July 16, 2009: The Day the World Changed
The Spiegel report that accompanies the historic photograph above (tersely credited to "DDP") starts as a snark piece about Russian President Dmitry Mevedev turning on the charm and getting German Chancellor to smile during their meeting in Munich on July 16, 2009. As you can see Chancellor Merkel had done plenty of smiling months earlier:
March 31, 2009: Merkel and Medvedev attend a meeting of German and Russian economic leaders at the Chancellery in Berlin
(Photo: Sean Gallup for Getty Images Europe)
However, the Berlin meeting, which was to prepare for a G20 summit in London, was pro forma. It was the Munich meeting which was the biggie. After clowning around for a few paragraphs Spiegel moved to a discussion of Medvedev's approach to Russia's human-rights issues. Then after a riveting discussion of how to remove grass stains from socks the report finally doles out a few hints regarding the importance of Medvedev's trip to Munich:
The two sides also agreed to develop a common school textbook together. Work on the project is set to begin later this year. If anything concrete comes out of the efforts, it will be a remarkable success. Russians and Germans currently have a very different view of their shared history. A common school textbook could help to promote mutual understanding between the two nations. The chancellor went as far as to praise the way that German-Russian relations had "greatly intensified."In what might be the biggest understatement of this young century Schockenhoff added, "Last year, the Georgia war dominated the mood, but this year there is a very different atmosphere of trust."
Andreas Schockenhoff, the German government's commissioner on German-Russian relations, also says that more concrete projects need to be agreed upon in the future. "But the dialogue is getting more and more open," he says.
United Press International was a little more forthcoming about the import of the Munich meeting:
Medvedev in Germany to talk Nord StreamBut it was left to John Batchelor to put all the pieces together, which he did in such spectacular fashion that Stephen F. Cohen, the great Russia scholar, was struck speechless for a few seconds.
MUNICH, Germany, July 16 (UPI) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss energy security and the Nord Stream gas pipeline.
Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to Medvedev, said fuel and energy cooperation were at the top of the agenda for the meeting between the two leaders. He added the talks focused particularly on the political aspects of implementing the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which he described as of "strategic importance not only for Russia and Germany, but for the whole of Europe," RIA Novosti reports.
The Nord Stream gas pipeline would transit along a dual route through the Baltic Sea to Germany. Russia sees the project, and its South Stream counterpart, as an option to avoid politically sensitive routes through Ukraine that transfer 80 percent of all Russian gas to Europe.
Europe, for its part, puts its faith in the Nabucco pipeline, though that project suffers from a lack of firm commitments from potential gas suppliers and financial shortfalls.
Merkel in March said she wants no public funding for the $10.3 billion Nabucco project.[...]
Finally Dr Cohen said slowly, more to himself than to Batchelor, "I think you might be onto something."
So then everyone around the world who was tuned into Batchelor's radio show began scribbling notes like mad.
Batchelor saw the Munich meeting as a harbinger of the end of NATO as the world had always known it. Unfolding events over the next year showed he was correct. Yet there was no single event, no specific crisis to signal that a massive shift in old alliances was underway. However, with regard to Germany there were at least three situations that taken together were a large factor in Merkel's historic decision to turn over a new page in German-Russian relations, and which had taken years to come to a head.
2008: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on hold after putting through a call to State to learn whether the CIA would assassinate him for ordering a military strike on South Ossetia
1. The proposed Nabucco pipeline -- proposed to serve Europe as an alternative to Russian natural gas -- and proposed to be supplied with gas by those bastions of stability, "Iraq in cooperation with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and possibly Egypt." Wikipedia adds helpfully:
Concerns have been raised about the safety of the project. The pipeline will cross through unstable areas of Turkey's Southeast region. In recent years the Kurdistan Workers' Party claimed responsibility for blowing up the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline and the Tabriz–Ankara pipeline in Turkey. ... Gas for the Nabucco pipeline coming from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan will have to pass near areas of instability in the South Caucasus.Understand that Washington had wanted Germany to pick up a big share of the tab for funding the Nabucco nightmare, which, when Wikipedia last checked, still hasn't found funding.
