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Europe must move towards Russia

If Donald Trump wins re-election as president is Europe going to bellyache about him for another four years without, as now, having any firm, cohesive, strategy for dealing with him and his foreign policies?

There is a chance that Trump will surprise the political establishment, as he did last time, and win. Europe can’t continue with its wing and a prayer approach, hoping that his perniciously volatile policies will be terminated in the very near future. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

Mainstream commentators say Europe has nowhere else to go. It has to accommodate itself to US interests, even if means putting its telescope to its blind eye. It has to go along with piling economic sanctions upon sanctions against Russia. It doesn’t complain too much that Trump refuses to negotiate a diminution of the threat posed by Russia and the US having too many nuclear weapons. Trump has abrogated past key treaties on limiting nuclear arms, but Europe has behaved like a wimp, voicing no loud objections and failing to lead an opposition that could be fashioned among nearly all UN members. Europe, too, goes along with the expansion of Nato up to Russia’s borders, threatening Russia, breaking assurances not to expand Nato given by the US, Germany and Britain to Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.

Europe has to get tougher with US policy not just on Russia but on China too, starting with resisting the pressure to disallow Huawei from selling 5G internet technology to European countries. It must also resist becoming part of Trump’s campaign to highlight China’s role in allowing the coronavirus to take off, rather than highlighting that China’s counter-corona policies have resulted today in there being no significant number of deaths among its population of 1.4 billion. Indeed, this amazing success should put China in a position to advise America on how to get rid of the virus.

As well, Europe has to counter America’s propensity to exaggerate the military threat posed by the Chinese occupation of disputed small islands and coral reefs in the East and South Chinese seas. After all in part this occupation is a defensive reaction to the US which for many years has made provocative fly-pasts close to the Chinese coastline. How would Washington feel if Chinese jets flew up and down America’s coast?

Europe has had to accommodate itself, to the US’s role in supplying sophisticated weapons to Saudi Arabia which it uses mercilessly in its vicious war against Yemini rebels. It has rarely if at all questioned US policy in Afghanistan where the longest war in America’s history grinds on. Europe capitulated early on to Trump’s decision to break apart the deal carefully crafted by President Barack Obama to freeze nuclear research in Iran. The talk of the Europeans finding a way round the US sanctions that have significantly undermined the Iranian economy at the expense of the livelihoods of ordinary Iranians has come to nothing. Europeans know that a riled Iran is a threat to peace in the Middle East but nonetheless they have capitulated before the American threat to penalize European companies and banks which do business with Iran.

Europeans have stood aside while Trump has built up the political strength of Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and undermined that of the Palestinians. A two-state solution is now off the table and probably always will be.

There will be no peace in the Middle East with Trump in power. Isn’t this why, for all his talk about no more “never-ending wars”, he maintains the huge presence of 80,000 US military personnel in the Middle East?

Dear reader, don’t shake your head if you are reading this in Paris, Berlin, Madrid or Stockholm as if there is nothing your country or the EU can do. If Trump is re-elected it is going to get worse, perhaps much worse. Something has to be done.

I suggest that Europe takes some steps eastwards, towards Russia and away from the US. Is this outrageous? I don’t think so. The great American political thinker and much respected George Kennan said that the expansion of Nato was the worst political mistake made since the end of the Second World War. He wanted to see a much friendlier relationship with Moscow, and the eventual Russian membership of the European Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter and an important political thinker, told me that US policies had made it difficult for President Vladimir Putin to move Russia in the direction of joining the EU, as he had at once wanted (as did Gorbachev who talked of constructing a “European House”). He also told me that if President G.W. Bush hadn’t lost in his second term bid against Bill Clinton the US would have maintained a policy of rapprochement with Russia, enabling Moscow to move more confidently into the European sphere. Clinton with his expansionist policies busted that hope open.

European history shows that our common roots with Russia are deep. In the fourth century onwards Christianity flourished in Byzantium, the Eastern Empire, based in Constantinople, while for many centuries it faltered in the Western Empire based in Rome. When in 1453 the Turks stormed into Constantinople, the eastern church (now labeled Orthodox) moved to Kiev and then to Moscow. Moscow became the “Third Rome”. The Russian Orthodox church inspired the Russians to resist the invasion of the Tartar armies, a Muslim people. Indeed, if the Russians hadn’t been victorious against the Tatars in the late fifteenth century Europe would probably be Muslim today. A Muslim Russia would have meant a very different history for the world. The doings and deeds of the Russian church have been, albeit indirectly, an important contributor to the evolution of European civilisation.

In its love for classical music, ballet and opera Russia culturally is a part of Europe and Europe’s culture is intertwined with Russia. It has produced some of Europe’s greatest writers (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekov, Solzhenitsyn and many others), great composers (Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Borodin, Stravinsky et al- a longer list than any other country), great poets, (Pushkin and Anna Akhmatova.) All these greats looked west to Europe and were inspired by their counterparts in Europe. In turn Europe has been profoundly influenced by them. Of course, the US has contributed to high art, but not on this scale or with this towering achievement, even though its population is over twice Russia’s.

Western visitors to Moscow and St Petersburg are often struck by how “European” these cities are. American cities are quite different, more anonymous, less glamorous, in most cases bereft of large open spaces and with less street-level activities. Like western Europe, many major Russian cities are rich in fine old buildings. Russians in these cities dress like Europeans and, politics aside, their educated class, especially in the western part, think like Europeans.

Do we in Europe have a fundamental quarrel with Russia, one serious enough to justify the mass of armaments ranged against each other? Communist dictatorship is dead and buried. Needless to say, Europe with its greater emphasis on human rights, including freedom of the press and the ballot box, is different, but those are things we would want to influence Russia with through more friendly intercourse, not by confrontation.

Europe, whether Trump wins or not, should move towards Russia, bury the hatchet and encourage Russia to move back towards it. This is the way to avoid future discord, even war, in Europe. Not with US-led Nato but by constructing profound cultural, political, scientific, religious and economic links.

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Jonathan Power

Jonathan Power for 17 years was a foreign affairs columnist of the International Herald Tribune, now the New York Times. He has written eight books on foreign affairs. His latest is "Conundrums of Humanity- the Big Foreign Policy Questions of the Day".

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