Home » From Russian gas to the war in Ukraine: why Putin attacked after Merkel’s departure

From Russian gas to the war in Ukraine: why Putin attacked after Merkel’s departure

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From Russian gas to the war in Ukraine: why Putin attacked after Merkel’s departure

He would have liked a “quieter period” after his departure from power, and instead for Angela Merkel the time has come for major accusations. More than other world leaders, more than Obama, more than the French, more than Trump, the responsibility for the new world disorder is being placed on her, as a disastrous chain effect of the line and the choices carried out in 16 years of power. From the war in Ukraine to the excessive dependence on Russian gas, from the failure of the Minsk agreements to the substantial “myopia” in the face of the dangerousness of Putin, who would have rearmed himself with oil revenues, everyone wants an apology. And the legacy of her never really played since leaving the scene a year ago seems to be getting darker with each passing day.

As a crisis manager because of crises. A j’accuse that seems so much the search for a scapegoat. Situation that forced the former chancellor, after months and months of silence, to break her uneasy retirement in the Uckermark and go back to the newspapers, to explain her latest attempts “to stem Putin, when by now everyone knew that I would leave in autumn”. Not supported by America, nor by Macron.

The war in Ukraine

Let’s go in order and try to explain, point by point, why it is incorrect to lock Merkel in the “room of shame”, placing on her a bad responsibility in politics with Russia, in energy strategy, and even in climate change, not counting Covid and digitization. After the West celebrated her in 2015 as “chancellor of the free world“, she now turns against her. Starting with the criticism of the inability to avoid the outbreak of war. Let’s go to summer 2021: after the American president Biden and the Russian president Putin had met, Merkel tried to implement one of the last mediations of her long chancellorship. You have tried to set up «with Macron an independent European discussion format in the EU Council, to deal with the Russian leader», she herself explains to Spiegel. The attempt soon failed, and there are those who made it fail: «Some people – he doesn’t name names, ed. – they objected and I no longer had the strength to impose myself. Everyone knew I was leaving.” You asked other members of the Council: «“ Why don’t you come forward? Say something.” One replied: “It’s too big for me.” The other just shrugged his shoulders.’ Your extreme intercession did not succeed first of all because last year you did not run again in the elections, won by the Social Democrat Scholz and your former vice chancellor, but not at all in continuity. Even during the “farewell visit to Moscow – he continues -, the feeling was very clear: in terms of power politics, I was finished. For Putin, only power matters. He also brought Lavrov with him on this last visit, other times we met in private.’ Not even the leader with whom the former DDR girl had always had a privileged dialogue, she legitimized her more like when she really was the most powerful woman in the world, indeed she was waiting for her to come out to play her game. But let’s take a step back to 2008, when Merkel was against the integration of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. At the time, “this was only of interest to experts in Germany at the time,” she comments. Of the series, it is useless to blame ex post, when none of the accusers paid any attention to the dossier.

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Until the crisis in Georgia (2008), the chancellor cultivated the idea of ​​”Wandel durch Handel”, change through trade, which meant dealing with the “bad guys” (Russia, China in particular) by separating business from rights, to keep an open dialogue. In 2014, with the invasion of Crimea, NATO began to deploy troops on a semi-permanent basis in Eastern Europe, including with German soldiers, but nobody spoke of strong sanctions against Putin. Only a few countries, including Italy, have taken it seriously. The troops were a clear sign to the Kremlin leader, but evidently they did not dissuade him from attempting a coup de main, because they were geared towards the Crimean crisis and not towards a large-scale invasion.

In relations between Europe and the United States, Merkel was practically the only one to stand up to Trump, when his pro-Kremlin line was clear. Many accusers today were silent out of political expediency.

Failure of the Minsk agreements

On this point, she defends herself: “They have been eroded,” she says clearly. «When you write about me in 2013 and 2014 and about the agreements, you forget that I didn’t just have what to think about. There were also federal elections, coalition negotiations, Greece was always a problem, I even broke my pelvis». You claim to have bought your time, however, profitably: if Russia had invaded eight years ago, it would have been a massacre for Ukraine. Minsk served to stop a situation that could have escalated into a much more costly conflict for Kiev and which made possible the defensive preparations that have led up to today. Putin sabotaged Minsk 1 and 2, but Poroshenko’s insistence on reconquering Donbass militarily when it was impossible concretely prevented an attempt to recover the territories through diplomatic channels, and made Zelenski’s initial line of negotiation with Moscow impracticable, in addition to have strengthened Putin’s conviction that war was the only way forward.

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Finally, her decision not to reapply was because «I hadn’t moved forward a millimeter, even with so many things that we tried and tried again. Ukraine, Transnistria and Moldova, Georgia and Abkhazia, Syria and Libya. The time had come for a new approach,” she explains. Sigmar Gabriel, her former Social Democrat vice-chancellor, believes Putin would not have attacked Ukraine if Merkel had still been chancellor. «He had incredible respect for her, as a woman who led the most powerful country in Europe and who also understood Russia. Even Orbán recognized that there would be no war with Merkel,” says Gabriel.

Gas addiction

In principle, if the threshold of 50% of gas imports is exceeded, an unbalanced dependence is established in favor of the supplier. This is an objective criterion which, if it were systematically followed in world trade, would undoubtedly lead to greater balance and competition in relations, sacrificing those economies of scale, deemed so necessary for the functioning of a market economy. This is the key point that really decides when an addiction becomes dangerous. To be frank, a large part of Western Europe has imported gas since 1984 from the USSR, then the archenemy of the Atlantic Alliance and still in the midst of the Euromissile crisis. Nord Stream 1 was the result of the same logic and, until yesterday, even those states that were against its installation have benefited from it. Nord Stream 2 saw the opposition of some countries and also the counter-proposal of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia with the Opal project. Which, however, is still a pipeline with Russian gas that passed through all these states. The four capitals, with Opal, would have obtained the transit royalties, but in the meantime, their dependence on Russia has never diminished. Meanwhile, many social and economic systems have profited from the relatively low prices that Russia offered us for necessary energy supplies. This interdependence most likely deferred the conflict to the benefit of the Ukrainian forces. Talk aside, diversifying has clear higher structural and ecological costs, perhaps not all of which are sustainable.

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The rearmament of Russia

Which leads to the “j’accuse” of rearmament of Russia. The problem with this concrete accusation is twofold: it fails to take into account the context and its overall effects. The context is that since 1991 Russia has been clearly inferior to NATO in terms of military spending, armaments and the quality of the military instrument. Even taking the United States out of the equation, EU countries spend nearly four times as much as their Russian counterpart. Russia, despite the rearmament, has remained weak and incapable in essence. The suffering of the Ukrainian population is atrocious and indubitable, as is the definitive rupture of the Euro-Atlantic security order, but we must also remember that all of NATO signed the Pratica di Mare treaty in 2002 with Russia (a strong partnership between NATO and Russia, which laid the foundations for an intense military collaboration), and who wisely called it into question only after the Crimean crisis in 2014. In those years: Russia modernized its forces with the scarce war effectiveness that we have seen now; in the meantime, the rich countries of the Alliance were able to take care of their military stocks, which were then handed over to Kiev; and the European Union was able to finance a persistently bankrupt Ukrainian state. All this also through the use of Russian gas to maintain competitive and less polluting economies. It’s not Realpolitik, it’s the reality of these years.

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