2. U.S. and British machinations in Ukraine, which egged on Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko to escalate his cold war with Putin. This included holding Europeans who were dependent on Russia natual gas hostage to the prospect of freezing in the winter, and which threatened to crash a good chunk of the EU economy. And which by 2008 also had something to do with a cold war between the Kremlin and the British foreign office over a joint oil deal involving British Petroleum -- er, "BP."
3. The very same war in Georgia that Herr Schockenhoff delicately alluded to. You remember that war, right? The one where presidents Bush and Putin had to learn while sitting next to each other at China's Olympics that Georgia's president -- the necktie-chewing Mikheil Sakaashvili, installed as Georgia's President in a U.S.-orchestrated putsch ("The Rose Revolution") -- was trying to start World War Three?
Yeah. That war.
There are surely additional reasons not specifically related to the United States -- the economic crisis for one, which brought home to Germans that they couldn't continue bankrolling the expansion of the European Union at the rate they'd done in the past.
And there was simply the fact that a shaking out in alliances was inevitable when it became clear to West Europeans that continuing with the policy of using former Soviet republics to create an ever-expanding front against Russia was threatening to create the very instability on the Continent that had driven European fear of Russian hegemony. The Georgia war was the starkest demonstration that there had to be a realignment of priorities for Europe, even if this caused a major rift with the United States.
And so, when Medvedev showed up in Munich three days after the Nabucco Pipeline Intergovernmental Agreement between Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria was signed by five prime ministers with the European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso and Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar and Ranking Member of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Senator Richard Lugar looking on and beaming, Angela Merkel said to him -- paraphrasing here -- For God's sake, let's try for sanity.
And with such few or similar words, the small cracks in the NATO alliance widened to a gulf, which finally ushered in the true post-Soviet era.
The question is whether the Libya crisis -- the response of the United States and European NATO nations to the uprising in the country -- is part of a shift in alliances on the European continent, or whether the crisis was in some way precipitated by it.
In an attempt to divine an answer I must turn to the occult on account of the Beeb rolling up much of its operation in Russia, FNC shutting its Moscow Bureau, the ABC and CBS Moscow bureaus shuttered and reporters at CNN's Moscow bureau (if there's even one left) spending their days playing darts and yelling out the window to any Russian who looks like FSB, 'We're NOT spies!'
So give us a moment while we retrieve the Ouija board. [clattering sounds] All right; everyone quiet please because I've never tried this before with people listening in.
Oh Ouija, why did Nicolas Sarkozy decide to invade to Libya on the advice of a philosopher, and does the improved relationship between Russia and Germany have anything to do with the decision, and how can the United States get out of the mess in Libya?
All right; now I wait, and hope the spirit world is in a good mood. The last time I asked Ouija for insight into European affairs I got the spirit of a Prussian general. It gave me plans for laying siege to Paris and a recipe for pickled herring. I used to have a spy at the German embassy here in Washington, a young raccoon with a good ear for German and a gift for acting adorable, but then it bit a caterer -- ssshhh, Pundita! Quiet! [whispering] Just see what I have to go through because the editorial boards of the New York Times and Washington Post want to act like members of the NSC and desks at the U.S. Department of State instead of doing their job -- sssshh! The wedgie's moving!
"Il faut savoir" -- looks French. So now we have to traipse to a translator program......
Translation: "You have to know how to give an egg to get an ox."
Never what I want to know, always what the spirit world wants me to know. Well, let's see what inspiration we can glean from a French proverb about an egg and an ox. I think this requires a trip in the time machine:
March 17, 2009March 17, 2009. Why does that date have a familiar ring? Oh yes; the National Assembly vote on France rejoining NATO happened just a few days before the March 31, 2009 meeting between Merkel and Medvedev in Berlin ahead of the London G20 Summit. Moving ahead in the time machine:
Sarkozy wins French NATO re-entry vote
PARIS, France (CNN) -- Opposition lawmakers Tuesday ridiculed President Nicolas Sarkozy for taking France back into NATO's military command after more than 40 years, but were unable to stop the move when it came to a vote.
