second decade of the 21st century".
And we could go on. Many bourgeoisies in Africa, Asia and South America no longer feel concerned by US strategic interests. China is the main trading partner of many of them and Biden has also made it clear to them that they have no "carrot" to gain but only sticks await them.
...making the situation more unstable in the medium term
However, Biden's difficulties in consolidating a solid bloc around AUKUS and NATO should not make us think that they put war on a more distant horizon. On the contrary, they bring closer the scenario of a string of conflicts, from Taiwan to the Falklands, in which AUKUS and the Russia-China alliance will measure their forces and will decant the surrounding countries by militarizing and increasing tension.
The imperialist conflict cannot be expected to reach "peaceful equilibria" on its own. And when they appear, they will be temporary. The only equilibrium to which capitalism today is oriented towards in the medium and long term is the globalization of war. And there is only one force capable of neutralizing it... if it develops to gain political autonomy.