Category Archives: Germany

Russia vs Ukraine, or, the Perils of Overdoing Historical Analogies

A hard-nosed piece by Edward Lucas at the Center for European Policy Analysis, Washington, D.C.:

History Matters

But not as much as you think

Are we living in 1914 or 1939? Or 1918? These seemingly abstruse questions are at the heart of European countries’ policy (or lack of it) towards Ukraine. For some German thinkers, the danger is of “sleepwalking” into a big war, just as European leaders did, supposedly, in 1914. Nobody actually wanted a conflagration that would destroy prosperity, order, and security. But the decisions made in Berlin, Moscow, Vienna, and Paris made it inevitable.

This thesis is advanced in a thought-provoking book called “The Sleepwalkers”, published in 2012, by the Australian historian Christopher Clark [excellent book, he’s a professor at Cambridge–an earlier post: “The Start of the Great War, or, Sh.. Happens“]. Angela Merkel was a big fan. As my friend from the New Statesman, Jeremy Cliffe, notes in his latest column, so are many of her successors. Chancellor Olaf Scholz exclaimed in a recent meeting “I am not Kaiser Wilhelm”. What he meant was that he was not going to lead Germany into war by accident. He also fears the disruptive consequences of a protracted conflict.

Another common historical frame of reference is 1918, and the specter of the Versailles peace treaty. Its punitive treatment of defeated Germany sowed the seeds of the next conflict. Some people, such as the Moscow-based foreign-policy pundit Sergei Karaganov, believe that Russia already experienced a Versailles-style humiliation in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Others, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, believe that it is vital to avoid such an outcome when the Russia-Ukraine war ends. Either way, the lesson is clear: treat Russia better if you want good behavior in the future [emphasis added].

Another school of thought sees 1939 as the reference point. The West’s failure to stand up to Mussolini over Abyssinia in 1935, and to Hitler when he marched into the Rhineland in 1936, and took over Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938, paved the way for the attack on Poland in 1939. This is, seemingly, mirrored by more recent appeasement of Kremlin aggression against Estonia, Georgia, and other countries.

History is a useful stimulus to thought. But it is a poor guide to the present. The “Sleepwalker” thesis is flawed: it lets off bellicose Prussian militarism too lightly [see “PREDATE” tweet at bottom of the post; on the other hand see this post using a review by Prof. Clark: “Wilhelm the Jerk, Part 2: How Truly Determinative?“], and blames Serbian nationalism excessively [I disagree, see this post: “Serbia, Sarajevo and the Start of World War I“]. Its relevance to the Ukraine war is absurd, as pointed out by none other than Clark himself. Nobody wanted war then. But Putin clearly wants one now. The question is how we react to it.

The Versailles references are flimsy. The West did not humiliate Russia in the 1990s. It pampered and pandered to the Yeltsin Kremlin. If the war with Ukraine ends in disaster, the blame lies with Vladimir Putin, not those who resist his aggression [emphasis added]. The Russian leader can stop whenever he wants, and the sooner he does, the better for everybody.

Nor do the 1930s provide a template. The landscape was quite different then. Nazi Germany was an economic superpower. Russia is not. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 has no modern counterpart (thank goodness [see this post: “Bad Vlad: 1939, or, Just Screw the Poles and Balts“]). We do not need historical analogies to know that we have left it perilously late to wake up to Russian neo-colonialism [emphasis added].

Germans are also far too ready to imbibe other mistaken historical lessons, such as Kremlin myths about the Second World War, which supposedly creates an eternal debt from Germany to modern Russia. Just for the record, the biggest losses as a share of population were in what is now Ukraine and Belarus [emphasis added–see this review of Timothy Snyder’s superb history, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin]. Any feelings of guilt or historical responsibility should be directed there, not used to justify greed and cowardice.

Rather than searching fruitlessly for analogies, our modern sleepwalkers should wake up to the pressing injustices of the present, and consider how future historians may judge their response.

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.


Earlier tweet–Count Harry Kessler was a member of the German elite, scroll up thread for more:

Recent relevant post:

Russia vs Ukraine: A Realist View–and Don’t Forget The Tsar’s Southwestern Front in 1914

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Germany, Ukraine and Russia: What Is To Be Done? The Habermas Factor

Extracts from an article, by a favourite historian and (to use a horrid term) public intellectual, with some complex argumentation and moral considerations–at the New Statesman:

After the Zeitenwende: Jürgen Habermas and Germany’s new identity crisis

The 92-year-old philosopher has warned Germans not to allow anger at Russia and admiration for Ukraine to displace their country’s hard-won focus on dialogue and peace.

By Adam Tooze [his webpage here]

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has upended world politics and nowhere more so than in Germany. Addressing an emergency session of the Bundestag on 27 February, German chancellor Olaf Scholz declared a Zeitenwende, a turning point in history. Russia’s attack on Ukraine meant Europe and Germany had entered a new age…

More than anywhere else in the West, the entire German intellectual class, and every TV talk show and newspaper has been mobilised to debate and criticise Germany’s performance. The situation has been aggravated after Volodymyr Zelensky’s attack on Germany’s long-running détente with Russia in a speech to the Bundestag in March and a stream of remarkably forthright comments from Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin. You can tell matters are becoming really serious because Jürgen Habermas, the 92-year old doyen of German philosophy and political commentary, has entered the ring, for once on the side of the government.

Russia’s aggression poses such fundamental questions for Germany because the nation in its current form owes its existence to the peaceful end of the Cold War that enabled reunification. The success of 1989-90 was prepared by almost two decades of Ostpolitik, in which trade and détente with the Soviet Union worked to draw back the Iron Curtain. Maintaining good relations with Moscow has always meant making a pact with the devil, first with the repressive Soviet regime in the 1970s and 1980s and then with Vladimir Putin since the 2000s. After Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and after the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2020, Berlin has repeatedly shrugged and carried on. But Putin’s assault on Ukraine and Ukraine’s remarkable resistance have made that approach impossible.

