Putin laughs at Blair, while France and Germany try to set up a European army
Many people say that the crisis of relations between the United States and France (and Germany also) will be over soon. However, today things are right where they started.
Of course, the commotion has settled down to a certain extent, but it is too early to say that the cold period is over in the relations between the USA and France. Countries are trying to be more sober in evaluating their role and place in the world. Washington has already determined its position, whereas Paris and Berlin are just getting started.
The world press has been writing recently that the United States of America is drawn to the idea of cutting its military presence in Europe. Of course, America is not going to withdraw its troops completely. However, the Pentagon is developing plans to shut down its bases in Germany. According to the official version of events, the USA is not intending to punish Berlin for its stance on the Iraq war. A part of the allied American army will be moved to East Europe, to the territory of the countries that have recently joined NATO. American officials allege that it is easier to control the situation in the Middle East from there.
Coincidentally or not, several European countries (France and Germany) suddenly got the idea that it would be good for Europe to have an armed forces of its own in order not to be so dependant on the USA. In any case, one cannot say that this is a new idea, for it appeared at least ten years ago. However, preliminary calculations for maintaining a 60-thousand-man-strong European army cut enthusiastic sentiments off. Now, the war in Iraq has pushed the economic aspect of the issue into the background.
For the time being, it is hard to say what influence these plans will exert on NATO's unity. Nevertheless, the split in the European Union is not going to recede. France and Germany (together with Belgium and Luxembourg) do not mind becoming the leaders of the new Europe. Are they going to do it?
On April 29th, Vladimir Putin conducted negotiations with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence (in the Moscow region) of the Russian president. The major subject of negotiations was definitely Iraq. To all appearances, after negotiations were over, both sides were still adhering to their original opinions.
Moreover, the British press considered the results of negotiations insulting to the British prime minister. The Russian president, newspapers wrote, made fun of the head of the British government, especially when they talked about searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Guardian wrote that Putin made a scathing remark about Mr. Blair: "Where is Saddam? Where are those arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, if indeed they ever existed? Perhaps Saddam is still hiding somewhere in a bunker underground, sitting on cases of weapons of mass destruction and is preparing to blow the whole thing up and bring down the lives of thousands of Iraqi people." The Times wrote that the British premier even interrupted his interpreter on several occasions.
This seems to be rather surprising: If American and British officials release various statements accusing Russia of every possible sin, it is considered to be fine. Yet, if Moscow issues harsh statements, it is considered to be an outrageous violation of everything.
On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that British reporters have exaggerated the situation in order to interest the public in the subject of top-level political negotiations, which are not very interesting for people.
One way or another, it is too early to say that two opposing groups have appeared in Europe. However, if it really happens, it will not surprise anyone.