The Lion and the Lioness

Posted November 26, 2014 on 3:07 am | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago left a vacuum at the top of the two countries that have dominated Europe  for almost a century, or at least since Great Britain made it clear it didn’t really feel itself to be part of Europe , and which has trouble understanding how little greatness it still possesses and France began electing leaders whose main claim to fame is that  they take Vespas to visit their mistresses,  followed by paparazzi, a scene that seems to have stepped right out of a parody of La Dolce Vita.   Speaking of which, I’ll bet you will know the name of the last visible prime minister of bankrupt Italy, but not of the current one.  And if you take a look at the photo op of the 20 leaders who recently  gathered at the G20 meeting in Brisbane, you get high marks if you can identify more than five of these minnows.  But there are two among them you should know, one of the two women in  the photo, a rather nondescript looking German woman, and a tough-looking Russian, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin.

These two have known each  other for most of the time the wall has  been down, can speak each other’s languages,  and supposedly held lengthy private conversation in Brisbane without interpreters, and they didn’t hold them in English.  No one could claim that this daughter of a Lutheran minister in an  atheistic country dominated by the Soviet Union and the KGB’s man in the historic East German city of Dresden are friends..  But  a sort of grudging respect for each other – and each other’s country – seems to have become one of the casualties of Putin’s aggressions in Ukraine and his potential plans to reclaim other former parts of the Soviet Union.  It seems that  Frau Merkel has finally had enough of the bully she long tolerated on the assumption that bluster and theatrics were an  acceptable price to pay if German-Russian relations remained reasonably stable.  And by displaying over the years a quiet  resolution to manage Germany with moderation and respect for its newly-won dominating position in  Europe, she seems to have also now won the right to strike back at an aggressive Russian and currently has the highest domestic approval rate – after 15 years on power – of any leader in the world.  Putin is also very popular in Russia and we can only hope that  economic and political pressure will now convince him to withdraw the troops, settle down into reflected glory of Russia that has certainly regained the word’s attention under Putin’s rule and let the world worry about great problems threatening all of it elsewhere.

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  1. Ahh would that it were as easy as that. It seems clear that Putin – from the beginning – joined with old colleagues for the KGB to start the long process of turning back the clock and recreating a kind of “post-Berlin Wall” Soviet Union. And he has been successful in many ways. His intrusion into Georgia in 2008 has some similarities to its intrusion into the Crimea in 2014 and his past tough stand toward Chechnya and current stand against Ukraine are all reminders that the bear only slept for a short time. And while sleeping somehow managed to ensure that Putin and his old entourage became fabulously wealthy while the economic life of most Russians improved only marginally. There is not even a pretense of a free press in Russia and Putin’s popularity seems mostly related to Russian dreams of world supremacy and they are not yet asking how that went the last time they tried it.

    Merkel’s role is of curse complicated but in many ways she has successfully managed e relationship with Russia with a combination of diplomatic tact and strength. While it could be helpful for her to agree to stronger sanctions she must remember that Germany needs Russian energy. One thing she shares with Putin is domestic popularity, but this could slip if the German economy continues in the doldrums – or worsens. For now there is no sense that Germany will change its commitment to austerity in the face of strong evidence that it is the wrong medicine for at ails Europe.

    Two interesting relevant pieces: Anne Applebaum’s “How He and His Cronies Stole Russia” in the current issue of the New York Review of Books:
    http://www.nybooks.com/issues/2014/dec/18/

    And Paul Krugman in today’s NY Times, “Being Bad Europeans”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/01/opinion/paul-krugman-being-bad-europeans.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region&region=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region&_r=0

    Comment by jeff — December 1, 2014 #

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