Economically, politically and otherwise Germany far exceeds Russia. But as Putin punches above his weight, Germany punches way below their weight creating a bizarre dynamic in European politics. They are in a long-term fight over the future of Europe where Germany sees a united Europe under the aegis of the EU. Russia disdains the fact that bureaucrats in Brussels have influence over their energy sector, or how Russian minorities are treated in the Baltic states and elsewhere. On both these counts, even Putin’s opponents are in agreement. In short, Russia- which has deep historical ties to European politics- wants a say in defense, trade, and immigration from the Middle East. They want a veto power over EU and NATO expansion. In effect, they want to tear down what Germany is trying to rebuild.
It wasn’t just the Brexit vote that shook Germany and the EU as other factors were in play in 2016 that struck at the heart of German aspirations for Europe. Political parties on the Left and Right throughout Europe are starting to question and criticize the current version of the EU. Whether we are talking about Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in Holland or the AfD in Germany, opposition to the high-handedness from Brussels is falling under increasing attack.
The shock of mass immigration from the Middle East and Northern Africa have further shaken the EU alliance and is pitting country against country. Most of that policy can be traced to the ill-advised open arms policy of Germany’s Angela Merkel. Deteriorating relations between the EU and Turkey are held hostage by Erdogan who worked out a deal to stem the tide of immigrants with Merkel- a deal that can be broken with the slightest provocation which would send another tide of immigrants into Europe. Hence, Germany and the EU are forced to abandon their human rights concerns over a fear of Turkish action. Additionally, the rise of the “illiberal democrats” in Hungary and Poland have put Germany on notice that their vision of Europe may not be shared by these countries.
Meanwhile, Obama once characterized Russia as a regional power that acted out of weakness. Unfortunately, Putin thoroughly embarrassed the Obama administration in Syria, held their ground in the Ukraine, watched Western Europe drift apart, weathered economic problems domestically and even found time to dally in American politics. His actions in Syria were both symbolic and tactical successes, especially the retaking of Aleppo and forced the United States to the sidelines. Putin has forged better ties with Turkey further driving the wedge between that country and the EU and NATO.
Russia has stalled any lasting peace in Ukraine thus making that country’s moves into NATO or the EU moot until that situation is resolved- a situation that is in Russia’s best interests to remain unresolved. He even managed to get pro-Russian leaders elected in Moldova, Georgia and Estonia recently.
Most importantly, Putin has a newfound friend and reset in relations with the United States in the name of Donald Trump. Although it is dubious that Putin’s actions got Trump elected, the mere thought that such is the case only plays into his hands. To those who believe that Trump was elected because of Russian influence in the electoral process, they are only buffeting Putin’s and Russia’s stature in the world. In other words, if they can influence the outcome of the American election, then surely their powers are greater than “just regional.” Those making those claims (mainly the Democrats and Leftist dolts in the United States) fail to realize they are unknowingly doing the bidding of Putin.
Even still, even though Russia had a great 2016 at the expense of Germany’s dismal 2016, there are weaknesses in Russia also. Their military is hardly “superpower” status which is what they try to portray. The economy is highly resource dependent and subject to price shocks, especially in the energy sector. There is corruption and inequality and sometimes long-simmering ethnic rivalries rush to the fore.
As concerns the rivalry between Russia and Germany over the future direction of European unity, one publication said it best: “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” The policies and influence of Germany’s Merkel and the inept foreign policy of Obama/Clinton/Kerry have only worked to strengthen Russia at the expense of Germany.