Last week the Russia Analyst wrote about Anaconda2016, the largest NATO military exercise in central/eastern Europe since the (first) Cold War. Among our other findings, we wrote that Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, Greece and other NATO/EU member nations were increasingly reluctant to engage in brinkmanship with Russia -- even as the United States and a few allies doubled down on the rhetoric of meeting an imminent threat from the Russian Federation. We also wrote about how Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow will never attack a NATO member state.
— NATO (@NATO) June 17, 2016
— Russia Insider (@RussiaInsider) June 18, 2016
Lavrov and Putin's Conciliatory Diplomacy Towards Europe Exploits Cracks in the Facade of EU 'Unity' on Sanctions Against Russia
Speaking at this weekend's St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) to guests Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Vladimir Putin declared that the U.S. is a superpower and that Russia has no intention of trying to end America's superpower status (though Vladimir Vladimirovich didn't add that a potential superpower on the rise to Russia's east may have other ideas). At the same time, the Russian leader pointedly addressed the gap between Washington's imposition of economic sanctions against Moscow while its European allies, including Italy, bear nearly all of the costs for 'defending democracy and European values in Ukraine':
“‘The US asks its allies to be patient. Why should they be patient?’ [Putin] asks,” Corriere della Sera reported.
”[Putin] addressed the Prime Minister, ‘Matteo, why should you be patient?’ Renzi laughs onstage. He also knows sanctions are expensive,” the [Corriere della Sera] newspaper concluded its report of the session.”
Just noticed @FareedZakaria conducting public Putin interview right now. Would Obama submit to similar with a Russian journalist? I doubt it
— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) June 17, 2016
Putin to Europeans, Especially French and Italians:
Stop Being Uncle Sam's Servants and Stand Up for Your Economic Interests
Striking a conciliatory tone, Putin also said that Moscow might consider making the first move, dropping its sanctions against imports of food from the European Union if the EU were to shift towards de-sanctioning Russia. In return, Renzi vowed that his government will not permit the EU to simply rubber stamp the renewal of the sanctions against Russia every six months, in a rhetorical shot at anti-Russian hardliners in Europe and the United States. Renzi of course wasn't the only one making appearances or remarks that could be interpreted as subverting the aggressive, Cold War 2.0 waging paradigm that dominates the trans-Atlantic media:
“It was a handshake for which Russian President Vladimir Putin had been waiting a long time. The flags of Russia and the European Union were on display behind him, alongside a gold-trimmed table. And next to the table was European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the man who had been forced to endure considerable criticism for his decision to travel to St. Petersburg to meet with the Russian president.
Many in Brussels had complained prior to Juncker’s trip that the visit by the head of the EU executive body would be a coup for Putin, whose country is the target of EU sanctions due to its aggression in Ukraine. But Juncker, 61, was, as is often the case, convinced he was right. He said this week that he was fully aware that not everyone was happy about his visit, but he added that it was the right thing to do.”
Renzi's statements came after EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker attended the SPIEF in apparent defiance of Washington's wishes, and after the former French President Sarkozy admitted that time was not on the side of the anti-Russian hardliners determined to maintain sanctions indefinitely:
““I think it’s time all the sanctions were lifted, so that diplomacy may regain its rightful position, and we can leave behind this Cold War climate that’s in no one’s interest,” Sarkozy told RT on the sidelines of the 20th International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg.
“Time will be working against us. I’m one of those who think sanctions should be abolished,” he said. “We have a lot of other problems and we cannot afford to suffer because of these artificially created problems. And the strongest should reach out a hand, because the strongest player is Russia, represented by President Putin.”
“I told Putin to make this offer – there’s no risk in being the first to make a gesture of goodwill,” Sarkozy said, adding that “we will follow the example.””
Perhaps adding some ammunition to the slowly rising embers of European resentment against Washington's sanctions policy, was the news reported this week by Sputnik International that the USA is now Moscow's 5th ranked trading partner outside the former USSR, surpassing many American allies such as Poland or Turkey effected by Russian counter-sanctions:
Not Just Space Rockets:
It's Business as Usual for Many U.S. or UK-Based Multinationals in Russia
“While EU members bear the brunt of the “trade war” – sanctions and counter-sanctions have cut the bloc’s bilateral trade with Russia by an estimated 100 billion euros ($112 billion) – the US has leapfrogged many of Moscow’s former partners to become its No. 5 trading ally outside the former Soviet Union, according to Bloomberg.
“Since leading the push for western penalties on Russia over Ukraine two years ago, the US has leapfrogged Turkey, Japan, Poland and South Korea to become the country’s No. 5 trading partner outside the former Soviet Union,” says the article on Bloomberg’s website.
While European Union members “bear the brunt of the trade war”, it adds, US companies led by Boeing Co., Cargill Inc. and Yum! Brands Inc. have been investing for the long-haul and gaining market share.”
