Op-Ed Commentary by Chris Devonshire-Ellis – February 28th, 2022
Many, many words have been written about the Ukraine situation and Russia’s invasion, with much attached to Russian aggression, a desire to return to Soviet Union days and issues over NATO’s positioning of weapons in Ukraine and potential NATO membership of the country.
However, one recent event has passed unnoticed in all the theories of why this situation has come about: the retirement of Angela Merkel three months ago.
Bringing Germany Back Into The Fold
Merkel had pursued a policy of engagement with Russia and had signed off agreements to have Russian gas supplies sent to Germany via the Nordstream 2 pipeline. Under her lengthy career, Germany had engaged with Russia more than any other European country, and although personal relationships with Putin were not close, German companies gained traction in Russian markets, German politicians began appearing in high status positions on Russian company boards, and Berlin undertook an appeasement of Russia. Far too entrenched to deal with while in power, her retirement provided the great opportunity to roll all Germany’s pro-Russia energy, politics and trade back, and to replace it with largely American interests. A type of ‘Bringing Germany back into the fold’.
Doing so would be bloody and require a complete playing of Vladimir Putin to accomplish. With a pro-Western Ukraine in position, all it took to enrage Moscow were subtle hints that NATO would offer Ukraine membership and that weapons systems would be installed on Ukraine’s border with Russia, at its closest, just 450km from Moscow, and less than a few minutes flight time for new-generation hypersonic missiles.
Negotiations were held, with neither the United States nor NATO appearing to want to shift their position while the EU dithered over which way to turn. Finally, with the US seemingly almost willing a conflict to happen (note the past two months headlines in our event timeline here) hints were dropped (according to Russian media) that nuclear missiles could be exported to Ukraine. That broke Putin’s back, an invasion was launched, and is still underway.
The United States becomes the EU’s Energy supplier
It is what has happened in Germany during the past ten days that is perhaps the most interesting pointer to how Putin got suckered into this – Nordstream 2 was indeed cancelled, and the United States has proposed sending gas supplies to Germany and Europe instead. Some assistance will be needed from other non-European sources, but the energy issue has been solved.
The EU becomes a United States weapons industry client
There are other developments too. In the light of what has happened in Ukraine, Germany has stated it will add another €100 million to its 2022 defense budget – meaning more military expenditure, and weapons, while an increased number of US troops will be based in the country. The EU is set to follow suit with increased military budgets expected along all Eastern EU borders and an increased US military presence including an estimated 22,000 NATO troops, some of which are already in place. This will be a major boom for the United States arms industry, which can take advantage of an atmosphere of extreme European fear now for years.
There are other geopolitical benefits too.
A Vastly Diminished Russia
The cost to Russia is and will continue to be immense. While Putin – not unreasonably given his position of responsibility in protecting Russia – searches for NATO weapons and the possibility of weapons grade nuclear material processing and nuclear capable weapons systems in Ukraine – one reason they have targeted the power plants – the horror of the invasion has hit Russia hard. It remains unclear the extent of the damage that is being inflicted upon Russia, let alone Ukraine, but it will be severe. A diminished Russia fits right in with US security plans. It wishes to keep the country weak, and had an opportunity to do so once Merckel was out of the way.
A Weakened China and Belt & Road Initiative
The relationship between Moscow and Beijing has been getting too cozy for Washington’s liking, with the Russia-China Axis perceived as a direct threat. Washington cannot do much in terms of hurting China, it needs China trade and its needs it relatively compliant. Teaming up with Russia, with whom the United States does little trade with, but who possesses huge amounts of energy supplies and other commodities, was seen as a threat. Washington has diminished Russia to such an extent that the allure of Moscow and the strength it had will now be less impressive in Beijing’s eyes. It has lost the strength of a major ally.
The Belt and Road Initiative has also taken a hit. Large portions of the ‘Road’ element of that pass-through Russia and Belarus, both now considered enemy or unfriendly countries. China’s access to European markets – and Europe’s ability to buy competitive Chinese products has been impaired.
There are longer term risks for the EU. Inside two months it has had the energy sector and supply chains with Russia completely ripped apart and must now be reliant on United States energy policy. Decisions concerning EU energy will now be determined in Washington, and not Brussels.
Of even more concern is the spectre of the formation of two new regional armies, a German military under control from Berlin, and the formation of a European Union army, under Brussels but de facto under the leadership of NATO – meaning the United States. The formation of a German Army will be of utmost concern in Brussels and the UK. But it will be good news for the American defense industry sector. That is an issue that will require intense lobbying to resist.
Meanwhile, the European Union should be taking a close look at Washington’s relations with its neighbours in South America, and passing a risk evaluation on these. Relations have been erratic, with long term sanctions placed on Venezuela and Nicaragua while the entire region has been subject to what many would see as financial exploitation – investments made to benefit US businesses and consumers rather than leaving much on the table for locals.
With Washington over the past three years having threatened sanctions on the entire German Port of Sassnitz, French Cheese, Wine and Cosmetics, and a variety of threats concerning EU interests in Iran, the EU should be looking very carefully at what sort of bedfellow Washington could be now that the entire bloc seems to have been lassoed to be more closely tied to the United States. Brussels, it appears, has been played expertly, while the Russian President Putin has been sold completely up the river.
It is for future historians to work out what has been happening, but the redrawing of Europe and repositioning of German policies in particular appear to be a United States construct rather than a Muscovite one. Ukraine, in Washington’s eyes is mere collateral damage compared to bringing Germany – literally – ‘back online’.
Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal commentary, belong solely to the contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Asia Briefing Limited or Dezan Shira & Associates.