A Political Tsunami Is Breaking In Europe, Threatening To Wipe Away Support For The Ukraine War
What today is beginning to crest as a significant political tsunami began just a few months ago as a little pebble tossed into the European pond by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was to be a human interest article by the German Magazine Die Zeit. It’s the kind of article editors often add during a slow news day. Ms. Merkel was asked to reminisce about her work on the Minsk Agreement.
Merkel’s Die Zeit Interview
The two Minsk Agreements had long since faded from our collective memories. As I recall, these diplomatic negotiations took place in 2014–15 and were designed to end the conflict in some of the breakaway republics in Ukraine. Checking the internet, I quickly discovered that it was the area of the Donbas, and it was occupied principally by ethnic Russians. There were accusations that portions of the Ukraine Military (the Azov Battalion) had been shelling these people. It was alleged that up to 14,000 had died in the decade before the negotiations.
In Die Zeit’s Interview, Merkel related how she was the chairwoman at Minsk, negotiating the Agreements. Also signing the agreements were Francois Hollande of France, Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Angela Merkel.
Not only was the timing of these negotiations a surprise, but they occurred fully eight years before the War between Russia and Ukraine began. But her statement that her objective during the negotiations “was an attempt to give Ukraine time.” In other words, it is time to build up Ukraine’s military in its ultimate conflict with Russia.
It was duplicity at the highest level.
And it destroyed the “Ukraine Narrative” developed by NATO. This narrative said the Russian invasion of Ukraine was completely unprovoked and was a complete surprise to the Western Allies. At the very least, NATO, the United States, and Europe had been preparing for this conflict for eight years.
While we can argue the merits of the two sides in this conflict, there is little doubt that Chancellor Merkel’s comments profoundly affected the Europeans. To the average German, French, English, and Spanish, the ones bearing much of the cost of this War, this was an authoritative voice saying this conflict is not what you think it is. It began much earlier and at least involved subterfuge on the part of the Western Powers. As we’ll see, much of last week’s events show how profoundly Merkel’s comments changed public opinion. Hers was the first great fissure in the Ukraine Narrative.
Zelenskyy At The United Nations
A week ago Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke for 15 minutes before the United Nations. As you’d expect, most of the speech centered on Ukraine’s conflict with Russia. However, he did manage to squeeze in a “slight” aimed at Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia.
While the rest of the European Union has elected to lift the “import restrictions,” dare we call them”sanctions,” of imported Ukraine Grains, these five elected to maintain their bans. This part is critical. These five countries, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland, did not change their position “vis a vi” Ukrainian Grain. They kept the status quo.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of Grain, ranking in the top six in its production of corn (maze), barley, rye, and wheat. When the War began with Russia, Ukraine saw that increasing grain exports would help support its War effort, so the increased grain exports. This increase in supply quickly lowered the price of Grain throughout the E.U., hurting local farmers who found they couldn’t compete. The E.U. responded by slapping restrictions on Ukrainian Grain. Those restrictions ended on September 15.
Aiming at the five countries that continued restrictions, Zelenskyy said in his U.N. speech that:
“…we are working hard to preserve the land routes for grain exports. And it is alarming to see how some in Europe play out solidarity in a political theatre–making thriller from the Grain. They may seem to play their own role, but in fact, they are helping set the stage for a Moscow actor.”
Of course, Poland has been the main “land route” for the export of Ukrainian Grain, the import of arms and military supplies to Ukraine, and the chief route Ukrainian emigrants use to escape the War. Poland has been a principal support in Ukraine’s ability to fight on. And now Zelenskyy chose the U.N.’s global forum to suggest that Poland, and the others, were becoming an ally of Russia.
It was too much for the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. On Saturday, he shot back:
“I… want to tell President Zelenskyy never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the U.N.”
Morawiecki was speaking at a campaign stop in Swidnik, a reminder that the Polish elections are just three weeks from now. An election in which the Polish farmers are a crucial swing vote. Any Polish politician supporting Ukraine grain imports will immediately lose the farmer vote, thus the election. Zelenskyy’s petulant comments that the Poles are “setting the stage for Moscow” are, at best, naive and, at worst, incredibly destructive. Losing Poland or any other four countries would be a most severe blow to Ukraine’s War effort. Poland’s logistical support is essential to Ukraine’s ability to fight.
However, there is much more to this story than merely a trade dispute.
Later in the day, on September 20, Prime Minister Morawiecki said that Poland is “not sending more weapons to Ukraine.” A statement that made headlines across Europe, and if valid, it would be devastating for Ukraine. It also caught Polish diplomats entirely by surprise. Government spokespeople quickly assured everyone that Poland’s current agreements to send weapons would be completed. After all, Poland has sent Ukraine four Soviet Era MiG 29s this year, with 13 more to come later.
Polish diplomats have tried to defuse the growing gulf between the two allies throughout the week. But clearly, something is brewing beneath the surface and about to emerge. Leave it to Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zbigniew Rau, to put his finger on it. A seasoned lawyer, academic, and diplomat, Rau is the Chairperson of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The exact position that Angela Merkel held a decade ago. So, if there is anyone who can understand the ramifications of her comments this summer, it is Rau.
I think that Rau sees it all: the political impact of Chancellor Merkel’s duplicity, Ukraine’s Zelenskyy’s blunder placing Poland and the others in a corner, and the anger exhibited by Morawiecki. But most of all, I think Rau understands that Public Opinion is changing. In Rau’s words, There had been a “radical change in Polish public opinion’s perception” of Ukraine and the Russo-Ukraine War.
It was a “radical change” in public opinion in Poland and much of Europe. You see it in the growing demonstrations against the War and in the opinion poll numbers for leaders like Germany’s Scholz, France’s Macron, and England’s Sunak. There are even rumors that Ukraine’s Zelenskyy’s popularity is very low, although he won’t need to worry about the election. He canceled them.
The tsunami grows.