By Henry Srebrnik (commentary)
By the spring of 1941, Germany was master of Europe. Hitler’s New Order included conquered countries, such as France and Poland; allies, such as Hungary and Italy: and states with an affinity to its ideology, like Portugal and Spain.
When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union that June, Moscow had no allies on the continent save Great Britain, which remained at war with Hitler.
Today, a reunited and resurgent Germany is the economic driver of the 28member European Union — which includes Britain.
And the EU keeps expanding eastwards, with another half- dozen countries vying for membership. Germany is also the most important nation in NATO after the United States.
France and the United Kingdom may have permanent seats on the UN Security Council, but if one were to reconfigure that body today, at least one of them would be replaced by Germany.
Someone just arrived from Mars could be forgiven for assuming that it was Germany that had won the Second World War.
Russia, on the other hand, has since 1989 lost not only its old Warsaw Pact buffer zone, but also the non- Russian Soviet republics, including the Baltic States, Ukraine, the Caucasian countries, and central Asia. NATO expanded eastward and Russia became more isolated. Belarus is now its only ally in Europe.
To add a dollop of irony, the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel, grew up in the old East Germany, then a vassal state of Moscow’s, and a country where Russian President Vladimir Putin had served as a KGB officer.
From Hitler’s “Gotterdammerung” of 1945, which left Germany in ruins and occupied by the victors of the war, including the Soviets, to the reunification in 1990, two generations of Germans were careful not to throw their political weight around.
Those who had supported Hitler were basically in a type of political purgatory, while their children’s generation was consumed by the evils inflicted upon the world by their parents.
Today, though, a new German generation is no longer wracked by shame or guilt; they no longer feel the need to atone for Germany’s war crimes. So Germany is today a “normal” — and indeed, much admired — country.
This has had profound implications for the Russians, who have moved in the opposite direction — much weakened and increasingly reviled by liberals in Europe and North America.
Merkel told the German parliament on March 13 that Putin’s obsession with “spheres of influence and territorial claims” were throwbacks to an era “that we thought we had transcended.” She declared that the Group of 8, a forum of major industrial nations in which Russia was originally included as a means of nudging it toward democracy and free enterprise, had ceased to exist.
By the standards of German foreign policy towards Russia, such a tough tone is new. Unless Putin stops, Merkel added, Germany and its allies will step up their resistance, though only through economic means. The country has very close business relations with Russia and has the greatest capacity to exert pressure.
Last year, trade between Germany and Russia amounted to almost close to 77 billion euros ($ 107 billion). Russia primarily supplies petroleum and natural gas to Germany. Germany, on the other hand, exports mechanical engineering products, medicines, trains and automobiles to Russia.
Sigmar Gabriel, the German Minister of Economics and Energy, has halted a major Russian military contract for the Rheinmetall defence technology group, at least temporarily.
“The German government considers the export of the combat training center to Russia unjustifiable in the current situation,” he said, as he cancelled delivery of the 120 million euro ($ 165 million) battle simulation facility.
Such moves might also backfire. Russia supplies 36 per cent and 35 per cent of Germany’s imports of natural gas and oil, respectively. Russia might react to economic sanctions by reducing those exports.
But the German economy is a powerhouse and would manage to acquire other sources. In any case, when asked about the consequences for German companies of an economic war with Russia, many Germans have replied that political principles are more important than profits.