The question is particularly explosive because in the late 1960s it was Chancellor Scholz’s party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), then led by the charismatic Willy Brandt, that launched Ostpolitik. Détente runs deep in the SPD, as personified by Gerhard Schröder, ex-chancellor and unrepentant chairman of the board at Russian state oil firm Rosneft [a recent post: “Gorgeous Gerhard’s Embrace of Bad Vlad“]. But the attachment is not confined to the social democrats. Voices on the German right have long favoured a modus vivendi with Russia, whether under the Tsar, the Soviets or now under Putin. For them, Bismarck is the model in balancing between East and West…And, as has become embarrassingly clear in recent months, there is a general disregard on many sides in Berlin for the national rights of “smaller” east European states – notably Poland and Ukraine – that have the misfortune to find themselves wedged between Germany and Russia [emphasis added]. Meanwhile, German industrial firms such as Siemens look back on 150 years of doing profitable business in Russia, relations which they are unwilling to have disrupted by a bagatelle like the annexation of Crimea.

…In 2022, Habermas…again fears a recrudescence of the right under the mantle of enthusiasm for Ukraine’s resistance. And once again his long and thoughtful article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 28 April has been met with a storm of disapproval. As has often been the case, this outrage has been given a platform in the pages of the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. This time Habermas stands accused of defending a battered and discredited tradition of West German politics, conniving with Putin, and clinging to old nostrums about nuclear war while patronising the Ukrainians and their supporters among younger generations of Germans.

…Every right-thinking person can clearly agree that Putin’s aggression must not be allowed to succeed. But we should also agree that a war with Russia is unthinkable. Russia is a nuclear power and escalation is an appalling risk. Any good-faith political intervention, Habermas insists, must squarely face this dilemma.

For the West, Habermas wrote, “having made the decision to not intervene in this conflict as a belligerent, there is a risk threshold that precludes an unrestrained commitment to the armament of Ukraine… Those who ignore this threshold and continue aggressively and self-assuredly to push the German chancellor towards it have either overlooked or not understood the dilemma into which this war has plunged the West… because the West, with its morally well-grounded decision to not become a party in this war, has tied its own hands.”

In light of this dilemma, the impatience of Scholz’s critics, who include not just Ukrainian spokespeople and right-wing hawks, but many former pacifists in the ranks of the Green party, is not innocent. What is being called into question, Habermas fears, is “the broad pro-dialogue, peace-keeping focus of German policy”, which should never be taken for granted. It was hard won and, as Habermas notes, has “repeatedly been denounced from the right”…

Ukraine is at the stage of making a nation state, Germany is well beyond that. In checking their spontaneous reactions of enthusiasm and solidarity with Ukraine, Germans and the rest of us in the West would be well advised to consider this gap and what it implies. We thrill to the heroism of the Ukrainians, which puts into stark relief the deflated state of our own politics. But our post-heroic culture cannot simply be cast off in disgust. It is a logical historical effect of the Nato umbrella that we continue to live under. Ukraine’s desperate courage, on the other hand, is a reflection of the fact that it does not. Under those circumstances, Habermas asks, “is it not a form of pious self-deception to bank on a Ukrainian victory against Russia’s murderous form of warfare without taking up arms yourself? The bellicose rhetoric is inconsistent with the bleachers from which it is delivered.”

…One might say that Habermas is urging us to figure out the politics of allyship on the international stage and under the shadow of the nuclear threat.

What is clear is that we must find a constructive way out of the dilemma posed by the war, a way out that must, as Habermas says in his final line, be defined by one basic aspiration: “Ukraine ‘must not lose’ this war.” Its project of building a nation state must continue.

For Europe itself the task is different. What the contrast with Ukraine ought to reveal is not so much the lack of a properly heroic national identity, but the lack of post-national capacities at the EU level. As Habermas remarks, there is a reason why those who have declared a historic turning point are those who have for a long time argued that Europe must be able to stand on its own feet militarily if it wants to ensure that its “social and political way of life” is not destabilised from without or hollowed out from within. That would not answer Ukraine’s heroism in kind but it would at least allow Europe to decide on its policy independently both of the US and Russia. Right now, American politicians are falling over themselves to provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine in its fight with Russia. That they can agree on that and not on healthcare or climate change policy is a sign of America’s own dysfunction. But what US politics will bring in the near future is anyone’s guess. Soon Europe may be facing a disorientating clash of historical temporalities and political time not in eastern Europe but across the Atlantic. As Habermas reminds us, Macron’s re-election opens another window of opportunity. Will Europe seize it?

Has Putin unintentionally but effectively ended a particular German Sonderweg (the article at the link, by a German, is a very good companion to Adam Tooze’s piece)? Meanwhile, can the EU ever really get its defence/foreign policy act together?

UPDATE: Very relevant tweet:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Gorgeous Gerhard’s Embrace of Bad Vlad

Further to this post,

A Tale of Two Chancellors: Schröder’s and Merkel’s Addiction to Russian Natural Gas and Oil

a follow-up piece by the NY Times‘ Berlin bureau chief to a recent story of hers, note the first sentence after the authorship:

Two Interviews, No Regrets: Talking About Putin’s Russia With a Former German Chancellor

After Gerhard Schröder spoke to The Times, he could be kicked out of his party and cut off from some tax-financed perks he enjoys as former chancellor.

By Katrin Bennhold

The first thing you notice when you walk into the office of Gerhard Schröder is the striking abundance of pictures of Gerhard Schröder.

A large painting of a younger Schröder behind the desk. An even larger painting of an even younger Schröder next to the door. A black-and-white photo portrait. A stylized art print. A smattering of colorful cartoons featuring him as the fist-banging, swaggering, “basta”-shouting chancellor he once was.

I was writing an article about how Germany got hooked on Russian gas over the past two decades and wanted to speak to Mr. Schröder, the man who popped up nearly every step of the way: as German chancellor from 1998-2005, as a lobbyist for Russian-controlled energy companies since then and as the personal friend of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia throughout.

Mr. Schröder had not talked to any media outlet since the war in Ukraine started — and with it, the almost universal outrage at his refusal to distance himself from Mr. Putin and resign from his lucrative positions for the gas pipeline operator Nord Stream and the Russian oil company Rosneft. But after weeks of back and forth, I was invited to meet him in his home city, Hanover, for our first conversation on April 11.

He and his wife greeted me in matching forest green pantsuits. I remarked on them.

“Coincidence,” the former chancellor grumbled.

“Green is the color of hope,” his (fifth) wife, Soyeon Schröder-Kim, beamed. She was a constant presence.

We sat down at the corner of a large glass table, a statue of former chancellor Willy Brandt — a Social Democrat like Mr. Schröder and the architect of Ostpolitik, Germany’s engagement policy toward the Soviet Union about half a century ago — watching over us.

From the start, it was clear that Mr. Schröder wanted to talk, to explain himself, to tell his country why he was right — and everyone else wrong — to resist calls to condemn Mr. Putin [emphasis added].

“I know you’re here to talk about the past,” he said, as he handed me a pile of notes about his recent, and fruitless, effort to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv. “But I’d also like to talk about the present.”

So we talked. I was allowed to record. And I was surprised by how frankly Mr. Schröder spoke.Unlike many German politicians, he readily accepted the ground rules of The New York Times: He would not get to “authorize” any quotes before publication. Since we spoke German throughout, I offered to show him my English translations — his wife, a trained translator, had expressed concerns about “translation mistakes” — but I also made clear that we would not accept edits that altered the meaning of the quote.

None were asked for.

Three days after our first conversation, I returned to Hanover with the photographer Laetitia Vancon. We had another conversation, which ended with a lunch of seasonal asparagus and two bottles of white wine. (His wife brought out one but he demanded a second — we were four people after all.)

Why The New York Times?” I asked him at one point, curious why he had not picked a German newspaper to break his silence.

“The New York Times admitted that it was wrong over the Iraq war; I respect that [emphasis added],” he told me and smiled. The implication was clear: He had been right, famously keeping Germany out of the war. (In a 2004 assessment of the publication’s reporting on the lead-up to, and the early stages of, the Iraq War, Times editors found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been.)

So if it was right to admit past mistakes, was there anything he had gotten wrong over Russia?

“No,” he said defiantly [emphasis added], insisting that on energy, Russian and German interests were aligned.

But, I pressed him: His good friend Vladimir had started a war and was accused of ordering war crimes. How did that feel? Did it feel right to stay loyal to him?

It was the only time he got annoyed.

“We’re not doing a psychologizing interview here,” he said, raising his voice. “Then we’ll leave it there.”

I shifted the conversation back to the war, which he condemned but also qualified.

“We have this situation, which I have to say is not just one-sided,” he said.

I had heard this a lot in Germany — “it’s not one-sided” — not least among my own parents’ friends. The idea that NATO had been cornering Russia after the reunification of Germany and Europe was not all that uncommon in Germany before the war.

Even now, with fighting raging, some of Mr. Schröder’s views, about the need to give Mr. Putin a way to save face, are openly voiced [emphasis added]. My ophthalmologist recently told me, “Let’s give him what he needs, for God’s sake, so we can end this war.”

Germany’s relationship with Russia is complicated, rooted both in centuries of cultural exchange and a traumatic history of war, which contributed to a Russia policy that has alternately been described as romantic blindness or open-eyed appeasement.

In Mr. Schröder’s office, prominently framed, is a birthday letter from the revered former chancellor Helmut Schmidt, another Social Democrat, dated April 4, 2014, less than two months after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, praising Mr. Schröder’s legacy as chancellor, not least for “demonstrating understanding of the needs of our powerful neighbor Russia.”

The day before my article came out, I had one last phone call with Mr. Schröder to run through some factual questions. Before we hung up, I told him that this would not be a puff piece.

“You can be critical as long as you’re fair,” he said.

When the article was published online on April 23, it was picked up by every major German news outlet. The reactions were swift.

“The interview in The New York Times is pretty disturbing and it has to have consequences,” said Hendrik Wüst, a conservative governor of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, urging the Social Democrats to kick the former chancellor out of their party.

The co-leader of the Social Democrats, Saskia Esken, called on Mr. Schröder to hand in his membership and said 14 local party chapters had filed for his expulsion. “Gerhard Schröder has been acting as a business man,” she said when asked about my interview. “We should stop thinking of him as an elder statesman, as a former chancellor.”

Politicians from across the political spectrum demanded that Mr. Schröder be put on the sanctions list and cut off from the tax-funded pension and perks former chancellors enjoy. (Only the far-right Alternative for Germany party applauded his defiance as “responsible and in the German interest.”)

I was inundated with messages. But I did not hear from Mr. Schröder until the day after the interview published. A WhatsApp message arrived from his wife with a polite request: “Could you send 2 copies to our office. In Hanover there is no Sunday edition of The NYT.”

Just another journalist with a major reporting function making it clear what her opinions are. Sigh.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

A Tale of Two Chancellors: Schröder’s and Merkel’s Addiction to Russian Natural Gas and Oil

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “(From L to R) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrive for a ceremony to inaugurate the Nord Stream Baltic Sea gas pipeline on November 8, 2011 in Lubmin, Germany.”)

Further to this post,

Angela Merkel: Despite All the Skill and Achievement, Failing to Grasp the Big Putin Picture

excerpts from a column (another piece back in the business section, not in the first section where it should be) by the Globe and Mail’s very good European Bureau Chief in Rome:

Angela Merkel deserves as much blame – or more – as her predecessor for making Germany dependent on Russian energy

Eric Reguly

…Germany’s role as the biggest European Union buyer of Russian oil and natural gas continues largely unhindered, effectively making it the EU’s No. 1 financier of Mr. Putin’s nasty war and slaughterhouse for civilians. Germany’s reliance on Russian energy explains why the coalition government, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has resisted cutting off Russian oil and gas; he knows that doing so would plunge the EU’s biggest economy into a debilitating recession – and turn off the lights and potentially his political career too.

How did Germany become this overdependent on Russian energy?

While former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been described as one of Mr. Putin’s useful idiots on the energy front, it was his successor, Angela Merkel, the chancellor from 2005 to the end of last year, who took Mr. Schroeder’s Putin-friendly stand and intensified it…

Ms. Merkel offered no apology for pursuing the disastrous policy of appeasing Mr. Putin by taking as much of his oil and gas that was on offer. Germany’s energy risks are the highest in the EU, since it is the country most dependent on Russian oil and gas…

Germany’s coddling of Mr. Putin began in earnest under Mr. Schroeder, the Social Democrat chancellor from 1998 to 2005. He became a friend of Mr. Putin and, in a TV interview in 2004, referred to Mr. Putin as a “flawless democrat.”..

…He was one of the main champions of the first Nord Stream pipeline that delivered gas directly from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.

Within weeks of his election defeat in 2005, he became chairman of the Nord Stream shareholder committee – compelling evidence that he was one of the Kremlin’s favoured European allies and lobbyists. There is no way he would have been appointed without Mr. Putin’s approval.

Since then, Mr. Schroeder has firmly embedded himself in Russia’s massive hydrocarbons industry. He is the chairman of Rosneft Oil Company, the state-controlled oil giant and, before the war started, was nominated to the board of Gazprom. He is supposed to start that position in June though is under political pressure to go nowhere near the company…

Ms. Merkel adopted a more skeptical and wary stand toward Mr. Putin, but ultimately allowed herself to get sucked into Mr. Putin’s great geo-economic energy game. She backed the construction of Nord Stream 2, the twinning of the first Nord Stream pipeline that would double Russia’s gas export capacity to Germany (the pipeline is fully built but Mr. Scholz cancelled its certification process when the war started).

Crucially, in 2011, right after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan, she endorsed Mr. Schroeder’s decision to close all of Germany’s nuclear generating plants when she could have easily overturned it – she had been highly critical of the former chancellor’s move…

Today, some 40 per cent of Germany’s gas comes from Russia, imports that cost it nearly US$1-billion a week. Russia also supplies about a third of Germany’s oil and half of its coal. There is no denying that the hydrocarbon sales directly finance Russia’s war against Ukraine…

…Germany is both economic abettor of the war and victim of the astonishingly bad decisions that made it dependent on Mr. Putin’s energy exports. Mr. Schroeder deserves some of the blame, Ms. Merkel even more. The war will be instrumental in reassessing her oft-praised role as Europe’s liberal economic and democratic star.

The curse of the hydrocarbon Drang nach Osten.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Angela Merkel: Despite All the Skill and Achievement, Failing to Grasp the Big Putin Picture

Extracts from an article at the New York Review of Books by an exceptional Irish journalist:

The Last of Her Kind

Fintan O’Toole

Angela Merkel emerged from the ruins of the Eastern bloc as a spectacular example of the way the collapse of an old regime might create a much more benign sense of opportunity.

…there is something magical in the way a young woman who had never had a meaningful vote, who had no political experience and no rhetorical skills, could, scarcely more than a year after the fall of the wall, be a full member of the federal cabinet governing the European Union’s most powerful state…

The Chancellor, Kati Marton’s elegant, concise, and accessible biography of Merkel, is a portrait not just of a person but of a kind of centrist and consensual politics that once seemed drab but now has the fascination of an almost extinct species. Merkel made a kind of decency that could be viewed as dull feel almost exotic. Once, it might have seemed in postwar Europe that careful, patient, managerial politicians who wanted nothing more or less than to make things work as well as possible without threatening existing structures were a dime a dozen. Now the fear that hangs over Western and Central Europe is that Merkel was the last of that tribe. She has departed in a cloud not of glory but of anxiety. Putin made sure that Merkel’s era would recede into the past with dizzying rapidity.

…Her father, Horst Kasner, a stern and idealistic Lutheran pastor, moved his family [from Hamburg] to the East just after she was born, settling in the small town of Templin, fifty miles north of Berlin, in 1954…

…Merkel’s entire personality is that of a survivor (rather than a dissident) in a totalitarian state: careful, nonconfrontational, watchful. Her gift for political compromise was that of a girl who learned how to function simultaneously as a loyal believer in her father’s Lutheran Church (an awkward presence in an atheist state) and as a member of the official Communist youth movement. Living in a country with perhaps the most thorough system of official surveillance ever created in Europe, she learned to have an inner life, a secret self that she almost never betrayed, even when she had one of the most public jobs in the world.

…She entered the Western world as an immigrant among “foreign company,” with all the alertness and self-control of the émigré. And she deployed the cold cunning of the supreme political opportunist. This was learned, no doubt, in the GDR, where she developed the habit of steely calculation in order to avoid the dangers of being either an informer or a dissident.

Certainly by the time she entered public life, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the wall, Merkel had a knack for cool political patricide. Lothar de Maizière, the first and last democratically elected prime minister of the GDR, brought her into high-level politics by making her deputy spokesperson for his government. It was he who recommended Merkel to Kohl, who was then looking for an East German woman to fill the “soft” position of minister for women and youth in the federal government of the newly united state. These were, as de Maizière wryly noted, “two subjects Angela really did not care about at all,” but the position nonetheless made her, at thirty-six, the youngest minister in German history. Yet when de Maizière was falsely accused of having been a Stasi informant, Merkel did nothing to help her mentor. And in 1998, when Kohl was caught up in a scandal concerning illegal donations to his campaigns, it was Merkel who acted as his political assassin. Kohl had patronizingly referred to his protégée as his Mädchen—girl. He learned the hard way that she was a girl with a razor up her sleeve.

The mastery of these weapons made Merkel the most formidable democratic politician in Europe and allowed her to accumulate the authority with which she held the EU together…

…this self-image as a hardheaded pragmatist, concerned only with the pursuit of the best available outcomes, obscured the importance of her heritage as the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. At one of the crucial moments of contemporary European history, she behaved essentially as a religious moralist. Part of the problem was that she never seemed to understand this about herself.

It is, in retrospect, deeply ironic that Merkel was at her most narrowly pragmatic in dealing with Putin and at her most punitive in her approach toward fellow citizens of EU democracies. With Russia, even after its annexation of Crimea in 2014, she was all business, to the extent of believing that depending on Putin for Germany’s supplies of natural gas was just a commonsense calculation of mutual economic interests. Yet in the crisis of the eurozone following the great banking crash of 2008, Merkel treated an economic and political problem as if it were a test of moral righteousness. She threw her weight behind a division of the EU into good creditors (Germany and the other Northern European nations) and bad debtors (the so-called PIIGS: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain). Marton usefully reminds us that in German, the word for debt—Schuld—is the same as that for guilt. Those countries whose banks had borrowed recklessly were guilty; those (like, of course, Germany) whose banks had lent recklessly were innocent. And the sinners must be punished—ordinary citizens of the debtor nations should be made to suffer so they would learn a lesson they would never forget.

This way of defining the crisis suited Germany, but it had nasty consequences for Merkel’s larger ambition to unify Europe. The imposition of drastic austerity measures prolonged and deepened the economic recession. Merkel, meanwhile, did very little to counter the impression that Germany was taking charge and dictating terms…

…the moralization of the debt crisis could also feed, in Germany itself, a self-pitying narrative in which the frugal, responsible Germans were being taken for a ride by the feckless Southern Europeans. This was the founding mentality of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which emerged to challenge Merkel in 2013, and it subsequently fused with anti-immigrant sentiment to create a more virulent form of grievance that propelled the far right into the Bundestag for the first time since the fall of the Nazis.

Hence the larger paradox of the Merkel era: the leadership of a centrist Christian Democrat as the undisputed first among equals in the EU coincided with the loss of Christian Democracy’s dominance of the right-of-center space in European politics. The rise of far-right parties like the AfD, the League in Italy, Poland’s Law and Justice, the National Rally in France, Spain’s Vox, and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary has created a profound identity crisis in what used to be the dominant conservative parties, leaving them unsure whether they should fight against what Orbán calls “illiberal democracy” or shore up their own support by embracing it. In a short essay on Merkel’s departure, Orbán claimed that while Kohl had been “a dear, old friend, a Christian brother,” Merkel had created a “rupture” on the European right by supporting the “migratory invasion” of 2015…

The wider question Merkel has left unanswered is whether it is possible, in the new wartime that Putin has inaugurated, for a leader of the democratic world to combine ambition and vision on the one hand with modesty and decency on the other. She mattered so deeply because she had no interest in what has animated Putin and so many of his fellow nationalist authoritarians: the pursuit of greatness. The promise to make Russia (or America or Britain or China) great again has been at the core of reactionary politics over the past decade.

Merkel always knew that Germany, above all, must not be great…

Must, however, the eschewal of greatness involve the loss of any sense of large-scale and long-term purpose? Merkel once described herself as being “as focused and as concentrated as a tightrope walker, only thinking about the next step.” No one walked the high wire as sure-footedly as she did—and even after sixteen years she had not fallen off but chose to dismount gracefully. But that exclusive focus on thinking about the next step also meant that she had little sense of what might await at the end of the rope.

Nowhere was this more true than in her relations with Putin. In the crisis that followed his annexation of Crimea in 2014, Merkel became the West’s Putin whisperer. She spoke to him, according to Marton, thirty-eight times during that crisis and did more than anyone else to create the Minsk accords, which established the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty as a mutually recognized goal. They were a great testament to her skill, tenacity, and selfless care for the lives of those who would be threatened by a wider war. But they barely outlasted her chancellorship.

It has not taken long for Europe to pay Merkel the tribute of becoming painfully aware of both what she achieved and what she left unresolved, of what she meant to the defense of democracy and the fragile condition in which she left it. In The Life of Galileo, her compatriot Bertolt Brecht has the young Andrea sigh, “Unhappy the land that has no heroes!” and Galileo reply, “No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes.” For much of her remarkable career, Merkel was the marvelous exemplar of happily unheroic leadership. Now Western Europe finds itself very unhappily in need not of a swaggering hero, but of someone who can, in a suddenly altered world, fill her silences with urgency and purpose.

Meanwhile on the Macron front:

Earlier posts based on Mr O’Toole are here

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds


Odds on Canadian LNG some Day for Germany/EU?

I wouldn’t wager on it however sensible it may be economically and in terms of foreign policy–but at least the current government is making some non-negative noises (UPDATE: no longer, see tweets at end of the post).

Further to this post,

Ukraine Crisis: No Canadian LNG Exports, or, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

an opinion piece at the National Post:

John Ivison: How Canada can keep Europe’s lights on

John Ivison

…Russia supplies one third of the gas that heats homes across Europe.

Even as Putin cleared the way for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Western countries were still purchasing hundreds of millions of dollars of oil and gas from Russia. Germany has halted approval for the NordStream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea but NordStream 1 is still piping gas and Putin has promised “uninterrupted supply” — for now at least.

Germany, which relies on Russia for 27 per cent of its natural gas (even as it decommissions its nuclear plants and ends coal-fired electricity generation) knows that Putin could weaponize the supply of gas at any time. The solution to this point has been to pay a premium to divert an armada of American LNG that was bound for Asia.

But Germany and others have been desperate to seek out long-term alternatives, providing Canada with the opportunity to strengthen the weak hands of the democracies aligned against the Russian leader [Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of natural gas but all our exports go to the US by pipeline–one facility to export LNG might be ready on the west coast in 2023, but aimed at Asian market].

The read-out from a call between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, revealed that the two men discussed “the potential for future cooperation on liquified natural gas [emphasis added].”

That was curious because Canada has no ability to export LNG from its Atlantic (or Pacific) coast.

