The Return Of The Germans

One of the more insightful pieces I have yet read on the tragedy of Ukraine is this one by Clemens Wergen on the German reaction. I’ve been struck by Germany’s muted response to an invasion of an Eastern European state like Ukraine. It’s easily the biggest obstacle to a serious Western attempt to leverage Russia’s oil exports to curtail Putin’s neo-fascist experiment. Wergen helps explain it:

We have come to think of Germany as a Western European country, but that is largely a product of Cold War alliances. Before then it occupied a precarious middle between east and west. Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, German society may well be drifting away from the West again. In a poll last month by Infratest/dimap, 49 percent of Germans said they wanted their country to take a middle position between the West and Russia in the Ukraine crisis, and only 45 percent wanted to be firmly in the Western camp.

But there are some who also actively sympathize with Russia. To wit:

Europe’s populist right, which agrees with Russia’s propaganda that Europe has become too gay, too tolerant, too permissive in its morals and too un-Christian, and which welcomes an authoritarian leader challenging Europe’s fuzzy multilateralism. In Germany, you can find this current best represented by the new anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland Party. They take up a conservative strain of German thinking dating back to the 19th century, which harbors a resentment toward Western civilization and romanticizes a Russia seemingly uncorrupted by Western values and free-market capitalism.

Along with this, of course, is the German economy’s energy connection with Russia, symbolized by former chancellor Gerhard Shroeder’s seat on the board of Gazprom. What I infer from this – and from the staggering incompetence of Ukraine’s interim government in holding on to its territorial integrity – is that the Ukraine crisis cannot easily be forced into a Cold War template. Russia is not an ideological rival in any deep sense, as it was under Communism. It’s ambitions are not to control the globe, but to police and control its near-abroad by any means necessary – masked warfare, energy blackmail, military intimidation, constant propaganda. And Germany is not West Germany any more.

At some point, the neoconservative Cold War nostalgics may wake up to see an emerging new world order in the 21st Century. My fear is that they will try to wrest it back to the 20th – and fail.