Dispute over Russia Policy

BERLIN/MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Own report) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting today with US President Donald Trump is not only overshadowed by his threat of applying punitive tariffs and the Iran conflict, but also by a dispute over economic aspects of the USA's Russia policy. On the one hand, the Trump administration is calling on Berlin to forego the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. In fact, the pipeline, which establishes Germany as the EU's central distributor for Russian natural gas, is one of the main aspects of Germany's energy policy. On the other, the newest round of sanctions that the US has levied against Russia - without consulting Berlin - threatens to cause serious damage to German companies. The dispute with Washington is escalating at a time when the Russia policy is becoming more controversial in Germany. Whereas the German government is accentuating its course - while media organs are openly campaigning for being prepared to go to war with Russia - business associations are pushing for moderation. Some formerly influential politicians are warning of the "danger of a third and final world war."

"More Relentlessness"

Currently, the policy toward Russia is, in multiple ways, again the subject of hefty debate within the German establishment. The German government has recently intensified its course against Moscow, because major foreign policy fields of conflict between the two sides Germany has not had success. Berlin has not been able to gain ground in the power struggle over Ukraine, and in Syria, Germany hardly plays a role, whereas Russia has been able to assert its influence in Damascus. Berlin is increasing pressure accordingly. The West is "sick and tired," declared German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and called for more "relentlessness" toward Moscow. "We have reached the point, where we must clearly state, that we are waiting for constructive contributions in the Skripal case, the annexation of Crimea, the hacker attacks and in the way Russia is behaving in Syria" - "we have already been waiting far too long."[1] "President Putin does not appreciate weakness," says German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen, "chumming up to him and making concessions will not make him friendlier." He must be dealt with from a "position of determination and strength" more relentlessness must be shown in the future.[2]

"Ready for War with Russia"

Therefore, the German government was explicitly supportive of the April 14 US, UK, French attack on Syria, openly aimed at Russian interests.[3] During the prelude to the attack, leading German media organs were not only considering overthrowing the Syrian government, but even going to war with Russia. For example, three days before the bombing, the head commentator of the "Welt" group, Jacques Schuster, declared it should not merely be limited to bombing raids. A "war against Assad" must rather be waged by asking whether "the regime can be eliminated militarily."[4] In addition, the question must be answered, whether "Americans and Europeans are prepared to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers into that country, and - if bad comes to worst - fight the Russians and Iranians?" The "preparedness" that Schuster clearly favors, involves the preparedness of going to war with a nuclear power.


Neither the intensification of the anti-Russian course nor the blatant preparedness to go to war is without dissent within the German establishment. "We must not allow the lines of communication to Moscow to be severed," admonished the President of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) Dieter Kempf. "Speechlessness, like during the cold war, advances no one."[5] This is because German companies recently started again to have business success in Russia.[6] Similar comments are also being heard from the established parties, particularly sectors of the SPD and FDP, including Wolfgang Kubicki, national Vice Chair of the FDP party, and Vice President of the German Bundestag, who pleads in favor of a gradual lifting of the sanctions against Russia. Shortly before the illegal aggression against Syria, several formerly influential politicians issued an urgent appeal calling for "Dialogue instead of escalation with Russia." "We are watching with great concern the worsening conflict between Russia and the West," declared the signatories - which include Horst Teltschik, former advisor to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and ex-Chair of the Munich Security Conference (MSC - 1999 - 2008), as well as Günter Verheugen ex-EU Commissioner (1999 - 2010). "In the meantime, we are dealing with a worrying alienation."[7] The "spiral of measures and countermeasures" is increasingly breaking away "from the real reasons and occurrences," the "rhetorical escalation and the production of enemy images in politics and the media" is "not without effect." The appeal warns that ultimately, this is about "the danger of a third and final world war."

Billions in Losses

Added to the already heated debate is the fact that the Trump administration - unlike the preceding administration under Barack Obama - is no longer coordinating anti-Russian sanctions with Germany and the EU, which is currently causing massive problems for the German companies. According to the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (OA), approx. 60 German companies have "intensive business relations" with companies owned by the Russian oligarchs, recently affected by US sanctions. They are now faced with the prospect of having to sever their "usually longtime business relations."[8] This is having an affect on business in the three digit millions, at least. There is also the risk of ultimately losing the struggle for influence in the Russian economy to China. Whereas in 2014 the significant growth in business with the USA could compensate for the losses in German mechanical engineering business in the East, punitive tariffs in the United States are now posing a supplementary threat. The metal business association is also warning against aggravated consequences of the sanctions against Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska controls Rusal, the world's second largest aluminum producer, who supplies almost one third of Germany's raw aluminum and large portions of Germany's aluminum oxide. If Germany can no longer purchase Rusal aluminum, due to US sanctions, the whole delivery chain will be affected, the association warns. This would also affect the car industry. Ultimately, "the security of supply and the predictability of price developments" in Germany could "no longer be guaranteed."[9]

A Strategic Pipeline

There is also the dispute over Nord Stream 2. The pipeline, which would double the direct import of Russian gas to Germany and, therefore, strengthen Germany's position as an EU distributor, is being massively opposed by the United States. On the one hand, Washington would like to prevent closer German Russian cooperation, on the other, Trump is seeking to sell as much US fracking gas as possible to the EU and therefore reduce the Russian natural gas import. Anti-Russian hardliners within the Christian Democrats and the Greens are also opposing the Nord Stream 2. However, because of the strategic significance of Russian natural gas for Germany, the German government is insisting on implementing the project. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[10]) Recently, the group of Christian Democrats in the Bundestag explicitly endorsed the speedy construction of the pipeline, therefore dispelling remaining doubts about the German government's intentions. The dispute over Nord Stream 2, as well as German misgivings concerning the new US anti-Russia sanctions, will be on the agenda of today's meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump. Whether they can reach an agreement is fully uncertain.


[1] Matthias Gebauer: Mehr Härte wagen. spiegel.de 12.04.2018.

[2] "Anbiedern oder Nachgiebigkeit macht Putin nicht freundlicher". spiegel.de 21.04.2018.

[3] See also Auf dem Weg in den Weltkrieg (II).

[4] Jacques Schuster: Ein Krieg dürfte nicht mit einem plumpen Symbolschlag beginnen. welt.de 11.04.2018.

[5] BDI-Präsident fordert Dialog mit Moskau. unternehmen-heute.de 19.04.2018.

[6] See also Druck plus Profit.

[7] The Appeal Dialog statt Eskalation. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12.04.2018. was signed by Helmut Schäfer (Minister of State for Foreign Affairs 1987 - 1998), Edmund Stoiber (Bavarian Prime Minister 1993 - 2007), Horst Teltschik (Chairman of the Munich Security Conference 1999 - 2008), Günter Verheugen (EU-Commissioner 1999-2010), Antje Vollmer (Vice-President of the German Bundestag 1994-2005).

[8] Ost-Ausschuss der Deutschen Wirtschaft: Positionspapier: Neue US-Sanktionen gegen Russland - Auswirkungen auf die deutsche Wirtschaft. Berlin, 18.04.2018.

[9] Wirtschaftsvereinigung Metalle: Kurzposition US-Russlandsanktionen. Berlin, 23.04.2018.

[10] See also German-Russian Oil Cooperation.