Few things I’ve read recently are more depressing than this WSJ article about European, and specifically German, enabling of Putin’s and Russia’s aggression:
Opposition to economic sanctions as a way to penalize Russia runs from 36% in Germany to 23% in Great Britain, to 15% in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, according to a YouGov poll taken across Europe from March 21 to 27.
In an interview with the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said he found Mr. Putin’s actions “absolutely understandable” and urged Germans to reflect on history before condemning the Kremlin.
“More important than appealing to international law is the historical development of Crimea,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Historians are divided over whether there is even such a thing as a Ukrainian nation.”
Gerhard Schröder, who as chancellor until 2005 developed a close friendship with Mr. Putin, has expressed his understanding for Russia’s “fear of encirclement” by the West.
Mr. Schröder’s pro-Russian leanings are well known in Germany. The ex-chancellor, now chairman of a gas-pipeline venture majority-owned by Russian state energy giant Gazprom, once deemed Mr. Putin a “flawless democrat.”
While not condoning the Crimea annexation, Mr. Schröder has made light of Russia’s violation of international law, saying that Germany and NATO also broke international law when they bombed Serbia without U.N. authorization—a precedent that Mr. Putin also cites.
Ms. Merkel has used tough rhetoric against Mr. Putin and warned the crisis could inflict “massive damage” on Russia. Much of the German press panned Mr. Schröder, Mr. Schmidt, and other “Putin-understanders” and “Russia-understanders” for excusing 19th-century-style military aggression.
But the sympathetic tone strikes a chord with the German public and some elites. Siemens AG chief executive Joe Kaeser cited the two former chancellors’ remarks in justifying his controversial visit to Mr. Putin last week.
Among Germans polled on March 31 and April 1, 49% said the country’s foreign policy should represent a “middle position between the West and Russia,” whereas 46% said Germany should stick to a firm alliance with the West, according to polling company infratest dimap. In another poll taken in mid-March, half of Germans said the EU should simply accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“People who say ‘Russia-understander’ never understand what they are talking about—it’s either black or white for them,” said former German Ambassador to Russia Ernst-Jörg von Studnitz. “Many people call me that, and I don’t mind at all.”
Germany appears dead set on making the French look grateful.
This whinging about Russia being “surrounded by enemies” and having “defenseless borders” and being threatened by Nato expansion is so much bologna. Nato has neither offensive capability or intent. Russia has more strategic depth than any nation in the world. Just ask Charles XII, Napoleon or Hitler. As they all found out to their bitter chagrin, you can cross Russia’s borders, only to get lost in the trackless wastes that lie beyond.
And if Putin is so worried about Nato moving closer to Russia’s borders, why is he making moves in Ukraine that would move Russia’s borders closer to Nato?
Russian “fears” about a Nato invasion threat are not based in reality: they are either paranoid delusions, or contrived, or both.
Germans whine about not wanting another Cold War. Sorry, Fritz: this isn’t your choice. Putin has a vote too. Or to paraphrase Trotsky: you might not be interested in another Cold War, but another Cold War is interested in you. Courtesy of Vladimir Vladimirovich.
In large part due to the heavy burden of its horrific past, Germany wants a vacation from history and civilizational conflict. But Putin is on a civilizational mission, and if he is not stopped now, he will continue to push until some confrontation occurs in the future.
But to achieve this, Germany is not willing to sacrifice the bonus of one Frankfurt banker, let alone the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. And indeed, it appears that mercenary considerations are paramount. German business leaders, notably from Siemens (one of the world’s technology leaders-as well as a leader in bribery and corruption), are bleating about the economic costs of even mild economic measures against Russia.
Looking over the past several years, it becomes clear that such commercial considerations are paramount in Berlin. Germany abjures any leadership role when it comes to Russia, rationalizing this choice by harking to its bad experience with Führers. But when it comes to German money in Greece or Spain, Germany was quite willing to throw its weight around and push policies that advance German economic interests. That is, it’s not about historical burdens making Germans shirk from leadership. It’s about German commercial interests causing it to conduct a passive foreign policy sometimes, and a very heavy-handed one at others.
In other words: le perfide Allemagne. The common denominator in German policy towards Europe and Russia is what benefits German industry and German banks. Germany’s foreign policy is ultimately corporatist, and the country is quite willing to sell the rope that hangs some poor Eastern Europeans.
Germany has never hesitated to preen about its moral superiority, and to attack the US in particular for doing the dirty work that has kept Germany free and prosperous for going on 70 years. The pretense is beyond annoying.
Germany is enabling Putin, and for the most crass commercial reasons. Its policy is due neither deference nor respect.