(Dateline: Rome, Nov. 23, 2017) We should make no mistake about who commands in the European Union. Germany commands. For example: The “special Paris-Berlin relationship” makes headlines, but for Germany that relationship is nothing special. Not so for France. Traditional France is always in search of old glories while practical-pragmatic Berlin chooses Germany’s partners and the nature of their relationship. Germany is and long has been dominant in Europe. Germany is in command in any Europe … any Europe that does not include Russia, that is. Decisions made in Berlin might cause griping and whining, bitter criticisms, fond remembrances and weak threats to leave the ranks of the European Union but matters that count in the EU are nonetheless decided in Berlin. The cool and calm observer must conclude that EU policies and actions serve above all German interests.
A Europe that includes Russia, however, is another matter. Another world. The German-Russian relationship IS special, the key to the Europe conundrum. The question arises: is Europe destined to play a geopolitical continental role, or is it determined to remain a purely geographical issue: a voiceless and insignificant peninsula attached at the western tip of the great Eurasian continent? The answer lies in Germany’s relationship with Russia.
ON the Future of Russia and Germany, Professor Vladimir Golstein at Brown University writes: The Russian-German relationship is as complex as it is fascinating. Both countries share proud histories, unique cultures, and the uncanny combination of rivalry and interdependence, a combination that has resulted in two brutal wars already. I see Germany as the China of Europe. Hard working, highly organized, much less driven by the debilitating individualism that has crippled both France and Great Britain, leaving Germany as the most powerful player on the European scene… besides Russia. The paradox is that neither Russia nor Germany is going anywhere. It is important for both countries to realize it. It is even more important for their neighbors to realize it, the neighbors who always complain about being squeezed between the two elephants.
Speaking of elephants, there is clearly a third elephant that has managed to introduce itself into the European scene and refuses to leave: the United States, which through the combination of economic pressures and NATO expansion has managed to turn itself into a major European player even though without much history, expertise, patience and most importantly, geography to back it up. This role of the United States as the puppeteer of other elephants is hardly sustainable – something that is clear to the most sane of American observers, but not to the so called, Washington Consensus, that keeps on seeing the world as a Pax Americana, no matter what turns and twists the historical development has taken lately. Consequently, as the only relatively independent European power, Russia never knows with whom exactly it is dealing: Germany or the US, England or US, Italy or US. That creates problems for Russia, as it does for its German economic partners.
It is clear that as the consequence of the two wars, Germans are not quite ready to start dreaming again of eastern expansion. By concentrating on productivity, they prefer economic and industrial expansion. Russia, the possessor of great natural resources, highly talented people, and potentially the biggest market in Europe, is a natural partner in the process, that can easily transform both countries into one major power player of both the European and the international scene.
Neither the United States, nor its staunch allies, such as Great Britain and France can possibly like this scenario. They are doing their best to prevent it, consequently pushing Russia away from the China of the West—Germany—into cooperation with the China of the East. Even though working with such a superpower as China might not be as smooth as one imagines, I still see Russia as benefitting from any of the scenarios, be it becoming the major player of either Europe or of Asia—or both. Germany, however, stands to lose a lot if it continues to allow the United States to prevent it from its natural and mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia. But that is obviously for the German people and their senior partners at NATO to decide. (Vladimir Golstein, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Brown University)
Berlin recently decided to station German troops in Lithuania and points eastwards as NATO military forces move into Poland, Romania and Bulgaria and elsewhere along the borders with Russia. It is a brutal irony that German troops are now stationed “permanently” in Lithuania, a former republic of the USSR, the winner of WWII. Lithuania is now ‘occupied’ by the loser of the war at the end of which defeated Germany was demolished. At the start of the war in 1939—after the annexation of Austria and Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia)—Germany’s population had reached 80 million. At war’s end, five million Germans lay dead, many of whom were soldiers in Russia, while many civilians were buried under the ruins of Germany’s great cities leveled by Allied carpet bombing. Today, just as many American and Nazi German leaders desired during WWII, the West has turned against its former Russian ally. EU/NATO diplomacy charges Russia with aggression because of Ukraine and Crimea but also because of maneuvers of Moscow’s own troops inside Russia but just, you know, oh so “near” and menacing to NATO-EU’s eastwards extended borders: the violators’ violations violating all post-WWII accords and promises.
