To anyone with eyes to see and a mind to interpret without prejudice the live broadcast of the Macron-Putin broadcast last night, which began at midnight Moscow time, it was evident that the French and Russian presidents were at the end of their tether – exhausted and frustrated with mutual incomprehension after nearly six hours of talks in isolation at opposite ends of a three meter long table with only the translation delivered through ear plugs to keep them alert.
Utter fatigue was clear on the pained face of Emmanuel Macron as he gave his summation of the talks and as he answered journalists’ questions. A man who is never at a loss for words when standing before a microphone, he rattled on, delivering gibberish, for lack of concentration. It was clear that notwithstanding the complexity of the ongoing crisis at the Russian-Ukraine border, he had only one goal for the talks that had been agreed with the European Commission, NATO and Washington before his flight to Moscow: to persuade the Kremlin to begin withdrawal of its military forces so that a de-escalation could be announced to the world.
On Macron’s face we saw in addition to fatigue, strain and animal fear. What could he fear? That he would leave Moscow empty-handed, with no concessions to boast. Indeed, French government spokesmen put lipstick on the pig when they claimed a certain success well after the meeting ended, saying that Vladimir Putin would now order a large part of Russia’s 30,000 soldiers presently in Belarus back to their bases in Russia once the ten day military exercises soon to start are completed. Of course, that was always in the Russian game plan of exercises that prioritize training their Belarus colleagues on the latest Russian military hardware, which they brought with them and which will remain in Belarus to bolster the country’s southern flank.
The whole issue of reducing the Russian troop numbers was dealt with by Macron and his spokesmen as if that by itself would reduce the chances of armed conflict breaking out at any moment. The issue of the 150,000 Ukrainian forces massed at the border with Donbas and armed to the teeth with new Western toys for the boys was not addressed in any way by Mr. Macron, whereas it is precisely that which explains the Russian troop concentrations on their side of the border and explains why the bulk of the Russians are not leaving any time soon. We heard from Macron only upbeat and empty remarks on how the Normandy Format would be continued in further efforts to implement the Minsk Accords.
There was also a measure of animal fear on Macron’s face when he mentioned how disagreeable it is for the Russians to be planning to position nuclear arms in Belarus. Putin denied that such plans are afoot.
For his part, Vladimir Putin was also lacking the usual animation and humor with which he sprinkles his speeches through use of Russian folk expressions. His face was drained of emotion and he was clearly exhausted from 5 hours of interchange with his incredibly ill-prepared and dense interlocutor. He also could have been paying the price of jet lag, considering that he had just come back from a two day trip to Beijing for an eventful meeting with President Xi before the opening of the Winter Olympics.
Kremlin news broadcasters have in recent weeks emphasized that Russia has ‘no one to talk to’ from among Western leaders, who are pygmies compared to their predecessors of just a couple of decades ago. Macron yesterday was a case in point: a finance specialist by training, a former interne at a major brokerage house, he came before the press conference yesterday looking and sounding like some minor stock exchange dealer, totally out of his depth.
Nonetheless, Mr. Putin remained the cordial host to the bitter end, thanking Macron repeatedly for his efforts to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the ongoing crisis.
Meanwhile, also yesterday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Washington meeting with Joe Biden in an effort to show loyalty to his country’s military defender and to dispel suspicions that Germany would not join the enforcement of ‘sanctions from hell’ that the Biden administration is preparing for the eventuality of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. True, in the press conference which followed, Scholz was silent on the question of scuttling Nord Stream 2, but Biden nonetheless claimed the countries were now fully aligned.
One question that was not addressed was one inadvertently raised by Biden himself a couple of weeks ago in what was called a ‘gaffe’ by his handlers and then swiftly buried: what happens if any Russian incursion into Ukraine is very minor? Still more relevant but still unspoken in our media, what happens if the Russian incursion, invasion, air strikes against Ukrainian troops or infrastructure, call it what you will, is a reaction to a Ukrainian armed assault on Donbas threatening to create vast numbers of civilian casualties? What happens if the Russian action is framed in terms of the ‘obligation to defend’ that the United States and its NATO allies invoked when they embarked on their intervention in Libya against the Gaddafi regime? Where will Germany and the EU member states stand then?
In what can only be categorized as a stunt display of frenetic diplomacy that denies the reality of fatigue, jet lag and fuzzy logic, Scholz, Macron and Polish Head of State Andrzej Duda are going to meet this evening to review the results of the talks in Moscow and Washington and to plot further coordinated diplomacy in the long-neglected format of the Weimar Triangle.
