While the West is fighting a war with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the European Union is bringing the relations between Russia and the West over Ukraine into an ever greater mess. The free trade agreement between the US and the EU, the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is likely to become the next victim of the Ukrainian conflict.
Last week, European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht warned that TTIP is at risk of never being agreed upon. He blamed the debacle on Washington's and Berlin's failure to provide political leadership. The real stumbling block, however, is De Gucht's own European Commission in Brussels. It insists that TTIP include an energy chapter in which Washington guarantees the Europeans unlimited access to US energy and raw materials in case Russia limits its oil and gas supplies to Europe.
The EU's dependency on Russian gas is huge. Countries such as the Baltics and Finland are 100% dependent on Russian gas. Even Europe's economic powerhouse, Germany, is dependent on Russian gas for over 40% of its supply.
This crisis is the direct result of the EU's own catastrophic energy policies in the past. Exactly one decade ago, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs foolishly created the conditions that permit Moscow to use gas as an economic weapon to a maximum effect.
In 2006, an exasperated Bush administration, which saw the present situation coming, warned the Europeans "about the use of energy to exert political pressure." Europe's conceited political leaders, however, did nothing to reduce Europe's dependency on Russian gas. On the contrary, they began to close down their own nuclear plants, with the disastrous result that the Kremlin currently provides more than a quarter of the energy needed in Western Europe. They also allowed Russia to build gas and oil pipelines directly to Germany, bypassing Eastern Europe. The latter, as critics in both Western Europe and America predicted, would allow Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to demand the same price for oil and gas from Russia's former satellites as from Germany, thereby putting the squeeze on countries that the Kremlin perceives as gravitating too much to the West.
The opening ceremony of the undersea "Nord Stream" gas pipeline, Nov. 8 2011. The pipeline carries gas directly from Russia to Germany, bypassing eastern European countries. Shown attending the ceremony are German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte and then French Prime Minister François Fillon.
Once the EU policies that would allow the Russian bear to blackmail the West were created, the geniuses at the EU Commission in Brussels decided that the time had come to start provoking the Russian bear. Ukraine -- an ethnically divided country, with pro-Western ethnic Ukrainians in the West and pro-Russian ethnic Russians in the East -- should either be split up or turned into a bridgehead between West and East. Brussels decided to swallow it as a whole.
Last November, when Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an EU association treaty, opposition parties backed by the EU began to stage demonstrations on Maidan Square in Kiev. Brussels, meanwhile, sent prominent EU VIPs, including several Foreign Ministers from EU member states, to attend the demonstrations, giving the impression that the EU would come to Ukraine's aid if it were to provoke a conflict with Russia. Yanukovych was ousted, a pro-EU government was installed in Kiev, Putin invaded and annexed Crimea, and civil war erupted in East Ukraine. Hundreds of innocent people have died as a result, including the passengers of a Malaysian plane shot down in all likelihood by Russian separatists over East Ukraine. Ironically, most of the plane's victims came from the Netherlands, whose Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans, meanwhile promoted to a top function in the European Commission in Brussels, had been one of the prominent Maidan demonstrators.
And finally, two weeks ago, with Ukraine severely divided, the EU association treaty was ratified by the Ukrainian parliament. However, that is not the end of the story. Last week, Russian President Putin wrote a letter to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, demanding the renegotiation of the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine. He threatened "immediate and appropriate retaliatory measures" if Ukraine implements any part of the deal.
Within a day of receiving the letter, Barroso announced that Brussels is ready to discuss both the implementation of the agreement and its effects on Russia if Kiev asks for revision. This puts the burden of Russia's pressure entirely on the Ukrainians, who by now should have come to realize that with friends like Brussels.... at least it is better not to have enemies in Moscow.
Brussels and Kiev, meanwhile, have announced that they will not enact the association agreement until at least the end of 2015, a statement which last Sunday prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to remark that this decision is similar to the proposal made by Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovich ten months ago, at a time when the bloodshed of the past months could have been avoided.
I have said it before: the biggest farce in international politics is the European Union. The Ukrainians have gained nothing from its support beyond a maimed country and hundreds of dead. But the fallout is everywhere. The West is entangled in an economic war with Russia, with trade sanctions back and forth.
Meanwhile Brussels has come to realize that, if next winter turns out to be cold, Moscow can make life very tough for all 500 million Europeans by cutting off its gas and oil supplies to Europe. Hence the current threats of EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht directed at Washington. There will be no TTIP if the US does not overturn its legislation that prevents it from exporting oil and energy products to Europe. This legislation was introduced in 1975 by President Gerald Ford with the aim of putting the U.S. "on the road to energy independence."
It seems that Europe, having made itself almost totally dependent on Russian gas and oil during the past decade, now wants America to come and save it from self-inflicted disaster.