Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers
A significant crack has been unexpectedly opened in the wall of Europe’s disciplined obedience to the United States. I’m not only referring to the possible long-term consequences for U.S.-European relations in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, but the unlikely blow against Washington’s information war on Moscow delivered by Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who a week ago shockingly accused the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of “war-mongering” against Russia.
Since the Bush administration’s twisting of events in the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, which the E.U. blamed on Georgia, Western populations have been subjected to the steady message that Russia is a “threat” to the West and is guilty of “aggression.” This reached a peak with the false narrative of events in Ukraine, in which blatant evidence of the West’s complicity in a violent coups d’état was omitted from corporate media accounts, while Russia’s assistance to eastern Ukrainians resisting the coup has been framed as a Russian “invasion”.
The disinformation campaign has reached the depths of popular culture, including the EuroVision song contest and sports doping scandals, to ensure widespread popular support for U.S. hostile intentions against Russia.
The Russian “aggression” narrative, based largely on lies of omission, has prepared the way for the U.S. to install a missile-shield in Romania with offensive capabilities and to stage significant NATO war games with 31,000 troops on Russia’s borders. For the first time in 75 years, German troops retraced the steps of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
U.S. Designs on Russia
The U.S. is eyeing a post-Putin Russia in which a Wall Street-friendly leader like Boris Yeltsin can be restored to reopen the country to Western exploitation. But Vladimir Putin is no Yeltsin and has proven a tough nut for the U.S. to crack. Washington’s modus operandi is to continually provoke and blame an opponent until it stands up for itself, as Putin’s Russia has done, then accuse it of “aggression” and attack in “self-defense.”
In this way, Washington builds popular support for its own version of events and resistance to the other side of the story. Unfortunately it is not a new trick in the U.S. playbook.
“The statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception”, wrote Mark Twain.
So suddenly, after many years of an air-tight, anti-Russia campaign believed unquestioningly by hundreds of millions of Westerners, comes Steinmeier last week blurting out the most significant truth about Russia uttered by a Western official perhaps in decades.
“What we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation further through saber-rattling and warmongering,” Steinmeier stunningly told Bild am Sontag newspaper. “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken.”
Instead Steinmeier called for dialogue with Moscow. “We are well-advised to not create pretexts to renew an old confrontation,” he said, saying it would be “fatal to search only for military solutions and a policy of deterrence.”
In keeping with the U.S. propaganda strategy, the U.S. corporate media virtually ignored the remarks, which should have been front-page news. The New York Times did not report Steinmeier’s statement, but two days later ran a Reuter’s story only online leading with the U.S. military’s rejection of his remarks.
NATO General: Russia is No Threat
Just a day after Steinmeier was quoted in Bild, General Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s military committee, dropped another bombshell. Pavel told a Brussels press conference flat out that Russia was not at a threat to the West.
“It is not the aim of NATO to create a military barrier against broad-scale Russian aggression, because such aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing,” he said.
What? What happened to Russian “aggression” and the Russian “threat?” What is the meaning then of the fear of Russia pounded every day into the heads of Western citizens? Is it all a lie? Two extraordinary on-the-record admissions by two men, Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Europe’s most powerful nation, and an active NATO general in charge of the military committee, both revealing that what Western officials repeat every day is indeed a lie, a lie that may be acknowledged in private but would never before be mentioned in public.
Two years ago I was in a background briefing with a senior European ambassador at his country’s U.N. mission in New York and could hardly believe my ears when he said talk about Russia’s threat to Eastern Europe was “all hype” designed to give NATO “a reason to exist.” Yet this same ambassador in public Security Council meetings would viciously attack Russia.
But the hype is about more than just saving NATO. The fear campaign feeds the American and European military industries and most importantly puts pressure on the Russian government, which the U.S. wants overthrown.
Were these remarks made out of the exasperation of knowing all along that the Russian threat is hype? Were they made out of genuine concern that things could get out of hand under reckless and delusional leaders in Washington leading to a hot war with Russia?
Neither man has been disciplined for speaking out. Does this signal a change in official German thinking? Will German businessmen who deal with Russia and have opposed sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine, which were forced on Germany by the U.S., be listened to?
Were Steinmeier’s remarks a one-off act of rebellion, or is Germany indeed considering defying Washington on sanctions and regime change in Moscow? Is the German government finally going to act in Germany’s own interests? Such a move would spark a European defiance of the United States not seen since the days when Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO in 1966 to preserve French independence.
The last time European governments broke with Washington on a major issue was the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Then France and Germany joined Russia on the U.N. Security Council in blocking the war’s authorization (although Britain supported it). But France and Germany then voted for a resolution several months later that essentially condoned the invasion.
It’s Up to the European Public
One has to ask whether a conditioned German public is ready to see through the lies about Russia. Last November, I flew from St. Petersburg to Berlin and discussed this very question with a number of well-educated Germans.
