One of the refrains in the US media about President Trump’s decision to engage with President Putin was that it creates nervousness in America’s European allies. Evidence shows otherwise, at least in respect of what has been called “old Europe”. Strong criticism of the Trump-Putin summit came predictably from former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky (in a Washington Post op-ed), but Germany, France and Italy publicly welcomed the resumption of dialogue. President Putin telephoned Chancellor Merkel and President Macron to brief them on the outcome of the Summit and followed it up by deputing Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Russian Chief of General Staff to Germany and French for a more detailed briefing, particularly on developments in Syria. Both Germany and France are keenly interested in humanitarian assistance since it may help to stem the flow of refugees into Europe. France and Russia have already announced a joint programme.
Germany and France are also re-engaging in reviving the Minsk process on Ukraine, from which they had been virtually shut out since the appointment of a US Special Envoy. A meeting of the “Normandy Four” (Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany) at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers was held in Berlin to review progress in implementation. The big issue now under discussion is a possible UN role in settlement of the conflict. The Russian stand is that the UN can only have the limited role of arranging to protect the OSCE personnel monitoring implementation of the ceasefire agreements. The US talks of a UN peacekeeping force in the entire eastern Ukraine. Russia insists that this can only be done with the concurrence of representatives of Donbas – Donetsk and Lugansk, who are not likely to accept this proposition, since it would negate their territorial gains over the past four years and thus totally dilute their negotiating position. Russia most definitely does not want an international force on its border with Ukraine.
From Germany’s perspective, the Nord Stream-2 project has better prospects of going ahead in a less hostile US-Russia atmosphere. The EU’s stated intention (in the recent statement of President Trump and European Commission President Juncker) to import more LNG from the US addresses some of the commercial motivation behind President Trump’s opposition to Nord Stream-2, though not its geopolitical motivation.
July 30, 2018