In my post last week I mentioned the complexity of the Ukraine situation and how our ability to apply pressure on Russia is compromised by the degree to which our allies in western Europe depend upon Russian oil and gas exports.
Our key ally in all of this is Germany, as it is most vulnerable to economic retaliation from Russia, and the fact Chancellor Angela Merkel was saying little publicly about the situation was indicative of the touchy nature of Germany’s position.
Over the last few days, however, Merkel’s resolve has seemed to stiffen. Having failed to persuade Putin to reconsider his occupation of Ukraine, she has accused him of “stealing” land and operating according to “the law of the jungle.”
I do not think that is just rhetoric. She feels offended by the lengths he is going and wary of where it might lead if allowed to stand. She gave an unusually emotional speech to her own party advocating a tough stand on sanctions a few days ago, despite the economic harm it could do to Germany.
Germany is dependent upon imports from Russia for about 25% of its oil and gas and about 6000 German companies do billions of dollars in trade with Russia. Merkel, ever the pragmatist, knows this will be tough sledding for her.
Her pragmatic nature is something she had seemed to share with Putin, one reason they have spoken much more often over the years than Putin and other western leaders. And, as one commentator put it, they speak the same language, literally. She speaks good Russian from having grown up in East Germany and Putin speaks good German from his work in the KGB there. Also, Merkel worked for the East German government at one point, so she has a better sense of Putin’s perspective than do other western leaders.
That her conviction is that Putin must be punished for his actions even though nations like her own will be hurt in the process seems the most important news regarding the Ukraine’s future this past week.
For additional background and perspective I recommend this New York Times article.