France

Georgia On My Mind

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2008
France, Georgia, Germany, Great Power Rivalry, Russia / 1 Comment

If I were blogging these days–which I am not–I would want to take up some old themes about the role of Georgia (along with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkey) in US-led efforts to circumvent Russia in the export of Caspian oil and natural gas to Western Europe and to Israel.  (Note recent reports that Israeli was involved in the initial Georgian military offensive into South Ossetia on August 8.)

After all, the US-Russian proxy war in Georgia is a perfect example of Great Power Rivalry.

But I’m not blogging these days.

But if I were, I might also note that the US has been coordinating closely with its man on the Seine, Nicolas Sarkozy.  Formally, the French president is being consulted as the key US interlocutor because France currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.  And yet, I wonder whether there isn’t something more to it.  Yes, Sarkozy is the most pro-American French leader since… well, since Gilbert de Lafayette.  But the flip side of the pull toward Sarkozy is the “problem” of Angela Merkel.  No, I am not talking about the back rub.  I’m talking about the relatively cozy relationship between the Germans and the Russians.

And where is Angela Merkel on the question of Georgia?  Ask Moscow.  Back in March, AFP reported:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel signalled on Monday that she opposes granting NATO membership to former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia.

“A country should become a NATO member not only when its temporary political leadership is in favour but when a significant percentage of the population supports membership,” Merkel said in Berlin in reference to Ukraine and Georgia.

“Countries that are themselves entangled in regional conflicts, can in my opinion not become members,” she added after talks with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday during a visit by Merkel to Moscow that NATO was aiming to replace the United Nations and warned this raised the potential for conflict.

The White House is already signaling a willingness to engage Russia militarily in Georgia.  But it might prove quite awkward for Bush to have to “save Europe” from a future of Russian energy blackmail if Germany seems uninterested in being “saved.”

Cheney’s Man on the Seine?

Posted by Cutler on May 07, 2007
France, Great Power Rivalry, Turkey / No Comments

Is French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy Bush’s lapdog?  Cheney’s man on the Seine?  A Right Zionist in Paris?

In the context of great power rivalry, Sarkozy says he favors the US over Russia.  When he made the comment in mid-April 2007, RIA Novosti took notice:

“If you want to know which one is closer to me – the U.S. or Russia, which we saw in action in Chechnya – I will say the U.S.,” the candidate said…

“I tell great powers, including the U.S., that they are mistaken because they have not signed the Kyoto Protocol and that they are wrong in Iraq. But we have common values, such as democracy,” Sarkozy said.

Setting aside perfidious talk about “common values” regarding democracy, Sarkozy and Cheney may yet find at least enough common ground upon which to lay gas pipelines, specifically the so-called NABUCCO pipeline.

The Moscow Times says “Russia Faces Rougher Ride After French Vote” and notes that Sarkozy–like his defeated opponent–favors NABUCCO.

Sarkozy… support[s] the participation of state-owned Gaz de France’s participation in the Nabucco pipeline, which would reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas.

In a mid-April debate among the three top contenders for the French presidency, Sarkozy was the most outspoken in his support for NABUCCO.  Reuters reported:

The [three candidates] all expressed support for the Nabucco pipeline project, due to ship Caspian natural gas from Turkey to Austria, reducing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

Sarkozy went further, saying he was prepared to accelerate the project, led by Austrian oil firm OMV.

But Sarkozy is going to have to do a bit of backtracking from the campaign if he is going find a place for France along the NABUCCO pipeline.

Sarkozy’s relatively pro-American stance was decidedly not a “populist” way to distinguish himself from fellow “Union for a Popular Movement (UMP)” Gaullists, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac.

Instead, Sarkozy established his populist foreign policy bona fides by bashing Turkey and the idea of Turkish membership in the EU.

There will have to be some fence mending with Turkey–especially among the fiercely the nationalist military leaders that forced Turkey’s Islamic-backed foreign minister Abdullah Gul to withdraw his Presidential candidacy–if Sarkozy is going to restore plans for Gaz de France to join the NABUCCO consortium.

NABUCCO is a Turkish dream for transporting Caspian Sea gas.  It is strongly supported by the US and the EU:

If it is built and made functional by 2012 as intended, Nabucco can provide an estimated 15 percent of EU demand. The Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan pipeline was translated into reality from a dream. But what are the chances at this stage for the Nabucco Pipeline Project? The idea was conceived in 2002, within the EU’s Common Energy Security policy. It will start from Georgia’s border with Turkey, then run a 3300 kilometer stretch crossing Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, ending in Austria… Five energy companies have already signed up to build the pipeline, namely BOTAS from Turkey, Bulgargas, Transgaz from Romania and Mol of Hungary.

BOTAS Turkish state-owned pipeline company, has led the opposition to Gaz de France participation.

If Sarkozy is going to position France as a core member of an anti-Russian bloc in the EU, look for him to become decidedly more “pragmatic” in relations with Turkey.