The National Assembly voted in favor of Sarkozy's plan, 329-238.
Socialist Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister, told Prime Minister Francois Fillon: "You tell us this would mean more independence and more influence. It would probably mean less independence and less influence."
The move did not technically require parliamentary approval, but the president's party scheduled the debate to give opponents a chance to voice their opinions -- and to show a majority backed it.
Asking the National Assembly to vote on the issue also showed how sensitive the matter is in France.
France was a founding member of the NATO alliance in 1949 but it left the military structure in 1966 amid friction with the United States.
"To cooperate is to lose your independence," French President Charles de Gaulle said at the time.
For the next 43 years, even though France selectively participated in NATO military operations, de Gaulle's principle remained the governing cornerstone of French foreign policy.
If Paris took orders from NATO military commanders, it was reasoned, the nation would no longer have complete control of its destiny.
Sarkozy, however, believes the opposite -- that cooperation in NATO is a guarantee of French independence.
Rejoining NATO's military command, he argued, will give France a seat at the table for decision-making.
From its earliest years, the organization's trans-Atlantic ties were strained because U.S. analysts warned that if the European allies failed to increase their contributions to the alliance, they risked losing the support of the United States, according to NATO.
Meanwhile, the European nations felt the United States was trying to dominate the organization, according to NATO.
De Gaulle's 1966 decision meant no French forces could be under permanent allied command and that France would have no participation in defense planning.
In 1995, France rejoined NATO's military committee, which advises NATO's political authorities on military policy and strategy and provides guidance on military matters to NATO's strategic commanders.
While France was still not a part of the military command, it contributed troops and funding to NATO activities, including actions in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Half of all French troops outside the country are assigned to NATO military operations.
Opponents of Sarkozy's move -- who include some members of his party -- believe de Gaulle, not Sarkozy, had it right. They started a last-minute petition drive to stop his march back into NATO.
"With this decision, France will return as a subordinate country and will lose its ability to represent another image in the world," said Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a member of the French National Assembly.
The president's allies calculate Sarkozy's move will strengthen Europe's hand on defense issues.
"There will be more European weight in the way decisions will be made," said Louis Giscard d'Estaing, a member of the National Assembly's U.S. Friendship Committee. "Therefore, the balance of power between the USA and Europe will be re-established within this French move."
March 22, 2011I can't buy Sarkozy's stated rationale for opposing a NATO-led military operation in Libya because by his reasoning the Arab world would also be alarmed by any Western-led operation, including a French one.
Sarkozy opposes Nato taking control of Libya operation
Dissent from Germany, Turkey and Norway leaves question marks over command structure
By Kim Willsher in Paris
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has opposed handing over control of the military operation in Libya to Nato, saying the move would send the wrong message to Arab nations.
At a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Nato's decision-making committee on Monday, the French representative reportedly stormed out after being accused of hindering Nato's involvement in the campaign. France had flatly refused to agree to the proposal, which was later agreed by a majority of member countries.
The German representative is also reported to have left the meeting after his country was criticised for not wanting to get involved.
Turkey, angered that the French president had failed to invite it to Saturday's summit in Paris, refused to give carte blanche for a no-fly zone over Libya.
Western diplomats say Sarkozy angered Britain and the US by announcing French planes were already in the air and ready to attack Libya before many of his allies had even left Saturday's meeting to decide on military action, and before informing his partners.
Afterwards, the French president -- who will be seeking re-election next year -- was congratulating himself for what the French called his "diplomatic blitzkrieg" in pushing through UN resolution 1973 authorising the offensive against Muammar Gaddafi.
However, after Monday's meeting, Norway said it was "suspending' participation of its F-16 fighter jets, which had already arrived in Italy before flying on to Crete, until it had "a clarification of the command [structure]".
Germany and Turkey do not want Nato to carry on the bombing campaign against Gaddafi's forces; Luxembourg, present at Saturday's summit, has said it will only take part if the operation is Nato-led; Italy is "reflecting on the use of its bases" for the operation.
The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said Nato was "willing to come to the support of the coalition in a few days", suggesting a role for the organisation that is complementary rather than central.
