Germany and Russia Back to Business as Usual

Yet more signs that the two are working together

Is the cold war between the West and Russia over Ukraine finished? For the United States certainly not. But Germany, and therefore much of the European Union, are returning to business as usual.

On June 22, the EU voted to extend sanctions against Russia. Yet in other areas, the relations between Germany and Russia are improving.

The biggest sign of this is the Nord Stream gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. That’s an important story in its own right—read Robert Morley’s article “Gazprom’s Dangerous New Nord Stream Gas Pipeline to Germany” if you’ve not done so already. The two countries have teamed up on a project that allows Russia to cut off gas to any Central or Eastern European country it wants to, while keeping its lucrative contracts with Western European customers intact.

This is far more than merely a business deal. Anything of this magnitude would have been discussed, and almost certainly approved, by the German government. In fact, it appears European governments may have done some serious behind-the-scenes maneuverings to make this happen.

Finally, Russia’s handling of the Greece crisis indicates that, behind the scenes, relations with Germany are pretty good. Russia bowed out of the whole situation on June 30. “This is Greece’s problem,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “(It’s a matter) of Greece’s relations with its creditors, it’s not a matter for us.”

Why would Russia be playing nice just weeks after Europe extended its sanctions?

The oil pipeline could well be a big part of it. That’s a big win for Russia. It can safely assume that the European sanctions are a temporary measure that will remain in place for only a year or two. A longer term threat is Europe’s “third energy package”—a piece of European legislation that aims to reduce the EU’s reliance on Russian oil and gas and halt Russia’s takeover of Europe’s energy infrastructure.

Germany’s pipeline deal destroys the moral force of the third energy package. The pipeline is only legal because of a technicality—the third energy package only covers infrastructure on European land. The entirety of Nord Stream is under the sea.

“In such a scenario, this waltz of pipelines thus represents a new chapter in Russia’s enduring divide and rule strategy vis-à-vis the EU energy market,” it concludes.

But if Germany is working with Russia again, why allow the sanctions? Germany has a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, it has a lot to gain from Russia. But if it goes too far in that direction, it will lose the trust of Central and Eastern European nations, such as Poland or the Baltics, that are looking to Germany for protection.

So don’t expect a public make-up scene with German Chancellor Angela Merkel hugging Russian President Vladimir Putin in front of the world’s media. Instead, look for quiet deals deprived of publicity.

The German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a think tank that provides advice to the German parliament and government, recommended exactly this path back in May. Working in “strategic concert” with Russia would be “unacceptable to many of the Russia-critical and traditionally pro-Atlantic member states in eastern and northern Europe,” it wrote. Opposing Russia would mean Europe must “bear high costs” and be willing “to remain engaged even in the face of massive disruption and to act in resolute unanimity.” Furthermore it would “minimize possibilities for cooperation.”

Instead, it recommend a policy of “cooperative confrontation.” This strategy would aim to “decouple certain areas—in the first place energy and international and global security—from conflicts of interest over ‘shared neighborhoods.’” In other words, Germany should work with Russia on energy and security and leave the conflict in Ukraine to one side. To this end, the European Union should work “to restore good relations.”

This is exactly the course Germany is now taking. For more on Germany’s relationship with Russia, read our article “Another Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact?

Full article: Germany and Russia Back to Business as Usual (The Trumpet)

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