“Putin does not take Europe seriously”
Sylvia Wörgetter: The United States and NATO are discussing with Russia the future of Ukraine, a European country, but the European Union is not at the table. What does this tell us about the EU?
Kleine-Brockhoff: That Vladimir Putin would prefer to bypass the European Union because he does not consider it relevant enough. He sees himself as the leader of one sphere of influence and wants to talk to whoever in his mind is the leader of the other sphere of influence, namely US President Joe Biden.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell calls for security in Europe not to be negotiated without the Europeans. But that’s exactly what seems to be happening now.
No, that’s not what’s happening. Joe Biden responds to Putin’s apparent attempt to separate America from Europe and bypass the EU by trying to involve Europeans as deeply as possible in the talks. He and his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, repeatedly stressed: “Nothing about Europe without Europe”. Euro-American consultations before and after each round of negotiations are extremely intense. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like if Donald Trump was still President of the United States.
Negotiations are also underway within the NATO-Russia Council. More than two dozen European countries are members of NATO. And even more European countries are represented at the OSCE, which meets in Vienna. No European self-pity, please!
French President Emmanuel Macron calls for a separate European security architecture. Is there now a chance to advance EU defense policy?
At the moment, we Europeans are rather happy to be able to hide behind the Americans who do the bulk of the diplomatic work. One can only hope that Europe will draw the necessary consequences from this military threat. I wish we talked less about defense identities and such soft stuff and more about hard defense and the abilities we need.
Do you think of a European army?
One of the reasons the Russians don’t want to talk to the Europeans is that the Europeans don’t have weapons that threaten Russia. Unfortunately, you can hear this almost verbatim from Moscow. As long as the Western countries, in the first place Germany, do not respect their commitments within NATO, Russia will not take Europe seriously. Military force is the currency that counts in Moscow. On this basis, however, one can negotiate and expect concessions and cooperation.
This means that Europe should rearm and massively modernize its army. This is the logic of deterrence and the cold war.
I would say it differently: we have disarmed almost to the point of no longer being able to defend ourselves. It is now a question of restoring the bases of national defense and of the alliance. But we are not even willing to pay the premium price that results from cost sharing within an alliance. In the end, only NATO will provide the necessary deterrence, not a European army, which will remain a fantasy.
The EU threatens Russia with massive sanctions if it invades Ukraine. How credible is such a threat when states like Austria and parts of the German Chancellor’s party, the SPD, want to exempt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from this threat and let Russian gas flow?
Anyone who wants to keep the peace must be able to use some kind of leverage vis-à-vis Vladimir Putin to convince him that the price of sending his troops across the border and into Ukraine is too high. Nord Stream 2 is such a lever. If you don’t want to use this lever, you must have other levers. My question to the defenders of Nord Stream 2 is: what leverage can they use strong enough to keep the peace?
Putin demands that the West not allow any additional countries to join NATO. The United States and NATO oppose it. What might a compromise look like?
Russia is the largest nuclear power in the world. No one in the world is safe from attack any longer. And that same country is now demanding security guarantees. How these two elements fit together remains Moscow’s secret.
Nevertheless, there is potential for negotiation in the Russian draft treaty. Namely, whether the negotiation process leads to a renewal of the arms control architecture that has been undermined by Russian treaty violations and the hubris of the Trump administration. This is the constructive part of the Russian proposals.
Do you think war is on the horizon?
You have to ask the aggressor, namely Vladimir Putin. Anyone who assembles a six-figure number of troops on a border and issues an ultimatum for negotiations has committed something like predatory hostage-taking extortion. Now negotiations must be conducted with the hostage taker at gunpoint. It’s hard to predict if he’ll pull the trigger. Negotiating skills are now required on the Western side to drive Vladimir Putin’s price so high that he lets go of his victim.
What is he looking for?
He already told us this in his 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference and has since underlined it through various military interventions: the reconstruction of a Russian empire.
This article was originally published in German by Salzburger Nachrichten on January 12, 2022, under the title “Poutine nimmt die Europäer nicht ernst” and has been republished in English with permission. Original ttranslation made possible with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version).