A French military source told AFP it was a case of "finding a way to get Nato involved without it being seen to head the operation".
While France has been giving the impression it is heading the operation, the military attacks on Libya are, according to Juppé, "an operation co-ordinated by the US in direct collaboration with the French and British authorities". It is being led from US bases in Germany and Italy.
This is apparently the first time London, Paris and Washington have failed to come up with a unified chain of command for the operation. [Pundita note: I think the reporter meant to write "an" operation.]
Laurent Teisseire, spokesman for the French ministry of defence, told journalists: "There is no centralised chain of command at this moment. Everyone is using their own military structures in a co-ordinated fashion."
This unprecedented, three-pronged command is reflected in the different names for the operation: The French are calling it Harmattan (the name of a hot wind that blows over the Sahara); in Britain, it is Operation Ellamy; and in the US, it is Odyssey Dawn.
Le Nouvel Observateur magazine described it as "a boat without a captain".
Yet Sarkozy is no fool. So while it's tempting to chalk up his headlong rush into the Libyan uprising to a response to a humanitarian crisis, or to show his political opponents that France would not be marginalized by NATO membership, or to an attempt to head off a massive influx of refugees, or even a big move in the chess game of oil politics or all the above, I remain perplexed by his very strong initial opposition to NATO control of the Libya operation.
Here I'm reminded of Diana Saluri Russo's January 30 article for the Global Journalist, Is the Foreign News Bureau Part of the Past? She writes:
While some might herald the futuristic era that web-based journalism -- with its blogs, tweets, and YouTube videos -- is bringing to foreign reporting, Tobias Piller, long-time Rome correspondent for a German newspaper, has a different take.I urge you to read the entire article, which is a sobering assessment of difficulties that present-day journalism is posing not only for individual news consumers but also for governments.
For Piller, relying on nonspecialists and drop-in coverage in place of regular foreign correspondents is, in fact, taking foreign coverage back to earlier days.
“When I arrived in Rome 17 years ago, there was what I would call an older generation of foreign reporting,” says Piller. “It basically consisted of something like a ‘letter from Rome’ maybe every two weeks—an analysis of the country’s curiosities, an analysis of politics now and then, mostly stereotypes. It was basically a generalist’s view.”
As mainstream media replace foreign correspondents with “hot spot” drop-in coverage, outsource to local hires and newswires, and even the Vatican turns to YouTube, Piller says the demand for and faster arrival of information creates a different type of journalism, which often results in a kind of painting in broad strokes.
Piller, who covers Rome for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, cites German confusion about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s continuing popularity in Italy as an example of what only in-depth, authoritative reporting can offer.
“Germans can’t understand why Italians elect Berlusconi over and over again,” he says. “They say he is a crook, so why does this happen. Or they think Italians have been brainwashed. The fact is that Italy is very complicated. Italians don’t see it so much as black and white. You need to see it from the inside. If you are not an official journalist, you are not able to explain that.”
Things have come to the point where only the John Batchelor Show and the big news wire services such as Reuters and Associated Press routinely provide ongoing media coverage of regions around the world whether or not there's a crisis or big 'breaking' news story from a region.
That's how John was able to spot the importance of the Munich meeting, and why his audience could appreciate its significance: for years his show had routinely featured reports and analysis on Europe and Russia.
Munich is by no means the only instance when John noted an emerging trend before other analysts and the mainstream press saw it. He can be months and even years ahead of the curve; he's simply a brilliant analyst who's had many years of practice, which doesn't mean he can't make mistakes in his initial estimates of a situation. But no small part of his ability to spot important trends is because he tracks regional developments all around the world, over time.
Yet routine ongoing coverage of world regions is being reserved more and more for online magazines, subscription journals, specialty blogs and message boards; John's radio show is a rare exception in that it's available through a major mainstream mass-media outlet.
Photo Caption from Global Journalist: "Foreign news bureaus, such as this 1930s Associated Press London bureau, used to bustle with energy. Now many foreign bureaus are closing and switching to local reporters.
AP Photo: Uncredited)"