Up to this point I had hoped I could somehow obviate moral questions of good and evil. I would have preferred a straightforward story about geopolitics, great power intentions, even secret state policies and international relations. Anything to avoid descending into delicate matters of right and wrong. Yet in our world of today, when the moral issue of right or wrong shifts so slowly, from only one generation to another, but in a fast-moving though ever smaller globe, every consideration raises fundamental question like: Who is the good guy, who the bad? Who holds the true truth? What is the right thing to do? Once you could accuse and hate a Hitler or a Stalin. Today we ask, who is the most ignorant villain? Who is responsible for the mess?
Now, in these late fall days the foreign ministers of 27 EU countries meeting in Brussels headquarters have announced the birth of the PESCO (Permanent Structural Cooperation) agreement: despite the bureaucratic title, in reality PESCO is the cornerstone of the formation of a future EU army in which, again, the German voice will be the strongest voice. Yet, paradoxically, it would also be (I use the conditional on purpose!) a parallel army to NATO forces with by its very nature overlapping capabilities of the U.S.-run NATO army. Cost? No one knows. Who would pay? Europeans. In any case an EU army is pleasant news for exploding German arms industries, which has made of that country (though tens of billions, hundreds of billions of dollars behind the U.S. military producers giant), the world’s third military weapon exporter after the USA and Russia. Meanwhile the U.S. continues to push (weakly and hopelessly) for an obligatory annual contribution to NATO of 2% of the GDP of member countries. If the U.S. budgets $700 billion for “Defense”, it expects (but will never get) immensely increased military contributions from European taxpayers already bled dry by national taxes to support the non-elected EU bureaucratic structure and their thanks the gods still existing welfare states.
Meanwhile, more secret and much more important than any Paris-Berlin exchange visits, pompous arrivals, warm double handshakes, cocktail parties, rumor has it that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin speak almost daily. What, one wonders, do they discuss? Well, they are most certainly speaking of plans for a peaceful solution to end EU/NATO-Russian tensions over Ukraine by “stabilizing” Ukraine’s borders (i.e. NATO calls for Russia’s withdrawal of support for ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine—something difficult for many Russians to accept)—and to guarantee Russian economic, social and political assistance to the disintegrating Ukraine, such as ensuring Russia’s gas supplies. In exchange, Germany/EU/NATO/U.S./ UN would have to recognize Crimea’s independence and what they still call its annexation by Russia. Only Germany could hammer home that Western variant.
It is known that the Merkel-Putin relation is complex. Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and spent her young adulthood there, shares a common geography with Putin, a former KGB major who was stationed in the KGB bureau in Dresden in former East Germany. It is said that they switch between German and Russian languages during their meetings and regular phone calls. Merkel is a former scientist and prides herself on her rationality and ability to methodically analyze situations. She has shown that she is also an expert politician. Considering her background I cannot imagine her believing her own propaganda of what is generally termed in the West “Russian aggression”. She has to be aware of the internal pressures on Putin for the absorption of territories such as East Ukraine, Odessa, and Moldova-Transdnistria, all inhabited by strong ethnic Russian majorities … a natural desire which is by no means Russian “aggression”.
As an example of the internal pressure on Putin, Dmitry Novikov, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma (the Parliament) Committee for International Affairs (Communist Party faction), declared the need to recognize the People’s Democratic Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Lugansk (East Ukraine or Novorossiya). “We favor recognizing the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics. The lack of such recognition leads to the fact that politicians in Lugansk are beginning to speak about the possibility of reintegration into Ukraine,” he said threateningly at a recent press conference in Moscow. Novikov stressed that Russia must deal with its problems “without external interference“. He pointed out that an attempt is being made to destabilize the situation in Russia with the aim of inspiring a color revolution that would lead to the disintegration of the country. (The U.S. neoliberal vision of future Russia). “Russia must defend itself,” the MP stressed.
Disintegration however is not an actual problem Putin’s Russia faces today. Disintegration is instead the real and grim reality of the fake country called Ukraine, or borderland. This is not a country. It is a Neverwas land. A new fictitious appearance on the world scene. When Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian himself, transferred Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, it was not an act of generosity on his part. It was a purely internal administrative matter, regarding, so is said, taxation. A tax matter, now the object of international crisis. Ridiculous! Crimea is and was Russia, and the use of the word “annexation” regarding its reintegration into Russia a linguistic travesty. Russian absorption of Crimea or Odessa cannot be compared to Hitler’s outright annexation of Austria and Sudetenland. No negotiation by expert Angela Merkel can obviate the historical-social reality that the subject of the negotiation is non-existent in the real world.
