This week the European Union, with Angela Merkel at its head, fired off a communiqué over the signatures of José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy slapping sanctions on Russia after last month's downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. In the self-important way of these texts, it bemoans Vladimir Putin's failure to accord the EU the respect that it sees as commensurate with its sense of its own importance. Apropos the dusty greeting that the Russians have given its previous communiqués, the Union tut-tuts that
our call has been, in practice, left unheeded. Arms and fighters continue flowing into Ukraine from the Russian Federation. Strong Russian State sponsored nationalist propaganda continues supporting the illegal actions of armed separatists.
In a parallel world, recognisably similar to but at some distance from our own, EU gnomes behind their plate-glass kraal in Brussels solemnly debate sanctioning Israel for wrecking hospitals and the wholesale murder of civilians, such as blowing children playing beach football in Gaza to pieces. They gravely note the fact that the American federation (read: the US and its cisatlantic marionettes) ensures that arms and fighters continue flowing into Israel, and that strong American state sponsored nationalist propaganda continues supporting the illegal actions of armed separatists on the West Bank. They harbour no hifalutin scruples about the directness of the causal chain linking the $3 billion of annual military aid from the US to the exploding of white phosphorus and DIME bombs over civilians in Gaza.
An uncatered-for side effect of the EU's straining to forge common purpose over Russia is that its component nation-states feel they can ignore their past, with the baggage that carries. In March, Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, managed to compare the Crimean referendum on sovereignty with Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. Schäuble (born 1942) is old enough to know better. Even were he not, a modicum of imagination might have told him that Russia was unlikely to respond kindly to western overtures, amounting at times to self-prostration, to pull Ukraine into the EU and Nato. And even if he and Merkel lacked that modicum, sheer horse sense might have told him that Putin can afford to hang tough on sanctions in the knowledge that the EU needs Russia at least as much as the other way round. In 2012, the Netherlands, the main casualty of MH17, ran a trade deficit of nearly €19 billion with Russia.
The Germans still pussyfoot around Israel's violations of international law, for obvious historical reasons. What is less obvious is why, for exactly the same reasons, they don't shut up about Russia. In what Russians still call the Great Patriotic War after the launch of Barbarossa by the Nazis, the USSR lost between 18 and 24 million combatants and civilians, including a very large number of Russian Jews. In the selective historical memory of the EU politburo, those murders count as Jews, but not as Russians. Still more dangerous, perhaps, than wholesale ignorance is one-eyed knowledge.