German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stepped up her rhetoric as she tries to hold together a united front among her European allies and the US against Russia and the Ukraine crisis, writes Professor Stefan Hedlund.
Ms Merkel delivered a broadside against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on the eve of the conservative CDU conference on Tuesday, December 9, 2014.
Mrs Merkel’s comments over Russia echo the hard line she adopted during the G20 summit in Australia in November 2014 where she altered her previously diplomatic stance and announced she had given up on Russia.
This may have been interpreted by some as an indication that Germany would abandon its ‘understanding’ policy and instead take a European lead in playing hardball. This would go down well with the hardening attitude expected from the US as the Republicans now control both houses of Congress.
But the Germans are not easily swayed from their long-standing understanding of Russia. Ms Merkel has taken much flak at home from political opponents who have argued in favour of a more conciliatory approach towards Moscow.
In the Bundestag, she has been accused by a deputy of the left party, Die Linke, of ‘war-mongering’. And highly influential newspaper Die Zeit published an open letter signed by some 60 leading German politicians and intellectuals, abhorring the risk of war and calling for a dialogue with Russia.
One of the signatories was former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder. He was instrumental in promoting the Russian-German Nord Stream gas pipeline, and went on to take a post on the Nord Stream Board. Mr Schroder is not alone in feeling that business suffers because of the EU and US sanctions. In mid-November, another senior figure from the Social Democrats (SDP) broke ranks by suggesting that the Russian annexation of Crimea should be legitimised under international law.
In an interview with the newspaper Passauer Neue Presse, the former state premier and SDP chief Matthias Platzeck, presently Chairman of the German-Russian Forum business lobby, said, ‘A wise man changes his mind — a fool never will ... The annexation of Crimea must be retroactively arranged under international law so that it’s acceptable for everyone.’
Schroder and Platzeck, and others who share their convictions, will gain much appreciation in other EU member states which are critical of the sanctions and wish for relations with Russia to be normalised. Slovakia, for example, has openly claimed that Ukraine is a crisis between America and Russia.
The Kremlin is doing its very best to fan such dissent. It has provided massive funding for its main English-language propaganda television channel RT, formerly Russia Today, which has just begun operating in German. It also caused a a stir when German ARD television broadcast an ‘understanding’ interview with President Putin.
The bottom line is that while the US is getting ready to increase the pressure on Russia, with deliveries to Ukraine of ‘non-lethal’ military support that may become gradually more lethal, the European sanctions regime is beginning to wobble.
If Ms Merkel fails to maintain a united front with the US, the Kremlin will have scored yet another tactical victory, in the most favoured of all its games - that of driving a wedge into the heart of the Trans-Atlantic alliance.
Known since the ancient Greeks, and as expressed by storyteller Aesop, the wisdom remains as true as ever: ‘United we stand – Divided we fall.’