Munich conference: Russia ‘hate fest’ or split between Western allies?

US Vice President Joe Biden at the 51st Munich Security Conference on February 7, 2015. (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)
World leaders gathered in Germany to discuss international security on Saturday, with the meeting somewhat descending into ‘Russia-bashing’. But the West showed itself to be more divided than ever on Ukraine, with the EU and US drifting further apart.

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The Americans led the harsh anti-Russian rhetoric at the conference, and once again, they did not exclude the possibility of lethal arms deliveries to Ukraine in the future.

Speaking to reporters, NATO’s top commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, said that although no troops would be sent to Ukraine, providing Kiev with lethal weapons and equipment was on the cards.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Conservative politician and former foreign secretary Malcom Rifkind, and US senator Lindsey Graham notably took a pronounced anti-Russian stance, blaming the Kremlin for the violence in Ukraine.

READ MORE: NATO top commander in Europe says 'military option' possible in Ukraine

Moscow hit back, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressing in his Munich speech that it is the US and its European allies who have played the key destabilizing role in Ukraine, from helping to overthrow the democratically elected government to failing to condemn the new Kiev government for shelling the civilian population in the east with cluster bombs.

“Through every step, as the crisis has developed, our American colleagues and the EU under their influence have tried to escalate the situation,” Lavrov said, adding that the West has always been urging world governments to enter into dialogue with opposition groups or figures, even when it came to extremist groups such as the Taliban. However, in Ukraine it has bluntly been supporting every one of Kiev’s actions.

READ MORE: Lavrov: US escalated Ukraine crisis at every stage, blamed Russia

Lavrov then spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry, warning him that Washington’s plans to supply Kiev with military equipment might have “unpredictable consequences”, including “disrupting the efforts to resolve the crisis in southeastern Ukraine,” according to a Facebook statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry. He stressed that Russia and the US agree that the only basis for any solution is a comprehensive national dialogue on constitutional reform in Ukraine.

Russia will not sacrifice its national interest, but is ready to “engage constructively” with the US, Lavrov stressed.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko meets U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland (L-R) at the 51st Munich Security Conference on February 7, 2015. (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)

At the press conference, the Russian top diplomat was pelted with questions implying that Moscow is responsible for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

“It felt like orchestrated hate fest. Obviously these people live in a surreal world. The US try to change the balance of forces in eastern Europe and the EU join the band wagon,” Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of the Chronicles magazine told RT, adding that “whenever a major power wants to change the status-quo, the result is a crisis.”

Despite the recent efforts to try and to stop the violence and find a peaceful way out of the Ukrainian conflict, with French and German leaders having taken an initiative to discuss a peace plan with Russia’s President Putin and Ukraine’s President Poroshenko, the actions of the West are still “profoundly self-righteous,” critics say.

READ MORE: Hopes for breakthrough: Moscow talks on Ukraine 'constructive,' joint doc 'possible'

“What I saw today in the press conference is a total unwillingness from the European, Western side to even take into consideration the arguments of the other side...the questions they pose are so selective, so predetermined by their self-righteousness – that is not the way you try to get peace,” former security consultant at the OSCE Lode Vanoost told RT, adding that the West is hypocritical to a level “so profound that [its behavior] is not a serious way to try to get peace.”

However, despite the overwhelmingly anti-Russian rhetoric coming from the West, there are increasingly numbers of politicians who are softening their stance.

Following the Friday meeting of President Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Moscow, which was said to be “constructive,” the French leader revealed that the discussion included the creation of a larger demilitarized zone between the Kiev and militia-controlled territories. He also called for “quite strong” autonomy for Ukraine’s eastern regions.

READ MORE: Hollande: If lasting Ukraine peace not found 'scenario is war'

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy said on Saturday that Paris does not want a new Cold War, considering that Russia and France having a long history of common interests and values. The former state leader also said that it was Crimea that had chosen to join Russia and it “cannot be blamed” for its choice. Previously, former Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, said that Crimea has “always” been a part of Russia.

READ MORE: Sarkozy: Crimea cannot be blamed for joining Russia

While the European leaders have largely been united in their support for the Kiev government, only a few have agreed with the United States on supplying weapons to Ukraine. Instead, the German leader stressed that the crisis “cannot be resolved militarily” and that sending more arms can only worsen the conflict.

The issue of military aid to Ukraine is now considered to be the main subject causing the divide in the West, with many in Europe realizing that the potential threat of an escalating conflict on its territory exists.

READ MORE: Europe reticent about supplying Ukraine with weapons & money

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 51st Munich Security Conference on February 7, 2015. (RIA Novosti/Flickr MFA Russia)

Political analysts agree that hidden from the public eye, “there is definitely a big divide between the US and the EU on the whole issue of Ukraine,” Vanoost told RT. “It’s very difficult to know how the game will finish, because it's not an open game, it's behind the scenes,” Bruno Drweski, an analyst specializing in eastern Europe, said.

Sanctions against Russia have economically hit the EU itself, but have not affected the US. The conflict is also happening on the European continent, not in America, with the EU generally not eager to further escalate it.

“First of all, the European Union is directly involved if the conflict escalates – which is not the case for the United States. Secondly, in the EU they are realistic enough to know that the government in Kiev is very unstable, that they don't even have full control of all parts of their own military,” Vanoost explained, while speaking about the Western split in regard of the Ukrainian crisis.

However, toning down rhetoric puts some in the firing line, too.

After Merkel said that Europe wants security alongside with Russia, rather against it, and reiterated Berlin’s stance that the Ukrainian conflict must be resolved peacefully, US senator Graham lashed out at the German leader for her refusal to send arms to Ukraine.

“She can't see how arming people who are willing to fight and die for their freedom makes things better,” the US politician said, adding that the West cannot “turn [its] back on the struggling democracy.”

In an effort to silence voices against harsher anti-Russian measures, US Vice President Joe Biden has labeled those questioning sanctions against Moscow “inappropriate and annoying,” Der Spiegel reported, quoting the participants of the Brussels meeting. The US official called on European countries to show unity when it comes to sanctions against Russia. Biden even reportedly added that critics of the policy should be aware that they also benefited from the current low price of oil.

READ MORE: Biden says Europeans questioning Russia sanctions 'inappropriate, annoying' – Spiegel

“The Americans want to run this show, and they have no interest in stopping the crisis in Ukraine because it is really driving a wedge between the Europeans and Russia. And to their [the US’] mind, it is only pushing Europe ever so firmly back into the NATO fold,” Trifkovic told RT.

Meanwhile, Lavrov said Moscow is ready to guarantee agreements between the warring sides if a peaceful solution to the crisis is found, which would satisfy both Kiev and the eastern Ukrainian regions.

READ MORE: Lavrov: US escalated Ukraine crisis at every stage, blamed Russia

Quoting the “aggression” against the federal republic of Yugoslavia, the current crisis has been named “an ongoing assault against the Russian Federation” by the former deputy head of OSCE, Willy Wimmer. Calling for a hastier end to the conflict, which “is the best for all of us,” the ex official of the European security and cooperation organization said that “it's better to have Polish apples in Russian stores than US tanks at the Russian border.”