The ever-treacherous President Francois Hollande met Vladimir Putin at the Moscow airport on his way back from a state visit to Kazakhstan, on December 5-6.
Among subjects discussed, acording to press reports, was the situation in the eastern Ukraine including compliance with the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014, and apparently a message from Hollande to Putin that France would oppose Ukraine joining NATO. According to Le Monde, the Elysee Palace no longer mentions the Crimea in its press releases.
For a picture of two men who should never be trusted, a smiling Putin and a Francois Hollande freelancing with EU and NATO foreign policy, see
Benoît Vitkine (Almaty, Kazakhstan), “Rencontre imprévue entre Hollande et Poutine à l’aéroport de Moscou,” Le Monde, 6 Decembre 2014 à 09h03 (Mis à jour à 09h10).
Putin must have been pleased Hollande broke His diplomatic isolation by being the first Western leader to visit Putin in Moscow since the annexation of the Crimea. Hollande performed a similar service in June when he invited Putin to the D-Day celebrations in Normand and a dinner at the Elysee Palace.
According to Le Monde, the hottest subject, the delivery of the two Mistral-class warships, was not discussed. That is the story Hollande and Putin put out, at any rate. See
Isabelle Mandraud (Moscou, correspondante), “Mistral, le grand non-dit de la rencontre Hollande-Poutine, Le Monde, 6 Decembre 2014 (Mis à jour à 19h16).
“Isolé sur la scène internationale, Vladimir Poutine a apprécié le geste : « Je suis sûr que votre visite aujourd’hui, même si elle est très courte, est une vraie visite de travail, et elle va donner des avancées », a-t-il déclaré. De fait, en deux heures de temps, plusieurs sujets internationaux ont été abordés : la Syrie, l’Iran, et bien évidemment l’Ukraine.”
RT reported that Putin had reaffirmed his cimmitment to the Minsk Protoco, as follows:
“The situation [in Ukraine] is tragic, we can see that people are still dying there, but I very much hope that in the near future a final decision on the ceasefire will be made,” (Putin) said.
Russia expects Kiev to exclude any possibility of a blockade of the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk republics, he added: “Otherwise it is difficult to imagine the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia, as you know, supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
“Russia initiated the meeting [between Kiev and representatives of the eastern republics] in Minsk, with our direct participation these protocols were signed, so we support their full implementation,” Putin elaborated (emphasis added).
It strains credulity that in a two- hour conversation on the Ukraine and other international subjects, the issue of the delivery of the Mistral-class warship “The Vladivlostok” did not come up. Hollande has tied delivery of “The Vladilovstok” to observance of the ceasefire established by the Minsk Protocol. Putin wants the warship and the technology that comes with it.
Only a day earlier, the French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was quoted as saying that the Mistral-class warships might never be delivered to Russia.
Isabelle Lasserre, “Paris pourrait définitivement renoncer à livrer les Mistral à la Russie,” Le Figaro, 5 Decembre 2014 (16:19 h).
In France and with Hollande, what a difference a day makes!
The pacifists and appeasers are just itching to find some way out of the sanctions against Russia. (The two Mistral-class warships aren’t even covered by the sanctions.)
And, as we have stressed before, if NATO can’t defend itself against its own members, how can it be expected to defend its members against Russian aggression?
Germany’s stance toward Moscow is stronger than that of France, but it suffers from an internal defect which undermines its effectiveness.
Even if Angela Merkel talks tough to Putin, as she did in Brisbane at the G-20, she is immediately undercut by her SPD coalition partner and independent-minded foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who would probably be the next Chancellor of Germany if the SPD were to win the next elections.
With this two-headed foreign policy leadership, Merkel pulls one way and Steinmeier the other. When Merkel takes a tough position, Steinmeier always seeks to smoothe things over with words, and to seek solutions with new verbal formulations–as Russian soldiers and tanks operate in the Donbas region of the Ukraine, and build up their forces in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory in the Crimea.
Steinmeier, in his incessant efforts to keep talking to Putin, no matter what the latter does or what the facts on the ground may be, increasingly resembles Kofi Annan, who continually held out false hopes that peace in Syria could be achieved just through talking, as Bashar al-Assad continued his atrocities and ultimately at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.
With Hollande freelancing where the only EU foreign policy voice is Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s protege, Francesca Mogherini, we can’t expect much beyond continued pacifism and appeasement from Europe’s leaders.
There is no solidarity among the 28 EU members, and no structure or mechanism to organize the vanities and parochial concerns that determine each nation’s positions. When leaders freelance, as Hollande currently is doing, Putin can and continues to paralyze EU and NATO action, through his very effective use of the “divide and conquer” technique.
This is fairly easy for him to do, given the requirement of agreement by all 28 EU member states for the EU to act on sanctions, or by all 28 NATO members to take significant actions. The memberships of the two organization largely coincide, but are not identical.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., when it comes to understanding and acting to counter Russian aggression, President Barack Obama is not acting like “the smartest man in the room”, but rather like “the slowest boy in the class”. Nine months after the Russian seizure of the Crimea, he has only recently come to the conclusion that the Russian invasion of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine amounts to more than an ” incursion”.
Given the weakness in the ranks of EU member states, no further forceful action on sanctions against Russia can be expected any time soon. That means the U.S. is the only country in a position to strenghten economic sanctions against Russia. Yet there is little evidence that Obama is willing to step up to the task. The National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have lobbied him very effectively not to adopt sanctions that are not also adopted by the EU.
Under present circumstances, this means paralysis, and a further triumph for pacifism and appeasement toward Russia as it continues its illegal occupation of the Crimea and its military intervention in the eastern Ukraine.
With Russian troops and special forces in the Donbas and supplying troops at will across an border it has dismantled by military force, neither Obama nor NATO nor the EU has any plans for action to change the situation, other than to wait and hope the Russian Dictator will act nice. In fact, he may, at least for a time as long as it serves his purposes, which include receiving the Mistrals and blocking Ukrainian membership in NATO.
The Trenchant Observer