Germany Split Over Russia May Hurt Unity at EU's Georgia Summit Print E-mail
August 31, 2008

September 1, 2008

By Alan Crawford and Leon Mangasarian

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition is split over confronting Russia, its biggest energy supplier, for invading Georgia, threatening efforts to strike a united European response to a resurgent Kremlin.

The divisions in Germany will complicate today's emergency European Union summit in Brussels, called to cobble together an EU position on Russia's first major foreign incursion since the Soviet Union fell in 1991 and its decision to recognize two breakaway Georgian regions' independence.

``Everybody in the EU is looking for Germany to lead on this, and if the Germans can't get their act together, it's very bad news for the rest of Europe,'' said Shada Islam, an analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels. ``It's a bit of a gamble to hold this meeting, which may merely serve to reveal all the cracks and fissures in the EU's Russia policy.''

Germany is the 27-nation EU's biggest member and has the closest links to Russia, so it has most to lose from reducing economic ties that flourished under Merkel's Social Democratic predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, now co-head of a joint venture with Russian state-owned gas monopoly OAO Gazprom.

Merkel's own party, the Christian Democratic Union, is pushing her to confront Russia to improve its record on human rights and democracy. Her Social Democrat coalition partners, including Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stress dialogue over sanctions or confrontational rhetoric because they don't want to risk Germany's place as Russia's No. 1 European trading partner.

EU Divisions

Politics in post-Cold War Germany reflect an East-west split in the EU. Eastern European states formerly under the Soviet yoke, including Poland and the Baltic nations, want to expand the EU and the NATO military alliance. The western states have resisted such moves, lest they alienate Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, 42, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, 55.

Merkel, 54, who speaks fluent Russian and grew up in communist East Germany, has criticized Russia's human rights record, including arbitrary arrests and limits on expression. She was among the first to condemn Medvedev's decision to recognize the pro-Moscow Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Germany isn't prepared to pursue ``business as usual'' with Russia unless it withdraws its troops from Georgia, she she told ZDF television Aug. 24. The EU may apply ``restrictions'' on Russia, she said, without elaborating. Russia has kept troops it calls peacekeepers in Georgia, in a buffer region, in addition to the breakaway enclaves.

`Cynical Certainties'

Steinmeier, 52, Schroeder's former chief of staff, said in an Aug. 28 interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that he was ``outraged over those in the West and in Russia who appear to be wishing back the cynical certainties of the Cold War.'' Germany is ``without an alternative'' to continuing to engage Russia, he said.

Isolating Russia would be ``counterproductive,'' U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Aug. 27 in Kiev, calling instead for ``hard-headed engagement.'' Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Aug. 26 ``it would be an error'' to expand the EU to stand up to Russian power.

To the east, however, Estonian Premier Andrus Ansip said on Aug. 26, that Georgia should be allowed to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ``speedily.''

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called today's summit, said that ``long-term relations'' between the EU and Russia are at stake over its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the region that sparked the five day war after Georgia tried to retake it by force on Aug. 7.

Sanctions Debate

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Aug. 28 that some EU states at the summit ``will propose sanctions'' while ``others will be against.'' The EU has to decide such measures unanimously, making sanctions unlikely because a single member state can block imposing sanctions on Russia.

``Europe can't do very much,'' said Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels. ``We mainly import energy from Russia and if we cut trade ties it's going to be a very cold winter.''

Germany relies on Russia, the world's biggest energy supplier, for 40 percent of its gas imports and about 35 percent of its oil. German exports to Russia rose 20 percent in 2007 to $42 billion making it Russia's biggest EU trading partner.

Schroeder enjoyed close personal ties with then-Presiden Putin. Schroeder joined the German-Russian venture with Gazprom, where Medvedev was chairman, within months of leaving office in November 2005.

Nord Stream Pipeline

The project involves a 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) pipeline that's due to begin carrying natural gas directly from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea in 2011. The Nord Stream pipeline is 51 percent-owned by Gazprom, 20 percent each by Germany's E.ON AG and BASF SA, and 9 percent by Nederlandse Gasunie NV of the Netherlands.

Greased by commerce, Germany's policy on Russia ``has stood the test of time, whatever the political weather,'' said Martin Hoffmann, an economic analyst at the BDI industry federation, which represents 107,000 German companies, including Siemens and Deutsche Bank. ``We need business as usual, but so do the Russians. You'll see: Our dialogue will continue, it has to.''

FACTBOX-Suspicious deaths of reporters in Russia Print E-mail
August 31, 2008

August 31, 2008

Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of a Russian opposition Internet site who was shot dead on Sunday, was the latest in a series of Russian journalists to have been killed or to die in suspicious circumstances.

Media freedom groups say Russia is one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists and that no one has been prosecuted over most of the deaths. Here are some of the most high-profile cases:

  • Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead as she entered her Moscow apartment in Oct. 2006. Her death received international attention and accusations - fiercely denied - of a Kremlin role in her death. Politkovskaya was an outspoken critic of then President Vladimir Putin and of human rights abuses in Chechnya. She would have turned 50 on Aug. 30. 
  • Paul Klebnikov was a U.S. citizen of Russian descent and editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine who was shot on a Moscow street in July 2004. He reported on some of Russia's most murky business deals. His suspected killers were acquitted in a trial and attempted retrials have been delayed.
  • Ivan Safranov, defence correspondent of the Russian daily Kommersant, fell to his death from his Moscow apartment building in March 2007. Russian prosecutors halted an investigation into his death and ruled that it was suicide. His colleagues pointed out Shafranov had just returned from shopping with a bag of oranges before he fell -- unusual behaviour for someone about to commit suicide. He had been investigating sensitive arms sales days before his death.
  • Yuri Shchekochikhin, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta and a liberal lawmaker, died of poisoning in July 2003 in Moscow. His colleagues speculated that he might have ingested a radioactive substance and a new inquiry into his death started this year. Shchekochikhin probed corruption involving senior officials in Russia's FSB security service. Politkovskaya worked for the same newspaper.

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