Merkel Wants to Maintain Economic Ties With Russia Despite US Demands
Monday, January 25, 2021
Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
The controversy surrounding the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is far from over – and it is likely to get worse with Biden. The new American president, assuming more solid ideological stances of commitment to American hegemony, may be a greater obstacle to the project of energy integration between Russians and Germans, and this may lead to a major tension between Washington and Berlin.
The Biden team has a more rigid positioning than the former Trump Administration. Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, during a conference last week emphatically stated his position on the issue of Nord Stream 2: “I’m determined to do whatever I can to prevent that completion”. Without sufficient resources to enter a major dispute with Washington, Berlin has tried to take a more diplomatic stance. Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday declared an interest in discussing the topic in person with Biden, avoiding disagreements and sanctions.
Among the tactics used by the American government to induce Germany to decline its negotiations with Moscow is the pseudo-humanitarian discourse that it would be “wrong” to establish relations with Russia due to the arrest of Alexei Navalny. Last year, the scandal involving one of the leaders of Russian opposition came to threaten the negotiations, but the lack of evidence of involvement of government agents in the alleged poisoning of the Russian politician led Berlin to the most reasonable possible attitude of maintaining interest in the pipeline. Now, American rhetoric is benefited by Navalny’s arrest, even though it occurred for absolutely clear legal reasons and disconnected from the attack he allegedly suffered. Having criticized Russia several times in the course of the controversy over Navalny, Merkel has not yet changed her thinking about Nord Stream 2, which she considers of utmost strategic importance for her country and, consequently, above any political scandal of dubious circumstances.
The big problem, however, is that despite Merkel’s rational and strategic stance, American rhetoric about Navalny may now try conquer the rest of Europe and create even more pressure on Germany. Within Western axiology, it is impracticable to maintain relations, even if merely commercial, with a country whose government is accused of having poisoned an opposing politician – even though there is no enough evidence of this supposed crime. The case brought the perfect justification to pressure all Europeans to retreat in business with Russia because it allowed them to create a rhetoric beyond rationality and strategy. Washington, of course, will invest heavily on this and try to put European ideology against European interests.
Former President Donald Trump, on his last day in office, approved new sanctions against Russia, this time against the Russian ship that is carrying out the final sections of the pipeline. Merkel disapproved of the measure, severely criticizing Washington’s extraterritorial sanctions. She certainly hoped that, among the Biden government’s initial measures, there would be a retreat in these sanctions, but that has not happen. Although the German Chancellor supports the return of the US to the Climate Agreement and WHO, already carried out by Biden, she will have to conciliate it with a continuation of the sanctions policies initiated by Trump.
Biden, with his agenda committed to the major global issues, such as human rights and the environment, promised to reestablish the historic fraternal relations between the US and Europe, but he never made this objective a priority in his government plan. The new president wants to regain a status of American hegemony at a global level that had never been so harmed as in the Trump years. This means that the insistence on Nord Stream 2 can lead to a deep crisis not only in bilateral relations between Americans and Germans, but also with any country that enjoys the benefits generated by the pipeline. The most likely scenario for the near future is an increase in the European Union’s internal pressures for the gas pipeline project to be revised. In the same vein, Washington will stir up tensions around the world over the Navalny case, spreading protests and boycotts that will also be officially supported by the Europeans. Merkel, however, will seek a position of strategic neutrality that may not be possible in the long run.
The German Chancellor is right in wanting to maintain ties with Russia despite political and ideological discrepancies. Trade is neutral and is guided only by the laws of the search for benefits. However, in the geopolitical arena, both trade and ideology converge into mere instruments in the game of the great powers.
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