Ms. Merkel, Europe’s new Iron Lady?


Is Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, our new Iron Lady? A Wall Street Journal article today, Ukraine Government Forces Clash with Rebels in Donetsk, makes me ask the question.

We read that the fighting between  Kiev’s forces and the pro-Russian rebels hasn’t stopped and that today, Monday, Ms. Merkel said that the European Union is far from easing sanctions on Russia, given the recent clashes between the opposing sides that left at least 12 dead in some of the worst violence since the cease-fire signed earlier this month.

And furthermore given this situation, and especially the complete lack of steps taken by the Russian president in eastern Ukraine to calm things down, Ms. Merkel warned that the West had to keep up its pressure on Russia, and that it might even be necessary to reconsider Europe’s energy cooperation with Russia. “Given the absence of an effective border control and buffer zone in eastern Ukraine,” she said, “the EU is very far away from even considering the removal of sanctions.”

And she went on to say that Europe (Germany certainly) would do its best to insure that a reasonable situation results from the cease-fire in Ukraine, but given the present conditions in the lands in dispute there is currently no option to lift existing sanctions. Instead it will be necessary to keep up the pressure to achieve a reasonable political process.

She is talking tough. An iron lady? In any case she went on to indicate that it might be necessary for Germany, and Europe, to reduce their dependence on Russian gas. Germany gets now about one third of its supply from Russia and Ms. Merkel says that they will have to rethink their energy policy in the medium- to long-term if the present violation of basic principles of nations at peace by Russia continues.

Her language does make her into a kind of iron lady, speaking the truth to power, or better in the present instance, calling out injustice, in this case Russia’s aggressive behavior in the Ukraine, although she did avoid the term aggression.

Sylvie Kauffman, the editorial director and a former editor in chief of Le Monde, in another article, To Russia with Love, this in the opinion section of the Times and also on Monday, makes it clear just how alone Ms. Merkel is in Western Europe, to be hanging tough and speaking the truth. (In what follows below I try to give at least the sense and principal direction of Ms. Kauffmann’s article, but not every word, not every paragraph.)

It’s not only the actor Gérard Depardieu, his new residency in Saransk, Mordovia (a republic of the Russian Federation), where he benefits from a 6 percent income tax rate as a “private entrepreneur” and his antics about how proud he is to have become Russian….

When Sergei Naryshkin, the president of the Duma, the Russian Parliament’s lower house, came to Paris on Sept. 1, he had no problem meeting with French businessmen and legislators, even though he is not supposed to set foot in France, and Mr. Naryshkin is one of 119 Russian and Ukrainian individuals targeted by waves of European Union sanctions.

However, Naryshkin was let into France as the guest of the Council of Europe, an international organization based in Strasbourg. He certainly made the most of it: The highlight of his visit was a packed conference hosted by the Russian ambassador in Paris, where C.E.O.s of French companies with big investments in Russia and 10 members of the French National Assembly and senators from various political parties listened to his presentation of the “internal conflict” in Ukraine….

Ten days later, a group of 14 French legislators was in Moscow, again meeting Mr. Naryshkin and his Duma colleagues. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund who sits on the board of two Russian banks, is another visitor to Moscow and critic of sanctions….

The French fondness for Russia makes for strange bedfellows. Mr. Putin’s staunchest ally in France is Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front, whom Moscow has been actively courting for some time. Ms. Le Pen admires the Russian president’s “patriotic economic model,” as well as his defense of conservative values and his stand on homosexuality.

Marine Le Pen also got a warm welcome from Mr. Naryshkin when she visited Moscow in June. And she concurred with far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon when he described as an “unbearable betrayal” the decision by President François Hollande to suspend the delivery of two Mistral battleships to Russia….

If this pro-Russia current crosses party lines from the far right to the far left, it is because it is based on a strong suspicion that the United States wants to return to the Cold War and drag Europe in with it. Businessmen might not have such ideological motivations; many are privately critical of Mr. Putin’s erratic behavior, but argue that their companies are much more exposed in Russia than American businesses and that they need to protect their investments….

In the decades after World War II, the Soviet Union and attitudes toward communism tore apart the French left. Today, Russia and Mr. Putin are again a dividing factor — but along different lines….

After the Georgia crisis, Russia and Ukraine went off the E.U.’s strategic radar screen, replaced by a cosy neighborhood policy. From that point of view, Crimea, Donbass and Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 have provided a brutal wake-up call.

It does seem that at this time Ms. Merkel is the only prominent European who has heard the “brutal wake-up call.” Would that she be listened to.


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