October 25th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's desperate gamble

EDITORIAL: Can Australia weather the storm?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Defending Australia's independence

CHINA: Milk contamination scandal: tip of the iceberg

NEW ZEALAND: November 8 election: Helen Clark's last hurrah?

FAMILY: Will paid maternity leave help mothers?

VICTORIA: Behind Victoria's radical new abortion law

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Can the US adjust to changing world realities?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Barbarossa II / Our friends

EDUCATION: When the wrong answer is 'right'

SCHOOLS: Minister Gillard backs faulty ranking system

SRI LANKA: Plight of persecuted Tamils worsens

TAIWAN: Ball in Beijing's court for Taiwan's WHO entry

EUROPE: Germany backs Russia against Georgia, Ukraine

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Health and safety obsessions stifle childhood

BOOKS: BLUE PLANET IN GREEN SHACKLES: What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom? by Vaclav Klaus

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Germany backs Russia against Georgia, Ukraine

by Joseph Poprzeczny

News Weekly, October 25, 2008
Chancellor Angela Merkel has signalled that Germany doesn't intend to be a bit-player between Western ambitions and Russian power. Joseph Poprzeczny reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's September St Petersburg meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has spelt the end for Ukrainian and Georgian hopes of joining NATO.

At a joint press conference on October 2, she said that Germany opposed them gaining membership and this question was now a closed book, precisely what Medvedev and his predecessor and paramount patron, Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, wanted.

Why did Merkel - once touted as capable of filling British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's shoes - yield so easily and so soon after Moscow's invasion of northern Georgia?

Why has Merkel so closely followed her predecessor Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's path? (Schroeder is now chairman of the North Europe Gas Pipeline which is 51 per cent owned by Russia's natural gas conglomerate Gazprom).

Dr George Friedman, of the Texas-based Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), has pointed out that Germany remains heavily dependent on Russian natural gas.

He said: "If the supply were cut off, Germany's situation would be desperate - or at least close enough that the distinction would be academic. Russia might decide it could not afford to cut off natural gas exports, but Merkel is dealing with a fundamental German interest, and risking that for Ukrainian or Georgian membership in NATO is not something she is prepared to do.

"She can't bank on Russian caution in a matter such as this, particularly when the Russians seem to be in an incautious mood. Germany is, of course, looking to alternative sources of energy for the future, and in five years its dependence on Russia might not be nearly as significant. But five years is a long time to hold your breath and Germany can't do it."

That having been said, Friedman doesn't see gas as offering the full explanation. Critically, he said, NATO is weak, "an entity that issues proclamations, not a functioning military alliance, in spite of (or perhaps because of) deployments in Afghanistan". Merkel, he said, had acted in full-knowledge of the American view on the desirability of NATO being expanded.

Friedman added: "It should be remembered that Merkel might be the most pro-American politician in Germany, and perhaps its most pro-American chancellor in years. Moreover, as an East German, she has a deep unease about the Russians. Reality, however, overrode her personal inclinations. More than other countries, Germany does not want to alienate the United States. But it is in a position to face American pressure should any come."

He said that Merkel's St Petersburg pronouncement signalled to both Russia and the West that Germany doesn't intend being a bit-player between Western ambitions and Russian power.

According to another expert, Rutgers University political scientist, Alexander Motyl, although Germany's gas needs were crucial, this dependence doesn't fully explain Merkel's pull-back.

Modern German history has shown that Berlin has repeatedly sought either alignment or accommodation with Russia. According to Motyl, Merkel's decision is in line with a tradition dating back to the great unifier of Germany, the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Motyl said: "After all, the Eastern Europeans most critical of Russia - such as Poland and the Baltic states - are far more dependent on Russian gas than Germany. Lucrative pipeline deals and other commercial ties also don't do the trick: economic logic should dictate a closer alliance with the United States, Germany's largest trading partner; but instead German policy-makers are frequently more anti-American in their rhetoric and policy than anti-Russian.

"Germany has consistently preferred authoritarian Russia to its democratic non-Russian neighbours....

"In 1922, Weimar Germany signed the Treaty of Rapallo with Soviet Russia, thereby paving the way for extensive economic and military cooperation that isolated, and helped destabilise, the fledgling states of East Central Europe. In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact led to the division of Poland by Hitler and Stalin.

"Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Germany willingly accepted Soviet hegemony in the satellite states (and even snubbed the Solidarity movement), in exchange for rapprochement with East Germany. The Schroeder-Putin pipeline deal of late 2005 and Merkel's endorsement of the logic of Putin's opposition to Ukraine's and Georgia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures continue this pattern.

"In all five instances, radically different German regimes consistently pursued the same foreign policy goal. Whether unstable and democratic as in 1922, powerful and totalitarian as in 1939, stable and democratic as during the Cold War, or powerful and democratic as today - German elites, whether Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, or Nazis, forged alliances with an authoritarian Russia at the expense of their democratic neighbours in Eastern Europe.

"This over-arching vision of Germany's interests is unabashedly geo-political, pointing to a possible reassertion in today's Germany of the Realpolitik political culture that dominated German foreign policy after unification in 1871 and that produced the disaster of the two world wars."

- Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based freelance journalist.


George Friedman, "The German question", Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting, Inc., Austin, Texas), October 6, 2008. URL: www.stratfor.com/weekly/20081006_german_question

Alexander Motyl, "Can Europe survive Germany?", New Atlanticist (Atlantic Council of the United States, Washington DC), October 2, 2008. URL: www.acus.org/new_atlanticist/can-europe-survive-germany

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