While this story appeared a little over a month ago, it's worth considering in the light of everything else going on, and in the light of what appears to be a real meltdown in the western alliance over competing points of view about what to due with respect to the Ukraine. On Feb 24th, Great Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko, and agreed to send 75 British military advisors to help train the Ukraine's military, whose performance against the Donbass rebels has been anything but stellar:
What interests me here for my high octane speculation is that this might tend to be further corroboration of something that I've been arguing we might be witnessing with respect to the Ukrainian crisis and the strains it is placing on the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance(NATO). Recall that only a month ago, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel journeyed to visit Mr. Putin for private talks regarding a resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. Clearly neither France nor Germany are comfortable with the sanctions regime against Russia, and an escalation of the crisis is certainly not in the long term economic or geopolitical interest of either country. The sanctions regime, we are reminded almost incessantly, is an agenda being promoted largely in Washington.
Yet there too, we are met with ambiguous signals within the Obama administration. Up until recently, the American president has come up just short of supplying Kiev with any real military aid, in spite of pressures on him to do so. Yet, at the same time, and as has been remarked upon several times on this website, the USA appears to be closing bases in Western Europe only to shift its military assets eastward into Poland and Romania, and, one may assume, eventually the Baltic states, if it has not already done so covertly. The strategy, as I've tried to understand it, may be a twofold one. First, by reviving the old post-Versailles idea of a cordon sanitaire in Eastern Europe as a buffer against Communist expansion(the current expression is "Russian aggression"), the USA appears to be taking up in the 21st century where Britain and France left off in the 20th. Only this time, unlike Britain and France, the USA is backing up its guarantees to Poland with bases and troops. Not that the Poles are all that reassured, since Warsaw has beefed up its defense spending considerably in the wake of the Ukrainian mess. As I've pointed out, however, this places American military resources in the unenviable military position of being sandwiched between Russia to the East, and Germany and France to the West. But the second reason for such American maneuvering might be a more subtle one, as I've also suggested: positioning American military assets in Eastern Europe allows the US military to interdict those energy supplies flowing from Russia to western Europe. It is, in other words, a not-so-subtle way of making sure that Paris and Berlin remain under the American thumb, in case there's any talk of revolt.
So in spite of these pressures, the Obama administration has not followed its rhetoric with any really appreciable action. Indeed, Frau Merkel made a beeline to Washington for talks with Obama as soon as she and Hollande were done with their talks with Mr. Putin. Whatever the results of those talks, either with Mr. Putin or Mr. Obama were, we can only guess at.
Enter Mr. Cameron's United Kingdom. Alone of the European big four, Great Britain has decided to take the step of sending actual military advisors to the Ukraine. You'll recall our recent blog about Germany's Rheinmetall firm training Russian spetznaz in the latest Western techniques and tactics... a not-so-subtle indicator, perhaps, of where Berlin's ultimate sympathies lie. And M. Hollande let be known he was quite unhappy with the sanctions, which have hurt France's armaments industry dramatically, and crippled its reputation as a reliable arms supplier, to the point that India has cancelled contracts with France, to engage in joint development of fighter aircraft with - you guessed it - Russia. India's message? If you're going to buckle at the first signs of pressure from Washington, then we'll do business with someone more reliable. Hollande expressed his displeasure publicly, you'll recall, on the French radio network France inter... and a few days later we had the Charlie Hebdo incident.
So the bottom line here? Cameron's actions are signalling the deepening divide not only within the EU but the NATO alliance itself, and reading between the lines a bit, London is not only unhappy with Paris and Berlin, but perhaps with Washington as well and with what may be, for the British elite, too much footdragging on Washington's part. It may even be an effort to prod Washington into a more overt and obvious role.
See you on the flip side...