Merkel, Putin, and the European balance of power

By Heiko Khoo
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 5, 2014
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 [By Jiao Haiyang/]

Immediately after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was downed, the Western media and political elite blamed President Vladimir Putin and Russia. They accused Putin of covertly supplying arms and financial support to the rebels, thereby causing this tragedy. Tough new EU sanctions targeting the banking, energy, technology, and defence sectors are now in force. The Western media praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel for backing these measures, despite the fact that they conflict with German business interests. Merkel had previously kept up a dialogue with Putin, even when Russia's relations with other Western leaders cooled. So is this the end of mutual respect between Germany and Russia?

Merkel grew up in East Germany and speaks fluent Russian. Putin was a KGB operative in East Germany and speaks fluent German. Hence, a certain amount of mutual insight and understanding exists between them. Merkel was initially cautious with her words after the MH17 disaster, simply reiterating her appeal for a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine. It is believed that pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama was ultimately behind her change of heart.

However, it is a fallacy to believe that the post 1945 U.S.-German alliance is unbreakable. The Ukrainian crisis exposed clear conflicts of interest and policy disagreements between the two countries. Germany leads the world's most powerful single economic zone, but it is militarily impotent and subordinate in the U.S.-led NATO alliance. The United States directly intervened in Ukrainian affairs: it financed the Maidan protests, orchestrated the downfall of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February, and manipulated opposition leaders as if they were marionettes. Furthermore, the United States almost certainly played a key role in initiating the insurrection that brought down Yanukovich. The influence of fascist forces in the pro-Western Ukrainian uprising in February was significant. Indeed, the socio-economic collapse of Ukraine has provided fertile ground for extreme reactionary movements to flourish with the backing of one or another of Ukraine's handful of billionaires, though at present these forces remain a small but influential minority. The United States's hands-on involvement contrasted sharply with Germany's role, which was far more distant, hesitant, and cautious, clearly fearful that further upsetting the balance of power in Eastern Europe could generate instability and war.

The German political elite is also exasperated by the outlandish activities of the United States's National Security Agency as revealed by Edward Snowden, who was granted political asylum in Russia. Now, Europe's industrial, commercial, and political leaders must assume that the NSA spies on all their communications. German political and business leaders suspect that U.S. spying ---including industrial espionage, spying on trade talks and financial companies, and market manipulation -- is systematically used against them to promote U.S. hegemony. German government departments and businesses are said to be buying manual typewriters to limit the impact of U.S. electronic spying. It was even revealed that the NSA listened-in on Chancellor Merkel's personal mobile phone conversations, prompting her to state, "Spying between friends, that's just not done," implying that the United States might be 'un-friended' or 'blocked.'

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