Living By Double Standards As A Sign Of Europe’s Political Impotence – OpEd

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Recently, German Justice Minister Marko Bushman labeled Russian strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure as a war crime. “Systematic destruction of the heating and electricity supply was a terrible war crime”, the official said. It is difficult to argue with this statement, since attempts to deprive civilians of heat, light and the very sense of security in the harsh Eastern European winter hardly deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. 

However, it is surprising how short the memory of German officials is. For those who have forgotten, we recall that on March 24, 1999, the combined NATO forces launched military operation against Yugoslavia. At that time, strikes were carried out not only on the country’s electric power industry but also on civilian objects, including hospitals, birthing centres and schools. Unfortunately, Germany did not stand aside during that apparent war crime and provided the alliance with Tornado reconnaissance aircraft. Germany was involved not only in the military operation planning but in combat actions as well.

It is curious, but in 2009, most German politicians recalling the events that had happened 10 years ago agreed that the Alliance had made a tough but necessary decision. It was certainly not easy, but at the same time, it pursued a great purpose to bring peace to the Balkans. If you look through the speeches of Putin and other Russian officials, you can see the same words about Ukraine.

Putin talks about the need to stop the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine so that Zelensky could not impose his will upon pro-Russian population of Donbass. Joe Biden (in 1999 he was US senator from Delaware), speaking in Congress the day before the bombing of Yugoslavia, called to “degrade his [Milošević’s] military capability so significantly that he will not be able to impose his will upon Kosovo, as he is doing now.”

As we can see, both Moscow and Washington use the same set of arguments. The only difference is that the Americans are adjusting their position on seemingly similar issues based on the current situation. For example, in 1999 Anthony Blinken was a speechwriter for President Clinton and helped him justify the need to launch military operation against Yugoslavia. Today he expresses concern about the fate of Ukrainians stating that Mr. Putin is trying to weaponize winter. “He’s been unable to win on the battlefield so he’s basically turning his ire and his fire on Ukrainian civilians, going after the energy infrastructure, trying to turn off the lights, turn off the heat, turn off the electricity,” Blinken said.

Of course, this is terrible and horrifying but let’s go back to 1999 when NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea cynically commented on the strike of the Alliance aircraft on the Serbian energy infrastructure: “The fact that lights went out across 70 percent of the country shows that NATO has its finger on the light switch now. We can turn the power off whenever we need to and whenever we want to,” he said.

Moreover, here’s another quote of Peter Daniel, NATO spokesman in 1999: “Allied warplanes were not targeting the Yugoslav water system or main power plants. Instead, the attacks were aimed at the transformers and the edges, so to speak, of the electricity-generating system.” It is worth noting that this is a lie because key power plants were also bombed including TPP Nikola Tesla. 

As for nowadays, Anthony Blinken who had apparently reviewed the scheme of values labeled Russian strikes on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure as “barbaric”: “Heat, water, electricity – for children, for the elderly, for the sick – these are President Putin’s new targets,” Blinken said.

It is worth noting that, according to the current laws of war, power plants and power infrastructure are legitimate targets during an armed conflict. Strikes against them cannot be considered as war crimes. And here we step on the shifting sands of moral interpretations and political circumstances. 

It is highly likely that both Marco Bushman and his French counterpart Eric Dupont-Moretti who intend to bring Russia to justice for war crimes in Ukraine understand the meaning of the phrase ‘double standards’. At least, French President Emmanuel Macron knows this term for sure, as he used it while talking about the US policy to sell natural gas to Europe at higher prices.

Ignoring of hypocrisy while discussing some issues and alarming about the injustice during the debates on another ones is also the policy of double standards as well as a manifestation of weakness.

Washington acts from a position of strength and cares little about the opinion of a weak Europe. The United States can impose its political will on NATO allies and launch military operation in Yugoslavia, Iraq or Libya in favor of its economic interests and geopolitical ambitions. The United States can impose its prices on energy resources by removing an annoying competitor from the international arena. Bombing, threatening, sanctions – the set of tools is very extensive. 
It is time for Europe to stop being weak. While participating in American foreign policy performances as extras who only need to repeat pre-learned phrases, we lose the remnants of our pride. By practicing double standards, we turn into victims. It must be stopped. If there is a need to buy natural gas from a seller with a controversial reputation but at low prices so be it. This will be another tough but necessary decision.

Andy Holmes is a freelance journalist interested in current political events. Studied at Stockholm University, Department of Political Science.

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