But when U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was
caught using the "F-word" on an unsecure telephone line to disparage
European Union policy on Ukraine, it highlighted the fact that
neither Washington nor Brussels has much of a strategy for handling
the crisis in the former Soviet republic.
Since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich pulled out of a major
trade pact with the EU in November under Russian pressure, provoking
mass protests, the United States and Europe have struggled to gain
any influence over the outcome.
Nuland's outburst in late January, which leaked onto the Internet,
was apparently directed at the EU's reluctance to impose targeted
financial and travel sanctions on Yanukovich and his aides over a
crackdown on the pro-European demonstrations.
In another part of the conversation with the U.S. ambassador to
Ukraine, she discussed which opposition leaders Washington wanted to
join or stay out of a proposed transitional government.
Her tone recalled the 2003 book "Of Paradise and Power" by Nuland's
husband, historian Robert Kagan, who upset many in Brussels by
asserting that "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus".
In other words: Americans are tough, Europeans are wimps. Americans
take responsibility for international security, spend their
hard-earned dollars on defense, and recognize the threats to freedom
and stability in the world. Europeans are politically naive,
unwilling to risk their own blood and treasure, and happy to
free-ride on U.S. military protection.
Proclaimed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the
United States by al Qaeda and published in the year that President
George W. Bush invaded Iraq, Kagan's thesis was a child of its time.
Things look different a decade on. The United States has been
humbled by military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that turned
sour after achieving the initial objective of ousting hostile
rulers, sowing enduring instability.
Europe's preference for diplomacy, nation-building and the "soft
power" of economic engagement no longer looks quite so illusory,
though it has not necessarily proved more effective.
In the Ukrainian case, Washington and Brussels may differ on tactics
but they share common objectives, EU and U.S. officials say, and
neither is considering using force.
Both believe that Ukrainians should be free to choose closer
economic integration with the EU and that Russia should not be
allowed to thwart that aim with threats and sanctions.
Both are prepared to contribute to an aid package if Kiev meets
conditions set by the International Monetary Fund, which Yanukovich
has so far refused to accept.
Neither is willing to outbid the $15 billion offered by Russian
President Vladimir Putin in grants, loans and cheap gas to bail out
Ukraine. They have their own financial constraints and both see
Ukraine as riddled with corruption and fear their money would end up
in the wrong pockets.
Nor does either appear to have a viable contingency plan if Moscow
were to tip Ukraine into default by demanding immediate repayment of
debts to Russia and its Gazprom gas monopoly.
Both know that Putin regards keeping Ukraine in Russia's economic
and political orbit as a vital interest to resurrect what can be
salvaged of the former Soviet Union.
Both see Yanukovich as part of the problem rather than the solution,
although the Europeans are less inclined to regard him as a pawn of
EU officials harbor some hope that he may be willing to preside over
an orderly transition with constitutional reform and allow a fair
election if he and his entourage are promised legal immunity and
Diplomats say the United States seeks to isolate Yanukovich in the
belief that he can be forced from power by the protest movement,
although it does not say so openly.
Both may be deluded.
[to top of second column]
Some EU officials and non-government experts say Yanukovich, at
Putin's bidding, may just be waiting until the end of the Sochi
Winter Olympics in Russia on February 23 to launch an all-out
crackdown by Ukrainian security forces, driving the protesters from
the country's squares.
The only question in some minds is whether Putin, having worked hard
to burnish Moscow's image with the games, is ready to sacrifice it
before Russia hosts a summit of the G8 leading economies in June.
Opposition groups have mobilized all across Ukraine, including in
Yanukovich's eastern home base, so any attempt to crush their
movement could lead to serious bloodshed.
That may be preceded or accompanied by measures to tighten Russian
trade screws and raise military pressure on Moldova and Georgia, two
former Soviet republics that have agreed to EU association
Meanwhile Moscow is pressing Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to join its
exclusive Eurasian Union trade bloc, which the EU and China warn
would be incompatible with global trade rules. Neither central Asian
republic seems keen to do so.
Some EU aides fret privately about more radical scenarios in which
Russia might annex the Ukrainian Black Sea region of Crimea, where
the Russian navy has a major base in Sebastopol, and perhaps
partition Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
"Would the Americans intervene if that were to happen? Of course
they would not," a senior EU official said, speaking on condition of
Displaying EU resentment at Nuland's attitude, the official noted
that the Ukrainian protesters were carrying European not U.S. flags,
and asking to join the EU, not NATO. A Bush era drive to put Ukraine
and Georgia on a path to NATO membership foundered when Nuland was
U.S. ambassador to the alliance.
European reluctance to apply targeted sanctions against Yanukovich,
his family and security chiefs now is partly due to the experience
of such measures failing to dislodge the rulers of neighboring
Belarus or of Zimbabwe.
Some Brussels officials are also wary of driving Yanukovich deeper
into the arms of Putin.
The Europeans have their own divisions, with ex-communist central
and east European members seeking a tougher line in support of the
demonstrators and in resisting Moscow than countries such as France,
Italy and Spain.
Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy
Institute, which supports civil society organizations in Ukraine,
said the transatlantic differences were more about timing.
"The United States was looking for a quick political fix, The EU is
thinking longer-term about what a sustainable future for Ukraine
might be," she said.
Both risk being overtaken by events beyond their control, since the
one lesson that has emerged clearly from three months of crisis is
that Putin wants Ukraine more than either the EU or the United
(Editing by David Stamp)
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