Two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia is beginning to wield an influence in European affairs heavier than it has had at any time since the era of the tsars hundreds of years ago. Europe’s response to Russia’s rise is among the most sobering trends under way on the global stage.
Financially, Europe is in dire straits, and Moscow views the crisis as an opportunity. So, the Kremlin is using every tool within its grasp to reassert Russia and reclaim its former geopolitical position. Russia’s goal is the creation of a “Eurasian Union,” an idea that former and future President Vladimir Putin floated in October. Moscow’s initial interest is in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, but it would eventually want to include many of the other nations in its periphery, including those in Eastern Europe.
To reclaim the Eastern European part of this territory, Russia has developed a four-pronged strategy.
First, Moscow is striving to present Russia as a pillar of economic and political stability in the midst of a crisis-shaken world. Second, Moscow is inviting European companies that wish to grow into the Russian market. Third, Russia hopes to offer financial support for Europe’s bailout mechanisms. Officially, the Kremlin has $580 billion in cash reserves, and Stratfor sources report that it has another $600 billion hidden away in other funds. These massive cash reserves grant Russia the power to offer backing to Europe without strangling its own economy.
Fourth, and most important, Russia is buying assets across Europe, and especially in Central European nations like Poland, Italy, the Czech Republic and even impoverished Greece in order to give Moscow leverage. Stratfor explained the trend saying the Kremlin wants to “purchase assets in Europe while they are cheap. Moscow already has started buying up firms throughout Europe that have been suffering during the crisis. The Kremlin is focused mainly on banks and energy firms, followed by strategic assets like ports and airports. It also is not looking at assets that would give Russia the greatest financial return; it is considering those that would give Russia important leverage in Europe, particularly in Central Europe” (“In Europe’s Crisis, Russia Sees Opportunity,” November 2).
In Germany, Europe’s largest energy consumer, Moscow’s focus has been on securing joint ventures in the energy realm.
This four-pronged approach allows Russia to gain leverage in Europe in the midst of its financial crisis without incurring too many accusations of direct interference. “Once the crisis cools in Europe, it will become clearer exactly what the Russians managed to do while the Europeans were too distracted to notice,” Strafor wrote.
But Germany is not actually too distracted to understand what is afoot. Instead, Berlin’s decision to engage Russia is deliberate and foreboding. The history of Germany and Russia is one of steady clashing, and the seasons of cooperation that have interrupted this history, like the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, have been brief—built on mutual strategic necessity before major conflict. History proves that Russia is not Germany’s comrade, and when the two begin to pretend that they are close, war is not far off.
Eastern Europe, which was carved up between the Soviet Union and the Third Reich in 1939, remembers history, and has observed the warming relationship between Moscow and Berlin with deepening worry. Stratfor writes, “Granted, joint ventures and gas pipelines do not equate to the recreation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, but these states have to consider the possibility of a greater threat materializing in the future” (November 15).
Stratfor continues: “Poland is particularly concerned, and in fact Warsaw has feverishly attempted to counter a growing relationship between Berlin and Moscow. … Poland wants to limit Russian-German ties, or at the very least be involved in them within the EU format. … And while Russia is trying to use its alliance offer to build leverage and show Germany it can help it through hard times, Germany is not operating on Russia’s timeline and will find ways to retain its own leverage vis-à-vis Moscow.”
Fear of Russia’s resurgence and Germany’s eagerness to engage Moscow has prompted some Eastern European states to work toward building a military alliance. In May, Stratfor’s George Friedman wrote about “a new European military force” that consists of Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, called the Visegrad Group.
“It is not the battlegroup itself that is significant,” Friedman wrote, “but the strategic decision of these powers to form a sub-alliance, if you will, and begin taking responsibility for their own national security .…” His analysis also included speculation on how and when Visegrad would expand and extend to include other European nations and called the creation of the new battlegroup “a punctuation mark in European history.”
In 2009, Trumpet columnist Brad Macdonald wrote about the emerging pact between Russia and Germany:
History is consistent on this point: Germany and Russia are not close friends. Any appearance that they are is a herald of war. Truth is, this forming Russian-German axis is one of the most significant and underrated trends on the world scene! History tells us where this will end. The formation of a peace pact between Russia and Germany is a sure sign that one or both are preparing for an imperialistic, violent mission.
At present, worries about the congealing Russian-German axis are confined to Central and Eastern European nations that remember being dominated by these powers in the recent past. But as the trend continues, more countries will begin to notice the peril of the warming relationship. To understand where this is leading, and how it is connected to the most inspiring and awesome news a publication could ever proclaim, read Germany and the Holy Roman Empire. ▪