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"Paris and Berlin no longer are moving in lockstep on key issues -- if in fact they ever were."

A Summit for History?
By Marla Dial

http://www.stratfor.com/

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for a two-day summit early next week in Hannover, where Russian delegations will play a prominent role in an annual international trade fair. Apart from any business deals that might be forged during the April 10-11 summit, the tete-a-tete is noteworthy for three very important reasons: the present, future and past.

Let's begin with the present. Schroeder is presiding over an economy that has dipped to its poorest showing since World War II, with unemployment at a 70-year high of 12 percent and its third recession in two years under way. Germany is Russia's single most important trade partner -- the two already are forging closer ties in military, space and energy affairs. Clearly, the Hannover trade fair is an important event for workers and companies in both countries.

But stepping back a notch, it also likely has important implications for both Schroeder and Putin on personal and geopolitical levels as well. For Schroeder, the poor state of the economy is going to damage his Social Democrats in elections slated for May, and Russia seems an obvious choice to turn to if he can do anything to notch improvements between now and then. Russia's energy industry and large markets are particularly enticing for Berlin.

For his part, Putin has been suffering an image-battering at home, given the recent spate of political upheavals and perceived Western encroachment in Russia's traditional sphere of influence. A Putin desperate for a low-risk way of proving that Russia still has geopolitical leverage somewhere in the world could do worse than to look to Europe -- and particularly Germany, his own former stomping ground as a KGB agent.

Berlin has taken the lead in efforts to strengthen EU-Russian relations -- and so far it has been all but alone. The rest of the European Union, whose bounds have been expanded by a slew of Central European states with bad Cold War memories, remains quite leery of Russia. Not for the first time, we are seeing a case of division between one of the core EU states and the rest of the Union -- a trend outlined in Stratfor's 2004 annual forecast, in which we stated that 2005 will be seen retrospectively as the beginning of the end of the European Union.

Over the next several years, what might now seem to be normal tensions will continue to rip and tear at the fabric of the Union -- and for its part, France will only add to the strain. Like Germany, France is in terrible economic condition and casting about for political and trade partners who can lend a hand -- but looking further afield, possibly to China. Paris and Berlin are no longer moving in lockstep on key issues -- if in fact they ever were (France has always used Germany as a stepping stool to French domination of the EU) -- and the differences will only become increasingly obvious over time.

For observers of the past, this underlying state of affairs cannot but sound a bit familiar. Now, we certainly are not making a forecast at this point, but it is noteworthy that the last time the German economy was in such dire straits, Germany militarized -- and signed a treaty with Russia known as the Molotov-Rippentrop accord. With its eastern flank secured, Germany then was free -- for a time -- to set about launching World War II.

 

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2005-04-07