The old remark that all foreign policy is ultimately just a projection of domestic policy holds true in all of these European diplomatic undertakings. Each of the principals has his own message to take back to his supporter base at home which far outweighs the prospects for any concrete contribution to Peace in Our Time. For none is this more true than Emmanuel Macron. Every appearance at home and abroad is a vital part of his re-election campaign.
To use a favorite term of former British Prime Minister and possibly future NATO General Director Theresa May, it is “highly likely” that the question of whether there will be war or peace between Ukraine and Russia is outside the control of any of these European civilian leaders and may well be outside the control of Vladimir Putin. The Guns of February or March will be fired, if they are fired at all, by actions taken by military authorities either in Kiev or at the line of demarcation independently of what President Zelensky may wish. The fuse may even be lit by detachments of British or U.S. special forces now circulating near the line of demarcation, also without the specific knowledge of their respective Prime Minister or President just as the February 2014 coup d’etat in Kiev was engineered by a certain State Department officer, Victoria Nuland, without the participation or detailed knowledge of her bosses.
In conclusion, we are involuntarily all watching the denouement of a conflict that has been decades in making, that is as deep rooted and possibly as unmanageable as any of the several cataclysms that shook the Western world in the past hundred and twenty years. A great deal will depend on the intelligence, sang froid and luck of the only “adult in the room” – Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
14 thoughts on “The fatigue factor: the ongoing marathon of European diplomacy is a useless distraction”
Europeans have only themselves to blame for this state of things. The air we breathe, even today and since at least the end of the eighteenth century, is utopian. I sometimes resent our ancestors for being so naive, but I think to myself that my thought is also restricted by the historical epoch in which I live. In the introduction to the letters of Jacob Burckhardt the author writes that Burckhardt,
“…noted that the most significant historical developments at the end of the eighteenth century were the advent of mass politics and the belief that every man’s opinion was of equal worth. The long-term results of this would be the destruction of every vestige of traditional authority, the cheapening of culture, the enthronement of mediocrity at all levels of public life, and the eventual rise of “terribles simplificateurs” the ruthless demagogues who would ride the waves of mass politics and culture to set up a tyranny armed with all the instruments provided by large-scale industrial capitalism, science, and technology.”
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French impotency and EU dysfunction reminds me of this hilarious comedy sketch from Yes, Minister: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvYuoWyk8iU
What is ‘highly likely’ is that the US and UK will covertly do everything in their power to make sure that there is war between the RF and UA. It is after all, ‘in their genes’.
Fatigue, indeed! Putin seemed positively dejected, and one can only surmise how much of it was due to Macron, how much to jetlag, and how much to Xi Jinping’s concerns about Russia’s “techincal-military” steps that were to kick in after the fruitless diplomatic prattling were cut off. Reading through the Joint Statement of Putin-Xi agreement, the Chinese don’t want to go there (no unilateralism, UN and Security Council lecture where Russia got shanghaied just the other day) , Xi of course seeing the Ukraine’s turmoil from far afar and may not actually understand the strong subtext for Putin’s sudden initiatives (the status of undesirables for 14 million Russian speakers in the country), which I believe is a strong factor in the strategy of Kremlin. Did the arrest and trumped-up indictment of Putin’s personal friend Viktor Medvedchuk finally convinced Putin to abandon his passive posture on Ukraine? Clearly, if he had listen to the likes Yakov Kedmi eight years ago, walked into Kiev and “undid” Ms Nuland cookie statecraft overnight, we would not have had to worry about US/UK ethnically engineered Greater Galicia on his doorstep today. Now he faces 20% chance of a nuclear war if he does it this year, or 80% chance of the same later if he calls it off and Nuland, hubby and the Washington think-tank cretins conclude that he was bluffing all along.
“Xi of course seeing the Ukraine’s turmoil from far afar and may not actually understand the strong subtext for Putin’s sudden initiatives (the status of undesirables for 14 million Russian speakers in the country), which I believe is a strong factor in the strategy of Kremlin”
These are some of the most savvy people on this planet, your hypothesis about Xi’s “ignorance” in this matter comes up more than a little short in my pea brain. If you have more than speculation of that caliber to offer, I’m all ears.
