It’s been almost two months since my last blog, as I’ve been busy with my books, and also seriously inclined to discontinue this effort for lack of feedback. Today’s G20 Summit however is calling so loudly for a comment that I cannot resist.
RT’s claim that President Obama still doesn’t want to talk to President Putin, notwithstanding yesterday’s affirmation via MSNBC that he continues to hope the Russian President will change his mind about Syria, is a piddling piece of disinformation compared to the bigger picture (it’s always the Big Picture that counts) that is taking shape in St. Petersburg.
In this morning’s coverage, RT showed President Obama in worried conversation with the two European heads, Von Rompuy and Barroso. Following the stunning vote by the British Parliament not to participate in the United States’ plan to strike Syria, that picture tells me the European Union, usually a docile if not enthusiastic accomplice, no longer feels it has much to lose by not obeying Washington’s marching orders. Following are a few developments that might be influencing their change of attitude:
The NSA spy scandal is making Europe, lead by Germany, rethink the wisdom of a major trade pact with the United States which, like a counterpart in Asia, would strengthen American power;
The BRIC countries, Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, have announced a meeting on the Summit margins to discuss plans for an alternative to the World Bank;
And then there’s Syria. That county is a lot closer to the European home than Afghanistan or even Iraq. It sits next to the Holy Land, with an important Christian history that started with the crusades, and borders on NATO stalwart Turkey, whose people are adamantly opposed to intervention. All of this may weigh more heavily on the European conscience than the fact that Syria is a Russian ally, considering Europe’s growing dependence on Russian gas. I won’t get into the issue of the Nabucco Pipeline vs North and South Stream projects because it makes my head ache and is probably a hyped-up issue anyway. More important than competing pipeline routes is the fact that in a few short decades, Russia has gone from wanting to be part of the European House, in Gorbachev’s words, to partnering with it in increasingly vital ways.
I find it quite amazing that political observers, at least on this side of the Atlantic, appear to have forgotten that for decades they were warning of an imminent Soviet military takeover of Europe or at least, of a soft takeover they called Finlandization. The new ‘enemy’, Islam, has erased a thirty year obsession from the minds of an entire cohort of intellectuals, without making the slightest room for historical insights. Yet how not to think of Peter the Great, as the world’s presidents gather in the city he built in the early eighteenth century as part of an effort to bring his country into the European modern age?
Although this is a smaller irony, Putin was born in St Petersburg, Dmitry Medvedev studied there and both started their political careers in the city briefly known as Leningrad. If I know anything about the importance of history in Russian education, they cannot fail to have been influenced by the legacy of their country’s great reformer, even if it is the Black Sea city of Sochi that has been front and center as the country prepares to host the 2014 winter Olympics, because more people are moved by sports than by history).
RT’s Rory Suchet pointed out another oddity: the American media has been harping on Russia’s announced Security Council veto of military action against Syria, while remaining silent on China’s equally firm opposition in that body, due of course to Washington’s dependence on Chinese financing of its debt.
While you watch sanitized reports about the G20, reflect on the fact that while Peter the Great’s project suffered a multi-century setback, it is being realized in spades – hopefully not too late for the world to pull back from its multiple brinks, starting with Syria.
Peter the Great, portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1698