I had visited Russia for the first time since 1995, 20 years before to the month. Those were the days of the Yeltsin-Jeffery Sachs Russia, of the unbridled neoliberal capitalism of the Wall Street-oligarch alliance that plundered the country leaving millions of Russians destitute. Outside train stations I saw homeless encampments replete with campfires. Policemen were stopping motorists for bribes. I ran from two men intent on robbing me until I lost them in a Metro station. That’s the Russia the neocons in Washington and the knaves and buccaneers on Wall Street want to see again.
The Russia I saw in St. Petersburg and Moscow, 20 years later, was orderly and prosperous, as modern as any European city. It is a testament to Russia’s resistance to American attempts to restore its political and financial control. Russia is a capitalist country. But on its own terms. It is fully aware of American machinations to undermine it.
In Berlin I met several Germans, educated, liberal and completely aware, unlike most Americans, of how the United Sates has abused its post-World War II power. And yet when I asked them all why there are still U.S. military bases in Germany 70 years after the war and 25 years after the Cold War ended, and who the Americans were protecting them from, the universal answer was: Russia.
History shows European fears of Russia to be completely overblown. Germany and other Western powers have invaded Russia three times in the last two centuries: France in 1812, U.S., Britain and France in the 1918 Russian Civil War, and Germany again in 1941. Except for Imperial Russia’s incursion into East Prussia after war was declared on it in 1914, the reverse has never been true.
In his memoirs Harry Truman admitted that false fear of Russia was the “tragedy and shame of our time” during the Cold War that he had much to do with in part to revive the U.S. post-war economy with military spending. George Kennan, the State Department official who advised a non-military containment of the Soviet Union, conceded as early as 1947 that Soviet moves in Eastern Europe were defensive and constituted no threat. In the 1990s, Kennan also decried NATO’s expansion towards Russia’s borders.
With its vast natural resources, Russia has been the big prize for the West for centuries, and is still today in neocon-driven Washington. But Germany, especially, has benefited from trade with Russia and has no need to join the U.S. imperial project.
The British voters’ decision, days after Steinmeier’s extraordinary remark, could herald significant change in Europe, which may be approaching an historical junction in its relationship with the United States. Growing anti-E.U. sentiment has spread across the continent, including calls for similar referenda in several countries.
Britain has been called Washington’s Trojan horse in the E.U. The thinking is that without Britain, the E.U. would be freer to chart its own course. But as Alexander Mercouris explained here, Obama bypasses London to call Merkel directly with his demands. Still, removing Britain’s voice from the E.U., though more crucially not from NATO, opens space for more independent voices in Europe to emerge.
“I worry that we will have less clout on our own,” former British Ambassador to the United States Peter Westmacott told The New York Times. “In the future, we won’t have as much influence on Europe’s response to Putin’s transgressions, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or the E.U.’s foreign and security policy. … And we will be less able to ensure it is U.S.-friendly.”
But that could be a good thing. If German leaders conclude the United States is pushing Europe into a disastrous war with Russia, could we see a Charles de Gaulle moment in Berlin? Merkel doesn’t seem to have it in her. Three days after Steinmeier’s remarks, she told a news conference she favored increased German spending for NATO to counter Russian “threats.”
Instead it will require a revolt by an awakened citizenry against the E.U. and elected European governments that refuse to stand up to Washington, mostly because it benefits their own class interests, to the detriment of the majority.
The Future of the EU
European social democracy had been probably the best social and political system ever devised on earth, maybe the best that is humanly possible. Europe could have been a model for the world as a neutral power committed to social justice. As late as 1988, Jacques Delors, then president of the European Commission, promised the British Trades Union Congress that the E.U. would be a “social market.”
Instead the E.U. allowed itself to be sold out to unelected and unaccountable neoliberal technocrats now in charge in Brussels. European voters, perhaps not fully understanding the consequences, elected neoliberal national governments slavishly taking Washington’s foreign policy orders. But Brexit shows those voters are getting educated. Unity is a great ideal but E.U. leaders have refused to accept that it has to benefit all Europeans.
The E.U.’s Lisbon Treaty is the only constitution in the world that has neoliberal policies written into it. If it won’t reform — and the arrogance of the E.U.’s leaders tells us it won’t — it will be up to the people of Europe to diminish or dismantle the E.U. through additional referenda. That would give liberated European nations the chance to elect anti-neoliberal national governments, accountable to the voters, which can also chart foreign policies independent of Washington.
The danger is that the right-wing sentiment that has driven a large part of the anti-Establishment movements in Europe (and the U.S.) may elect governments that grow even closer to Washington and impose even harsher neoliberal policies.
That is a risk that may need to be taken in the hope that the anti-Establishment left and right can coalesce around shared interests to put an end to the elitist European project.