Another political reality is that the EU has no use for this fake country called Ukraine-Borderland formerly prefixed in the West with the definite article “the. The Ukraine. Nor does the USA busily pivoting to the East have much more interest in Ukraine. As time passes, chiefly Russia and the ethnic Russians of Lugansk and Donetsk are the most concerned and involved 100% in a resolution of the Ukraine issue. If not a country, the Ukraine is most certainly an issue for Russia.
Maybe, just maybe, Germany’s real problem lies closer to Berlin than does Ukraine: a more real issue for Berlin lies one nation east of Ukraine: Poland … and its relations with Putin’s Russia itself.
Since assuming office as President of the European Council, ex-Prime Minister of Poland, Center-Right Donald Tusk—for whom Ukraine is very much a real country, has supported a unified European response to Russia’s “military intervention in Ukraine”. Tusk, among other things, warned economic migrants not to come to Europe. Ahead of the UK’s vote, Tusk had warned of dire consequences should the UK vote to leave the EU. A fluent German speaker, Tusk is in any case much too much a puppet to command unpredictable ambitious Poles who after three million chiefly Nazi victims in WWII—the people of a big country squeezed as ever between Germany in the West and Russia in the East—want both security and economic affluence. In his open letter of 31 January 2017 to EU heads of state, Tusk stated that “the Trump administration represents a threat to the EU on a par with a newly assertive China, aggressive Russia and wars, terror and anarchy in the Middle East and Africa.”
Then last March Tusk was reelected to a second term until November 2019 as EU Council President. EU leaders speak (spoke?) highly of him; Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands called him “a very good President”. European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker—Monsieur le President—and the German Chancellor support him. Yet his country is a mess even though Poles are an economic presence and influence to be reckoned with. Poles are present in great numbers in the UK, France, Germany, and many West European countries. Polish cultural links with Italy are traditionally strong and the Polish Pope Karol Wojtyla—Pope John Paul II—left a strong imprint on both the World Church and European society and reinforced the traditional Polish presence in Italy. Catholic Poland feels like an European nation and people … except that they speak the wrong language: Slavic! In that sense too this ambitious Poland is a headache for the EU leader, Germany.
Nikolai Pavlov, Professor of History and Politics at Moscow MGIMO University and the author of ‘German-Russian Relations: A Failed Alliance’, notes that the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop military pact between Russia and Germany actually destroyed the (traditional) relationship between the two countries. What remained after that fake event is a shattered love-hate affair that continues until today. In an interview with the Russian publication Sputnik, the professor said the Molotov-Ribbenbtrop Pact “was not even a true alliance. It was merely a neutrality agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.” Despite Russia and Germany’s common interests today, Professor Pavlov is doubtful of the realization of a strategic partnership between the two countries because of the “big differences in the economy, structure of the state, and domestic politics”. Recalling the alliance between the German Democratic Republic and the USSR after the Second World War when both counties belonged to the military-political Warsaw Treaty organization, Pavlov said that nothing of that sort is possible today. Germany is part of NATO and Russia has trouble dealing with that alliance at the present moment. “While Germany tries to speak with Russia as a representative member of NATO and the EU, Russia prefers to maintain bilateral relations with Germany.” Above all, the realist Vladimir Putin sees where real power lies.
At the same time, on the German side, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently visited Moscow—the first German President to visit Russia since 2010—allegedly on a mission to restore bilateral relations … precisely as Moscow prefers. According to a draft document seen by Reuters also German political parties have claimed they are committed to having good relations with Russia, In a somewhat ambivalent analysis of Angela Merkel, Pavlov compared Germany’s Chancellor to the first Chancellor of the country from 1860, Otto von Bismarck. “She is a sober and cool politician in Bismarck’s sense,” Pavlov said, again reflecting President Putin’s views, “though she does not build alliances like him. She instead incorporates all the little things into big real-policies of the international arena.”
So if Merkel does not intend some sort of alliance with Russia, the question remains open as to what “little things” she has in mind. If for the USA also Ukraine has become a little thing, not so for Russia and Germany. Crimea’s return to Mother Russia is a very ‘big thing’ for Moscow’s Black Sea strategy, while apparently less and less a big thing for the U.S. geopolitical plans for that great sea, and perhaps just a little less big for Germany in comparison to the entire Berlin-Moscow question which would be the point of Russian-German bilateral relations.
