Streetwise Professor

July 30, 2014

Is Angela Really Frau Ribbentrop? I Doubt It, But We Spy Just to Make Sure

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:31 pm

This story from the Independent has gone viral, and for understandable reasons: it claims that Germany and Russia are negotiating a scurrilous deal behind Ukraine’s back.

More controversially, if Ms Merkel’s deal were to be acceptable to the Russians, the international community would need to recognise Crimea’s independence and its annexation by Russia, a move that some members of the United Nations might find difficult to stomach.

Sources close to the secret negotiations claim that the first part of the stabilisation plan requires Russia to withdraw its financial and military support for the various pro-separatist groups operating in eastern Ukraine. As part of any such agreement, the region would be allowed some devolved powers.

At the same time, the Ukrainian President would agree not to apply to join Nato. In return, President Putin would not seek to block or interfere with the Ukraine’s new trade relations with the European Union under a pact signed a few weeks ago.

Second, the Ukraine would be offered a new long-term agreement with Russia’s Gazprom, the giant gas supplier, for future gas supplies and pricing. At present, there is no gas deal in place; Ukraine’s gas supplies are running low and are likely to run out before this winter, which would spell economic and social ruin for the country.

As part of the deal, Russia would compensate Ukraine with a billion-dollar financial package for the loss of the rent it used to pay for stationing its fleets in the Crimea and at the port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea until Crimea voted for independence in March.

However, these attempts by Ms Merkel to act as a broker between President Putin and the Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, were put on the back-burner following the shooting down of the MH17 plane in eastern Ukraine.

But insiders who are party to the discussions said yesterday that the “German peace plan is still on the table and the only deal around. Negotiations have stalled because of the MH17 disaster but they are expected to restart once the investigation has taken place.”

Pretty explosive stuff. So explosive, in fact, I have a difficult time accepting that the story is anywhere near true, at least insofar as the implication that this is Merkel’s plan is concerned.

If it was true, and Merkel were indeed negotiating a deal along these lines, she would indeed deserve the Frau Ribbentrop epithet that has been hurled at her, especially after her chumminess with Putin in Rio.

There are so many issues here.

First, it is not Germany’s place to negotiate a deal that binds Ukraine, even as a broker that intends to present the deal to Ukraine for its approval later. That would rightly be seen as a stab in the back. Germany’s imprimatur on such a deal-and the fact that it negotiated the deal would inevitably lead people to conclude that Germany vouches for it-would be perceived by Ukraine as a betrayal and abandonment, and an exertion of tremendous pressure to capitulate by a country that it had counted on to be a supporter.

Second, no Ukrainian government could possibly accept these terms. So Merkel is either delusional to think that they would, or she is setting up the Ukrainians to take the blame for rejecting a chance at “peace”, thereby allowing her to wash her hands of the situation and let Putin do as he will. Delusional or Machiavellian manipulator. Quite the choice.

Third, the recognition of Russia’s theft of Crimea, even if compensated by thirty pieces of silver in exchange for lost rent on Sevastapol, would completely undermine a fundamental principle of the modern international order, namely that the border of no state should be changed by force. For a country like Germany, which portrays itself as a Rechtsstaat on international as well as domestic matters, this would be an amazing and despicable action. The precedent would be very ominous indeed. It is hard to imagine anything more threatening to peace and stability as such an endorsement of revanchism, irredentism, and the dominance of might over right.

Fourth, the US and UK, and perhaps other countries, would in no way countenance such an outcome, in part because of the dangerous precedent it would set.

Fifth, Ukraine is looking to free itself from abject dependence on Russian gas, rather than to cement that dependence into the distant future.

These considerations are so grave that I cannot believe that Germany would be doing what the Independent alleges.

So what is the real story here?

The Independent is owned by Alexander Lebedev, an ex-KGB officer and ex-billionaire. He has had a fraught relationship with Putin. He co-owns, along with Gorbachev, the opposition paper Novaya Gazeta. On the surface he is not an obvious Putin shill, and may be an opponent: maybe he ran the story to torpedo a deal that Putin wants. But he could be under pressure. Or he could be wanting to curry favor in Moscow, and thinks this would help him do so. So maybe the story has its roots in the murky world of Putin and rich Russians.

The story paints Merkel in a very bad light: maybe it has been leaked (and slanted) by one of her foes, domestic or foreign. Or maybe someone thinks that she will have to distance herself from the allegations of treachery by becoming more stern in her stance against Putin.

Or maybe this has been planted by the Russians. It could be their statement of the terms they are willing to offer, and to accept. Perhaps Putin even presented it to Merkel, and maybe more than once. Perhaps Merkel rejected it, or she presented a counterproposal and continues to talk, which could be twisted by the Russians to suggest that she has endorsed the basics of the proposal.

I don’t know. But I do know one thing. It is precisely this sort of story, and the possibility that it has its roots in the truth, that makes it imperative that the United States collect intelligence on Germany, German leaders, and German dealings with foreign governments-especially governments like Russia’s. This is exactly why we spy, and why large and important countries that endeavor to exercise their sovereign right to craft and implement an independent foreign policy, are legitimate targets of spying. Germany pursues its interests, and in that pursuit, it might seriously damage American interests. Thus, it is in our vital national interest to know what Germany is up to.*

That’s the price you pay when you want to be an independent actor on the world stage, so Germans from Angela on down can spare us their outraged protests at American espionage.

* Which suggests yet another explanation for the Independent story. Namely, the source is US (or UK, or Ukrainian, or . . . even German) intelligence, which is leaking it to torpedo a perfidious Merkel deal.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. There. I feel better now 🙂

    Comment by LL — July 30, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

  2. Long live CIA!

    Hey, Germany had already done that in the past. Sudetenland anyone? Why not do it again now. In fact it is now Germany that is playing Stalin’s role and Russia – Hitler’s.

