Is Germany closer to Russia than the West? Nord Stream II and Iran count more

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin had met again in Sochi last year. Then, the Chancellor had also discussed international crises with the Russian President. 2 May 2017. Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Last Friday, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, rushed to Sochi, the Black Sea seaside Russian resort to meet Vladimir Putin. It was the first visit by a Western leader to meet him at home, after his fourth inauguration on 7 May as President of the vast country, this time for six more years. Looking through a magnifying glass, into what it was reported from their meetings and the joint Press conference, Germany has now much more in common with Russia than with the United States. Let’s take one thing at a time.

The German media were very timid in observing that fact, while the major Western news agencies didn’t pay much attention to the meeting and presented it as a Putin effort to divide the West. This last allegation is not far from the truth. However, there are many more important issues bonding Germany and Russia than what has been discussed in front of the cameras in Sochi. Understandably, Merkel and Putin paid attention to refrain publicly from going deep into the joint interests which were on the table of their meetings.

What was discussed

Let’s count the issues reportedly discussed. The weightiest must have being the issues with great economic and strategic content. Most important of them could be the construction of a second pipeline, transporting Russian natural gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea, sidestepping the Ukrainian routes. The other one may be the US blockade and the economic sanctions against Iran, a country which interests both Russia and Germany for economic and strategic reasons.

Then, there were two more subjects the two leaders said they discussed. It’s about Syria and Ukraine. In both cases, Moscow has vital and far reaching interests which Berlin didn’t try to counter. At the same time, Germany, following a traditional pragmatist Teutonic foreign policy, looks to questions related to the two war torn countries in a kind of principles platform; democracy, human rights, etc…

In both cases though, when there was a question of finally protecting Germany from more flows of refugees – from Ukraine and Syria – Berlin followed quite a hard line policy closing borders and buying coverage from Turkey. Ankara is paid €3+3 billion by the European Union under the insistence of Berlin, in order to retain the Syrian refugees on her soil, blocking them from reaching Europe.

German pragmatism

As every student of first year of politics knows, international relations are a callous and coolly calculated game. So, Germany, being an old time (for three centuries) expert in that, addressed the two issues paying attention not to directly oppose Russia and of course protecting her own interests.

In any case Berlin has much more significant interests in Ukraine than in Syria. So, in the latter case Merkel only hypocritically appeared as being interested about the rights of the Syrian refugees, to return one day to their property…if it still stands. In Ukraine, the other ongoing civil war involving the US controlled Kiev, and the rebels of the Eastern provinces backed by Russia, Merkel made a real gift to Putin.

What counts more

She agreed with him that the problem of Eastern Ukraine could be solved by asking the UN to send a Peacekeeping force there. Obviously, such a force would stand between the two sides, actually recognizing the rights of the rebels and through them, indirectly, the rights of Moscow on Ukrainian lands in the East. And this, despite the fact that back in March 2014 Berlin had made a big fuss, about the cunning annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula to Russia. In this way, Merkel is more or less giving absolution to Putin for his aggressive policies against Ukraine. Without starting a discussion about who was right and wrong in the Ukrainian civil war, Merkel was seen last Friday altogether changing her stance vis-à-vis Russia, coming close to Moscow’s positions.

Passing to the more important issues from the German perspective, which are the deliveries of cheap Russian natural gas and the business with Iran, Berlin and Moscow jointly endeavored in building barricades against Donald Trump’s decisions. Under the instructions of the President of ‘America First’, Washington has declared the US will do whatever it can, to block the construction of the Nord Stream II (the second pipeline transporting Russian natural gas to Germany).

Caspian Sea trade out of touch

By the same token, Trump has personally ostracized Iran from the world markets, aiming to obstruct the far and wide interests Germany and Russia have in this country. Actually, Berlin is the most negatively affected European capital in this affair, while Russia can continue her economic and other dealings with Iran over the Caspian Sea, untouched by Trump’s actions.

The US sanctions on Iran are to affect all the German multinationals doing or planning business and investments in Iran, which at the same having a presence in the US markets. The American authorities can make them leave Iran altogether, on the real threats of high fines and penal prosecution. Actually, many iconic German names like BMW, WV, Mercedes, Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and others, have already said they will comply with the American sanctions.

The industrious Teutons

These developments come to a great despair for the German political and business leadership, given their well known cathexis for money and business. What must have also upset the Germans is that the French President Emmanuel Macron has already said the EU won’t fight a trade fight with the US about Iran. He has also loudly acknowledged that the most important European companies have already withdrawing from that country, so no need to fight a lost cause.

There are hundreds of German medium and small businesses though, which export or do business in Iran. Unlike their big compatriots they don’t have exposure to the US and are preparing to continue dealing with Iran. So, in the whole picture, the German losses in Iran caused by Washington will be incalculable. Germany is the largest European economic partner of the Islamic Republic.

Strong common interests

Let’s sum up then, after the Sochi meeting, what divides and what bonds Germany and Russia. As mentioned above, Merkel didn’t express a vivid interest about what Russia is doing in Syria. True, Berlin won’t gain or lose much, whoever wins the day in Syria. So, why not be in it with Moscow? As for Ukraine, her only real interest was to convince Putin to do what it takes to soothe Kiev’s fierce opposition to the construction of Nord Stream II. Ukraine fears losing the hefty transit rights from the Russian natural gas being currently delivered to Western Europe, through pipelines on her soil.

According to Handelsblatt, the prestigious German business news group, “Mr. Putin underlined that he was willing to continue to pipe gas through Ukraine and negotiate with Kiev on the conditions for continuing to use the country as a transit route”. This must have been a great achievement for Merkel, given the well known Putin’s contempt for the US controlled rulers of Kiev. The Russian softening towards Kiev greatly helps Germany to convince the rest of the western powers about the need for the Nord Stream II pipeline. France and Britain are seriously concerned about the future of Ukraine, not to be economically harmed from the construction of the Nord Stream II, and become easy prey for Moscow.

Definitely closer to Moscow

So, with the Syrian and Ukrainian questions settled between Merkel and Putin, the two must have felt very close, when it came to the American aggression against Iran and the Nord Stream II. Washington has said it will use all diplomatic means to obstruct the construction of the new gas pipeline, and can even go as far as imposing sanctions on the companies and the people engaged in the construction of the Baltic Sea pipeline. This last threat can effectively overturn the entire €9.5 billion project. No wonder then, if Merkel now feels closer to Putin. She cannot either forget the chilly experiences of her two meetings with Trump. Not to forget, Trump has asked Germany to pay tens of billions to NATO and the US, for not spending every year 2% of her GDP on armaments, preferably made in USA.

All in all, if one also takes into account the facts that Macron seems already, if not siding, at least not fighting the US on the ostracization of Iran, neither is he seen supporting Nord Stream II , it won’t be an exaggeration to say, Germany is today closer to Russia than the West.

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