It also suggested a less dogmatic approach to fossil fuels from a Liberal government that has been openly hostile to the energy industry in recent years, creating an environment of such regulatory uncertainty that investment has shrivelled.

There have been other signs of a new-found enthusiasm for fossil fuels. Jonathan Wilkinson, the natural resources minister, told the Empire Club this month that supplying LNG to a country like Germany is an area where Canada could “potentially fill a huge void in a manner that actually helps security and stability [emphasis added].”

The heightened interest in LNG comes just as a Calgary-based company, Pieridae Energy, is reviving plans to build a floating LNG facility at Goldboro, off the coast of Nova Scotia, six days closer to Europe than the Gulf Coast refineries in the U.S.

Thom Dawson, senior VP marketing and business development at Pieridae, said the project would employ under-used existing pipeline capacity that formerly connected the old Sable offshore energy project shutdown by ExxonMobil three years ago. An original $10 billion proposal to build a land-based facility to supply Germany with seven per cent of its daily needs was abandoned as the price of gas slumped, but it has been re-instituted as a more modest, floating $2-billion project, as prices have recovered.

Dawson said the biggest single issue for everyone in the industry in North America is regulatory risk and so the company is seeking indications from the federal government that the project would be considered in the national interest [emphasis added].

“We would like the government to be upfront about what it is going to support or not support before spending that kind of money,” he said.

All the pipelines exist to get the gas from Alberta to Nova Scotia, Dawson said, but, depending on the volume of natural gas to be shipped, certain parts of the pipeline infrastructure may need additional capacity.

Some approvals might prove more problematic than others, given the hard line taken by François Legault’s Quebec government on fossil fuel projects. The $14 billion GNL Quebec gas pipeline in the Saguenay region was nixed after the province decided it would not lower greenhouse gas emissions [see tweet at bottom of the post].

Pieridae believes it could ship enough LNG to Germany within 48 months to supply three per cent of its gas requirements [emphasis adder, bit of a drop in the bucket]

One senior federal government source said the Pieridae project is considered “real and viable” but it is too early to give a definitive answer.

…there are…voices around the federal cabinet table who want the government to depress demand for Canadian fossil fuels.

Back in the real world — the one where Canada has promised to act in solidarity with its allies in the face of Russia’s brazen violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty — helping to keep the lights on in Europe should be a foreign policy priority.

Another relevant post:

Europe over an LNG Tank–Pity None Available from Canada

And that Quebec tweet:




Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Putin vs Ukraine and the West? When will Europe Wake Up?

Julian French-Lindley opens this piece with a horrifically graphic account of the start on an all-out war begun by Russia and follows with three scenarios as to how the current crisis may go. He then discusses the X factor of the PRC and the dilemma presented by ongoing major threats in both the Indo-Pacific and Europe. The following in his conclusion:

Frozen War: The Whiff of Munich?

Ukraine, Europe and the fall of Singapore

Eighty years ago today British Imperial and Dominion forces surrendered to their Japanese conquerors.  It was perhaps the worst British military defeat in history.  Much has been written about the fall of Singapore and the incompetence that led to it. The real reason was that by 1942 Britain was heavily engaged in multiple theatres from the Atlantic to North Africa and was simply unable to defend the eastern Empire [and Australians have never forgotten and have relied on the US for security back-up ever since–see this piece at the Australian Strategic Policy Instute]… 

Singapore became a metaphor for decline and marked the real beginning of the end of the British Empire which by 1942 had become a hollowed out façade of power. Ukraine? In late 2010, I sat on a podium next to British Minister of Defence Philip Hammond at the Riga Conference. In my hand was an empty tube of Pringles crisps (chips in American) which I held upside down. David Cameron and Hammond had just slashed the British defence budget right in the middle of a major campaign in Afghanistan in which British forces were engaged in perhaps the most dangerous province, Helmand. The empty tube was to demonstrate the fate of European defence if Western European powers continued to load tasks onto their hard-pressed armed forces whilst slashing their budgets.  Five years ago I made a short movie for the Johann de Witt Conference in Rotterdam to demonstrate to the politicians and others present what a major war in Europe would look like.  Last year, I published a major new Oxford book Future War and the Defence of Europe which warned of just such a crisis.That Putin is even contemplating such a war – frozen or hot – is due in no small part to the strategic illiteracy of too many Western European leaders. Yes, there was the 2008-2010 financial and economic crisis and, yes, we have just faced the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is the disastrous pieties of the post-Cold War which for too long Britain, France and Germany have clung to, which has led Europe into this new age of danger which has just dawned.  It is the profoundly mistaken belief to which for too long political leaders have clung that geo-economics will trump the dark side of geopolitics.  That they need recognise only as much threat as they thought they could afford politically or financially. It is the absence of leadership in Europe which has created the opportunity for Putin to impose his fiat on other Europeans. One can only hope that if Russia does force such a dreadful war upon Ukraine it would finally begin the long overdue bonfire of strategic illusions that has underpinned the denial which has afflicted Western Europe and its leaders. 

The West will not intervene with force in Ukraine but Putin must be seen to pay a heavy price and that means real sanctions and the strengthening of NATO’s defence and deterrence posture so that there is no Alliance bluff Putin can also call. If President Putin succeeds in destroying Ukraine do not for a moment think his ambitions will stop there. Ukraine may be not be the whiff of Munich, but it has the scent of Singapore. It is time for democracies to stand firm, and together.

Plus a related post from September 2021 also based on a piece by Mr French-Lindley:

NATO, the EU and the US in the Not-So-Brave New World after Afghanistan (note UPDATE)

British strategic analyst Julian Lindley-French (his rather impressive “About me” is here) takes on Western European elites in his latest piece. You will note that Canada receives (deservedly in the circumstances) no mention at all; I would hold that what is said about those Euro elites applies to ours in spades…

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Europe over an LNG Tank–Pity None Available from Canada

Another of the Globe and Mail’s excellent foreign correspondents reports from Rome–excerpts (another story in the “Report on Business” that could well be in the main news section):

Europe, fearing war, scours the planet for LNG, but not enough is available to cure the energy crunch

Eric Reguly European bureau chief

Europe is suddenly obsessed with liquefied natural gas, a minor but growing source of imported fuel that could play a key role in keeping the lights on if a Russian invasion of Ukraine triggers a sanctions battle.

