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 Europeans forgive the Russians, again

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Moldovan President

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Moldovan President Igor Dodon during their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP) Credit: AP/Maxim Shemetov

In recent years, Germany has often been lauded as a heroic defender of the free world. As former Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes relates, President Barack Obama said goodbye to Chancellor Angela Merkel with a sad “She’s all alone.” But Germany is not alone. It is trying to cut deals with Russia.

Russia is far more popular in Germany than Obama’s whimper implied. So popular, in fact, that the term “Russland-Versteher” – literally, “Russia understander” – emerged in Germany in 2014. In this case, “understander” means “sympathizer.” In 2017, a poll found that 28 percent of the German public felt Russia was a reliable partner, compared to 25 percent for the United States.

Fitting deeds to words, Germany is trying to cut a deal with Russia over the Kerch Strait. The Strait is a narrow channel that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov in the north. In late November, Russia fired on and captured three Ukrainian naval vessels attempting to pass into the Sea of Azov.

Under a 2003 treaty of cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, the Strait is supposed to be shared between the two nations. But since Russia’s invasion and occupation of the Crimean peninsula, that treaty is dead in Russian eyes.

As analyst Vladimir Socor points out, Russia’s goal is not to block the Strait. Instead, it is to have Russian control of the Strait accepted by other nations. This would “advance Moscow’s goal to elicit de facto acceptance of Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.”

And Germany, in cooperation with France, is doing its best to make sure that happens by negotiating with Russia over the Strait. The German proposal is for international monitors to “ensure” shipping proceeds without disruption, while Russia would “allow” Ukraine to use the Strait.

As Socor notes, this idea  tacitly accepts that Russia controls both the Strait and Crimea.

Germany is not acting on behalf of the UN or NATO. It is not acting on behalf of Ukraine, which was apparently not even consulted on Germany’s latest proposal. Instead, it is following a disturbing pattern of European accommodation to Russian aggression.

In 2008, Russia invaded the nation of Georgia. The war ended when both sides accepted a French proposal for a ceasefire, which required Russia to withdraw to its pre-war lines.

This agreement was supposed to be monitored by the UN, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But that monitoring hasn’t stopped Russia from recognizing the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations, or nibbling away at Georgia by moving the ceasefire lines.

The supposed French-led success in Georgia has been a failure. It has not restored the pre-war status quo. It has instead locked in the results of the war, and rewarded Russia for its aggression. This is precisely what will happen if Germany succeeds in giving away the Kerch Strait to Russia.

Imagine the uproar if President Donald Trump negotiated with Russia to legitimize its seizure of Crimea. But when Germany does it, there is barely a peep, and Germany proceeds on its merry way, with everyone – especially including itself – convinced of its righteousness.

In fact, from Nord Stream 2 – its new natural gas pipeline with Russia – to its handling of the Euro currency, Germany has two consistent aims: peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, it is willing to buy both for itself at the expense of the peace and prosperity of its neighbors. Its righteousness is selfishness.

It will not be possible to stop Russia from gnawing on its neighbors if it knows – as it surely already does – that all it has to do after its latest aggression is wait, and soon, one or another European nation will sidle up to it with a neutralization proposal.

This is no time for forgiveness. It is time to see Russia – and Germany – for what they are: not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom.


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