Author: Dr. Alexander Rahr
Merkel performed a balancing act in the Kremlin. On the one hand, she addressed the human rights situation in Russia. On the other hand, she has opened up new strategic fields for cooperation with Russia: Afghanistan, the Middle East and climate / environment. The Russians were confused: if Merkel wants constructive cooperation with Russia, why is she talking more about Navalny in the Kremlin than about Afghanistan. And Putin struck back immediately: he forbade any interference in the internal affairs of Russia, but also of Belarus, and he attacked the West because of its regime change policy in the Arab world. In Germany, Merkel was criticized the other way around: she should have put Putin under even more pressure on human rights issues.
Germany and Russia did not get any closer at the summit. For Germany, the priority of Russia’s policy is on human rights issues. Germany does not want to enter into a strategic partnership with an authoritarian Russia. Merkel hopes for a political change in Russia towards more democracy. Russia, on the other hand, hopes that German politics will return from a one-sided focus on value aspects to a politics that is increasingly geared towards interests.
Let’s go through the individual points of conflict:
Navalny. Merkel’s anger over the condemnation of the Kremlin critic is understandable. Germany assumes that Navalny has been poisoned by Russian government agencies. But: Demands on Putin to instruct the courts to acquit Navalny are nowhere near. Russia demands that Germany respect its rule of law. Merkel should remember the Khodorkovsky case. For years, Western leaders put pressure on Putin to release Khodorkovsky. The demands were ignored until ex-Foreign Minister Genscher asked Putin in his secret diplomacy for a formal amnesty of the former oligarch. Genscher was successful with it.
Afghanistan. Merkel should have gone into more detail on Russia here. Not Pakistan, but Russia is the new anchor of stability in the neighborhood of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO. Germany should have aimed for a security partnership between NATO and the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty (of the CIS countries) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Russia’s allies, the countries of Central Asia, will in future play the main role in curbing Islamism and refugee flows in and out of Afghanistan. Germany must now take the lead in the EU’s strategic rapprochement with the Eurasian Union. But Merkel hesitates and leaves this task to her successor.
Ukraine. Merkel went to Moscow to save the Minsk Agreement with Eastern Ukraine. She also wanted to have Putin confirm that Russia will continue to channel its gas supplies to the West through Ukraine. But however you turn things around, Ukraine has an obligation to fulfill the Minsk Agreement. According to the Steinmeier formula, it must grant autonomy to the renegade Donbass. Kiev has committed itself to this, but no longer wants to fulfill this obligation. Ukraine hopes that Germany and the US will help it get Crimea and Donbass back from Russia, if necessary by force. This is unrealistic.
North Stream II. The controversial pipeline will be completed before the federal elections. Every new federal government will be confronted with this fact. The other question will be how much natural gas will ultimately be allowed to flow through this pipeline. Quarrel is inevitable here. As far as the transit through Ukraine is concerned, this will remain, but Moscow and Kiev must agree on the volume, duration and price of the gas transit in bilateral negotiations. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline had become a symbol for or against the European energy alliance with Russia in recent years. Had the US stopped it, the 50-year energy dialogue between Berlin and Moscow would also have been broken.
Belarus. Putin has warned Merkel against Western interference and a regime change policy. A cooperation of Moscow and Berlin is out of the question as long as the feeling prevails in the Kremlin that the West wanted to geopolitically tear Belarus away from Russia – like Ukraine at the time. The EU can do little in Belarus because Belarus is economically dependent on Moscow. Belarus is also a member of the Russia-led military alliance of Eurasian states. Russia would not hesitate to intervene militarily in Belarus. A common solution does not lie in confrontation, not in promoting the anti-Russian „Eastern partnership“, but in rapprochement between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union. That would be the better way.
Merkel is now going on to Ukraine, where she too has to perform a balancing act. She will not take a stand against Ukraine in public so as not to give the impression that she is playing on Russia’s side. On the other hand, she must make it clear to the Kiev leadership that compensating Ukraine for Nord Stream 2 does not mean that Germany is providing support to Ukraine. Ukraine will receive an offer from Merkel to conclude a “green deal” with the EU. Instead of continuing to depend on Russian gas supplies, the Ukrainian economy should modernize and switch to green technologies. Germany would offer all possible support.
Comment from Global Review:
Interesting how the meeting is perceived and commented in the German media. BILD speaks of a “lame duck” Merkel declaring her own bankruptcy and apparently wants a real hawk as the new Federal Chancellor. BILD, Focus and Münchner Merkur have joined forces in a campaign against the Greens and Baerbock,while they hypocritically distance themselves from their own actions by claiming Putin and the AfD behind a fake news campaign. So if the Greens and Barbock are not elected, it is not because of them or the mistakes of the Greens, but because of Putin, as Hillary Clinton did not loose because of her own politics and Trump , but because of Putin. But the hard and tough line of the Greens against Russia and China finds approval and a Robert Habeck with a steel helmet on the Eastern front in Ukraine and demands for arms deliveries to Ukraine is once again quite to the taste of this kind of quality journalism. But there is also Röttgen from the CDU and he would probably be the right foreign minister for these circles and you don’t need the Greens for that, unless as a propagandist catalyst.At the same time, BILD reports of alleged Russian sound attacks on US officials that were „worse than the murder in the Tiergarten“ are rumored. Since two US embassy employees have a headache, this is due to a Russian secret weapon. How does the slogan say in the Toyota advertisement: Everything is possible. But also that this has other causes as well, even if it’s just more sustainable whiskey consumption in the US embassy. And as we know BILD, if a Russian ambassador had flatulence, this would also be scandalized as an insidiously combined C and sonic weapon attack. SPIEGEL, on the other hand, is clearly skeptical of these reports. At the same time, BILD and ZEIT claimed that Putin wanted to turn off the gas for Germany and that Germans would freeze in winter. The USA have decided parallel and In addition minor sanctions against Northstream 2. Surprisingly, Navalny, who allegedly is completely cut off from the outside world in solitary confinement, published a guest article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) in which he denounced the corruption of the Putin regime, which made the state so inoperative that Putin´s secret service did not even manage to poison and murder him effectively. Quod est demonstrandum.
Merkel was under enormous pressure and Dr. Rahr points out the balancing act and brings the Russian point of view into play. The reference to treating the Navalny case more discreetly in the style of Genscher’s secret diplomacy and focusing on Afghanistan and the Greater Middle East is entirely justified, especially since Rahr was in charge of the negotiations between Genscher and Putin at that time and thus enabled Khodorkovsky’s release. Does the West want to achieve the release of Nawalny or only use him to be able to blame Putin in the public over and over again? Merkel should have made Afghanistan a top priority during Putin’s visit. The Russians do not know whether the Taliban, a buffer zone with a possible new Northern Alliance, the partitioning off of the borders in conjunction with Tajikistan, increased deployments of troops to secure borders and fight against Islamism within the SCO, especially since Russia has a significantly higher proportion of Muslims in its federation, as China with the small Xinjiang and the Russians are aslo skepitical to what extent the Taliban can be a contribution to their Eurasia concept and a new multipolar world order. Of course, one could not have expected a clear positioning from Putin, but could have explored options and channel them back to Biden as a message. But since the West and the USA are in a state of shock, driven by surveys, do not want to enter into any further commitments, do not think strategically and prefer to talk about tactical and humane questions of evacuation, i.e. act provincial, the window of opportunity for a Northern Alliance will probably pass and the Taliban also completely conquer the north and create facts.