Berlin: In the meantime, there is a big question as ‘Angela Merkel’ prepares for her retirement which will eventually see her successor take over as new German Chancellor. Posing a huge question over both country’s relationship, which if viewed from a political angle are at their lowest ebb in years. Although Putin – Merkel is considered to be of similar age, fluent speakers of each other’s native language irrespective of their residents have somewhat helped in defining the political figure of their era. But German elections around the corner raises a lot of questions.
Despite political concerns, it’s evident that shared experiences have underpinned the relationship between ‘Angela Merkel’ and ‘Vladimir Putin’, which also at some point courteous – with the pair exchanging gifts of smoked fish and beer.
But following federal elections which edges closer on every passing day, it should be noted that Merkel’s 20 visits to Moscow throughout her tenure particularly made her the primary representative of the West and Europe in the halls of Kremlin.
It is believed as perceived by some in Germany that a cooperative approach towards Russia could prove difficult if it’s to be maintained, and more significantly is Russia’s involvement in the war with Ukraine, its repression of political opponents coupled with attempts to undermine democracy in Germany that led to a breakdown in dialogue, resulting to increased doubt in Berlin according to analysts per Al Jazeera.
“It’s the question: What is the future of EU and German Russian relations with a more aggressive regime externally, and repressive internally?”, Stefan Meister said, an expert on Russia with the German Council on Foreign Relations.
“I think there will be further alienation”.
But prior to Merkel’s retirement, which is expected to take effect after the German election, a number of factors actually shattered the diplomatic status quo between the two countries, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the use of military forces in Ukraine in 2014. Hence, placing Germany at the forefront in imposing EU sanctions while supporting Ukraine with at least one billion euros ($1.18bn) in financial aid.
Sadly enough, a cyberattack on Germany’s parliament in 2015 couldn’t help but rather led to a further decline in mutual trust, an attack the federal prosecutor sourced to an operative of the GRU. Merkel denounced the hack that included the theft of 16 gigabytes of sensitive data and emails viewed as an example of “hybrid warfare” carried out by Moscow.
Nonetheless, Berlin retained a strong economic tie with Moscow, its second-largest trading partner and a critical supplier of natural gas. In view of this, a senior at the Carnegie Moscow Centre made it clear while talking with Al Jazeera that the relationship between Russia and Germany is rather more of an economic one.
“The base of relations between Germany and Russia is more economic than political”
“It’s more about trade and deals and technologies and investment than about who is more important in the world”.
In another dimension, the two favourites to succeed Merkel as chancellor – the Christian Democrats leader ‘Armin Laschet’ and Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) ‘Olaf Scholz’ are known to be the current governing coalition, yet both have signalled that they will not drift from Merkel’s approach of separating diplomatic criticism from economic cooperation. Although, the two parties representatives have no significant experience in dealing with foreign affairs, precisely Russia.
Even as the leaders of leading parties support the Nord Stream 2, which upon completion will deliver 55 billion cubic metres (1.9 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas per year directly from Russia to Germany. The leaders have not refrained from airing their opinion with regards to Russia’s repressive and aggressive approach to issues.
Meanwhile, Scholz whose SDP is at the moment leading in polls has reportedly criticised Russia’s violation of “inviolable borders” in Ukraine and its attempt to destabilise European politics by proposing a renewed European “Ostpolitik”. Who also during a foreign policy discussion in June, said
“If things are to change, there must be bridges and channels for dialogue in order to return to a better relationship”.
Equally, the Green Party has also said that its candidate Annalena Baerbock has been targeted by a Kremlin-backed campaign of abuse on social media, including fabricated images and conspiracy theories, for opposing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
“When it comes to Laschet and Scholz, more or less continuity is to be expected”, Liana Fix said, international affairs director at the Koerber Foundation.
“The only question that remains is how strong will the value basis be. So to what extent would they place focus on human rights and domestic developments in Russia [or rather] on economic interests?”.
On top of this, there is also one area that is of utmost importance for the EU, Germany and Russia and that is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. This has raised a lot of concern despite welding the last section of the pipeline on Monday, according to the Russian energy conglomerate Gazprom.
But outside the German election, proponents have argued the pipeline is necessary for German energy security and its planned phase-out of coal. While in the eyes of Poland, the Baltic States and Ukraine, putting economic interests first has undermined trust in Germany.
“It was unclear how a tough stance on sanctions towards Russia on Ukraine came together with Nord Stream 2” Fix said.
The Nord Stream 2 has led to serious division in Europe, a project Kyiv tagged a “dangerous geopolitical weapon”.