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Tectonic shifts on the European chessboard

By Alexis Papachelas

Are we on the brink of another cold war? And if so, what would this mean for Europe? It may be an exaggeration, but there are certainly signs of escalating tension between Russia on the one side and the European Union and the United States on the other.

Russia today is nothing like the humiliated superpower it was under former President Boris Yeltsin. One former Greek premier recently described how uncomfortable he and other guests had felt at an international gathering at the time when US President Bill Clinton and certain other officials had decided to get Yeltsin drunk in order to have a laugh. Those days are long past. Moscow today is playing hardball.

Its policy on Syria worked because as the West eventually discovered, with the usual delay, the enemies of the regime of Bashar al-Assad are hardly candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize themselves. Russian President Vladimir Putin put the Americans right where he wanted them with his deal over Syria and scored points.

In the case of Ukraine, the situation is somewhat more complicated. Europe has tried to play a tough game but, being Europe, it hasnt managed to see it through, at least not yet. In Moscow, one man makes the decisions, without much back talk, and one man carries them out. Things in Europe are quite different given the democratic process and the complexity of the decision-making mechanism in Brussels. It is too soon to announce who will come out on top in regards to the Ukraine issue, but what is certain is that Russia has safeguarded its interests.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the complete backing of Washington, would like to take a tougher line toward Moscow. But the fact is that this is not easy because, as most analysts agree, the German business lobby is tightly bound to Russian interests.

Many observers believe that Germany and Russia, if not the European Union and Russia, are headed for a clash. We are still a long way away from conflict, of course, because the two regions share a lot of common interests. But the fact is that a growing number of voices in Europe are calling for closer cooperation between member states in defence and intelligence.

Key to this developing climate is the rapid withdrawal of interest from the United States in the region and its shift of focus to Asia, which has created a vacuum that must be filled. Who will come in to fill, how it will be done and who will bear the cost is another issue. For the time being, we are experiencing a period of great tectonic shifts on the chessboard of Europe that will inevitably affect Greece at some point as well.

ekathimerini.com , Sunday December 22, 2013 (18:29)  
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