    Comment by Europeo — July 30, 2014 @ 10:49 pm

  3. And please, note the Kremlin trolls in the comments of the Independent article. They have gone mad, doing their best to hijack the topic and make it impossible to comment/read the comments.

    Comment by Europeo — July 30, 2014 @ 10:53 pm

  4. Dear Professor, reading the news carefully and applying common sense should be enough to know that this article is BS. Plus, it’s precisely the attitude displayed in your final two paragraphs that make the rest of the world say that the US has gone mad in the last ten years.

    Comment by bongo — July 31, 2014 @ 1:49 am

  5. Think more Weimar Republic with Bolshevik / German military and economic cooperation. Even AH thought that the latter was a good idea via Schacht’s Neuer Plan.
    Well, they ARE consistent.

    Comment by sotosy1 — July 31, 2014 @ 10:36 am

  6. @sotos-I agree. I blogged about the analogy back in late-May.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 31, 2014 @ 11:03 am

  7. SWP: to your four points:

    One: Germany is the de facto paymaster of the EU. Whether it is Germany’s “place” or not, Merkel may be very smart to cut a deal that closes down the current instability in Ukraine.

    Two: Unless Kiev wants a more or less endless civil war, this could be the best deal that is on offer to them.

    Three: Crimea has only been part of Ukraine since 1954, and it is mostly ethnic Russian in make-up. Re-incoporating Crimea into Russia reduces instability.

    Four: The UK and US also have interests in not risking a wider war.

    Five: Ukraine buys energy from Russia. Fact.

    Comment by jon livesey — July 31, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

  8. @ jon – you have a number of good points, but we may want to consider the following.

    “One: Germany is the de facto paymaster of the EU. Whether it is Germany’s “place” or not, Merkel may be very smart to cut a deal that closes down the current instability in Ukraine.”

    That is assuming that the Ukrainians will accept this deal – the Ukraine is a revolutionary government. Teh world is filled with examples that imposed solutions are rejected due to internal pressures and or popular sentiment.

    “Two: Unless Kiev wants a more or less endless civil war, this could be the best deal that is on offer to them.”

    See Above as to why the best deal may not be good enough. Push comes to shove, the Ukraine can cut off Europe’s gas just as much as the Russians can. Secondly this is at best a sponsored civil war, if not an outright Russian war – as it continues the fig leaf of civil war is wearing thin. It is one thing to broker a peace, it is another for Germany to intervene on the side of Russia – the Poles ant the Balts will go beserk.

    Finally, never underestimate anyone’s ability to miscalculate.

    Comment by sotosy1 — July 31, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

  9. Other than the issue that the deal has to be acceptable to the Ukrainians, it sounds along the lines any peace deal will need to include. There are two biggest issues. First is recognition of the annexation of Crimea. I think an agreement not to challenge it, or have the issue not affect continued relations would be more acceptable. It would be very hard to simply accept it as is. If it is, the price in compensation should be much higher. Second, the problem is that the agreement locks in Putin’s gains, while any concessions he makes are easily reversible. This second issue worries me more than the first. However, some kind of timeline where Western sanctions are slowly reversed while Ukraine achieves milestones and peace is perhaps workable. However, there should be a mechanism for them to be immediately reimposed if Russia reneges. There might also need to be some kind of official Western commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity that would be activated whenever “separatists” appear.

    NATO membership for Ukraine is not actually feasible for the next 10-20 years, and there are actually multiple ways to achieve an actual de facto or even de jure Western-Ukraine defensive alliance at the time Ukraine is ready for such responsibilities. In the meantime, Ukraine needs time to stabilize and reform.

    Although the historical analogies are along the lines of Austria and Sudetenland, I wonder if the better one is the Japanese conquest of Manchuria and actions against China in the 1930s. Like Russia, Japan harbored obvious aggressive intent on its neighbor and used various incidents to wage a non-declared war to achieve control over more territory. However, the Japanese found themselves in a war it did not plan on waging and at far higher costs than it intended. Russia is very close to accomplishing the same thing.

    Comment by Chris — July 31, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

  10. @jon livesey,
    One: You are Russian troll
    Two: You are on a salary from Kremlin
    Three: There are not dumb readers hire, so go post you propaganda somewhere else
    Four: How much is Putin paying you to be a Putin whore
    Five: До свидания, мразь!

    Comment by Europeo — July 31, 2014 @ 6:05 pm

  11. @jon livesey

    I’m not going to comment on your whole piece, which is beyond disgusting and beneath comment-worthy. Just want to point out this: the idea that subjecting millions of people to depredations of a quasi-totalitarian state just because they happen to share ethnic background with the unfortunate populace of that state “reduces instability” is unadulterated nazism.

    Comment by Ivan — August 1, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

  12. On July 25, Alexander Skobov, a Russian dissident, wrote that downing MH17 was Putin’s fault. On the night of July 27 he was stabbed and is now in a hospital, apparently with a long recovery ahead. Instability reduced again, the Terrorussia way.

    Comment by Ivan — August 1, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

  13. Street:

    Your RU posts provoke some of the most interesting comments on the web. If irrelevant or incorrect, why do they prompt such vituperative responses?

    You merely ask questions & pose scenarios.

    But the thoughtful responses & alternative theories make it ultimately worthwhile (beyond merely entertaining). Thank you for your efforts. Happy Anniversary again & keep up the great work! And thank the usual suspects for their thoughtful replies as well. Vlad reads all, usually without comment.


    Comment by Vlad — August 1, 2014 @ 7:50 pm

  14. What a bunch of delusional foaming hatred. Sorry, guys. But the decline of the American Empire is irreversible.

    Comment by Nick — August 6, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress