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Neocons Fume As Putin and Merkel Forge Ahead With Nord Stream II

Tripartite talks between Putin, Merkel and EU's Juncker intended to secure Nord Stream II despite US opposition

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

A little noticed development at the start of the recent climate change conference in Paris was that Merkel and Putin held another in their long series of meetings with each other.

The meeting is said to have lasted an hour and a half. 

Most of the meeting was conducted in private without the media present.  

It was not however a one-to-one meeting of the sort that Merkel and Putin have sometimes held with each other, since some of their aides were present.

The most interesting point about the meeting is that midway through it European Commission President Juncker also joined in.  

That clearly signals the subject of the meeting. There are only two issues which Merkel and Putin might want to discuss with Juncker: (1) sanctions and (2) North Stream II.  

The Russians have ruled out any discussion of sanctions. That leaves North Stream II.

Some weeks ago I wrote that the latest developments in the relationship between Russia and Germany - and specifically the announcement of North Stream II - represented a victory for Gazprom and Russia.

I also pointed out that with Merkel’s position in Germany crumbling important elements of the German economic and political leadership are now pressing for a rapprochement with Russia.  

I pointed out in particular the comments openly calling for a rapprochement with Russia made during a visit to Moscow by Sigmar Gabriel, the German Vice Chancellor, Economics Minister and SPD leader.

These comments have now received strong backing from Gabriel's SPD colleague - and rival - German Foreign Minister Steinmeier who - to US alarm - is calling for the revival of the currently suspended NATO-Russia Council, and who is apparently even floating the possibility of Russia rejoining the G7, which would then once again become the G8 (he is presumably unaware - or cannot bring himself to believe - that the Russians are not interested).

It took some time for the full implications of what is happening to sink in fully. Initially the response in the West was denial, with the Financial Times for example trying to spin North Stream II as some sort of defeat for Gazprom and Russia.

The implications have now been well understood and the neocon counterattack is now underway.

Firstly, there was the bizarre episode of the letter the 9 EU states were supposed to have signed opposing North Stream II.  

As I have pointed out, that letter was in reality almost certainly orchestrated by the US, and there are strong reasons to doubt that all the 9 EU states claimed as its signatories actually signed it, with Greece and the Czech Republic casting doubt on this.

There has also - predictably enough - been a vicious media campaign in the English language media targeting those German leaders calling for a rapprochement with Russia.

A good example is this article that has just appeared in Newsweek with the ugly -and self-explanatory - headline “The German Leaders Eager to Appease Putin’s Expansionism”.

Perhaps an even better example is this paper released by the right wing British think tank The Centre for Policy Studies.  

The paper is a classic example of how neocons argue their case.  

Superficially it provides a thorough and objective analysis of North Stream II.  

In reality,  it is riddled with ideological and geopolitical thinking and assumptions, culminating in a portentous warning:

“.........thanks to the understanding discussed in Moscow (by Putin and Gabriel), Gazprom’s……leverage over the European gas market will be significantly increased.”

Reading this hysterical language, it is difficult to remember that what is being discussed is actually just a pipeline.

The paper - typically for a neocon piece - also contains a nasty and entirely unwarranted insinuation that Sigmar Gabriel’s support for North Stream II is motivated by hopes of personal financial gain:

“There is a strong sense of déjà vu in all of this.

When the first North Stream pipeline was agreed in the early 2000s, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was in office, and was among the project’s strongest advocates.

Just three months after leaving office, Mr Schröder accepted the post of chairman of the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream AG, a post he still holds.

Mr Gabriel, like Mr Schröder and the current foreign minister Frank-Walter Steimeier, is a member of the staunchly pro-Russian SPD. ………..

In the light of the Kremlin’s disclosures it would be scandalous if Mr Gabriel in the future accepts a paid post with Nord Stream 2 AG, but Mr Schröder has set a precedent.”

It is of course standard neocon practice to impugn the motives of anyone who disagrees with them by insinuating that they are acting out of greed or stupidity.

The paper also claims Gabriel was embarrassed by the disclosure by Russia’s Presidential website of his comments to Putin.  

This is again a standard neocon tactic.  It is intended to make Gabriel's behaviour in Moscow appear disreputable - as if he did something in Moscow which was somehow shameful, so that he would not want it to be made public.  

In reality it is a virtual certainty that the Russians checked Gabriel's comments with him in advance before publishing them.  

Worryingly for the neocons this particular ploy - played by other neocon writers as well as by the author of this article - on this occasion does not seem to have worked.  There is no evidence the disclosure of his comments in Moscow has hurt Gabriel's position in Germany or that German opinion considers his actions discreditable.

It is this neocon counteroffensive against North Stream II - of which the paper published by The Centre for Policy Studies forms part - that explains the tripartite meeting between Merkel, Juncker and Putin in Paris.  

The Germans and the Russians are anxious to have North Stream II go ahead and as Gabriel told Putin in Moscow they want no interference with it. 

As even The Centre of Policy Studies admits, Merkel is unquestionably party to the decision to press ahead with North Stream II.  With her political position in Germany under pressure and German industry backing North Stream II, she has no choice.

Juncker’s presence was intended to limit as far as possible attempts by North Stream II’s opponents to scupper it by using the European Commission to invoke the Third Energy Package in order to block it.  

Juncker was there so that Merkel could warn him - in Putin's presence - that the European Commission that he heads should do nothing of the sort.

Merkel - and Putin - will also have wanted to discuss with Juncker any possible legal arguments the opponents of North Stream II might bring up with the European Commission in order to try to block North Stream II.  

By discussing these arguments with Juncker in advance, Merkel and Putin will learn what they are, so that they can work out what steps they need to take to counter them.

It is likely the legal case the European Commission has brought against Gazprom was also discussed.  Now that they are again dealing directly with Gazprom the Germans will want the case settled and Merkel will have told Juncker that.

These moves and counter moves over the future of North Stream II and over the broader question of a Russo German rapprochement are what also lie behind the recent decisions by Time and by the Financial Times to name Merkel their Person of the Year.

These decisions have been greeted with derision given Merkel’s falling popularity in Germany.  However from a neocon point of view they make perfect sense.

With Merkel under increasing pressure in Germany, and with her increasingly seen as the one person in Germany who is keeping the anti-Russian policy on track, it makes complete sense to try to bolster her political position by using the English language media to inflate her reputation.  

That is why Time, as well as naming Merkel Person of the Year, has also named her on its cover - quite absurdly - the “Chancellor of the Free World” - a conscious relapse into the Cold War language of the 1950s.

Conjuring up the language of the Cold War in this way links the Person of the Year award by implication to the stand Merkel is taking against the Cold War enemy: Russia.  

It also seeks to remind Merkel of where her loyalties are supposed to lie - and of what her increasingly anxious neocon friends in Washington and London expect from her.

Assuming that despite the attempts to derail it the German rapprochement with Russia continues, how far will it go?

The answer is that we are looking at an economic not a political relationship, and certainly not a geopolitical realignment.  

The Germans and the Russians are not going to become allies or even political partners.  Hopes Germany might be won over to the Eurasian system Russia and China are building are going to be disappointed.  Germany remains fixed in the Euro-Atlantic system and will remain for the foreseeable future a US ally.

However, though Germany is an ally of the US, it does have a close economic relationship with China which German leaders - including Merkel - have been careful not to jeopardise because of political differences.  

That probably is what the future holds for relations between Germany and Russia.  

Given the weight Germany carries within the Euro-Atlantic system, such a relationship would act as a stabilising factor in international relations.

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