Unlike some other things about her, Angela Merkel’s commitment to her friend Putin is unshakable, for all her occasional attempts to conceal it behind a rhetorical flourish.
I first pointed this out five years ago, and nothing has happened since to make me reconsider what I wrote then:
“I’ve always been fascinated by the platonic intimacy between Angie and Vlad. They speak each other’s language, using Christian names and familiar personal pronouns during their cosy chats.
“I’ve also been known to speculate that this intimacy just may be of long standing. You see, Angie hasn’t always been a great champion of European democracy under Germany’s aegis.
“In her East German youth, she held a nomenklatura position of agitprop chief in a regional committee of Freie Deutsche Jugend, the youth organisation typologically similar to its predecessor that also had jugend in its name.
“Just as Hitlerjugend had close links with the SS, the FDJ was the breeding ground for the Stasi. The two organisations always worked hand in glove, even though the FDJ nominally reported to the party.
“Any holder of a nomenklatura position in the FDJ, such as young Angie, had to work in close contact with the secret police, which in turn was but an extension of the KGB.
“At exactly the same time Vlad ran the KGB station at Dresden, just over 100 miles from where Angie did her thing. It’s pure conjecture, but they could well have known each other professionally then, especially since Angie was responsible for the purely KGB function of agitprop.
“It’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that Vlad has some leverage over Angie, possibly over a few FDJ/Stasi skeletons in her cupboard.”
Now Frau, formerly Kameradin, Merkel has delivered a speech bewailing Putin’s growing influence in the EU. “We have seen that right-wing parties, populist parties, receive very strong support in this form or another from Russia,” she said. “That is cause for concern.”
But evidently not too much concern. Of course, Frau Merkel may fear the growing clout of one Putin client, the AfD party that has begun to win quite a few seats from her ‘Christian’ Democrats.
But party-political worries aside, she has consistently done everything to add punch to Russia’s other, more potent, weapon: energy. While ostensibly trying to counter Russia’s political influence, she has always worked tirelessly to make Russia strong enough economically to be able to exert such influence.
Much as I distrust conspiracy theories, I find it hard to imagine how differently Frau Merkel would act if she were indeed colluding with Putin.
First, it’s important to understand that the export of hydrocarbons, especially natural gas, isn’t just one rubric in Russia’s economy. For all practical purposes, it is Russia’s economy.
Under its sage leadership, the country really has only two things to export: natural resources, mostly hydrocarbons, and weaponry. The latter is less reliable.
Even though Russia remains the world’s second biggest exporter of arms, this market is fickle, too dependent on the vagaries of geopolitics.
For example, Russia’s two biggest clients, India and Venezuela, have decreased their demand, the latter by as much as 96 per cent since 2009. As a result, Russia has recorded a 17 per cent drop in exports (by comparison, France has shown an increase of 43 per cent during the same period).
That leaves hydrocarbons as the sole guarantee of the Russian rulers’ continuing ability to buy 300-foot yachts complete with helipads and swimming pools. In a rare combination of business and pleasure, Russia’s hand on Europe’s gas tap also gives her real, palpable influence on European politics.
Now if one were a Manchurian Candidate type of German chancellor, working for Russia’s interests before one’s own country’s, how would one help Russia along?
Simple. One would do all one could to boost Russian gas exports, while at the same time increasing dependence on Russian gas imports.
In line with the second objective, Frau Merkel has overseen the closure of all German coal mines and committed the country to phasing out nuclear energy by 2022, leaving Putin’s gas as a strategically vital energy source.
At present, two Russian pipelines under the Baltic provide two-thirds of Germany’s gas, which serves the first objective quite well. But quite well isn’t good enough.
That’s why Frau Merkel has been a fanatic campaigner for Nord Stream, a project to build two additional Russian pipelines. In doing Vlad’s bidding, his friend Angie has to ward off frequent attacks from all and sundry, including prominent members of her own party.
For example, Ursula von der Leyen, the president-elect of the European Commission and Merkel’s former defence minister, has just protested that: “There is a danger of an excessively heavy dependence on Russian energy.”
Not just a danger, I dare say. More like a guaranteed energy vassalage, and there are few people naïve enough to believe that Putin would use such feudal powers to serve the interests of European people.
So yes, Frau Merkel is right: Russia’s political influence in Europe is growing. And she’s part of the reason for it.