On the other hand, Putin has been known to cultivate ties with populist parties across Europe, purely for political purposes. Russia has active ties with a lot of these groups, and some of them have even tried to start an ultra conservative worldwide movement, with the Kremlin's blessings. That includes Marine Le Pen, who was very close to winning this time in France, and is known to be at the forefront of organizing this Eurosceptic movement, and is also accused of being funded by Russia, her opponents.
Germany has always had a strange love-hate relationship with Russia, starting in the Bismarck days. During the wars in the 1870s, Prussia massively expanded at the cost of Austria and France to transform into Germany, with the help of the Russian empire, and Germany was actively supported as a counter balance against England and France. All that changed during the First and Second World War, and then during the Cold war. Germany was a natural leader of Europe, but too small and passive to be a hegemony in the post-Cold war era.
Merkel's liberal order of soft capitalism, austerity and fiscal discipline with socially liberal and pro migration policies have since arguably proved disastrous for Europe, but there simply was no other alternative. Besides Germany, no one will be able to manage Russia and Turkey. The U.S. and the U.K. are too inward looking while France, Poland and Hungary are turning ultra-right. That leaves the other states of Europe, who lack the economic clout of social cohesion and unity, to form a solid block.
This is the chief reasoning behind Germany's dithering diplomacy of their "two steps forward, one step back" diplomacy with Russia and Turkey.
Germany cannot be too hard or direct and constantly oppose Russia or Turkey for that matter, as Russia would then have the means to destabilize Europe, while Turkey would open the floodgates for refugees. Germany can neither be too soft, as no other country can carry the leadership of the EU, but everyone will be the first to blame Germany.
For all practical purposes, it is therefore plausible, that Merkel's balancing act is deeply frustrating for everyone, but ultimately necessary to preserve their much valued EU project, which has been Germany's biggest post war peace achievement. No other World leader would want to be in her shoes now, and if she stumbles, the EU might come crashing down, with untold misery and turmoil for millions, and economic recession for the entire world, including the EU's largest trading partners, India, China and the United States.
Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
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