by Finian CUNNINGHAM
Washington’s reckless attempts to scuttle the shaky ceasefire in Ukraine are unnerving Germany. The German government feels, with good reason, that the Americans are trying to undermine its recent efforts to mediate a political solution to the nearly year-old conflict, which has caused at least 6,000 deaths and up to one million refugees. Not only that but the violence between the ultranationalist regime in Kiev and the pro-Russian separatists in the east is threatening to spillover into a wider war that could involve Russia and the rest of Europe.
According to a report this past week in Der Spiegel, Berlin is increasingly alarmed at continuing bellicose statements by American supreme commander of NATO, General Philip Breedlove. The German publication notes that «hawks in Washington seem determined to torpedo Berlin’s [diplomatic] approach» over the Ukraine conflict.
Berlin has also lately adopted the view that General Breedlove and US State Department official Victoria Nuland are «working hand-in-hand» to undermine the Minsk ceasefire. That ceasefire was brokered on February 12 after marathon negotiations led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. While the truce has so far been breached on numerous occasions, it nevertheless appears to be largely holding. The widespread violence and shelling of civilian centres by Kiev’s forces have substantially halted. So, as EU foreign policy chief Frederica Morgherini noted this week at a summit in Riga, Latvia, progress is being made, albeit far from perfectly.
Washington, which remarkably was absent in the brokering of the Minsk ceasefire last month, has gone out of its way to deprecate the truce. US General Breedlove has been warning that the situation in Ukraine is «becoming worse by the day» – in stark contrast to the assessment of numerous observers, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Breedlove has also repeated hoary claims that the Russian military has invaded Ukraine with «thousands» of armoured vehicles, combat forces, anti-aircraft batteries and artillery. «Putin is upping the ante», he added, implying that Moscow was sneakily using the truce to re-group forces on the ground for a future offensive – an assessment that the OSCE, the official observers of the ceasefire, has not even considered, much less speculated upon.
These tendentious unfounded claims from the American General were reiterated in recent days by Victoria Nuland, the US State Department official for European and Asian affairs. She alleged without any proof that «thousands of Russian troops were in east Ukraine».
It is clear therefore that Washington’s policy is to stack up obstacles against the Minsk accord working. That will then pave the way for the delivery of more weapons to Ukraine, as Washington had promised last month. That delivery was pre-empted by the Minsk ceasefire brokered by the shuttle diplomacy of Putin, Merkel and Hollande. What the Americans are trying to do is set the grounds for diplomatic failure and for the resumption of hostilities.
Der Spiegel notes: «When it comes to the goal of delivering weapons to Ukraine, Nuland and Breedlove work hand-in-hand».
On hearing Breedlove’s doom-laden assessment of Ukraine «getting worse by the day», German officials were «stunned», according to Der Spiegel.
The magazine wrote: «German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)».
The article continued with an acerbic tone: «The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO».
This sober judgement is exactly what Moscow and a wide range of international independent journalists have been maintaining all along – namely that the NATO alliance under American command, along with European governments, have been been recklessly misled with baseless claims of Russian invasion and aggression.
However, it seems now that Berlin and other European NATO members are beginning to wake up to the «dangerous propaganda» that Washington has been peddling over the Ukraine crisis. Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reportedly was compelled to complain of Breedlove’s bellicose statements with NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg. Furthermore, according to Der Spiegel, «Breedlove’s public appearances were an official item on the agenda of the North Atlantic Council’s weekly lunch meeting [last week]. Several ambassadors present criticised Breedlove and expressed their incredulity at some of the commander’s statements».
The German chancellery has noted the «conspicuous» pattern that Breedlove, Nuland and other Washington officials have a marked tendency to ratchet up offensive rhetoric against Russia precisely at sensitive times where quiet optimism for diplomacy working would be a much more pragmatic and appropriate response.
In other words, the Germans and other Europeans are concluding that Washington is not interested in finding a mutual settlement to the Ukraine war. Washington’s logic is to escalate war, even if that risks plunging the continent of Europe into a conflagration with Russia.
This corresponds to a fundamental divergence in geopolitical objectives. While Berlin and the EU might have entertained a path of economic association with Ukraine and perhaps eventual integration into the bloc, it seems that the Europeans are certainly not prepared to risk an all-out confrontation with Russia over that prospect. Already the conflict has gone too far and is exacting a heavy toll on EU-Moscow relations as well as on their respective economies.
Washington, on the other hand, has much more than Ukraine in its geopolitical cross-hairs. It wants to use the conflict in that country as a bridgehead to destabilise Russia and to elicit regime-change against Vladimir Putin. That covert policy is amply documented, as well as fully anticipated by Moscow. And Washington is trying to use its leverage over Europe via the NATO military alliance to corral the EU into following its hidden hostile agenda – an agenda that is far from being in Europe’s best interest.
It should be glaringly obvious by now that General Philip Breedlove is not acting as a responsible commander of a presumed «alliance» between the US and Europe. He literally wears two hats: one as Supreme Commander of NATO; and, secondly, as the US Commander of America’s European Command. It is the second role that is evidently dominating his behaviour and statements over the past year. He is serving his political masters in Washington, not European allies. However, Breedlove cynically invokes his NATO role as a way of deceptively corralling Europe under the banner of the Stars and Stripes.
And by doing so, Breedlove and other Washington officials are pushing Europe further and more precipitously towards a catastrophic war with Russia.
This month sees hundreds of US troops arriving in western Ukraine to begin «training and military exercises» with Kiev’s armed forces, including the criminal National Guard units who have terrorised the civilian population of Donbas over the past year. Washington appears to be preparing for the Minsk ceasefire to fail and for its Congressionally-approved supply of weapons to Kiev to proceed.
But Berlin and other European capitals are beginning to rumble the American game plan, with its preposterous propaganda claims and reckless interventions.
Nonetheless, Berlin and the rest of Europe need to move fast to underpin diplomacy with Russia and to head off Washington’s death-wish plunge into the abyss.