France and Germany should cede leadership on diplomacy with Russia to European Council (EU), NATO

When you stop and think about it, France and Germany have no business now representing Europe and NATO in talks with Putin and Russia over Ukraine. Who appointed them in the first place?

The original deal they brokered with then Ukrainian president Yanukovitch in February, 2014 briefly appeared to offer a negotiated solution to the crisis in the Ukraine resulting from massive demonstrations on the Maidan.  But the Maidan never accepted the deal, military and security officials defected from Yanukovitch, and the latter fled first to the eastern Ukraine and then to Russia as his government collapsed. Contrary to Russian propaganda, there was no “coup”.

Since that initial apparent success, the four-party negotiations including Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Petro Poroshenko, and Vladimir Putin, or their foreign ministers, have produced only illusory results.

Look at the map of the Ukraine showing areas occupied by Russian troops and their puppet “separatists” to grasp the point.

France is an unlikely mediator for Europe and the EU. Hollande should be known as Mr. Mistral, as he repeatedly betrayed the interests of NATO and its members as he sought to push through the delivery to Russia of “The Vladilovstok”, the first of two Mistral-class attack warships with highly advanced theater command capabilities.

He broke the isolation of Putin by inviting him to dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris in June (relegating Barack Obama to dinner at a Parisian restaurant the same evening), after inviting him to the D-Day celebrations in Normandy, and also made a free-lance surprise trip to meet with Putin at the airport in Moscow in December, breaking his renewed isolation in bilateral relations after August.

Hollande would sell out Europe in favor of French interests, including delivery of the Mistral warships, at the drop of a hat.

Germany has not been so craven, but it is clear that Angela Merkel is fairly clueless on defense strategy and policy, while she is shackled by her grand coalition alliance with the SPD including her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The SPD is no longer the party of Willy Brandt, former mayor of Berlin and Chancellor who was a stalwart in standing up firmly against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Rather, its leaders have become pacifists and appeasers of Russia. After Russia “annexed” the conquered territory of the Crimea in March, 2014, former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder traveled to St. Petersburg to celebrate his 70th birthday with Vladimir Putin, his Russian business partner in the Nordstream gasline joint venture. After his government authorized the deal, Schroeder literally stumbled over himself to join Nordstream as he was leaving office. Former SPD Chancellor Helmut Scmidt, now in his 90’s, has also come out in support of appeasement with Russia, even following the “annexation” of the Crimea.

Steinmeier is a former chief-of-staff of Schroeder.

At every turn, no matter what Putin has done, no matter what agreements Putin has flouted, no matter how many tanks and armored columns and Russian troops and irregulars and intelligence and special forces operatives Putin has sent into the eastern Ukraine, no matter how tough Angela Merkel has been in her conversations and meetings with Putin, Steinmeier has always offered Putin yet another opportunity at dialogue, and yet another opportunity to meet.

The fact that Merkel and Hollande are now in Moscow, after refusing to meet with Putin in Astana, Kazakhstan last month due to a lack of prospects for any agreement, demonstrates the lengths to which France and Germany will go to try to appease Putin.

Their trip to Moscow today recalls Edouard Daladier’s and Neville Chamberlain’s trips to Munich in September, 1938, resulting in the infamous Munich Pact which blessed Adolf Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.

The EU deserves better representation. It is not even clear how Germany and France came to assume the role of speaking for Europe in the first place.

That role should now be directly assumed by Donald Tusk and the EU’s European Council and by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. It should definitely not be delegated to the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who lacks experience and has a history of being overly friendly to Russia, even after the invasion of the Crimea.

Europe and NATO need new interlocutors with Putin. France and Germany are not suited to the task for the reasons set forth above, and in view of the complete failure of their diplomatic efforts with Putin to date.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.