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Merkel's Undiplomatic Dead-End with Putin

You have to at least attempt diplomacy before you can claim you've reached a diplomatic dead-end. Can someone please tell Angela Merkel?

Last week, Reuters reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had hit a "diplomatic dead-end" with Vladimir Putin and that German officials had "run out of ideas" about how to "sway" the Russian president on the crisis in Ukraine.

The story goes that Merkel, feeling exasperated by the West's lack of progress in appealing to Putin's masochistic side, decided to change tack.

<figcaption>Merkel's "poker face"?</figcaption>
Merkel's "poker face"?

Instead of confronting Putin in the usual combative manner that has become customary for the West when relating to Russia, Merkel decided she would keep things more simple during their meeting in a Brisbane hotel room during the G20 summit.

She would ask the Russian president "to spell out exactly what he wanted in Ukraine" in the hopes that his guard would come down and the two could share some friendly banter over a few Australian beers. Reuters didn't include that bit. I'm just assuming.

Nonetheless, it didn't go well.

German officials who were briefed on the conversation between Putin, Merkel and newly-elected European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, told Reuters that despite her best efforts, "all the chancellor got from Putin, were the same denials and dodges she had been hearing for months".

In fact, not only did Putin not give Merkel the answers she wanted to hear, he actually "radiated coldness" as one official put it.

And so there it was. The diplomatic dead-end had been reached.

But, you see, the thing about calling this a "diplomatic dead-end" is that it quite explicitly implies that Merkel and her American captors (excuse me, counterparts), were the ones attempting to engage in diplomacy.

If I could humbly ask, what other outcome is there, other than a "diplomatic dead-end" when one party tries to dictate all the terms?

What hasn't yet occurred to many in the West is that Putin's messages to Merkel in that hotel room were not simply "denials and dodges" but the articulation of a valid perspective which has been systematically sidelined since this crisis began.

A few months ago, before the European Union had handed its dignity over to the White House completely, there were quite a few strong foreign policy voices expecting Merkel to be the level-headed voice of reason who could potentially bring the US back from the brink and avoid a useless sanctions war and a swift downward spiral into complete and utter lunacy. For one, she was initially hesitant to impose the sweeping sanctions the US was proposing, so there was some hope.

Back in early September, Irish journalist Tom McGurk wrote that Merkel, as a child raised in the old DDR, "understands the Russian mindset on the matter".

"Hopefully she can whip the Brussels clowns into shape and we will avoid a catastrophe in Ukraine," he wrote.

Unfortunately it seems, on both counts, McGurk was wrong. Whether she possesses it or not, Merkel has displayed no understanding of the Russian perspective on Ukraine and as of today, avoiding further catastrophe in the Donbass seems completely impossible.

US Vice President Joe Biden has openly admitted that the American government had to "embarrass" the EU into joining them in imposing harsher sanctions. And whatever they did worked -- because sadly it seems that the German chancellor has entirely sold herself out to Washington.

What Merkel et al have failed to realize, is that they will remain at a diplomatic dead-end until they start to actually be...well, diplomatic. Any negotiator or any halfway logical human, knows that they will invariably hit a wall when they fail to take any of their counterpart's considerations into account.

This is why it's surprising that Western governments continue to be genuinely baffled by the fact that their methods thus far have been a complete and utter failure.

The Reuters article goes on to quote Ulrich Speck of the Carnegie Europe think tank:

"Putin has tools to influence opinion within the EU," he said.

Speck was apparently referring to the fact that numerous German news sites have been complaining for months now about an increasing number of pro-Russia comments under articles about Ukraine. This, officials say, is part of "an organised offensive steered from the Kremlin".

On a related note, accomplished Russia-basher Anne Applebaum (of married to Radek Sikorski fame) lamented in her most recent Washington Post column, that social media “trolls” were — and I’m not making this up — a “serious challenge” for democracy. Why? Because trolls (also known as people who disagree with Anne) and online commentary “subtly shapes what voters think and feel”. How preposterous.

Imagine that: the idea that anyone could turn their gaze to the bottom of an Anne Applebaum column and actually come out of it not agreeing with her. Threat to democracy, I tell you!

So it seems not only do the US and EU want us to close our eyes to the atrocities carried out by the Washington-installed government in Kiev, they'd also like us to believe that if we see the tide turning in public opinion, we should put this down not to the fact that more ordinary citizens are beginning to see the wood for the trees, but to a Kremlin-backed propaganda offensive that couldn't possibly be trusted.

In other words, if you see a comment defending Russia's position on the Ukraine crisis, that person must be on Putin's payroll. That is the logic Western media would like us to follow. Paid social media shills or not -- and I'd have no doubt that there are plenty (on both sides) -- it is outrageous, although at this point wholly unsurprising, for our supposedly independent media to be actively stifling debate and discouraging readers from asking the questions that need to be asked.

Addressing the Australian Parliament earlier this month, British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed Western journalism, describing it in glowing terms: "Our free and fearless press shines a light wherever it is needed, without fear or favour," he said.

I’d beg to differ. The light might be shone without fear, but it is certainly not shone without favour. I suppose it’s easy though, for Cameron to make that claim, so long as the light isn't shining directly on him for too long.

The fact is, all of these accusations and articles making reference to Putin's murky and shady ways of exerting influence in certain cohorts of the EU are missing the salient point.

They are missing the point because they are based on the false and dangerously pervasive premise that there is no legitimate Russian perspective in this conflict, which is a completely incorrect assumption -- and it's exactly why the West will continue to be bewildered by the fact that nothing they do, from sanctions to NATO military build-ups, will change Moscow's direction.

Because it is not diplomacy when one side gets to rule the roost and dictate all the terms.

It is not diplomacy when one side fails to acknowledge or comprehend the historical significance and ethnic complexities of a conflict which they helped bring into existence.

It is not diplomacy when one party loudly and arrogantly claims “breach of international law!” despite itself being the most accomplished nation on the planet at flouting international law at every hand's turn.

And it is certainly not diplomacy when a country thousands of miles removed from the violence supposes to tell those directly affected by it that their legitimate interests do not matter -- particularly when that country itself claims "strategic interests" over any earthly jurisdiction it feels so inclined towards at any given moment in time.

The United States would go to war over the harming of a hair on the head of a single American if it was in the right place at the right time and suited their hegemonistic pursuits.

Because, the fact is, that international law, like morality, is only selectively important to the American government. It is utterly unimportant when their "interests" call for it to be broken -- and crucially important when they perceive someone else to have done the same thing.

Any sane person would wonder, how could a country not be mortified to display such gross hypocrisy? How could its citizens not vehemently question how foolishly they are being portrayed to the world?

But the answer is simple. The US and many of its citizens still believe, as a matter of deep conviction, that they are exceptional -- the "indispensable nation" -- and they have not been able to fathom that Russia does not want to and rightly will not accept such outrageous arrogance as the basis of their negotiations.

Europe should not be aiding Washington in its hypocritical jaunts across the planet.

We will soon see the folly of doing so.

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