Friends Like These

My friends are my estate.” – Emily Dickinson

Prior to the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Europe’s energy situation was stable but far from ideal. Germany’s rejection of nuclear power and the region’s obsession with renewable sources of electricity were causing strain, but at least Europe could count on a seemingly endless flow of cheap natural gas from Russia via pipeline. Heavy industry largely depended on access to this critical resource, which served as one of the few pillars of manufacturing competitiveness on the Old Continent.

The well-documented catastrophe that has since befallen Europe’s economic, political, and security prospects need not be rearticulated here, but suffice it to say, the past two years have been rather challenging. Reeling from a contracting economy, depleted weaponry, and an all-too-predictable populist backlash, the region has entered a period of deep uncertainty. The future of the European Union (EU) might itself be at risk, a shift that would have seemed unfathomable just a short time ago.

A remarkable article, published last week in Foreign Affairs—a magazine issued by the hotbed of US political establishment thinking known as the Council on Foreign Relations—reveals a story that would have certainly been censored as disinformation at the start of the war: It was all largely preventable. In what reads as part confessional and part opening salvo for future negotiations, the expansive report begins with a lucid summation of what could have been:

What happened on the battlefield is relatively well understood. What is less understood is the simultaneous intense diplomacy involving Moscow, Kyiv, and a host of other actors, which could have resulted in a settlement just weeks after the war began.

By the end of March 2022, a series of in-person meetings in Belarus and Turkey and virtual engagements over video conference had produced the so-called Istanbul Communiqué, which described a framework for a settlement. Ukrainian and Russian negotiators then began working on the text of a treaty, making substantial progress toward an agreement. But in May, the talks broke off. The war raged on and has since cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides.

Aborted diplomacy | Reuters

The piece goes on to echo the substance of what President Putin told Tucker Carlson in that infamous interview a few weeks ago, differing only in minor details and in degree of emphasis. A negotiated settlement had largely been agreed to, only to be scuttled in part because of Western indifference to the outcome:

So why did the talks break off? Putin has claimed that Western powers intervened and spiked the deal because they were more interested in weakening Russia than in ending the war. He alleged that Boris Johnson, who was then the British prime minister, had delivered the message to the Ukrainians, on behalf of ‘the Anglo-Saxon world,’ that they must ‘fight Russia until victory is achieved and Russia suffers a strategic defeat.’

The Western response to these negotiations, while a far cry from Putin’s caricature, was certainly lukewarm. Washington and its allies were deeply skeptical about the prospects for the diplomatic track emerging from Istanbul…

So instead of embracing the Istanbul communiqué and the subsequent diplomatic process, the West ramped up military aid to Kyiv and increased the pressure on Russia, including through an ever-tightening sanctions regime.

How about no? | Getty

If the original intent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” it would seem the war in Ukraine is accomplishing at least one of those objectives. Germany—and Western Europe in general—has suffered mightily as a consequence of policies implemented with full US support. The situation is especially acute in the energy sector, where observation would indicate the overt goal of US foreign policy is to cripple the ability of Germany to compete in the global economy. If this indeed was the objective, it seems to be working splendidly, and a recent flurry of headlines demonstrates this aspect of the war is accelerating.

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