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EU-Russian summit: Business before pleasure

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24/5/7 -- So goes the punchline about who the Pole would rather kill first -- the German or the Russian. The German, of course. Eric Walberg reflects in exasperation over the latest debacle in Euro-Russian relations

Well, the West "won" the Cold War, separating Eastern Europe and sundry Eurasian bits and pieces from the Big Brat (yes, that's "brother" in Russian). Poland now has its "business" relation with Big Broederzee Sozialist Fazerland, is not amused. Does she know something about Russia that we poor mortals don't? Is it not worth poking the sleeping giant after all? Is Poland just being, well, you know, Polish? As for the bits and pieces, the European Union now has its various Estonias and Albanias, more or less part of the happy nuclear European family. Mabrouk. Germany after the many occupations, invasions, boarder shifts and solidarities. And true to form, the Pole seems intent on irritating her German neighbour before installing shiny new United States missiles pointed at its Big Brat to the East. Germany's Angela Merkel, born and bred under the careful watch of

The recent EU-Russian economic summit in Samara, the very heartland of Russia should have been a roaring success. The EU is by far Russia's main trading partner, accounting for more than 52 per cent of its overall trade. EU bilateral trade with Russia has been increasing 20 per cent per year recently. EU investment in Russia more than doubled between 2002-04 to 6.4 billion euros and continues to climb. Together, and with China on board, they dwarf the US and could easily be calling the shots on every aspect of the world political economy. There has even been talk since 2003 of creating a "Common Economic Space". Where is the age-old pan-Slav brotherhood, which should be the bedrock of true European unity?

Instead, the summit was a scene of squabbling and insults, ending with a tense exchange over human rights, and without even a joint communiqué. So what's the problem?

Europe seems terrified Russia will cut off energy supplies and Russia sees compelling evidence that it is the object of a new US-led Cold War, with its ex-socialist brothers Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic in the front ranks of the enemy (a bit like Israelis using Palestinian children as shields?). Ironically, with their new freedom, these countries, which multiplied as they disintegrated -- and are still multiplying, as the face-off over Kosovo refuses to go away -- have become much more uniform in their political views than in the old Cold War days, and in the most pro-market/US way possible, with only minor nuances as to just how far to kowtow to the US.

For the Arab world, the disarray in Europe is puzzling. The expectation was that Europe would have emerged as a strong, independent voice after its remarkable growth and transformation, maybe even a neutral force in the Middle East tragedy but it seems just the opposite has happened. The war on terror and the new life breathed into US imperialism following the collapse of the SU have eclipsed the EU's collective love-in, and meant that even Germany's and Spain's brave defiance of the US over Iraq, or the introduction of the euro have really not amounted to anything -- Europe effectively backs the US at every step, despite its potential for steering its own more rational course.

Merkel's has been the lone dissenting voice over US missile plans for Eastern Europe. In a March visit to Poland, she tried to convince her little broeder that he should ask mama before accepting dangerous gifts from foreigners. That was about the extent of her analysis -- nothing about the dangers of nuclear escalation. She was told to mind her own business (excuse me, isn't European defense a European issue?) and was treated to a vacation in Hel (I'm not joking) at President Lech Kaczynski's private resort. I bet that was fun.

Poland's descent into petulant silliness just might be part of its spat with Russia over its embargo on Polish meat products, which Putin reiterated at the conference did not meet EU health standards. Poland has already vetoed the start of the new trade talks, which would replace the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, signed in 1997. Now what do you think Russia would do about this embargo if Poland did a rational thing like refusing the US gift horse?

But no, the situation is bleak. At the summit, instead of emphasising her judicious agreement with Putin over the missiles, Merkel angrily denounced him because world chess champion Gary Kasparov (a nut case in his own right) was prevented from demonstrating outside the summit. "I say it completely openly that it is my wish that those who wish to demonstrate can do so in Samara," said Merkel.

Sigh. Imagine what Europe could really do, with its strong currency and large, well educated population, and despite the Polands, its common sense and desire for world peace. Europe learned the follies of imperialism over the past few hundred years, unlike the US, and the world would be in much safer hands if Europe (even with its Polands pulling at its coattails) would get off its collective ass and show some spunk.

We can only sigh nostalgically for the nasty old Cold War days when the old, much more united Europe had clear relations with the Socialist bloc and the SU, based on mutual economic interest and maintaining peace on the continent, both sides respecting the other and more or less ignoring the catcalls from the US. Recall there were no Polish or Bulgarian soldiers in Vietnam, or for that matter British or French.

Just as with Egypt in the 1960-70s, Europe had much more clout then and a much clearer sense of itself and its role in the world than does today's bloated body, with newly independent "nations" like Estonia -- out of pettiness or self-aggrandisement, it's not clear -- slapping Russia in the face by deliberately insulting the heroic memory of Russia's defeat of the Nazis, with its recent decision to move a major war monument to a bleak suburban Tallinn cemetery. No mature European country, say France or Belgium, would do something so... well, stupid. Instead, Estonia and fraternal Poland -- neither of which were beacons of liberty before the Soviets got hold of them -- manage with their Monty Pythonesque acts to drag the entire EU into major diplomatic scandals.

The latest twist in this nonsense is that Estonia is accusing the Russian government of jamming its Internet sites, though there are surely enough private Russians incensed by its petty chauvinism to do this without any official prompting. But even so, it seems Russia is still at fault. "It shows that the Russian computers are not protected enough," Estonian Defence Ministry spokesman Madis Mikko said. He went on to solemnly announce that the Estonian government has called in a NATO cybercrime expert to help fight the electronic attacks, "amid concern that the military alliance might also be targeted," an official from the Brussels-based organisation confirmed Thursday. Whoa! No doubt Estonia will protect itself by -- you guessed! -- deploying a few US missiles, of course, aimed strictly at North Korea or perhaps Rwanda.

What brilliant diplomacy. Yet another new independent state is flexing its might as a world power. Go for it Estonia! Tell them Russkies where to get off.

But to what end, this brave new politics? The only end in sight is of course a new cold war. Forcing the EU and its newly adopted flock of ugly ducklings to waddle in step behind Uncle Sam. Surely the world deserves better than this in the 21st century. Even US public opinion, if The Herald Tribune 's editorial page can be said to reflect this, argues that "for the European Union, part of the challenge is to convince former Soviet satellites like Poland that their dislike of Russia, however justified, cannot become a permanent veto on dealings with Moscow."

Russia is part of Europe, has been since they staved off the Mongols eight centuries ago, and even during its heady days of Lenin, Stalin and the rest, has been linked indelibly with its alterego. In fact, we can say it is Europe's conscience. The West owes a lot to Russia, even to its Soviet metamorphosis, and it owes a lot today. Leaving aside what's left of Europe's welfare state, it very much needs Russia's vast resource wealth, at this point primarily oil, but there's much more. Europe is stuck with it or stuck without it, as you like. And Russia needs and loves Europe for its technology, cultural heritage, Swiss bank accounts -- you name it. The love-hate relationship with Russia will never end.

No doubt Poland and Estonia will valiantly "stand firm" as "a matter of principle", brave little countries as Davids to Putin's Goliath. My advice is, "if you insist on being tiny, little countries at all, be sensible little countries. Wake up, France and the real Europe! Don't get highjacked by these Croatias and Albanias, however much scheming you did to create them in the first place. Even US "public opinion" is behind you on that one. And show some spine where it counts -- in relations with the US. Oh, and one final word of advice for Poland: please try not to take on both your Big Brothers at the same time.

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/846/in3.htm

 

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html