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18 Jan, 2022 17:59

How the EU found itself excluded from talks on deciding Europe's future

Brussels is conspicuously absent from critical talks with Moscow
How the EU found itself excluded from talks on deciding Europe's future

The EU has hit out after it was effectively excluded from security talks between Russia and the US. The fate of the world may have once been decided in Western European capitals, but now it seems to be out of their hands.

However, it seems increasingly clear that the bloc only has itself to blame for the fact its members no longer have a seat at the top table, leaving them the subject of discussions, rather than the driver of them.

A US-led Europe

In advance of the talks last week, Washington rhetorically agreed that European security cannot be decided over the heads of the EU and Ukraine, before then simply going ahead with the bilateral US-Russia format. Simply put, Washington cannot do diplomacy with Eurocrats in the room. 

The first reason is that the credibility of US security guarantees is juxtaposed with compromise. In 1962, President Kennedy and the Soviet Union reached an agreement to resolve the Cuban missile crisis, which stipulated that the US would remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey in return for the Soviet Union removing its missiles from Cuba. Instead of celebrating the diplomatic efforts that prevented nuclear war, the US conditioned the agreement on it being kept a secret. Kennedy lied to the US public and its foreign allies. For two decades, the US public believed that the crisis had been solved by confronting Moscow in an uncompromising stance, which made the Soviets back down and grant victory to the US. 

Jack Matlock, the last US ambassador to the USSR, argues that the US similarly rewrote history by claiming that the Cold War was “won” by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when in reality it was negotiated to an end in 1989 through compromise. According to Matlock, the consequence of US mythmaking is a national narrative in which peace is achieved by staring down and defeating its adversaries, while compromise is denounced as “appeasement.” Consequently, actual diplomacy and compromise must be done behind closed doors. 

The second reason is that the foundation of “alliance solidarity” is always to stand united against the adversary, Russia, which ensures that the bloc can only speak in the language of ultimatums and threats. The main lesson from the NATO-Russia Council was that the 30 member states would agree on a common position before meeting Russia, at which point officials would not be able to alter the existing consensus. This eliminated the possibility for real diplomacy, as the format of negotiating from a “position of strength” merely implied that NATO would pressure or threaten Russia to accept its unilateral decisions. Both Washington and Moscow are aware that diplomacy and compromise can only be successful in a bilateral format. 

No seat at the table

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, criticized the US-Russia format for discussing European security in its absence. Borrell argued that “the EU must be involved in these negotiations” as “European security is our security … It’s about us. This is not simply the case for two states, i.e. America and Russia, or NATO and Russia – even if Moscow imagines it.”

There is a certain irony to this statement, as the reason for this conflict is that the West has for the past 30 years unilaterally altered the foundations of the European security architecture over the head of Russia as the largest state in Europe. Legitimizing unilateralism by dressing up power politics in the language of “democracy” and “values,” Russian security concerns have been ignored for decades and pan-European security agreements based on the principle of “indivisible security” have been violated. 

The EU and Russia reached the pivotal EU-Russia Common Spaces Agreement in 2005, which committed both sides to pursue integration efforts towards the common neighborhood “in a mutually beneficial manner, through close result-oriented EU-Russia collaboration and dialogue, thereby contributing effectively to creating a greater Europe without dividing lines.”

If the EU had honored this agreement and not attempted to marginalize Russia in the shared neighborhood, the current standoff with possible cataclysmic consequences would not have materialized.

Consequently, a divided Europe is destined to become increasingly irrelevant. Attempting to move the dividing lines incrementally towards Russian borders is fueling mutual sanctions and military conflicts, which results in Western Europe becoming more reliant on the US. Without strategic autonomy, EU-Russian relations will be hostage to US-Russian relations, to the extent the West Europeans have little to contribute. During the Cold War, the continent was at least the center of attention and a key priority for the US, while in the present era, EU members are becoming ever-more dependent on the US, which in turn is forced to prioritize East Asia as the center of gravity.

An unreliable partner?

Diplomatic relations between the EU and Russia have virtually come to an end, which suggests that the bloc is losing its relevance as an institution to organize pan-European security. 

The EU prospered as a collective hegemony in the pan-European space, as it could act unilaterally and deter Russia from responding. As the world becomes increasingly multipolar, this approach has merely set the EU’s neighborhood on fire, which they then try to resolve by threatening and sanctioning Russia into making unilateral concessions. In a multipolar system, sanctions end up isolating the bloc as Russia continues to shift its economic connectivity to the East. The EU has exhausted the sanctions weapon, which is problematic when it is the only instrument in the diplomatic toolbox.

Even when Borrell came to Moscow in February 2021 to improve relations, the political imagination was limited to lecturing Russia and presenting the EU as a neutral and innocent party to a Europe in conflict. Amazed that Moscow did not accept the role as the civilizational student to the EU, Borrell returned to Brussels and advocated more sanctions. 

When Russia proposed these talks to finally reach a mutually acceptable post-Cold War settlement, Borrell responded: “This is the first time that the Russians have put their agenda on the table in writing, in the form of a real treaty. This has never happened before. Only winners do that: To say that and these are my conditions.” Borrell went on to suggest that the point of departure in any discussions on European security should be to discuss Russian infringements, before outlining his plans to provide further military assistance to Ukraine. 

The talks about pan-European security should have started 30 years ago, as constructing a Europe without Russia would inevitably become a Europe against Russia. There is an imminent need to revive the art of diplomacy, which implies that the EU’s presence will be counter-productive. 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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