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Obama down, Hillary Clinton out – is Angela Merkel next?

For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has based her entire policy on loyally following the Obama administration’s policy of confrontation with Russia, the prospects of a Trump administration pursuing rapprochement with Russia creates insuperable problems which could end her career.

Alexander Mercouris

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One European leader more than any other will be concerned by Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election: German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel is by some distance the single most powerful leader in the EU.  Presiding over what is by far the EU’s biggest economy, especially since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis she has been the de facto “Queen of Europe”.

Merkel has achieved this position through a combination of genuine political skill and good luck. 

She was the beneficiary of the tough economic reforms imposed on Germany by her far more talented predecessor, Gerhard Schroder, which significantly strengthened the German economy’s competitiveness at the price of permanently alienating a large part of the German working class from Schroder’s SPD party.  The result is that Merkel inherited a strong economy from Schroder, whilst in the SPD she has faced with a seriously weakened rival.

Merkel has however also shown herself a skilled wire-puller and fixer in Germany’s complex domestic politics.  She was once described to me as “power hungry and treacherous”, and in fact German politics is littered with the corpses of political figures who either were or who might have become her rivals – the most prominent amongst them being her former patron, former CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Much of Merkel’s success has been based on very skilled public relations, with Merkel successfully projecting an image of herself as the sensible, thrifty, practical, no-nonsense, but always highly moral German hausfrau – a persona in reality almost totally at variance with the person she actually is, but one which plays well with the more conservative section of German society, which traditionally votes for the CDU.

The ultimate secret of Merkel’s success has however been her practice of always taking the line of least resistance.  She always tries to avoid picking fights she might lose, but makes up for this by bearing down hard on those who are weaker than herself in order to project an image of decisiveness and strength.

In practice that has meant an unwillingness to contemplate any changes in Germany itself, which might upset people in Germany, together with a rejection of any proposals during the euro crisis that might be controversial in Germany, such as for example the introduction of pan-European bonds

This approach has also involved following an exceptionally close alignment with the US.  The latter is important to Merkel since it guarantees for Merkel the support of Germany’s overwhelmingly Atlanticist news media, whose hostility to her predecessor Gerhard Schroder played a by no means insignificant part in his eventual downfall.

In my opinion the consequences of Merkel’s approach to politics is that the benefits of Schroder’s reforms have been slowly frittered away as Germany gradually lapses into stagnation, whilst the euro crisis has been deepened and extended beyond all reason as all possible solutions that might make the eurozone work are ruled out.  This will have bad long term consequences for Germany, where problems are gradually accumulating without being addressed, and has had terrible consequences for southern Europe, especially for countries like Greece, Cyprus, Ireland and Portugal, and undermining support for the EU project as a whole.

However in narrow political terms there is no doubt that Merkel’s approach to politics has been extremely effective, with Merkel’s refusal to challenge strongly held opinions leaving her for long politically unchallenged in Germany and often enjoying approval ratings at stratospheric levels.  The result is that she is now the longest serving democratically elected Chancellor in German history.  Even now, when criticism of her has become more widespread in Germany, the accumulated goodwill she has built up over the course of her long career together with her success in eliminating rivals means that there is no obvious challenger to her.

It is nonetheless the case that over the last two years Merkel’s position has weakened significantly as the problems with her approach to policy have become more apparent.

Her biggest single mistake was her decision in July 2014 to support US demands that the EU impose sectoral sanctions on Russia because of the Ukrainian crisis. 

Merkel’s predecessors – Willi Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroder – had pursued a highly successful policy of Ostpolitik, which had involved a close rapprochement with Russia. In the same situation they would have worked hard to contain the Ukrainian crisis by building diplomatic bridges to Russia, by positioning Germany as an honest broker between the US and Russia, and by genuinely seeking a diplomatic settlement to the crisis, which would of necessity have involved formal guarantees of Ukraine’s future neutrality.

Merkel instead committed herself and Germany to backing wholeheartedly a fragile and extremist regime in Kiev, which she is unable to control, placing herself and Germany in unequivocal opposition to a Russia, which she has alienated.

In some respects Merkel’s decision to take this step was unsurprising.  She was under intense pressure from the US and from the Atlanticist lobby in Germany – which includes the German media – to take it.  It is always her practice to take the line of least resistance by do nothing which might be controversial with the strongest body of opinion in Germany.  In the summer of 2014 the strongest body of opinion in Germany appeared to be that of the Atlanticists.

Merkel also almost certainly made her decision on the basis of mistaken assumptions of Russian weakness. 

It seems Merkel was under the misapprehension – apparently fostered by a profoundly mistaken report from the German intelligence agency the BND – that the oligarchs are far more powerful in Russia than they actually are, and that they can either bend Putin to their will or can remove him from power if he doesn’t do what they want.  Like most Western politicians Merkel takes the cynicism and corruption of the Russian businessmen the West calls oligarchs for granted, and treats it as axiomatic that they will always act in their own narrow selfish financial interests rather than from patriotic motives.

