When Diplomacy Wears Thin
"Chancellor Merkel is the most steadfast custodian of the concept of the liberal West going back 70 years. And that makes her Putin's number one target."
Strobe Talbott, former Clinton presidency Russian adviser
"Merkel was at the center of this negotiation about words, clearly enjoying it [the discussion whether Ukraine and Georgia be fast-tracked into NATO]."
"That is what she feels she does well [awkward diplomatic negotiations at the highest level]."
"For him [Vladimir Putin], it was like a slap in the face, the sentence that said Ukraine and Georgie will be members of NATO [at an undisclosed future date]."
"At the same time, he felt emboldened [that Chancellor Merkel had rebuffed G.W. Bush's insistence that they be invited directly into the NATO alliance]."
Stefano Stefanini, NATO envoy of Italy
"Putin did not understand why Germany did not just accept Crimea being absorbed into Russia."
Vladislav Belov, head, German Studies Center, Institute of Europe, Moscow
|Putin and Merkel at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. [Reuters]|
Moscow, on the other hand, had an earlier history to deplore, when fascist Germany sent its Nazi troops into Russia when the pact between Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin was shunted aside and a besieged Russia sacrificed millions of its loyal citizens in their determination to defend against the German invaders, finally turning to the Allies to help defeat the former Axis powers it had been aligned with.
When Mrs. Merkel was a child of seven in the town of Templin, East Germany, her father was the Lutheran pastor there and when the news arrived that the Soviets were constructing a dividing wall in Berlin between East and West it was viewed as a tragedy, parishioners weeping in the church. This was the young girl's introduction to politics. By the time the wall came down in 1989, her political future had been shaped. She brought her science-trained mind of rationality and calculation to her destiny.
For his part,Vladimir Putin, a law student in Leningrad, joined the K.G.B. at an early age, became an officer, and was stationed in Dresden, where he formed a close alliance with the East German secret police, working alongside them, and ultimately becoming very comfortable in German. It was a language he used in 2001, post the 9/11 attacks when he spoke in Berlin at the Reichstag to pledge Russian solidarity with America, the first Russian leader to address the German Parliament. That was when Angela Merkel led the opposition.
The present time sees another division in Europe, with West Europe clearly dominated by the strength of character and purpose characterized by the German Chancellor, and East Europe dominated by the President of Russia, increasingly authoritarian, disinterested in finding common cause with the United States, and resenting Western Europe for its distancing from Russia's hegemonic view of itself as entitled to once again ensnare its neighbours in a reluctant alliance reminiscent of the good old Union of Soviet Socialist Republic days.
|German Chancellor Angela Merkel (fed up with) Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: Daniel Dal Zennaro/Newscom)|
The European Union's distaste for the Kremlin's style of governance and belligerence is reciprocated in kind by Moscow's disdain for the EU and resentment against NATO. Russian unease with the proximity of the United States establishing military bases on its near-abroad and NATO's posturing in response to Russian manoeuvring in Georgia and Ukraine, committing itself to spurning international norms in the recognition of state sovereignty gripped them both in an exchange of accusations.
With the West at clear odds with Russia over its imperialistic aims to revisit the grasp of Soviet times over its neighbours' independence, the emerging Cold War of failing diplomacy paved the way for new approaches in espionage and interference in the politics of Europe and North America by Russian cyberwar techniques augmenting Moscow's irritating habit of not-too-subtly sending chilling warning of how it can, with impunity, breach the airspace and seaspace and land areas of other nations.
Through it all, Chancellor Merkel has taken on the thankless but required job of intermediary between the interests of the West and the provocations of Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin has viewed the European crisis of having to cope with a massive influx of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, affording him doubtless much amusement. That an additional fallout from Russia's alignment with Syria in creating greater numbers of Syrian refugees has occurred is likely a matter of some satisfaction to Mr. Putin in the thought of further burdens on Europe.
Payback, as he would see it, well deserved, for their interference in Russia's affairs through sanctions and diplomatic assaults on Russia's entitlements. Mrs. Merkel enjoys responding to challenges, and Mr. Putin thrives on intrigue, plotting and issuing of those challenges. The question is which of the two can manage to prevail; one through the authority of her position and the honour and respect she earns, the other by the weight of his presumptive internal popularity and the volatile brashness of his personality.