Energy-starved Europe is already scouring the planet for LNG shipments to build its gas reserves and try to stop already painful prices from climbing even more. But energy analysts say there is no way Europe would be able to find enough LNG to meet its demands if Russia were to eliminate, or even reduce, gas exports.

“Even before the Russia-Ukraine geopolitical tension, the global LNG market was very tight,” said Jack Sharples, a research fellow with the gas research program at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, in an interview. “We in Europe are not suffering from a physical shortage of gas at the moment, though we are aware that if any particular source of supply were to falter, we would find it difficult to replace it.”

*Canada has the natural gas, but can’t get LNG to Europe [see also tweet at bottom of the post]

LNG is largely an American, Qatari and Australian export phenomenon [emphasis added]

Canadian LNG, he said, would be welcomed in the European and Asian markets. So far, only one Canadian export project, LNG Canada, in Kitimat, B.C., is under construction [see the recent story here, production supposed to start around 2025, and note the problems with some First Nations with construction of the associated Coastal GasLink pipeline]. “If more Canadian projects were to receive the green light, they would find markets with no problem,” he said. “The displacement of gas, a fossil fuel, in the world economy will take decades.”..

Europe, including Britain, is highly dependent on imported gas to meet its energy needs – from heating homes and factories to generating electricity and producing ammonia-based fertilizer. Last year, Europe imported 84 per cent of the gas it required, a third of which came from Russia, its biggest single supplier (Norway is No. 2, followed by Algeria). Most of the gas arrives through pipeline [emphasis added]. According to the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, less than a fifth comes in the form of LNG.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is far more dependent on Russian gas than the rest of the continent. It typically buys 50 per cent or more of its imported gas from Kremlin-controlled Gazprom [emphasis added], the world’s largest stock market-listed gas company, making it Gazprom’s single biggest client.

Were Russia to invade Ukraine, gas would land at the centre of the sanctions campaign…

There simply is not enough LNG worldwide to solve Europe’s problem if a gas war breaks out with Russia. Germany, alone among the big European economies, even lacks an LNG import terminal, suggesting the country took the view that Russian gas would be forever reliable and cheap.

While LNG production and exports are increasing – the United States became the leading exporter of the fuel in December [emphasis added], although Qatar is expanding production quickly, too – most of the world’s LNG plants and import terminals are operating at capacity or close to it.

Europe still imports the vast majority of its gas by pipeline, so even if global LNG supplies were to rise suddenly, there is no guarantee the extra shipments would overcome the continent’s energy shortages. In 2019, total U.S. and Qatari exports of LNG to all markets was less than the amount of gas exported by Russia to Europe.

The European energy crisis will trigger the construction of LNG import terminals. Germany has at least two proposals that could get under way soon, after years of delays…

That tweet (second one):

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Nordstream 2, Russia and the EU (esp. Germany: It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas!

From a very good Globe and Mail columnist:

Putin’s endgame is to control Europe’s energy

Konrad Yakabuski

Expectations were low going into this week’s talks between NATO countries and Russia aimed at ending the impasse over Ukraine’s future. The meetings held over three days in Geneva and Brussels produced the outcome most pessimists had predicted, with Russian officials calling them “unsuccessful” and refusing to commit to further talks without preconditions.

No one is sure just who is bluffing whom as Russian President Vladimir Putin amasses 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border and U.S. President Joe Biden warns of “massive consequences” if Russia “further invades” its sovereign neighbour, a wanna-be NATO member.

Some analysts believe Mr. Putin would be willing to stand down if Mr. Biden agreed to his demand to permanently exclude Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance. U.S. officials have insisted such an undertaking is off the table but have suggested Mr. Biden may be open to making concessions regarding the deployment of NATO missiles in former Soviet bloc countries and military exercises conducted in Europe and the Black Sea.

…the truth is Ukrainian membership in NATO is a non-starter with several NATO allies, including France and Germany. And even U.S. foreign-policy hawks concede there is little appetite in Washington for expanding NATO now.

Indeed, the solution to the standoff over Ukraine could hinge on the fate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would double the volume of natural gas Russia’s state-owned Gazprom can ship to Germany. Previous U.S. administrations deemed the pipeline a national-security threat, since it would increase European dependence on Russian gas and reduce transit fees that Russia pays to Poland and Ukraine to transport gas on existing pipelines that cross their territories [emphasis added].

Last May, Mr. Blinken waived U.S. sanctions on the company that owns Nord Stream 2 and its chief executive officer in what was seen as a parting gift to former German chancellor Angela Merkel aimed at turning the page on relations that had become strained under Donald Trump. Ms. Merkel had championed the pipeline. Her successor, Olaf Scholz, considers Nord Stream 2 critical to Germany’s economic competitiveness, which has suffered because of surging energy prices stemming in part from the country’s decision to shutter its nuclear generating stations.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency projects German dependence on Russian gas will only grow in coming years as it aims to phase out coal-fired electricity generation and as gas supplies from the Netherlands dwindle. This week, IEA head Fatih Birol said the agency believes Russia has been holding back gas exports to Europe by a third in recent months, leading to a depletion of stored reserves on the continent that has sent prices even higher [emphasis added].

“Today’s low Russian gas flows to Europe coincide with heightened geopolitical tensions over Ukraine,” Mr. Birol said, suggesting Mr. Putin is using German approval of Nord Stream 2 as a bargaining chip in talks over Ukraine…

The Russian President’s machinations regarding Ukraine are undeniably motivated by far more than his desire to see Nord Stream 2, which runs across the Baltic Sea, enter into service. But the Biden administration’s apparent willingness to forgo sanctions on the pipeline if Russia refrains from invading its neighbour suggests it views Nord Stream 2 as a critical piece of the puzzle.

