Will Trump Help Bring Russia and Europe Closer Together?

The signing by the American president of new anti-Russian sanctions and the rather sharp reaction to them by a number of European politicians have raised hopes among Russian political analysts close to the Kremlin of a reassessment of Europe’s as yet negative attitude toward Russia. Western leaders’ initial bewilderment to Trump’s harsh actions has led pro-Kremlin political analysts to the view that, as they put it, “More and more representatives of the Western — first and foremost the European (and moreover, the German) — elite are coming out in favor of normalizing relations with Russia and phasing out sanctions against our country.” The basis for such hopes is the reasoning that Europe needs at least to preserve the economic foundation of its relations with Russia. It’s thought that “the EU and Germany are most interested in preserving the preferential access to the Russian market and Russian resources that existed in 2011.” Of course, at issue are the oil and gas resources being developed in Russia by a number of European firms, including Wintershall, the largest German oil and gas company.

But such a view is most likely of a utopian nature. Trade with Russia isn’t fundamental to the German economy, and the resource problem, chiefly gas, is to a large extent being addressed by diversifying the energy supply and replacing fossil fuels with renewables. German energy experts like Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research speak frankly about this. As expert Fyodor Lukyanov from the Carnegie Moscow Center notes, “One can immediately say what there won’t be—an anti-American Europe which, freed from diktat from across the ocean, would want to consolidate continental capabilities with Moscow. Without the U.S., Europe sees Russia as a threat. And to be sure, the model the Kremlin had been using since as long ago as Gorbachev’s times—let’s establish Europe on a basis of equality, as a joint venture—isn’t under consideration.”

What can Moscow look forward to from Europe in these conditions? Strange as it may sound, the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Germany. As the economically strongest country in the European community following Brexit, Germany determines the future of both the economic and foreign policy of the EU. And right now on the political horizon of the country’s leading political parties (among which one must consider up-and-coming parties in terms of their participation in various government coalitions of liberals and greens), there are often altogether opposing views on the future of relations with Russia. For example, if Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democratic Party, calls for giving Putin a chance to break the gridlock (in relations with Europe) to the point of isolating the problem of Crimea, Cem Özdemir, the leader of the Alliance 90/The Greens, calls on Europe to replace the U.S. as the main defender of Atlantic values. In the milieu of the dominant political parties, significant differences of opinion prevail, from seeking ways to repair relations with Russia — under the strict condition of implementing the Minsk agreement and rejecting the annexation of Crimea, judging by the statements of a number of prominent Social Democratic figures — to continuing sanctions pressure, as the politicians of the Christian Democratic Union demand. It’s no coincidence that while appearing the other day on the talk show Illner Intensive on German TV’s ZDF, Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery Peter Altmaier, one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most trusted confidants, expressed the opinion that sanctions will lead to “sensible forces in Russia coming out on top.” In other words, that the Russian voter will vote for the current extra-parliamentary opposition or the opposition will come to power some other way. There’s probably no other way to interpret these statements.

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About Jeffrey Fredrich 188 Articles
Jeffrey studied Russian language at Northwestern University and at the Russian State University for the Humanities. He spent one year in Moscow doing independent research as a Fulbright fellow from 2007 to 2008.

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