This weekend’s private summit between President Putin and Chancellor Merkel will focus first and foremost on Nord Stream II but will also broaden to include talks on Ukraine and Syria too.
The US hasn’t been shy about voicing its opposition to the Nord Stream II gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, with Trump even going as far as to accuse Moscow of using the project to hold Berlin “captive”. The US President’s hyperbolic remarks last month weren’t meant to be taken literally by any policymakers but intended to signal just how strongly Washington opposes this joint Russian-German initiative. America knows that Nord Stream II will weaken its hold over the EU’s leading country and consequently make it more likely that Germany will pursue relatively independent policies in the future, which is absolutely unacceptable to the US. Trump’s quest to “Make America Great Again” is dependent on indefinitely perpetuating and even intensifying the US’ unipolar hegemony over its transatlantic partners in order to squeeze more profitable arrangements from them, and Nord Stream II is the greatest long-term threat to this vision.
There are of course a multitude of back-up plans in place for responding to the failure of this power play, such as co-opting the countries of the Polish-led Three Seas Initiative as a so-called “cordon sanitaire” between Russia and Germany, but Trump the businessman might wager that it’s a better bet to try and retain the strategic status quo as long as possible provided that it’s still beneficial to American interests. That’s why his country isn’t “surrendering” Germany to Russia without a fight, as he sees it, believing also that a policy of non-stop pressure on enemies and allies alike is the best way to keep the rest of the world on the defensive and unlikely to make any surprise moves against the US’ interests. Nevertheless, Trump understands that it’s in Germany’s objective self-interests to seek reliable and low-cost gas from Russia instead of submit to the US’ much more expensive scheme to import LNG, so Washington likely recognizes that Berlin might go ahead with Nord Stream II despite the US’ objections and possibly even sanctions threats.
So long as the US keeps up the pressure on Germany and “holds its feet to the fire”, whether through tariffs, NATO defense obligations, or other means, then America might be able to retain its hegemonic influence over Berlin to the point where Nord Stream II remains strictly apolitical despite its strategic potential to contribute to the liberation of the EU leader from the US’ yoke. This state of affairs might make one wonder why President Putin would even see the need to hold a private summit with Merkel over this topic, but it’s precisely because the US isn’t going to give up on this issue that Russia understands the need to continue pressing forward with it so that America doesn’t stand any chance of succeeding in its attempts to convince Germany that Moscow might be “hesitating” or whatever other infowar narratives it tries to propagate.
Everything is going fine with Nord Stream II but President Putin wants to continue cultivating his years-long relationship with Merkel because he intends to use this visit as an opportunity to try and revitalize Russian-German relations in general, understanding that he can use the goodwill that this project engenders between both sides to make progress on the Ukrainian and Syrian issues. About the first-mentioned one, it’s already been revealed that this topic will be on the agenda, and Berlin wants guarantees that Moscow will continue shipping gas through its neighbor, though Russia will probably want to link this to Germany leaning on Ukraine enough to get it to stop its regular shelling of the rebel-held eastern regions and hopefully finally abide by the Minsk Agreements. Seeing as how important energy is to Russian-German relations, it’s possible that the two leaders could negotiate a quid-pro-quo that connects Nord Stream II, Russian gas shipments through Ukraine, and the Minsk Agreements.
Germany is also interested in seeking Russia’s assistance for encouraging Syrian migrants to return back to their homeland now that the military phase of the conflict is almost over after having come under tremendous grassroots pressure to do something about this issue. Merkel almost lost his chancellorship, twice (first with the elections and secondly through her latest coalition crisis), because of her ideological pursuit of so-called “open borders”, and it would be of immense benefit to her politically if she could deliver a “solution” to her people that sees at least highly publicized and symbolic representatives of the Syrian migrant community going back home. She knows, however, that this is unlikely unless they actually have a physical home to return to, which is why Germany will probably have to contribute funds for Syria’s reconstruction.
It’s here where issues of externally enforced “political correctness” come in because the US is pressuring its subordinates to not commit any money to this cause until UNSC Res. 2254’s mandated constitutional reforms and new elections are carried out, encouraging them instead to send money to areas beyond the control of Damascus such as in the Kurdish-held northeast. Many of the majority-Arab Syrian migrants in Germany wouldn’t consider moving to the sparsely populated desert that most have never been to before if they ever went back home, which is why Merkel’s in a dilemma because she might have to go against the US and provide some level of financial support to the liberated portions of Syria if she wants to achieve her goal (however symbolic or substantial) of getting some migrants to return to the country. The sensitivities involved will probably be discussed with President Putin, as will the proposed quadrilateral talks between their countries, Turkey, and France, which will probably also end up involving similar conversations.
It should be remembered that joint Russian-German advancements on the Ukrainian and Syrian fronts are motivated by each party’s respective but overlapping self-interests there, but that cooperation between them is still closely tied to their energy relationship –specifically in the contemporary context to Nord Stream II and the possibility of extending Russian gas shipments through Ukraine – exactly as the US feared but precisely to the benefit of Germany’s relatively (key word) independent decision making ambitions. Try as Trump might and bluster as he certainly will, the US is highly unlikely to succeed in its campaign to undermine Nord Stream II, instead having to resign itself to the reality that this project will go ahead as planned and lead to noticeable, albeit gradual, changes in Germany’s foreign policy, but that this could possibly be “managed” through a policy of non-stop and multifaceted pressure against its ally. There’s always a risk that this could backfire, however, but if or when it does, Russia will certainly be there to take advantage of it.
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