A diplomatic argument has erupted between Germany and Russia over a German politician’s criticism of President Putin and his crackdown on Russian civil society. Russia protested, but Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own spokesman retaliated, saying the Kremlin’s position “astonished us.”
Berlin’s relationship with the Kremlin has “for decades oscillated between realpolitik and values,” says the Economist. But Russia has overplayed its hand, and Germany’s new tough stance might be here to stay.
Three factors are now weakening Russia’s position:
First, the failure of the Russian economy to grow beyond energy extraction. Oil and gas alone don’t make a great power; just ask the Nigerians, Mexicans, and Venezuelans. Russian geopoliticians have liked to think that Gazprom gives them a chokehold on Europe, but in fact Russia is just as dependent on its customers as they are on it. More so, perhaps, since the Putin regime’s survival depends on revenue from energy extraction while European governments have a more solid base of support in legitimate institutions.
Second, Europe’s prospects for alternative sources of energy, including oil and gas from the Americas and from Mediterranean deposits, have weakened Gazprom’s (and Russia’s) position in Europe.
Third, Europeans feel increased revulsion at the type of Russia Mr. Putin is building. At some point this becomes a political factor. It’s unlikely that any German Chancellor could now cuddle up to Moscow the way Gerhard Schroeder did and get away with it.