The relationship with Putin, the touchstone of post-Merkel Germany



Angela Merkel leaves, Vladimir Putin follows. The relationship between Germany and Russia is perhaps the touchstone of the destiny of Europe, beyond the internal issues relating to the European Union. In an EU in which France has lost its profile as a counterweight to Germany, Berlin’s attitude towards Moscow has special significance for the entire continent. How the new German government will conduct the transatlantic link with the United States and, above all, how it will assume the consolidation of Made in China are matters that are also crucially important, but European stability and security depend singularly on the type of rapprochement between the continent’s central power and the only great power that can threaten it directly from its flank.

A government led by Olaf Scholz can suggest the previous occasion when a Social Democrat occupied the Chancellery. Gerhard Schröder came to power with the promise of ending sauna diplomacy between Helmut Kohl and Boris Yeltsin, but soon surrendered to the dacha diplomacy served by Putin, which ended up making him the great operator of Russian gas interests. Like Schröder, Scholz has won elections from the right wing of the SPD and, if he governs, he will also do so on the arm of the Greens. But the circumstances have changed a lot: the post-Crimean Putin is different from the first Putin, initially collaborating with the West after 9/11 and benefiting from the investments of a Germany enormously grateful for reunification. In addition, the Greens today are especially critical of the Kremlin’s undemocratic drift, and to that government we should add the liberals of the FDP, even more critical of Moscow.

The central data for understanding German foreign policy is the great dependence on exports: 47.2% of GDP. A nation that lives by selling to others tries not to get upset with any large customer: that explains the German reluctance to confront China and the balances maintained by Merkel in her discomfort with Putin. Merkel firmly promoted the EU sanctions on Putin as a result of the events of 2014 in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but at the same time she has had to attend to the interests of Moscow and part of German industry by accepting the realization of the second of the NordStream gas pipelines.

The issue of NordStream 2, completed but not yet operational, is what will determine the start of the new government’s relationship with Russia. Washington’s recent reluctance to lift its infrastructure veto, on the condition that Berlin cut off flows if Russia uses gas as a weapon against Ukraine and Eastern Europe, leaves room for maneuver for both Scholz and one government. CDU / CSU alternative. From the opposition, greens and liberals first asked for the paralysis of the works and then its non-entry into operation, as a punishment for the deterioration of democracy in Russia, but quite possibly they will not put their red lines here in a government negotiation with other priorities.


Director of the Global Affairs Center of the University of Navarra. Author of the book Berlin conscientiously

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