German and Russian Arms Industry
Though we can read almost daily reports about the sophistication of Russian arms, its newest missiles and aircraft or its arms sales to Turkey or Saudi Arabia, I read nothing about the German arms industry. But knowing Germany, I realize their arms are not quiet and rusting away. The contrary is true: the German arms industry is again booming, according to a report from Fortune, citing an unnamed German newspaper as the source. Meanwhile, we take for granted that the USA dwarfs other arms producer-exporters of the world, without which the U.S. would have no industry to speak of, Lockheed Martin alone accounting for $35 billions of bellic production, followed by Boeing at 31 billion.
Still, Germany is the world’s third arms producer-exporter. German aerospace and munitions industries account for over 50 per cent of that country’s worldwide arms sales. After the U.S. companies that dominated the first ten of the world’s top 100 arms sellers in 2010, appears Germany’s Rheinmetal-$2.6 billion of sales-followed by Krauss-Mafei Wegmann-1.5 billion, ThyssenKrupp-1.3, Diel-1.2, MTU Aero Engines-640 million. Other firms are Deutsche Aerospace (DASA), founded in 1989 to incorporate the aerospace and other defense activities of the Daimler-Benz group. It also controls Dornier, (WWII, Dornier bombers!) which produces aircraft and equipment. The Motoren und Turbinen Union (MTU), another unit of DASA, is a large producer of parts for aircraft, ships, and tanks. Already in 1990, there were seven German firms among the world’s top 100 arms-producing firms. Not included in the top 100 list in 1990 was Krupp MaK Maschinenbau GmbH, a firm engaged heavily in tank production. (All in all, of the top 100 arms-producing companies in 1990, 47 were U.S. companies and 7 were German companies.)
Russia’s military production floundered during the 1990s on the heels of the dissolution of the USSR. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia all but stopped producing arms for its own military. Most of its arms production was earmarked for foreign buyers. Sukhoi and MIG fighters were about a fourth of the price of comparably equipped American-made planes. Russia is aggressively promoting its combat aircraft in the East Asian arms market. Other top sellers include missiles, tanks and hand arms. Today, Russia has returned to become the world’s second largest producer and exporter of arms. Though once the world’s largest arms dealer, it now exports about half of U.S. arms exports. According to the Moscow Times: Russia sold $13.2 billion worth of weapons in 2014, about $22 million more than the year before, despite Western sanctions against Moscow for its “meddling in eastern Ukraine”. Major deals included the sale of S-400 surface-to-air missiles to China, Other important customers for Russian weapons include India, Iran, Iraq, UAE, Algeria, Syria and Vietnam [Source: Moscow Times, April 13, 2105
Since I dislike intensely what the European Union has become, I dislike even talk about the creation of an European army—the PESCO agreement—which German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen described as another step towards the creation of an European army. British politician Martin Koller noted that the vaunted European army is good at “hauling around cargo, but this does not mean it will become combat-worthy. What interests can a Portuguese soldier possibly have in the Czech Re public …? The EU is divided along language and ethnic lines and, more importantly, it has different interests…. Besides, there is no such thing as European patriotism. What will these soldiers fight for? They will be just mercenaries, who always fight for money, not to have monuments erected on their graves,”
PESCO or not, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov believes that NATO is using every opportunity available to deploy as many of its soldiers along the Russian border as possible. Koller added that “Lavrov is right because NATO is 70 percent doing America’s bidding and has long ceased to fulfill its duty to defend Europe. Its main objective was defending Europe against the Warsaw Pact, which is no longer in existence. Secondly, in its standoff with Russia, the US will naturally opt for solutions where Europe will suffer the main casualties and America will emerge in a stronger position vis-à-vis European countries.”
Senior Editor GAITHER STEWART serves as The Greanville Post’s European correspondent, Special Editor for Eastern European developments, and general literary and cultural affairs correspondent. A retired journalist, his latest book is the essay asnthology BABYLON FALLING (Punto Press, 2017). He’s also the author of several other books, including the celebrated Europe Trilogy (The Trojan Spy, Lily Pad Roll and Time of Exile), all of which have also been published by Punto Press. These are thrillers that have been compared to the best of John le Carré, focusing on the work of Western intelligence services, the stealthy strategy of tension, and the gradual encirclement of Russia, a topic of compelling relevance in our time. He makes his home in Rome, with wife Milena. Gaither can be contacted at email@example.com. His latest assignment is as Counseling Editor with the Russia Desk. His articles on TGP can be found here.
Originally published in The Greanville Post