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Dragging Germany into Confrontation

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In the past, we’ve done a fair amount of blogging about the staggering business lobby enjoyed by the Kremlin in Germany, and the various questions and tensions this sometimes raises in terms of managing Berlin’s relations with third parties, depending on what kind of trouble the Russian government finds itself getting into.  Today in the New York Times there’s a good piece by Nick Kulish, who points out the occasional discomfort of the Germans as they find themselves dragged into confrontation as Russia’s key ally in the European Union – underscoring the long-standing thesis put forward by the ECFR that Russia’s rise is presenting a fundamental challenge to the continued existence and purpose of the EU alliance of nations.

Mrs. Merkel’s shifting focus served as a reminder of the pivotal role played by Germany in shaping the West’s relationship with Russia. It is Russia’s largest trading partner, Europe’s single biggest economy and one of America’s closest allies. Moscow’s aggressive posture has not only thrust Russia, a nuclear-armed energy power, back to the geopolitical spotlight. It has also dragged Germany there with it.

Just as the United States is struggling to redefine its relationship with a resurgent and at times antagonistic government in Moscow, Germany is scrambling to protect the close commercial, cultural and diplomatic ties with Russia it has forged since the end of the cold war — and, in some areas, long before.

How broad that divide has grown will become clearer this week, when NATO foreign ministers gather in Brussels. (…)

Germans see not dependence on Russia, but interdependence. The European Union’s 27 nations account for 80 percent of the cumulative foreign investment in Russia, a fact starkly exposed — if the Kremlin ever forgot — by the flight of capital after the Georgia crisis.

The Europeans, after Georgia, angrily froze negotiations with Russia over a new partnership agreement. Barely 10 weeks later, they decided to resume the talks. “We cannot build a European architecture against Russia or without Russia, only with Russia,” said Alexander Rahr, director of the Russian/Eurasian program at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

While Germany needs Russia’s raw materials and covets the significant market there for its precision machine tools, Russia is equally dependent on European investment to diversify its economy, a fact driven home all too clearly for Russians now that the financial crisis has sent energy prices plunging.