A Cautious Relationship Builds

Initially cooled throughout the Chechen war, relations between Russia’s president and Germany’s chancellor seem set to warm into a genuine partners.
From the November 2000 Trumpet Print Edition

For some time after Boris Yeltsin’s decline, relations between Germany and Russia had cooled. The strain resulted from Germany backing the U.S. and Britain in the Kosovo war and German/EU differences with Russia over the Chechnya war.

Back in June, barely two months following Putin’s election to the Russian presidency, the Russian premier visited Chancellor Schröder. The chancellor had previously welcomed Putin’s election to office with an expression of “great expectations of a strong, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Russia which acknowledges its international responsibility and takes full part in developments in Europe” (Reuters, March 27).

Each of these leaders know only too well that failed relations between them in the past have led to a literal blood bath. Stalingrad is still etched in the minds of both, with its legacy of over a million dead.

Yet this did not stop Vladimir Putin from rattling his nuclear saber on the eve of his summit with President Clinton, which preceeded that with Schröder. He startled the West with his declaration that Russia would sell sensitive nuclear materials, even to nations that are nonsignatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Following his U.S. summit, Putin visited Berlin for a two-day conference, during which Schröder stated that he wanted to build a new “strategic relationship” with Russia. However, little evident progress was made diplomatically on this score, largely due to the debacle of the war in Chechnya and some apparent reticence on behalf of each leader. Nevertheless, during the recent UN Millennium Summit, Schröder and Putin apparently agreed that they would meet in Moscow shortly thereafter.

On the eve of this visit, Schröder said, “I am going there because I want to make it clear, especially at this current time, that Russia can politically count on Germany’s support for the reform process.” He anticipated “several hours” of talks with Putin, and emphasized “the important role in world peace,” that Germany could play, “particularly in easing Russian concerns over nato expansion” (Agence France-Presse, Sept. 25).

Two key statements leap out upon viewing Schröder’s words—“Russia can politically count on Germany’s support for … reform,” and the key reference to Germany’s “important role in world peace … particularly in easing Russian concerns over nato expansion.”

No doubt the first key statement is a lead-in to Germany seeking to limit U.S. influence in the European theater by laying the groundwork for a future treaty which will assure an alliance with Russia. This would give both the continuing ability to trade off each other in international relations to the detriment of the U.S.

The second key statement is more chilling in its overtones. The most important role which Germany can play in world peace, given their history, is to stay away from war! Yet the only way that Germany can allay Russian fears over nato expansion is to indicate that nato’s redundancy will be brought about by the implementation of a German-led Euroforce. That force is in the making right now, and Putin knows it. Perhaps Schröder’s quid pro quo here is, We’ll keep nato at bay—just don’t rattle your nuclear arsenal at us! On the other hand, from the Russian perspective, Putin can quite readily say, We have the resources, you have the capital—let’s dance!

Russia needs that capital. A debt of $43 billion hangs around its neck, owed to the Paris Club, which comprises 18 of Moscow’s creditor states. Germany is Russia’s single biggest creditor, therefore its single biggest current investor, and its closest neighbor of any size and of any economic and political clout. Up to now, Germany has balked at offering any sizeable relief through the restructuring of this debt. However, Schröder is a chameleon, well practiced in moving with the flow of events and adjusting his stance accordingly.

One other key statement in his comments to the press in advance of his visit to Moscow in September was “especially at this current time.” What’s so crucial about talking with the Russians “especially at this current time”? Well, let’s take a look.

The recent UN Millennium Conference, at which Schröder and Putin apparently set up their luncheon meeting in Moscow, was notable not so much for the boring, repetitive rhetoric of the over 150 world leaders who engaged in that wasteful process. It was most notable for the meetings held on the way to the conference, on the side, and immediately thereafter as leaders of nations met with each other in the developing process of marginalizing the U.S. from having any major political influence on their affairs.

The world is in process of realigning, skirting Washington and isolating the U.S. in a grand collective effort to ultimately ostracize America from the global political arena. They want to see this “superpower” cut down to size.

Is Schröder simply striking while the iron is hot? Or is it, in terms of the absence of U.S. influence in this affair, a case of when the cat’s attention is diverted away, the mice will play?

Besides the matters which Schröder highlighted as items he would address in Moscow, other aspects of his discussions with Putin were not accessible to the press. However, it is worthy of note that EU Commission President Romano Prodi contacted Putin shortly after Schröder’s luncheon meeting with the Russian president; Prodi suggested to him that the EU double their import of Russian gas, increase oil imports from Russia and buy more electricity from them. No doubt this initiative came as a result of the EU reviewing their level of dependence on opec countries at a time when oil prices have gone through the roof. The EU is suggesting a 20-year deal with Russia, supplying them with EU technology to better exploit Russian oil and gas reserves. The EU proposal would lead to Russia providing 40 percent of the EU’s gas needs and 32 percent of its oil. This amounts to a strategic energy partnership, hence the need for the EU to have some level of control over such a strategic resource by supplying the technology to distribute and control its flow (thus maintaining control over technical know-how).

Realizing its vulnerable economic position, Russia is playing hardball with its vast mineral and energy resources. No doubt such a deal will be the subject of some bloodletting along the negotiating path. Russia has already sent out its signals to the West indicating the hard bargaining to come in respect of its key mineral resources, in particular its near monopolistic holding of the high-tech mineral palladium. Three days prior to Schröder’s visit to Moscow on September 25, the Russian Finance Ministry assumed control of the country’s precious metals and gems. This puts Russia in the box seat in terms of negotiating power on the sale of its palladium, platinum, nickel and diamond resources. With 80 percent of the world’s palladium and 20 percent of its platinum, the Finance Ministry is in a position to play havoc with prices of these items on the world stock exchanges. Palladium peaked at $854 per ounce in August. Price manipulation of this and other precious metals will be used as a tool of economic warfare in Russia’s international relations as it struggles to drag itself out of economic slough and reassert itself as a world power.

Germany well knows this.

Was the rushed luncheon meeting initiated by Schröder with Putin to ensure that Germany’s, and hence the EU’s, interests would be given special favor in the energy, minerals and precious metals arena within which Putin is currently playing? No doubt!

The freeze is off German-Russian relations. The two leaders parted from their full hour lunch with Putin inviting Schröder and his spouse, Doris, to his Dacha to spend the Orthodox Christmas with him and his wife, Lyudmilla.

The relationship between Germany and Russia was pivotal throughout the 20th century, most particularly in the three wars which impacted that century: the hot wars—World Wars i and ii—which dominated the first half of the century, and the 40-year cold war which so greatly influenced the second half. The cozier relationship which is now developing between Chancellor Schröder and President Putin is a harbinger of the future alliance between those two nations which they will seek in an effort to secure the line of division between the two—Russia’s western front and Germany’s eastern front—so they can get on with pursuing their separate goals in the race for global hegemony.