Angela Merkel’s Ultimatum

It is both remarkable and terribly disappointing that the 28 heads of state and government of the EU have adopted the same approach to crisis resolution through ultimatums that launched the greatest cataclysm of European civilization of the 20th century. Read on…





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                                               Angela Merkel’s Ultimatum


                                              by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


If one thing is clear from the official conclusions of the June 26-27th  EU Summit, it is that the heads of state and government of the Union’s 28 Member States have neither a sense of irony, nor an understanding of the history of the Old Continent. I have in mind the Summit’s message for Russia over the Ukrainian crisis:  either render material assistance in the pacification of the Donbas within 72 hours, before the expiration of the  cease-fire extension set by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, or face imposition of harsh economic sanctions directed against key sectors of the Russian economy including energy, banking and defense.

Specifically the Russians were called upon to ensure effective control of their border with Ukraine so that reinforcements and materiel no longer reach the separatists, ensure the release of hostages including OSCE observers, ensure the return to Ukrainian authorities of three border checkpoints now controlled by the separatists and ensure launch of substantial negotiations on the implementation of Poroshenko’s peace – which itself calls for the insurgents to lay down their arms. 

According to informal sources cited by leading Western media, the formulation of this ultimatum was pushed by Angela Merkel, who these days exercises preponderant influence within the EU councils and who otherwise celebrated on the same day her 26-2 victory over David Cameron on the issue of nominating Jean-Claude Juncker to be the next EU Commission President. In her own statement to the press about Russia following the summit, Merkel said: “If no visible progress is made on these points, then we are prepared to take further decisions including drastic measures…We expect progress to come really in the hours ahead.”

The irony in this development is that it came the day after the European Council solemnly commemorated the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I at Ypres, the Belgian town which symbolizes the horrors of The Great War, beginning with the violation of sovereign neutrality and other civilized norms of behavior, and ending in massive loss of life, both civilian and combatants, that bled Europe white. It also came one day before the 100th anniversary of the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that set in train diplomatic and military preparations culminating in the issuance of an ultimatum by Austria-Hungary to Serbia over investigation of the perpetrators of the murder. And it was the failure to satisfy the terms of that ultimatum which triggered the declaration of war on Serbia, leading to a cascade of further declarations of war between parties of the Continent’s hostile alliances and the march to the killing fields. 

The demands of Austria-Hungary on Serbia were politically unrealizable.  Similarly, the demands of the June 2014 ultimatum directed at the Kremlin promoted by Chancellor Merkel are politically unrealizable within the time frame set. 

Merkel’s mention of the need for visible action “in the hours ahead” is, of course, a repetition of the phrasing of the same demands the day before by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. And the authors of this approach to international diplomacy in Washington have a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ approach to their craft. 

The EU-US ultimatum to Russia is unrealizable for two reasons.  First, Vladimir Putin has no more control over the rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk than Petro Poroshenko has over the anti-secessionist irregulars from Pravy Sektor, the Natsgvardiya or the battalion of the oligarch, Dnepetrovsk regional governor Igor Kolomoisky, all of whom are fighting outside the ranks of the Ukrainian army and are pursuing their own interests.  Second, for Putin to knuckle under to Kiev’s demands under Western threat of sanctions would cost him his support both in the broad population and among the Russian elites; it is a formula for ‘regime change’ as prescribed by the Neoconservative formulators of US foreign policy.

It is both remarkable and terribly disappointing that the 28 heads of state and government of the EU have adopted the same approach to crisis resolution through ultimatums that launched the greatest cataclysm of European civilization of the 20th century. It is also exposes the fundamental fallacy of Wilsonian idealism that underlies current US foreign policy, namely the notion that crowned heads are warlike and democratically elected heads are peaceable.   




         © Gilbert Doctorow, 2014




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G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book, Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback and e-book from and affiliated websites worldwide. Also on sale in Sterling and Waterstone’s booksellers, Brussels.