Appeasing Putin will not work. Germany needs strong Western alliances to resist Russian aggression
If Vladimir Poutine intends to destroy Ukraine, Olaf Scholz is the only one in Europe to be able to stop him without striking a blow. Both know that Russia and Germany need each other. But the new German Chancellor is a man on the left who wants peace in our time – even at the cost of appeasement. This allows Putin to blackmail him. Could Scholz be the German Neville Chamberlain?
Such a fate is not inevitable. New German leader says he wants to reach out to Russia with a new Ostpolitik – the policy of reconciliation of the Cold War era with the Eastern Bloc led by his great Social Democratic predecessor, Willy Brandt, in the 1970s.
At present, however, Putin does not seem willing to take the offered hand. The Russian army has up to 100,000 heavily armed soldiers on the Ukrainian border, pointing a pistol at its neighbor’s head. Germany is handicapped by the fact that its own forces have probably never been so weak – and the fragile coalition led by Scholz has no desire to increase defense spending.
As by far the largest economy in the EU and Russia’s second largest trading partner, Germany should play the role of protector towards the smaller countries of Eastern Europe. Instead, under Angela Merkel, the Russians and their allies were allowed to intimidate their neighbors, especially Ukraine. Scholz said the Russian annexation of Crimea and other unilateral changes to European borders are unacceptable. But the question is: what can he really do about it?
Since Putin parked his tanks on Ukrainian lawns in 2014, the EU has imposed sanctions and German exports to Russia have halved. But the two countries have also built the Nord Stream 2 Baltic gas pipeline, which bypasses Ukraine and is now awaiting regulatory approval in Berlin and Brussels. If the supply of undersea gas continues, it will not only reduce Kiev’s political influence, but also increase Europe’s power. – and especially Germany – dependence on Russian energy.
Scholz has yet to show his hand on Nord Stream 2. But Putin’s show of force has an ulterior motive. He is putting pressure on the Germans to give the green light to a lucrative infrastructure that the Kremlin regards as a diplomatic masterstroke.
Since the last German Social Democratic Chancellor, Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, left office in 2005, he has been the leader of the Gazprom project. – and pushing on an open door. German businesses and consumers demand cleaner and safer energy. The Greens, now members of the coalition, want the phasing out of coal by 2030 in order to reach net zero. Why did Scholz not sign an agreement that would secure gas supplies for the foreseeable future?
Has the new German chancellor already grasped the implications of Putin’s strategy? Not only is the Russian leader on a mission to rebuild his country’s empire, he hopes to undermine NATO and divide the EU in the process.
Scholz sees Emmanuel Macron as a friend, Joe Biden only as a “partner”, and Boris Johnson simply as a nuisance. Yet in six months, Macron may be gone, replaced by a pro-Putin populist like Eric Zemmour. Meanwhile, the Americans and the British are, as during the Cold War, the only reliable allies for those threatened by Russian power and influence. The Poles and the Balts know it – that is why the Royal Engineers are even now helping to secure Poland’s border with Belarus.
As for Ukrainian President Zelensky: he fears not only a Russian invasion or coup, but also a betrayal by Scholz and Macron, just as pre-war Czechoslovakia was betrayed in Munich by Chamberlain and Daladier. The most important decision Scholz could make when he takes office next week would be to invite Zelensky to Berlin. He has already promised to go to Paris – but he should add Washington and London to his itinerary.
Russia and Germany have always had a love-hate relationship, sometimes culturally creative, sometimes violently destructive. – a past that still eclipses the present. When the Berlin Wall fell, half a million Russians were still living in East Germany; one of them was Vladimir Putin. He always seeks revenge for this moment of humiliation, if necessary by force.
Scholz sees himself as a peacemaker. But he does not speak Putin’s language in any way. – unlike Angela Merkel, who knows from experience how dangerous he can be. When a scribbling teenager asked him if Putin was a murderer, Scholz dodged the question. The tranquility of Europe now depends on the ability of the Berlin technocrat to outsmart the Moscow autocrat.
Daniel Johnson is Editor-in-Chief of TheArticle.com