Last week’s talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his counterparts in Berlin and Paris were dominated by the catastrophic civil war in Syria, but the relations Russia has with France and Germany involve other significant issues as well. Mr. Putin started his third term in office by visiting Belarus first, and then the two giants of the European Union. He will have noted the new French President, François Hollande’s statement that international military involvement in Syria cannot be ruled out, as well as the likelihood that Mr. Hollande was largely addressing a domestic audience. The Russo-German relationship, however, is one of disagreement, mutual caution, and mutual dependence. The disagreements extend beyond the Syrian situation to a stalemate on visa regulations; there is also a personal coolness between Mr. Putin and Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mr. Putin, for his part, is aware of Ms Merkel’s antipathy towards communism and towards former Soviet officials who now hold high posts in Russia. Yet Russian exports to Germany currently earn €25 billion a year, and Berlin’s dependence on Nord Stream — the undersea natural gas pipeline from Russia — will only increase in the years ahead. By bypassing problematic transit countries like Ukraine, Russia has not only increased its earning potential but also reduced the chances of Germany and other Western powers using former Soviet satellites as leverage against Moscow.
The limits to which either side can go, however, are illuminating. Germany, as Der Spiegel International notes, for example, gets 35 per cent of its natural gas needs from the Nord Stream line, but its attempts to find non-Russian sources face problems following the near collapse of the Nabucco project for Caspian Sea gas. A second Russian pipeline — which would deepen German dependence — is in prospect, but Berlin is relying more on renewables as it closes down its nuclear programme, and both France and Germany can now buy cheaper United States gas if they wish. The key underlying issue here, however, is the apparent non-involvement of the EU as a whole. Moscow sees EU procedures and standards as obstacles, but needs German cooperation for its dealings with the Union; that alone could give the EU greater leverage than it now has. Secondly, Mr. Putin’s absence from the G-8 meeting at Camp David and the Nato summit in Chicago, both in May, will lose effect if repeated. While Russia understandably says world security and world problems can be settled only with Russian support, the active engagement of the EU, via a coherent and decisive foreign policy based in part on common concerns with Russia, is long overdue; it could greatly strengthen moves towards global peace. The Hindu