November 11, 2021

Diane Francis


Today is Remembrance Day to commemorate the ending of the First World War, but let’s not forget that Russia has been at war with Europe for seven years, even though few choose to acknowledge that fact. Vladimir Putin’s strategy has been to conduct “hybrid wars” as well as “hot wars” to undermine the European Union (EU) and the sovereignty of all former Soviet satellite nations and republics. His agents and oligarchs operate in the shadows of Euro politics. They own luxury real estate, sports teams, newspapers, peerages, and politicians. They meddle in elections in support of anti-EU populists like France’s Marine Le Pen or Britain’s “Leave” side that pulled off Brexit. They have established a beachhead in Britain’s capital, otherwise known as Londongrad. They create dissension, divide societies and occasionally blow up things or poison enemies to advance their cause.

In August, Putin executed his latest bold move by dramatically throttling back the flow of Russian natural gas and plunging Europe into a full-blown energy crisis. This has finally drawn attention to his predations and resulted in some uncharacteristic pushback. But prices were driven through the roof until this week when he suddenly began to reverse course. Gas shipments were increased somewhat, and prices decreased slightly from record highs, but he had scored a victory of sorts by demonstrating his control over Europe’s energy markets. The lesson to be learned was that from now on, Putin could hold the entire continent hostage whenever he wanted.

History will record that the 21st Century’s Russia-European War began in 2014 with the invasion and occupation by Russian operatives of 7.5 percent of Ukraine, Europe’s largest country. Ukraine’s industrial base was destroyed, two million people were displaced, 14,000 killed, and a murderous shooting, or “hot war”, continues today. Europe and America propped up Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars worth of aid, loans, and weapons and hit Russia with sanctions. But Putin came out the winner: Ukraine, Europe’s poorest country, must support Europe’s largest army and singlehandedly protect the eastern wall of Europe from the Kremlin.

A year later, in 2015, Putin joined forces with Bashar al-Assad who was waging war against his own people in Syria. As the two destroyed that country, millions of Syrians fled to Europe and millions more ended up in gigantic refugee camps in Turkey. This undesirable deluge destabilized a thoroughly undefended Europe, sparking widespread anti-immigrant and anti-EU sentiment which led to the election of populists in Hungary and Poland. Worst of all, this began the breakup of the EU, the Brexit vote in Britain. And once more, Putin came out the winner: European disintegration had begun and he was given control over a region of Syria with a warm-water port on the Mediterranean Sea for his navy.

This year his weapon of choice was energy. In 2015, he began to lay the groundwork for energy domination by co-opting Germany into partnering to build a huge gas pipeline project beneath

the Baltic Sea linking the two countries directly. It would benefit German industrialists with cheap gas, but, more importantly, for Putin, the pipeline would bypass and replace pipelines in Ukraine and Belarus, leaving both weakened and isolated. This security threat was why the project was opposed by NATO, the U.S. Congress, and all EU members except Germany, which defied all of them and barrelled ahead. The pipeline has not been linked up as yet, due to Euro objections, which is why Putin created the current energy crisis.

A similar energy weapon helped Putin bag Belarus in 2020. Russia supplied all its oil and gas and squeezed Belarus into returning to Moscow’s fold. He now hopes to do the same with his next target, Ukraine, which is surrounded on three sides by Russian troops and tanks and denied the use of the natural gas it ships to Europe. It must buy it back from its European neighbors. In August, when Putin cut in half all gas shipments to Europe, via Ukraine, he also banned coal shipments to Ukraine. His newly acquired puppet, Belarus, then cut off all electricity and gasoline exports to Ukraine, and now hosts thousands of Russian troops along their shared northern border.

This fall, Putin once more weaponized migration against Europe by enlisting Belarus to hand out special visas to thousands of Middle Eastern and African persons and some families, flying them to Minsk, and transporting them to the Polish border. There they were forced to cross illegally into Poland, only to be sent back immediately. Like human ping pong balls, thousands of these people are caught in this trap, living in tents without heat and food on the Belarusian side. Poland now has 15,000 troops and fencing to protect itself from the real possibility that Moscow and Minsk will import tens or hundreds of thousands more illegals to breach the EU boundaries of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and eventually Ukraine.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki squarely blamed Putin: “This attack which [Belarus President] Lukashenka is conducting has its mastermind in Moscow. The mastermind is President Putin.”

