Any change we see in Germany’s thinking on Russia may be attributed to something that is also influencing such thinking across Europe, and is even beginning to turn minds on Capitol Hill in the USA, namely the Russian campaign against the Islamic State in Syria which began one month ago.
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A Response to Alexander Mercouris’s analytical article “As Merkel Crumbles Berlin Turns To Moscow” in Russia Insider
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
First, I want to express my appreciation to Alexander Mercouris for a very fine and stimulating analysis of the prospects for German rapprochement with Russia now that Angela Merkel’s hold on the chancellorship is slipping, as the well-informed article by Philip Stephens in The Financial Times illustrates. See http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/merkel-crumbles-berlin-opens-talks-moscow/ri10853
In what follows, I do not dispute Mercouris’s main conclusions but offer some alternative interpretations on what is happening and on the timing of any shift within Germany and more broadly within the EU as regards the sanctions and overall policy towards Russia.
I do not agree that we are seeing a ‘concerted attempt by the German political and economic establishment to try to find ways of mending Germany’s fences with Russia.’ Rather, German policy is in disarray and the establishment(s) is(are) splitting, both within the CDU, where personal ambitions to succeed Frau Merkel finally have a chance to succeed, and in the SPD, where there are differences between the Steinmeier and Gabriel factions over Russia’s intentions and the possibilities of fraternization with the Putin ‘regime.’
The assets swap with Winterhall and the signing of the deal on North Stream II show only that German business and state do not have a death wish. North Stream II will consolidate the central role of Germany in gas distribution across Central Europe and therefore is very likable in Berlin. It furthers German hegemony, which is what the present-day German establishment is all about. By contrast, South Stream or Turk Stream would have come at the expense of German interests. Any losses to Ukraine as a transit state are purely collateral damage. In this context, Gabriel’s warning to the EU Commission is part of the ‘coming out’ of Germany as Europe’s hegemon.
I also believe it is a step too far to assume that Gabriel is already campaigning to become the next chancellor in the sense of directly replacing Merkel. The SPD is still the junior party, the CDU holds the seats in the Bundestag, and power would logically pass within the CDU to Schauble in the event that Merkel falls. How long Schauble, the epitome of the Ugly German, would hold onto power before an early election is called is another question. Rather I see Gabriel’s move as a put-down of Steinmeier and his supporters within the SPD; and there is a lot to put down there, since the mainstream party and its think tanks were deeply moved by the Russian takeover of Crimea and will not change their minds easily.
Regarding the flip-flop in Germany’s relations with Russia from the year 2000 to today, one has to bear in mind the flip-flop in Germany’s relations with Poland in the same period. The period began with open hostility between Warsaw and Berlin due to xenophobic and anti-German views from the Kaczynski brothers, who were in power at the time. With the passing of power to Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform party in 2007, a new era of close relations between Warsaw and Berlin emerged, just as relations between Russia and the West, including Germany, were to hit a wall in 2008 over the Georgian war. Now with the recent return to power of Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party, we may expect a quick deterioration of the ties between the two capitals, opening the way for a rapprochement with Moscow.
However, above all, any change we see in Germany’s thinking on Russia may be attributed to something that is also influencing such thinking across Europe, and is even beginning to turn minds on Capitol Hill in the USA, namely the Russian campaign against the Islamic State in Syria which began one month ago. The abject failure of US intervention in Syria and Iraq over the past year, and the impressive first successes of Russia have demonstrated the potential value of Russia as a friend in security matters of great importance to Europe….and to the USA.
I believe the departure of Merkel over her emotional and ill-considered policy on the refugees has high probability. Apart from the widespread opposition of localities to the allocation of refugees, there is the possibility of some terrorist act from the great many unscreened arrivals, and that would spell the end of the Merkel era in a flash.
The departure of Merkel will uncork forces for changing direction of Europe in a good many areas, including the austerity program and, of course, the sanctions against Russia. As I have written to the FT journalist Stephens, in answer to his pessimism over the fate of the Union should she leave:
“In its present form, the EU is hell-bent. But the idea is too important to die with the present structures. May a new, genuinely humane and anti-imperialist EU rise from its ashes.”
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2015
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G. Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to email@example.com