Russia accepts what the EU has to offer and settles to negotiate with Ukraine

Italy, Milan, 10th Asia/Europe Summit (ASEM), 17/10/2014. Round table: Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor, Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister and President in office of the Council of the EU, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, François Hollande, President of the French Republic, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, and José Manuel Barroso (in an anti-clockwise direction). (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/10/2014).

Italy, Milan, 10th Asia/Europe Summit (ASEM), 17/10/2014. Round table: Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor, Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister and President in office of the Council of the EU, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, François Hollande, President of the French Republic, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, and José Manuel Barroso (in an anti-clockwise direction). (EC Audiovisual Services, 17/10/2014).

This time the Europeans did it without the Americans in Ukraine. They managed to convince Russia to guarantee unobstructed natural gas supplies for the war-torn country and the EU for ‘at least’ during this winter. They did it last Friday in Milan, northern Italy, during the EU-Asia leaders meeting. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the initiative. In the morning she spoke on behalf of the entire Union and strongly reprimanded the Russian President Vladimir Putin over his tactics in Ukraine, in front of other leaders. At the end of the day though, she had convinced him to change course. Let’s see how she did it.

As the international news agencies reported, late at night the Russian leader stated that adequate natural gas supplies will be delivered to Ukraine and the EU “at least for the winter”. Obviously, this was not only a clear consent to resume natural gas deliveries to Ukraine that were suspended last June. By the same token Putin also guaranteed adequate gas deliveries to the entire EU. This is not at all a small thing. In reality natural gas supplies are, or rather were, the most effective ‘weapon’ Russia could use to threaten or even blackmail Brussels and Kiev over the future of east Ukraine.

Putin surprised everybody

This development surprised many but not those who knew that Russia’s future cannot be built on an Asian venture. Russia tried it at the beginning of the twentieth century and it all ended up to a humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905. During the past few months Russia again tried an eastwards turn, after the West imposed on her a series of serious sanctions. Moscow realized a number of overtures to Beijing, but the occupant of Kremlin must have understood that nothing…compares to Europe.

In her long history, Russia as an imperial or communist power of global range had always been a core European country, leaving its marks on the geopolitical developments in the Old Continent and being deeply influenced by it at the same time. It’s not only that Russia’s economic relations with the rest of Europe cannot be substituted by anything else. There are a lot more things tying the two sides together. In reality, if Russia could ever cut off the rest of Europe from its energy supplies, Europe world retaliate and cut out Russia from the rest of the world. And this in no way can be mended by a Moscow’s opening to Beijing. Geography and history cannot be altered.

How did this happen?

Back to last Friday, it seems that Europe in Milan managed to agree on a platform to settle its Ukrainian problem without American ‘help’. The background was a gathering of EU-Asia leaders in the north Italian city of Milan. The interest however was concentrated on the successive meetings between the European leaders. The close encounters started with an early Friday summit. The leaders of the four most important EU countries, that is the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and British Prime Minister David Cameron, participated in a meeting between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.

Obviously the four west European leaders were there to back Poroshenko in his dealings with the Russian President. To put it bluntly they were there to negotiate Ukraine’s future with Putin. However, while the Russian leader had a very clear vision of what he wanted to gain out of the Ukrainian issue, the four westerners had widely diverging interests. The meeting had disappointing results. Angela Merkel though didn’t give up.

Later on in the day the German Chancellor and the French President Francois Hollande arranged a new gathering with the Putin and Poroshenko. The four of them along with aides, met in a hotel in central Milan. Reportedly it was the German leader who took the initiative in this last gathering. In the between she had strongly criticized the Russian in front of everybody at the EU-Asian gathering.

Understandably, Germany has a lot more at stake in the Ukrainian stalemate than any other of the three major west European powers. Undoubtedly London, Paris and Rome have their own interests over the Ukrainian question, but Berlin has far more to lose or gain from the final arrangement between Kiev and Moscow.

Merkel convinced Putin

It seems then that Merkel had very convincing arguments in bargaining with Putin. The most important of them must have been that Berlin holds the keys to the commercial and the financial relations of Russia with the Western world. London probably attracts the expatriate Russian oligarchs to live comfortably on their loots, but Germany is the catalyst and the pipeline for the real investments and commercial flows between Russia and the West.

As it turned out, after this last meeting, Putin indirectly clarified that he is not to use his most powerful ‘weapon’ against the rest of Europe; natural gas deliveries. Not only that, he also explained that Russia is to resume deliveries of liquid energy to Ukraine that have being ceased since June. Of course he added that he wants up front $4.5 billion dollars Ukraine owes to Russia from past provisions. But this is something that can be arranged. The presence of aides in the Merkel, Hollande, Putin and Poroshenko meeting shows that the bargaining was not only political one but detailed business aspects were negotiated too.

All in all, the final outcome proves that Russia decided it cannot detach herself from Germany and the rest of Western Europe. Asia may be a very large continent and China a huge country, but Russia has always been a European player. The country is a central actor in Europe’s history, spiritual and cultural tradition and this cannot be changed. On top of that, Asia is not an easy terrain and cannot guarantee to Russia multiple attachments to global developments. Consequently, Russia acknowledged that it can’t oversee Geography and accepted what Western Europe had to offer.

 

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