The EU is preparing sanctions against Belarus for this on top of others imposed after Lukashenka violently cracked down on his people after he rigged his own re-election. The EU also enlisted Chancellor Angela Merkel to call Putin this week. A Kremlin readout of a phone call between Merkel and Putin quoted her as saying “the Belarusian regime’s exploitation of migrants against the European Union is inhumane and completely unacceptable,” to which Putin replied that the EU should discuss the issue with Belarus.

This was followed by an obnoxious tweet from Russia’s Foreign Minister that delivered the ransom demand: If the EU would scrap all its sanctions against Belarus, the migrant crisis would end. And Russia promptly responded to her plea by dispatching powerful strategic bombers to patrol Belarus’s airspace, claiming that the positioning of several thousand Polish troops on the European Union’s eastern flank represented a threat to Russia’s sovereignty. This was pure Putin pantomime.

Putin has concentrated his biggest assaults on Eastern Europe but has been actively co-opting and/or threatening countries in Central Europe and the Balkans. For instance, Hungary gets cheap gas, via Ukraine, because its President is a Kremlin sympathizer. Moldova, partially occupied by Russia like Ukraine, just had its gas completely cut off last month and was told that supplies would return only if it agreed to let Russia build a military base on its soil. Serbia is being bullied into buying Russian weapons systems. Bulgaria is already hosting a small Russian military presence. And in early November, an “accidental” explosion along the Turk Stream Line occurred, controlled by Gazprom, blocking future natural gas transmission to Bulgaria, Serbia, Austria, the rest of the Balkans, and Hungary.

The Kremlin works overtime to “capture” the political and economic elites of all European countries, especially those not yet in the EU. Speculation is that the next flashpoint will be Bosnia and Hercegovina because its leader has been co-opted by the Kremlin and may derail its accession into the EU by declaring independence from that process. That would be a major victory for Putin but an unsettling prospect that will adversely impact the Balkans as a whole and the EU.

Sadly, Europe is getting what it deserves. It has no continental armed forces to defend its seas or land base from migrants, terrorists, or contraband. Germany is a NATO laggard who trades with Europe’s enemy. France has been co-opted by Russia as a result of huge trade increases. All these, combined with Brussels’ cumbersome institutions, and years of foot-dragging, procrastination, and denial, have given Putin free rein. Tragically, the U.S. Congress had approved sanctions that would have permanently stopped Putin’s pipeline to Germany, but Biden’s team waived them because Merkel asked him to do so and because it has absolutely no Russian expertise or street smarts.

Germany is a spoiler, not just because of its Russian pipeline deal, but mostly because it has vetoed Ukraine’s request to join NATO despite its military sacrifices already. In July, Germany and Washington promised to slap sanctions on Russia if it weaponized energy but have done nothing. Worse, this week after weeks of Russia doing so, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stupidly stated that the “U.S. and Germany will act if Russia uses energy as a weapon.”

Just where has the American regime, or Berlin, been since August? Putin picked the correct time, strategically. Germany has been involved in a federal election and will be without a Chancellor for months due to its clumsy parliamentary system. But where is Biden in all of this? He was handed pipeline sanctions on a platter but listened to Germany’s lame-duck Chancellor Merkel. He asked Putin to de-escalate his armed mobilization around Ukraine in spring but was ignored. And he asked Russia to stop cyberattacks which began anew this fall.

It’s enough already. The West’s sanctions don’t cut it so it’s time to impose the so-called “nuclear” options to teach Putin a lesson in return. It’s time to crush that pipeline for good with Congress’s sanctions and then to threaten to exclude Russia from the SWIFT international payment system, an action that would destabilize Russia’s economy and isolate it completely. This is common sense: Bullies fold in the face of equivalent power and threats and he’s remained unchallenged thus far. There’s no guarantee he will behave but to do nothing is to guarantee that he will defeat

both the European Project and gobble up more territories. The lesson of history is to gird for battle or lose them.