What Sanctions? BP and Rosneft Annnounce Joint Exploration Deal
If the Russians exploiting the gap between Washington's rhetoric about containing the dangerous Bear and the reality of Fortune 500 multinationals conducting business as usual with Moscow wasn't enough, this weekend delivered a much bigger PR headache for NATO and the State Department. Namely, just days after 51 career diplomatic personnel signed their names to a highly publicized 'classified' document calling for U.S. military action against Assad and potentially his Russian partners in Syria, the Foreign Minister of America's second closest European ally Germany has spoken out against NATO exercises on Russia's borders:
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) June 18, 2016
“German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned Nato against “warmongering”, after it conducted military exercises in Eastern Europe.
Mr Steinmeier said that extensive Nato manoeuvres launched this month were counterproductive to regional security and could inflame tensions with Russia.
He urged the Nato military alliance to replace the exercises with more dialogue and co-operation with Russia.
Nato has carried out a 10-day exercise simulating a Russian attack on Poland.
The drill, which ended on Friday, involved about 31,000 troops, as well as fighter jets, ships and 3,000 vehicles.”
“Aleksei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s State Duma, welcomed Steinmeier’s comments as a “voice of reason” amid what he described as anti-Russian hysteria by NATO and [Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg.
”Steinmeier spoke against Stoltenberg’s course for scaring Russia. Some voices of reason could be heard from behind the curtain of threats and hysterics,” Pushkov tweeted.
President Vladimir Putin, speaking on June 17 at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, said that the United States and its allies have used the Ukrainian crisis to “justify the existence of the North Atlantic bloc.”
”They need an external adversary, an external enemy, otherwise what’s the purpose of this organization?” he said. “There is no Warsaw Pact, no Soviet Union, so whom is it directed against?””
Will Washington Put Enormous Pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to Force Her Foreign Minister to Either Take Back Remarks Criticizing NATO, or Resign?
— Alex Panchenko (@AlexPanchenko2) June 18, 2016
— Steven Pifer (@steven_pifer) June 18, 2016
Remember German army also participated in these exercises. Normally this would mean a Minister would be on the way out, but Germany special
— Bruno Maçães (@MacaesBruno) June 18, 2016
GAZPROM consulting contract incoming... https://t.co/ugmQUVPXSj
— (((Stephan Lahl))) (@StephanLahl) June 18, 2016
Merkel's FM accuses NATO of "warmongering" against Russia. Clearly, "Russian government hackers" hacked his brain https://t.co/YcEcdVyRuD
— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) June 18, 2016
Steinmeier's remarks, as well as their timing on a weekend when many politicians and journalists are out of Washington, has left NATO's advocates flabbergasted. As Zerohedge reports, this is in no small part because Germany's top diplomat is now admitting Russia's complaints about aggressive exercises near Russian borders have some validity:
“How do we know Steinmeier hit it nail on the head? The neocon Council of Foreign Relations trotted out its “fellow” who promptly took to character assassinations and demanding Steinmeier’s resignation, instead of asking if perhaps a NATO-member country accusing NATO of being a warmongering provocateur, is not the real reason why Europe is back deep in the cold war, with an escalating nuclear arms race to go alongside it, courtesy of the US military industrial complex whose profits are entirely dependent on war, conflict and the death of civilians around the globe.
As for the unprecedented reality in which NATO’s biggest and most important European member is suddenly and quite vocally against NATO and as a result may be pivoting toward [the] Russian[s], we for one can’t wait to see just how this shocking geopolitical debacle for western neocons and war hawks concludes.”
NATO By Its Own Admission is Losing the War for Hearts and Minds in Much of Europe
We don't know if Washington will force Mr. Steinmeier to resign or whether some sort of groveling apology in which the Social Democratic Party (SPD) minister abases himself for daring to criticize NATO will suffice. What we do know is that NATO has struggled by its own admission to counter the 'awesome' power of Russian propaganda, including 'distortion' via memes like this one...where all you have to do is take out the digital red magic marker, and poof U.S. bases cease to be the installations of a NATO member state, ergo this Russian meme is false -- genius! Especially when you forget German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently invited Japan to join the North Atlantic alliance, despite its Pacific location:
The problem of course being that if one of the 'big dogs' within Europe aka the German Foreign Minister can finally say enough's enough with the scaremongering about an imminent Russian invasion of NATO or that the Alliance's exercises are needlessly provocative, it's not so easy to stuff the genie of dissent against Washington's second Cold War policies back into the bottle. Meaning Mr. Steinmeier may issue a mea culpa soon, but that doesn't mean his Greek, Italian or Hungarian counterparts or the defense ministers of those NATO member nations won't follow suit by suggesting that dialogue and diplomacy, rather than shows of force, is the way to solve problems with Russia.
In other words, where Mr. Steinmeier has opened the door several others will follow in declaring what's been on many European elites' minds since Washington initiated the second Cold War with the Maidan coup in Kiev. And that is a process it will be difficult for Washington to stop without taking the mask of tolerance for dissent off, and simply resorting to threats and censorship to maintain the Empire's death grip on European politics.