The question is whether the longer-term consequences of allowing Europe, and Germany in particular, to become even more dependent on Russian natural gas would be in NATO’s interests. Mr. Biden may see the Ukrainian standoff as a distraction given his preoccupation with China’s ascension. But handing Mr. Putin control over Europe’s energy security may not be such a good idea, either.

Plus a round-up of the week’s diplomatic developments, such as they were, from the Globe’s Senior International Correspondent Mark MacKinnon:

Warning to Ukraine to ‘be afraid and expect the worst’ signals talks between Russia, NATO have failed

The story notes that Canada’s newish foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, will be in Kyiv shortly; she will also visit the some 200 Canadian troops in western Ukraine on a training mission, Op UNIFIER.

The perspicacious Norman Spector observes:

Relevant posts:

Those Exceptional Americans just don’t get that Exceptional Russian Mentalité–plus Bad Vlad on the History of Russians and Little Russians (er, Ukrainians)

Ukraine and NATO: If not Finlandization, then an Austrian solution?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Theme song:

Hitler’s–Willing–Intellectuals: The Case of SS-Brigadeführer Otto Wächter

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Otto Wächter in SS uniform, with his wife, Charlotte, and their children, Horst and Traute, Zell am See, Austria, 1944”.)

Being oh so well formally educated is no guarantee of your ending up a decent human being. Perhaps even a human being. Further to this post,


excerpts from a review article at the NY Review of Books:

Nazis on the Run

David Motadel


The Ratline: The Exalted Life and Mysterious Death of a Nazi Fugitive by Philippe Sands Knopf, 417 pp., $30.00

Fritz Bauer: The Jewish Prosecutor Who Brought Eichmann and Auschwitz to Trial by Ronen Steinke, translated from the German by Sinéad Crowe, with a foreword by Andreas Vosskuhle Indiana University Press, 205 pp., $90.00; $30.00 (paper)

…Philippe Sands’s The Ratline traces the escape of the Austrian SS-Brigadeführer Otto Wächter. During the war years, Wächter was governor of Kraków in occupied Poland, where he set up the ghetto, and later governor of Galicia, based in Lemberg (Lviv), where he was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Under his governorship, more than 525,000 Galicians lost their lives. The region’s Jewish population was almost completely exterminated. (Among the victims were many members of Sands’s family.)

Sands depicts a grim world of mass violence that is often difficult to comprehend. “Tomorrow, I have to have 50 Poles publicly shot,” Wächter wrote casually in a letter to his wife, Charlotte, in late 1939. At the same time, the couple had an intense social life, hosting dinner parties, enjoying classical music concerts, and going on extravagant shopping trips. Wächter, a highly educated lawyer and veteran member of the Nazi Party, and his wife, who shared his ideological fanaticism and taste for high culture (and tolerated his womanizing), were prominent members of Nazi high society…

In 1945, hunted as a war criminal, Wächter escaped into the Austrian Alps, where he hid for almost four years in secluded mountain huts, barns, and farms, never staying in one place for more than a few days. Then, in early 1949, following the Ratline, he crossed the snow-covered mountain border into Italy. Arriving at Rome’s Termini Station on April 28, 1949, he found refuge in Vigna Pia, a monastery on the southern outskirts of the city…

One of the most sobering parts of the book explores the involvement of the Vatican in Wächter’s escape [emphasis added, see posts noted at the bottom]. He received support from the sinister Austrian bishop Alois Hudal, rector of the Anima seminary for German and Austrian priests in Rome. Hudal, an ardent anti-Semite who in his notorious 1936 tract Die Grundlagen des Nationalsozialismus (The Foundations of National Socialism) advocated an alliance between the Nazi regime and the Catholic Church against Bolshevism, facilitated the flight of scores of hunted Nazis along the Ratline, among them Rauff, Stangl, and Mengele.

In the summer of 1949, Wächter, aged forty-eight, suddenly fell ill; shortly afterward he died in Rome’s Santo Spirito Hospital. At his deathbed, holding him in his arms, was Hudal. “I protected him until the end,” the bishop wrote in his memoirs…

At times, it is hard for readers to reconcile Wächter’s erudition and education with his unspeakable violence and ideological zeal [emphasis added]. Historians have long shown an interest in this phenomenon. Wächter is a classic example of the Nazi perpetrators studied in Michael Wildt’s An Uncompromising Generation (2002). Born around the turn of the century, these men were too young to fight in World War I, which made them feel they had been denied the opportunity to prove themselves. They were highly educated (many were lawyers, historians, or philologists), ambitious, elitist, and ideologically radical, sharing a profoundly racist, antidemocratic, anti-Semitic worldview. This picture breaks with both the image of the Nazi perpetrators as primitive, poorly educated, proletarian thug,..

Finally, The Ratline provides unsettling insights into postwar denial and the whitewashing of the Nazi past. After the war, many Nazi officials who remained in Germany did not have much to fear…

…Hardly anyone really cared. Germans did not want to hear about their Nazi past. The economic miracle years of the 1950s—a sugarcoated world of VW Beetles, Heimat movies that romanticized the German homeland, and holidays in Italy—were a time of collective amnesia. The prosecution of former Nazis was unpopular.

There were, of course, some exceptions. The most important of them was the work of Fritz Bauer, a German-Jewish state prosecutor who, more or less on his own, organized a series of spectacular trials of Nazi criminals that transformed postwar German society. Ronen Steinke’s biography of Bauer gives a masterful account of the jurist’s dramatic life, drawing on a wealth of primary sources, including court proceedings, private letters, and press reports.

Born into an assimilated Jewish family in Stuttgart in 1903, Bauer was a rising star of the Weimar judiciary, becoming the republic’s youngest judge at the age of twenty-seven [subscription needed to read on; the NY Review of Books is a great magazine indeed]

Relevant posts:

Jews, Twentieth Century Pius Popes and Mussolini

The Vatican and the Holocaust

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds