It would be understandable if the French were getting a little dizzy these days, what with their lurching back and forth on the U.S. government’s Beloved-Ally Meter between “Shits the Bed, Stupid Frog Surrender Monkeys” and “Most Excellent; I Would Not Even Mind if a Frenchman Moved Into my Neighborhood”. The last time they experienced the latter rating was throughout the reign of Sarko the American, the son of a Hungarian immigrant who rose to become Monsieur le President; admired and envied by fellow European leaders for his taste in expensive watches and beautiful women, and regarded with benevolent affection by that demographic among the American public that knew Europe was not a country (sorry, Mrs. Palin). Sarko knew how to walk the walk and talk the talk, and his eagerness to go straight for the no-fly zone and airdrop weapons to rebels without consulting NATO allies made American policymakers applaud his aggressive audacity. Sarko could be counted upon in the circle of global movers and shakers to support the American Way, because he believed in it. If les imbeciles did not do as they were told, why, you gave them one chance to straighten up and fly right. If they didn’t take it, allons-y, NATO!! (Yes, I know it’s OTAN in French, but too many people would not recognize it) Leaders make people do things they would not always do if the choice were left up to them – which, naturellement, it would be foolish to do – because they are too shortsighted and stupid to act for their own good. Yulia Latynina must have loved Nicolas Sarkozy, although I don’t know that I ever read an opinion of him from her, because he embodies every single quality of leadership that she prizes – wealth, arrogance, sociopathy, indifferent education and huge ears.
Just lately, the French have sunk progressively in western opinion downward past “Throw Them Under the Bus” and toward “Shits the Bed”, mostly due to the unpleasant surprise that is Monsieur Hollande, the current leader and Grave Disappointment. He got off to a good start with some rousing pugnacious talk against Russia during his campaign speeches, and good things were expected of him even though he was supposed to be a socialist (because, face it, nobody who matters really gives a toss what happens to the dozy population so long as they vote the right way and keep the complaining to a manageable level). However, he soon revealed his shortcomings in a variety of ways – chief among them his complete inability to stifle dissent among the proles – and went completely off the reservation with his decision to sell French Assault Carriers of the MISTRAL Class to Russia. He compounded this folly by insisting on going ahead with the sale even when the United States government hinted in terms that even a French socialist blockhead should be able to grasp that they thought it would be best if the sale were canceled in the most dramatic fashion possible, perhaps with a nice speech.
Which brings us to the current state of affairs, in which the happy party has ended tout en larmes, in tears, and American political figures accuse the French of being sneaks who are the world’s second-best at stealing American technological secrets (after The Heathen Chinee) from the laptops of visiting American businessmen, whilst they are tucking into a plate of the buttery merde the French call food, down in the restaurant. I swear, if some enterprising American would just open up a stall that sold decent pork rinds, funnel cakes and deep-fried pickles in Paris, half those poofy Frog joints would have to shut down. But I digress. Anyway, with all the contre-français vitriol blowing Europe-ward from the Last Remaining Superpower, it is small wonder that la République strikes back. And instinctively, she rubs salt in the USA’s wounds by attacking it through a particularly tender weakness – its comical, embarrassing and senseless Russophobia. Read on, as Olivier Zajec skewers the west in Le Monde, with typically Gallic sarcasm and mockery. From the original French,
The Good, The Bad and The Crimea – The Anti-Russian Obsession
With the annexation of the Crimea to Russian territory, finalized on the 18th of March by Mr. Vladimir Putin, and the sanctions imposed against the Kremlin, the Ukrainian crisis has taken on the dimensions of a geopolitical earthquake. To understand this conflict involves the integration of all the viewpoints of all the players. But in the embassies of the West, moral proclamations often override analysis.
In the following weeks, the media’s treatment of events in Ukraine brought us confirmation; for western diplomacy’s part, it was not so much an imbalance in interests and perceptions of the actors as it was an historic clash between Good and Evil.
Russia lends itself marvelously to this scenario, which has the merit of simplicity. For many commentators, this is already a barbaric semi-Mongol state governed by Cossacks and run by KGB aspirants in the service of neurotic tsars who dabble in the icy waters of self-centred calculation. Reclusive, cut off from their time, autocrats slowly moving pieces on ivory chessboards instead of reading The Economist. From time to time they run a nuclear submarine, solely for the pleasure of polluting the Barents Sea, and await invention of an illegal referendum in their “near abroad” in pursuit of recreating the Soviet Union.
If we gather such platitudes written on this theme in the western press – not only since the commencement of the Ukrainian crisis, but for the past 15 years – this colourful folktale is what the ordinary reader will internalize about the actual politics of the Russian Federation. This global negative perception devolving into caricature nurtures a well-anchored tradition.
It is sometimes based on analysis which underlines the totalitarian and “false” imperatives of the Russian culture, sometimes on implied equivalencies between Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin – a treasured theme of French editorialists and neoconservative American think tanks. It has its roots in the tales of European travelers of the Renaissance, who already fostered a reconciliation between the Russian “barbarians” and the ferocious Scythians of antiquity.
The events of the Maidan in Kiev offer an example of failed analysis induced by demonization. Divided linguistically and culturally between east and west, Ukraine cannot guarantee its real borders and maintain an ongoing balance between Lviv and Donetsk, respective symbols of its European and Russian poles.
Marrying either would be to deny fundamental roots, while inviting the point of no return of partition like Czechoslovakia. She is an eternal geopolitical fiancée.
