Hooray for the European Union — in spite of a Nobel Peace Prize awarded largely on the basis of wishful thinking — for taking an important, tough-minded step, avoided by NATO and the United States [i.e., Barack Obama].Thus writes John Vinocur, the most conservative commentator working for the New York Times, in the International Herald Tribune.
Related: Moscow's current tone is "reminiscent of Soviet days"; If anyone is stuck in the Cold War mentality, it is the RussiansThe bold moment came last month when the European Commission opened an antitrust investigation against Gazprom, the Russian national gas monopoly which furnishes about 25 percent of Europe’s energy imports, for unfair pricing and blocking diversification of supply concerning eight E.U. members from the old Soviet bloc.Out of character for an organization once described by Jean-Pierre Jouyet, a former French minister for Europe and France’s former chief financial market supervisor, as dominated by a culture of connivance? I’d like to believe it matters little whether the European Union is being consecrated, even counter-instinctively, as a grand peacemaker, if it is really drawing lines that make clear where its tolerance stops and trouble for transgressors begins.The European pursuit of Gazprom as an energy bully has particular resonance because it comes at a time when Vladimir Putin’s Russia is supplying Syria with arms and support in the U.N. Security Council, renouncing a pact with the United States providing nuclear safeguards, ordering the closure of Unicef’s Russian office, and directing the U.S. Agency for International Development to halt its operations in Russia — all without the United States taking countermeasures.The E.U. investigation K.O.’s the argument that only born-again cold warriors regard Putin’s actions as serious, strategic problems for the West (starting with a significant measure of Russian control over E.U. and European NATO members’ energy supply).The investigation contains an additional message: the European Union’s willingness to challenge Putin’s attempt to play off wealthy Western Europe against poorer Eastern members by offering price flexibility to France and Germany while treating a Poland, a Bulgaria, or an Estonia as if they still fell under the Brezhnev Doctrine. That was the Soviet Union’s notion of its immediate neighbors’ limited sovereignty, reiterated by former president Dmitri Medvedev after Russian troops entered Georgia in 2008.Now Moscow, a new member of the World Trade Organization, has issued a decree barring “strategic” enterprises like Gazprom from divulging any information to foreign regulators.… just weeks after Barack Obama’s inauguration … NATO was never seriously pressed to pick up the ball. Kurt Volker, the U.S. ambassador to NATO at the time, said the initial American warnings about the energy squeeze involved “smart people who were operating on auto-pilot. Then Obama’s reset kicked in.”At its extreme, that meant the United States publicly saying it would not pursue linkage in its Russian policy — telling Putin, in effect, he could do as he pleased, with no price to pay. The E.U. Commission, all the same, has signaled that its limits have been overrun.Süddeutsche Zeitung, a leading left-of-center voice, called the investigation a brave strike and “the start of a battle against the power of Russia’s raw materials empire.” And the E.U.’s commissioner for energy, Günther Oettinger, a German conservative, has branded those energy reserves “Putin’s new Red Army,” and criticized Angela Merkel’s announced retreat from atomic energy as increasing Europe’s dependency on Gazprom as a supplier.
… As for Barack Obama, he cannot politically manage a shift in tone on Putin’s Russia with only weeks to go in the U.S. presidential campaign. But with Putin acting aggressively and unrelentingly, the president, if re-elected, could well find it necessary to speak out on the significant deterioration of Russia’s sense of responsibility, and stand up with protesting Russians the next time they fill Moscow’s streets.