I still don’t get the Russian end-game. At the end of the day, the EU has a GDP 10 times that of Russia in nominal terms (which is what matters for trade flows and market size), and the USA matches the EU. The EU accounts for 50% of Russian trade while Russia accounts for 5% of EU trade. Russia is outgunned economically, and push comes to shove Europe can live without the Russian market, without Russian gas and buy LNG from the Middle East and America. Russia on the other hand can’t sell its gas to China even if China wanted it. There is no pipeline capacity and there will not be for at least another 5 years.
The fact that gas sales through the recently announced Sakhalin gas pipeline to China will be denominated in euros demonstrates to me that China doesn’t want to supplant the dollar. Reserve currency status is a poisoned chalice that distorts, de-industrializes and over-financializes the economy of the country with reserve currency status, as can be seen now in the USA and before in the UK. China is perfectly happy to free ride on the USA as long as possible. So Russia is stuck with the dollar and it’s junior partner euro, which gives the West tremendous ability to inflict economic pain on Russia. Russia’s only real recourse is a strong military, but even positing conventional superiority in Eastern Europe over the USA, direct war is not an option for Russia for the same reason it was not an option for the USA in the early 2000s, the other side has thousands of nuclear weapons and nothing is worth the risk of nuclear escalation and Armageddon.
Look up the Russian Federation’s output in steel, aluminum, and titanium vs the West. Add rocket engines onto that for qualitative vs quantitative. Even as the U.S. remains dependent upon Russian Federation petroleum products as well.
US nukes likely don’t work anymore and Putin knows this.
The EU uses over 350 billion cubic metres of gas every year, it simply impossible to find that amount of gas on the world market without using Russian gas. That is a fact the Washington ingrates need to understand. Biden is a fumbling idiot backed by even bigger idiots. We see Johnson and Truss’ humiliating themselves today in Moscow and Brussels, it must be hard work for the Russian diplomatic corps, prostrating themselves for idiots whose only reason for being there is the photo op and to ‘talk big’ for their own domestic audience.
I would disagree a little with the exhaustion factor for VVP, I thought Putin trolled Zelensky wonderfully at the post Macron meeting presser, as he is apt to do with his ‘winged expressions’ on occasion. The Ukrainian president complaining about sticking points on the Minsk accords received a “Like it or don’t like it, but you must endure it, my beauty” As is usual the West didn’t ‘get it’ but one learns to watch out for these things and do ones research.
Here is far better explanation than I could offer:
and who can argue with that!
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You can’t attack us, our GDP is higher than yours! The number of armoured divisions and air wings matters more in geopolitics than GDP figures. Funny that right before WW1 the economics types said the exact same thing. What breathe-taking historical illiteracy.
I believe it was the Russians who first said the US is no longer “agreement capable”. That has not rang more true than now and barring something extraordinary seems to me it will drift leaderlessly and rudderless into war with Russia one way or another.
All of this, all, is about the techno-industrial crown jewel Taiwan. Ukraine? VVP will expend precisely nothing (cf. Michael Corleone) or as close to nothing as possible for Ukraine, but he will demonstrate to China how it’s done. They will learn together.
The best of health to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. May he find or make opportunity to rest well, and a proper course of vitamins and beneficial minerals that his doctors will hopefully prescribe. Same goes to all of the cool heads in the Russian leadership after having taken such gross and egregious decades-long now sustained impugning of their character ever since Russia’s announced rise, Phoenix-like, from so many Western-imposed
(Wall Street-CIA) and NGO (Wall Street-CIA) and their incessant and attendant (NED-CIA) color-revolutionist perturbations.
The entire world basks in the good fortune of having such determined and level-headed Russian Federation leadership on the world stage in this moment. They are much too imbued and infused with historical, first-hand knowledge of what kind of destruction ensues with initiation of all-out conflict; from a lacking compassion and hubris-infused opponent who exists to goad them into a precarious balancing act whilst on the precipice of the one real time actual existential crisis for humanity today—here above… the Final Abyss.
I was heartened today—and got in an on air comment refuting a commentor who was casting aspersions about President Putin from a one-sided (Atlanticist) viewpoint in a show which otherwise had a calm and factual assessment of the Ukraine crisis. The guest being interviewed was Dr Nicolai Petro, I think his words likely caused many of KPFA’s (Pacifica Network) listeners to reconsider much of the *official* empty bombast which afflicts and pollutes—especially unaware listeners/news consumers— in these most trying of times. Peace be ours. And that is all of us—worldwide.
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