Macron and Trump Turn to Moscow, but Putin Holds Off the US and EU 

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to France was welcomed as a turning point in the EU’s policy towards Moscow. As we pointed out a short while ago on InsideOver , now that the Russiagate storm has fizzled out, by ensuring the support of Donald Trump and the White House in the reintegration of Russia only a few days before the G7 summit is due to begin in Biarritz,  Emmanuel Macron has taken on the role of absolute leader of European politics. As Politico wrote, Macron’s approach to Putin only days before the G7 meeting, “offered the French president a chance to try to position himself as Europe’s strongest leader, with the U.K. still struggling with Brexit and Germany’s Angela Merkel preparing to exit politics in two years.

Emmanuel Macron hosted Putin in France on Monday, during when the French leader announced his efforts to “tie Russia and Europe back together,” stressing his belief that “Europe extends from Lisbon to Vladivostok”. Putin did not leave him waiting for an answer: Russia is interested in restoring full diplomatic relations with the European Union and is expecting positive signals from the new institutions in Brussels, declared Russian president Vladimir Putin, during a joint conference with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistro, in Helsinki. “We obviously discussed issues on the international agenda. We are interested in restoring full-format relations between Russia and the European Union. This is why I hope that the new leadership of the EU will show a constructive approach to relations with Russia,” declared the Russian head of State. While there is interest, there is also great caution on the part of the Russian leader.

Putin acts cautiously: the many problems to be solved, starting with Nord Stream 2 

Moscow reacted to Macron and Trump’s reference to Russia’s possible return to the G7 with something of a cold shoulder. “Russia needs to receive and examine tangible proposals for it to return to the G7 group of nations if that is what is being proposed,” commented Russian Foreign Minister. Analysts are also sceptical.  According to the director of Moscow’s Carnegie Center, Dmitri Trenin, the G8 “should not be revived”. He went on to explain, “The price is too high, Russia is most unlikely to join the US in its rivalry with China, ” also adding, “It makes more sense for Russia to deal with USA, EU and Japan separately than as a group.”

Russia Today notes that “Western politicians’ words are one thing, and deeds another,“ and although “It is certainly tempting to believe that Macron and Trump have somehow come to realize the wisdom of Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, in which he warned about the perils of unipolarity,” Trump “has ratcheted up sanctions against Russia started by his predecessor, perhaps pressured by his critics.” 

In Helsinki the Russian president also broached the subject of Nord Stream 2, another extremely hot topic. “I can inform you that the work on laying the pipeline in the Finnish exclusive economic zone has been completed,” Putin declared after talks with Finnish president Sauli Niinisto. As Tass reported, Vladimir Putin went on to point out that Europe needs Russian gas supplies so the Nord Stream 2 project will be implemented despite threats from the US. However, the Russian leader does not exclude that Europe might choose to stop buying gas from Russia if pressured by Washington: “It is possible to imagine a situation where the United States will convince Europe to replace Russian gas with American gas. If they convince Europeans that they should buy gas from them at higher prices, then this will be the choice of Europeans,” Putin emphasized. On August 16, Gazprom communicated that 73,6% of Nord Stream 2 has already been completed. 

The deal on project financing has been signed with Engie (France), Omv (Austria), Royal Dutch Shell (Great Britain-Holland), Uniper and Wintershall (Germany). If completed, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will supply approximately 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, from Russia to Germany passing under the Baltic Sea, which means it will not be  not transiting through the Visegrad nations (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary-V4), the Baltic States and Ukraine, which all oppose the project. In other words, those countries whose security has been placed in the hands of Washington.

Putin: “Missiles in Poland and Romania are a threat”

During the joint press conference in Helsinki with Finnish president Sauli Niinisto, another major point of attrition between the West and the Russian Federation emerged. Putin declared that the US could potentially use its bases in Romania and Poland to launch missiles: according to the Russian president, Moscow must be in the position to respond accordingly. On the same day, the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, through a declaration made to the agency Tass, announced that Russia will “take wide-ranging measures in light of the mounting tensions along the country’s western borders,” thereby reiterating the President’s words. 

Commenting on the current political and military climate, Shoigu pointed out that the militarization of Nato’s eastern frontiers, the deployment of US missiles in Poland and Romania, together with the growing cooperation between Nato, Finland and Sweden, constitute a major threat. “We will take comprehensive measures to thwart the emerging threats,” Shoigu declared. Russia considers the expansion of Nato to the east as a threat to its vital strategic interests. This is the reason behind tensions between the US-led North Atlantic Treaty and the Russian Federation which is reacting with a mix of caution and scepticism to Macron and Trump’s recent openings, fearing the declarations are all a charade. 

In order to rebuild the difficult relationship between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty we need to take a step back and consider a significant testimony: “ When the reunification of Germany took place, we promised Soviet leader Gorbačëv – I was present – that if the new Germany joined Nato we would not expand eastwards to include former USSR satellite nations in eastern Europe. Even worse: we promised that Nato would intervene only in defence of member states, and instead we bombed Serbia to free Kosovo which was not part of the Treaty.” The testimony is by Jack Matlock, US ambassador in Moscow between 1987 and 1991 in an interview to Italy’s Il Corriere della Sera on 15 July 2007 and quoted in the book Atlante delle crisi mondiali (Rizzoli, 2018), by former Italian ambassador Sergio Romano. If the West does not understand this pivotal moment in history, it can hardly understand Russia’s outlook onto the world.