Ukraine cannot “choose”. It is, accordingly, pleased to be offered expensive rings – $15 Billion offered by Russia in December 2013, and $3 Billion by the European Union contingent with signing the aborted association agreement. Each suitor offers her revocable assurances: the Kharkov Accord which, in 2010, extended until 2024 the rental of the Sevastpol naval base by Russia, or the rental of arable farmland by European agricultural magnates. In reducing this geocultural ménage à trois to a forced marriage with Moscow, experts who have succumbed to what can only be called the Anti-Russian Obsession reveal analytical shortfalls. Those who reproach Mr. Putin for reducing everything to the narrow field of power politics showcase their own no less reprehensible paralysis in limiting their narrative horizon to the absorption of Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic community.
Contrary to what has been written, rupture of the internal balance of this fragile nation did not take place February 27th, the date of seizure of control of the Parliament and government of Crimea by armed men – a piece of theatre which would be replicated in Mr. Putin’s enabling of the flight of Mr. Yanukovych on February 22nd. In fact, the tipping point came between these events, precisely on February 23rd, with the absurd decision of the new management of Ukraine to abolish the status of Russian as a second official language in the eastern regions – a document that the interim president has so far refused to sign. Has anyone ever seen the condemned man whipping on the cart-horses himself?
Mr. Putin could not dream of better than this nonsense to enable his Crimean maneuver. The uprising which set in motion the fall of Yanukovych (elected in 2010) and the departure of Russophone Crimea from the control of Kiev is only the last demonstration so far of the cultural tragedy that is this Eastern Belgium of Ukraine.
In Donetsk as in Simferopol, Ukrainian Russophones are generally less sensitive than they say to the propaganda of big brother Russia: reading with ironic fatalism has become second nature. Their aspiration to the rule of law and an end to corruption is the same as that of their fellow citizens of Galicia. Mr. Putin is well aware of this. He also knows that these people, who value their language, will not trade Alexander Pushkin and memories of the Great Patriotic War for a subscription to The Rules of the Game, the journal of Bernard-Henri Lévy. In 2011, 38% of Ukrainians spoke Russian at home. But the adventurous and vengeful decision of February 23rd lent Moscow’s speech the ring of truth. For eastern Ukraine, the problem is not so much that the new national government came to power by overthrowing the elected president as it is that its first decision gave the nod to only half its citizens.
Bipolar Fantasies and Spy Novels
It was that day that the Maidan lost Crimea, which nobody forgot had been “gifted” to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Krushchev. Hence the remark by Mikhail Gorbachev on March 17th, following the plebiscite by the Crimean population of a reunion with Russia; “If, at the time, Crimea was joined to Ukraine in accordance with Soviet law without asking the opinion of the people, today the people have decided to correct this error. We should welcome it and not announce sanctions.” This proposal was like a cold shower in Brussels, where in coordination with Washington a series of retaliatory measures had been prepared (right-to-travel restrictions and freezing of assets of Ukrainian and Russian officials).
If what Russia wants is unjustifiable, it would be interesting to know the reasoning before the condemnation, if necessary. Especially considering Ukraine could lose more than Crimea, if by chance the prolonged visits of the so-courteous Victoria Nuland pushed her to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Certain strongmen in the new government, of which four ministers are from the ultranationalist party Svoboda, have seized upon this idea.
Maybe it’s time to ban the use of “cold war” in articles dedicated to Russia. Historically ineffective, this recourse is used mostly to justify hardened Pavlovian bipolar fantasies. John McCain, veteran Republican candidate for the White House and recognized international expert of Arizona, gave a notable example in characterizing Mr. Putin as a “Russian imperialist KGB appartchik” who is emboldened by Mr. Barack Obama’s “weakness”. Who, doubtless too occupied by the health insurance of his fellow citizens, does not realize that “Crimean aggression encourages other aggressors, from Chinese nationalists to al Qaeda terrorists and Iranian theocrats”. What to do? “We need to reset ourselves morally and intellectually”, responds former running mate Sarah Palin, to prevent Putin’s overshadowing the world and slaughtering humanity. Speech that denounces the theocrats, that is no less abusive of the theological register.
In Washington and Brussels, in a neighbourly fashion, it seems to be the gossip to blow on the Ukrainian embers in place of making them subside. Apart from these excesses, the fearless Angela Merkel telephones Putin in Russia.
There are a couple of interesting things about this; one, we are getting back to a tone of hauteur on the part of the Europeans where the USA is concerned, and one that mocks their political figures as self-righteous hypocrites. Coupled with the frosty reception Yatsenyuk received in Aachen, where a smallish but very vocal crowd called him a fascist and a terrorist and carried signs which said he was not welcome, this strongly suggests the populations of the major European nations are getting fed up with their leaders’ shameless bootlicking and their support for a government which includes fascist nationalists and cannot even speak politely to Russia. The USA will not dare to continue bullying France and Germany while it relies on the UK to be its anchor in Europe, because England is nowhere near the big noise in European politics its leaders believe it is.
For another, the entire spectrum of backers of the Ukrainian government is willing to stipulate that it was the foolish decision to abolish the protection granted the Russian language which brought the roof down on their heads. Quite apart from that being true, it says a couple of other things; one, if everything was going well in Ukraine, they would not even be making excuses for things going badly. Two, they are happy to go with that as the reason because it was a decision the west had nothing to do with, and was entirely that of the coup government. This suggests they would withdraw their support for the Ukrainian government if a viable alternative which allowed them to save face appeared.
It is unlikely we are looking at the beginnings of a major European alignment, but there is always the chance that the United States in its brashness and overconfidence will overreach and say or do that one wrong thing. I really think that’s all it would take, because the mood is ugly in Europe right now and we have already seen some tectonic shifts.