Europe could be in the early stages of a geopolitical earthquake.
Key German leaders want to end sanctions against Russia. Such a decision might seem like a minor piece of economic news, but it could be the beginning of a major break between Europe and America and the separation of Germany from the Western security alliance.
European sanctions on Russia are up for renewal in July. The European Union and the United States imposed the sanctions after Russia invaded Crimea in March 2014. The plan was to keep the sanctions in place until the Minsk Protocol, a protocol aimed at ending the fighting in Ukraine, was fully implemented.
But with little to no progress on the Minsk agreement, some leaders in Germany want to end the sanctions. On May 31, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested ending the sanctions “step-by-step,” rather than waiting for Minsk to be completed.
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel holds the same opinion. Reporting on a speech that Gabriel gave to German and Russian business leaders recently, Spiegel wrote:
He says that Russia has recently shown that it can be a reliable partner and mentions the nuclear deal with Iran as an example. He says that Russia and the world are dependent on each other—and that the time has come for a step-by-step easing of sanctions.
Spiegel also reported that, “behind the scenes,” the German government “has long since developed concrete plans for a step-by-step easing of the sanctions against Russia and that the process could begin as early as this year.”
Nor is Germany the only nation thinking this way. Other nations have also taken an economic hit due to the sanctions. “It’s no secret that several countries within the EU are skeptical,” Steinmeier said. Countries like Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy also support an easing of sanctions.
Despite the sanctions, Germany has been improving its relations with Russia in important ways. The two nations are building a second gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea—despite opposition from America and most of the EU. Once built, Germany will be able to transport 80 percent of Russia’s Europe-bound gas. Germany’s business relationship with Russia has continued in other ways as well.
The current sanctions regime is not working for Germany; its economy is affected both directly (in terms of lost business with Russia) and indirectly (the countries in the eurozone that Germany sells to are poorer because their economies are also hurt by the sanctions). The German economy depends on exports, so the sanctions have hit it where it is most vulnerable.
An escalation in conflict with Russia is also more likely. “The European Union is sufficiently fragile to frighten Germany,” wrote George Friedman for Geopolitical Futures. “A confrontation between Europe and Russia would likely shatter the EU.”
Friedman believes that a compromise between Russia and America is highly unlikely. Russia wants U.S. forces out of the area and a guarantee that Ukraine will not be drawn into the Western security alliance. But America does not trust Russia to stick to an agreement once American troops are gone. “The U.S. deployment of troops in the region has made getting rid of sanctions far more difficult and has turned the sanctions into a side issue,” wrote Friedman.
“[T]he only other option for Germany is to find another means to balance the Russians and Americans,” he continued.
If Germany sticks to its usual post-war role and takes a back seat to America, then the hostility with Russia will continue. “The normal strategy for Germany is to do nothing. But doing nothing, in this case, means allowing a set of destabilizing forces to undermine core German interests,” wrote Friedman.
As Germany mulls breaking from America over sanctions, Europe is seriously considering a European defense union, a nato without America. nato sources have been complaining to the press that France is losing interest in nato while it tries to set up its own European defense alliance. The New York Times wrote, “France is reverting to its traditional skepticism toward the alliance, which it sees as an instrument of American policy and an infringement on its sovereignty.”
Germany supports France’s push for this new alliance. Such an alliance would be essential if Germany were to break with America over Russia. To draw closer to Russia without alienating Poland, the Baltics or other central European states nervous about Russia’s rise, Germany needs some way of reassuring these countries.
French President François Hollande has been explicit about his goal to end Europe’s military dependence on America. “Let’s not rely on another power, even a friendly one, to do away with terrorism,” he told Germany’s Bild newspaper.
The fact that Germany’s leaders are considering a break with the U.S. at the same time that Europe is working on an American-free defense union is significant. As Friedman wrote back in 2008, there is the potential for major change here (emphasis added):
Prior to Bismarck, Napoleon Bonaparte tried to ally himself with Russia to cut Britain off from supplies. Later in World War ii, the Hitler-Stalin Pact was made to bring an axis victory to the wars in the West.
America may simply follow along with whatever Germany wants, even scaling back sanctions in order to prevent a breach. A skillful German leader may be able patch things up with Russia, while delaying a break with the U.S. But a German-American schism is coming.
For more on the future of German-Russian relations, read Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s article “Watch Germany!” And for more on Germany’s relationship with America, read “The Significance of Germany’s Break From America.” ▪
Full article: Is Germany About to Side With Russia Against America? (The Trumpet)