Last night (Sunday).....came the weekly political chat show that draws a fair number of Germans. The Gunther Jauch Show. You can usually gauge the direction of the hottest topic....by watching the show. The topic last night? Putin, Russia, and the Ukraine.
The guests? Three journalists who have a deep understanding of Russian politics, Putin, and Moscow. Then they added Richard Kornblum.....the American who has been to the show several times in the past year. Kornblum paints in the lines and puts the viewer in the midst of the decision process. Kornblum is smart and direct on world events. The final guest? The German defense minister....Ursula von der Leyen, from the CDU.
Leyen is there to be the mouthpiece of the government, and present the path of options. Some folks consider her to be the future chancellor of Germany....once Merkel retires.
What a German likely took away from the hour?
Putin isn't an amateur at this game and when he speaks....he's speaking from a position of authority....from both his prospective and that of the Russian government. Putin isn't stupid or likely to make a mistake. Putin doesn't negotiate.....he settles things his way. Whatever dream that German intellectuals had over the past thirty years that the cold war was over, and a new friendship era was in full bloom.....is gone.
Since the Reagan era....there's been this long path of political figures talking up a great new Europe and no need to worry about threats or war. A strong social path, friendships, and new understandings will take care of the old threats.
Well....I suspect that Germans have woke up in the past month and realized that this vision doesn't fit or work. The problem now? If this whole thing ended at the Crimea....then you could just chalk it up and everyone would go home and feel things could be revolve back to the normal relations.
Currently....at least six different Eastern Europe countries are worried. They each have a Russian element of population, and they might be attacked in some manner....having sections of their country annexed away to Russia. For the EU.....it's a problem.
NATO? Well....five years ago, there was this belief that NATO was passing away, and that the US would likely leave the big mission of NATO by 2020. Call it a defense dividend or whatever.....the end was supposed to be coming. Now? The US is considered fairly weak by Russian standards, and growing weaker by German standards.
Sadly, President Obama's vision and track record isn't something to be happy over. If you measured his foreign policy strength presently.....it's probably rated even less than Jimmy Carter.
What would Reagan do right now....if he were in office? He'd bring in the ballastic missile defense umbrella, and make it active within ninety days. He'd bring in a couple of US Navy vessels to the Black Sea. He'd send the cyber guys to go and grab some Russian billionaire money sitting in bogus banks in Cyprus. And he'd put air defense and two hundred US fighter jets into Poland and Czech. I doubt if Reagan would even call Russia to inform them of the plan. Like poker, Reagan would just keep playing poker and adding onto the pot. Eventually, Putin would measure what the outcome could be and how any win for him....is really a marginal win with no bragging rights.
I suspect most Germans are in a confused state of mind. Their natural gas supply is helped by the Russians (thirty percent comes from there). They've been told that alternate possibilities exist but nothing is being pursued at present. Fracking? Oh, don't even bring up that topic. Because of current laws, the US can't even sell it's natural gas production to Europe.
How they got to this point? Well....the Ukrainians have been in this shadow economy for years. They have raw materials, a rich education system, and industrial capability. The former President of the Ukraine....though a supporter of Moscow....knew that something had to shift. Last summer, talks came up with the EU, and maybe he thought that some economic door could be opened and more economic boost could occur.
Somewhere in December/January....Putin calls up this guy (I suspect), and told him to shut up and forget Europe and the treaty. He did what he was supposed to do.....try to stall the treaty. By this time....it's too late. The people want economic prosperity.
This Crimea game? First, it was pushed off into the Ukraine back in the 1950s....so it's not a historic part of the country. A fair number of Russians in the Crimea? Yeah....but the same can be said for other regions of the Ukraine too....as well as regions of Romania, Bulgaria, etc.
Will Crimea get all kinds of economic support by Russia....to survive? I'm guessing there is one single check at the beginning of this....maybe half a billion.....and then they are on their own. Within six years.....they will be standing there....a bad economy, and wondering if they can join the European economic community.
If ever that Germany needed a strong US and a bold US president....this is it. Not since the 1980s.....have they needed such a partner. And frankly, they will be waiting a fair amount of time for such a partner to arrive. And it won't be with this administration.