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Europe in turmoil

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-10-21


The former foreign minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer, recently was quoted in a prominent German newspaper as saying Europe was at war with Russia. He was right. He went on to say that Russia has attacked a critical element of the European Union and that without a forceful response the EU will fall apart, sooner than later. Again, he is right.

But, he is a bit late to the party.

Other writers on foreign affairs in Europe long ago noted that Russia has been on the attack since Vladimir Putin came to power. A writer in the Romanian defense establishment refers to this as hybrid war where technology, banking, propaganda, fifth columns, business and military means are all used to attack the enemy. She notes the cyber attacks on various European countries and institutions, supported by the Kremlin; of anti-European politic parties such as UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party), Jobbik in Hungary, the right-wing National Front in France and similar parties in Finland, Belgium, Italy; money laundering through Moldovan banks of billions annually to fund these separatists and to fuel low grade civil wars against former Soviet members Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. It is the policy of divide and conquer.

The analyst adds that most European states have become largely, if not, totally dependent upon Russian gas for home heating and industrial energy. It is part of Putin’s strategy. The Russians have blocked gas supply lines to Europe that would have skirted Russian control meaning he controls the spigot. Currently, Putin’s Gazprom is trying to control the oil and gas of North Africa and Nigeria.

The writers argue that the war in Ukraine is merely an extension of Moscow’s foreign policy of controlling its neighbors and reestablishing, as President Putin has said, the Soviet Union.

What Fischer sees is the unilateral annexation of the territory of a neighbor, Crimea. Stability in Europe has been predicated on acceptance of 1945 and 1989 as fait d’acompli, that Konigsberg is Russian, the East Prussia is Polish, that Bucovina is divided between Romanian and Ukraine, that Sub-Carpato Ruthenia is part of Ukraine, that Karelia is Russian, that the Sudetenland is Czech, that Transylvania is Romanian, that southern Dobruga is Bulgarian and so on.

By annexing Crimea Putin opened all these borders to question and some of the political parties in Europe are pushing claims, such a Jobbik, for a return of much of Transylvania to Hungary. Divide and conquer. Destabilize. Sap the strength of your enemy by fomenting crises on many fronts.

Since the advent of the forerunners of European Union after World War Two the simple goal has been to integrate Europeans into one great nation with freedom of movement, trans-border rights, economic integration and harmonization of laws among the various nations. Two world wars, each with hundreds of millions of death and uncounted destruction, underscore European motivation. Picture Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francoise Mitterand holding hands at the memorial at Verdun.

For the most part European integration has worked. Years ago crossing a border took thirty minutes or more of show personal papers, car registration, insurance papers and whatever other documents the border guard demanded. Think of America with fifty sets of border crossings. Now, crossing a boarder goes mostly unnoticed, as is the case from Indiana to Ohio. The guard towers that once divided Germany are now slowly deteriorating, the mined no-mans land have been turned to farming or forests, the Wall and barbed wire have come down.

Instead of walls and wires a common set of laws have been promulgated with a common parliament, a common executive and common ministries to make Europe much like the US, one large common market where freedom of movement and participation is ensured. Consequently, Europe has prospered within this supranational government. The goals are harmonization and integration. Freedom.

And, as with any bureaucracy there are those who feel constrained. The current joke goes that war is impossible in Europe because of the amount of paperwork that would be required by Brussels. Putin does not require paperwork, he has curtailed freedom in Russia and he has sent troops to attack his neighbors.

To policy makers in Brussels and Berlin and Washington it is obvious that Putin’s goal is to dominate Europe. To accomplish that goal he has to undermine the influence of the US in Europe. But, instead of retreating, the US and NATO have stiffened defenses. The NATO alliance, which for a decade seemed adrift, now has a new raison d’etre. NATO has moved troops and materiel to the “front” from Estonia to Romania. New bases are under construction.

Meanwhile, the United States and Europe have counter-attacked with soft-power, extensive sanctions that have caused the Russian ruble to tumble to historic lows, have put hundreds of deals between Russian and Western countries on hold, that have drained cash from Russia, that have inflated prices at the supermarket, and have angered the oligarchs who are Putin’s base. Have no doubt, the sanction bite like a hungry shark.

Putin, meanwhile, has tried to create an alternative banking system with China, South Africa, Brazil and India.

As Fischer pointed out, we are at war with Russia; it is, as the Romanian analyst pointed out, an hybrid war in full swing and just as lethal and much more threatening to the US as ISIS. To believe otherwise is folly.

“The Evil Empire,” as Reagan put it, is on the rise again.

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