The goose that lays the golden eggs for Russia and Achilles’ heel for Europe, energy has tested the unity of the Western bloc against the Kremlin two weeks after the start of the Ukraine war. Washington and London can afford to impose a veto on Russian oil and gas —although not without prejudice to their citizens— which is currently unrealistic for the Europe of 27, which, therefore, has not supported it. The shipment of weapons has also pulled at the seams: Poland announced on Tuesday that it was making its Soviet-made fighters available to the United States for Ukrainian defense, but the Pentagon has categorically rejected it.
The Polish government’s statement had taken the Joe Biden Administration by surprise, according to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, the third authority in US diplomacy, during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that same day. . This Wednesday, it was the Polish Prime Minister himself, Mateusz Morawiecki, who clarified that such an operation – a major step in Allied involvement – can only go ahead in a coordinated manner under the NATO umbrella. For that, the support of the United States is needed and Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, transferred the refusal to his Polish counterpart, Antti Kaikkonen, this Wednesday by telephone. The Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, alleged the “high risk” posed by the measure and the possible “escalation” of war.
“A decision as serious as providing aircraft must be taken unanimously and unequivocally by the entire Atlantic Alliance,” Morawiecki told a news conference in Vienna. Warsaw had proposed the transfer to the base that the United States has in Ramstein (Germany) of all its MiG-29 fighters, so that they could be put “immediately and without cost” at the service of the Ukrainian military. That is, to make them reach Ukrainian hands through the American ones. In exchange for these Soviet planes, for which the Ukrainians do not need prior training, Poland asked for American planes. “We did not agree to provide aircraft by ourselves because it has to be a decision of the whole of NATO,” Morawiecki stressed on Wednesday.
The cacophony is a sign of the pressure that is growing on the allied governments as the days go by since the Russian invasion, the number of dead civilians grows and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, asks for more help to stop the offensive launched by the Russian Vladimir Putin . The unity of the Western bloc, for the time being, is resisting the challenges that it has encountered along the way in these first stages of the war. Kamala Harris trip to Poland and Romania.
That is the message that, among other things, the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, seeks to convey on the trip that began this Wednesday to Poland and Romania. “As proud as we are of what we have done together as an alliance so far, we are well aware that many challenges await us and that a key to succeeding in them is that we work together with all our partners, especially those from Border states, like these two countries”, explained a senior US government official in a call with journalists about Harris’s visit to Eastern Europe.
The discrepancy over sending planes is on the agenda, as is a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, another key NATO partner. The shipment of planes has suffered several ups and downs and generated confusion since the beginning of the crisis. Before the statement from Poland, three days after the invasion, the European foreign minister, Josep Borrell, had hinted at the possibility of sending planes financed with European funds. The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, met on Wednesday in Washington with his British counterpart, Elizabeth Truss, and played down the differences on this matter. “It is something that each government must decide for itself,” he said, adding that the Polish proposal entails “complexities.” Even so, the head of US diplomacy assured that the talks continue and claimed the union. “We have surprised Putin with our unity and toughness on sanctions,” he stressed.
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The way in which Biden announced the embargo on Russian oil on Tuesday also hints at differences that are more practical than principled: “We are moving forward with this veto with the understanding that many of our European partners and allies may not be in a position to to join us,” he said. “The United States produces more oil than all European countries combined and we can take a step that others cannot, but we are working closely with Europe and our partners to develop a long-term strategy that reduces its dependence on Russian energy as well,” detailed.
Biden’s sanctions went ahead after days of pressure from the United States Congress itself, where Republican and Democratic legislators jointly requested a veto on the purchase of Russian crude, which only affects 8% of total imports by the United States. . There is no analysis on one side or the other of the Atlantic that does not highlight how crucial the Western unity that Blinken boasted of on Wednesday has been, and that Putin had probably underestimated after the diplomatic crises of recent years. The turbulent presidency of Republican Donald Trump, who treated Europeans as adversaries in the first place; and the clumsiness with which the Democrat Biden acted in leaving Afghanistan or the submarine agreement that he closed with the United Kingdom and Australia behind the backs of Brussels and Paris, in second place. Also the European Union, a club that has to agree with 27 governments, has managed to carry out unprecedented measures in record time. For Berlin to put the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was built to transport gas from Russia to Germany, on hold, was unimaginable not too long ago.
The conversations this Thursday at the European summit to be held in the French city of Versailles will be key to taking the temperature of the European partners regarding the next steps. In the union of the Western bloc, the step back that the United States took once the invasion began, ceding the leading role to Europe, has been key.
In the weeks prior to the war, Washington had placed itself at the head of the demonstration with the publication of its intelligence information, with the details of the sanctions that it was willing to apply to Russia if it attacked and, above all, the fiery alerts about an imminent attack. However, once Putin launched his troops against Ukraine, in the early hours of February 24, the leadership of the response fell to the other side of the Atlantic. From then on, Washington always announced the sanctions after Brussels. It was like that, of course, until reaching the energy sector, in which the different exposure to risks is abysmal.
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