Accordingly Merkel seems to have assumed that not only would the Russian economy spiral into crisis if sectoral sanctions were imposed on it, but that the oligarchs would either force Putin to back down and retreat from Ukraine and Crimea, or would remove him from power in order to get the sanctions lifted.

Merkel was not the only person in 2014 to believe these things.  On the contrary they were the common belief of many Western political leaders and officials.  As an extraordinary recent opinion piece in the Financial Times urging the oligarchs to overthrow Putin shows, they remain the belief of some people in the West still.

Needless to say Merkel’s expectations of a coup in Moscow were not fulfilled, and already by the autumn of 2014 – as became all too clear following her meetings with Putin in Milan and Brisbane – she had become aware of her mistake, as she found herself for the first time in her career pitted against an adversary she could neither bully nor intimidate. 

Ever since then Merkel has been locked in a rearguard action, trying to preserve the sanctions – which have become the symbol of her authority across Europe – without having any clear idea of the way forward, in the face of mounting criticism from the business community in Germany, and growing skepticism and hostility in much of the rest of Europe.

There is often a tipping point in a political career after which everything seems to go wrong, and Merkel’s misjudgement over the sanctions looks like being hers. 

The sanctions debacle led directly to her mismanagement of the Greek crisis and the refugee crisis, her mishandling of both crises being attempts by her to restore her reputation and reassert her authority in Europe and Germany as her judgement over the sanctions issue was increasingly been questioned.

In the event her mishandling of both crises – in which she followed her usual line of taking the line of least resistance and bullying the weaker party – has instead caused her judgement to be questioned even more, with widespread anger across southern Europe at the impossibly harsh terms imposed on Greece, and still great anger in eastern Europe and in Germany itself at the way she imposed a refugee policy no-one wanted.

However if Merkel’s problems were already becoming serious before Trump’s election, then the prospect of a Trump Presidency has hugely compounded them.

The key reason Merkel took the approach she did during the Ukrainian crisis, the Greek crisis, and the refugee crisis, is because in each case she deferred to the wishes of the Obama administration, to which in order to safeguard her position in Germany she has cultivated close ties. 

Her reward has been to make her the one European leader known to have Obama’s trust. 

Merkel is also known to have developed close personal relations with Hillary Clinton.  Indeed there are rumours she and Hillary Clinton are personal friends. Hillary Clinton has even praised her as her favourite world leader.

Merkel must now face the nightmare that instead of the Hillary Clinton administration she undoubtedly wanted and expected she now has to deal with President Trump instead. 

If Trump sees through his policy of working towards a rapprochement with Russia then Merkel, who has staked so much of her authority by pursuing a policy of confrontation with Russia, is going to have the rug pulled from under her feet. 

The Russians are already talking about the lifting of the sanctions being a condition for a genuine improvement in relations with a Trump led US.   As if to emphasise the point Russian Economics Minister Alexey Ulyukaev is now saying as much in an interview he has just given to the German newspaper Die Welt.

For Merkel that would be the biggest disaster of all: being forced to lift the sanctions – which she imposed on the EU at the behest of the US and to which her authority is tied – because the US has reversed its policy, is implicitly admitting its previous policy which she supported was wrong, and is insisting that the sanctions be lifted .

Needless to say if Trump goes further still and – as he hinted in the election campaign – recognises Crimea as part of Russia, then Merkel’s entire policy towards Russia over the last two years will be completely discredited and will have publicly failed, making her position both in Germany and Europe completely untenable.

In some ways Merkel’s plight in the aftermath of Trump’s victory reminds me of that of the East German leader Eric Honecker following Gorbachev’s emergence in the 1980s as Soviet President. 

Like Honecker Merkel now finds the unqualified support of her superpower patron upon which she has built her entire career suddenly and unexpectedly in doubt.  Just like Honecker she doesn’t seem to know what to do, and just like Honecker her ritual words of support for the new leader of the patron superpower contain thinly veiled criticisms and lack conviction.

As a highly historically minded former East German citizen who witnessed Honecker’s fall and the fall of the Wall, it is not inconceivable that Merkel is herself conscious of the parallel.

Whether she is or not, for Merkel the stakes now could not be higher.  As she confronts the prospect of a Trump Presidency her future hangs by a thread.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence.

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Authored by Tom Luongo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


With all that is happening in the world Crimea has taken a bit of a backseat recently. Yes, the US, EU and Canada just added more sanctions on Russia via the odious Magnitsky legislation but this is inconsequential.

There’s been a flurry of good news coming out of Crimea and the Black Sea recently that bears discussion. Let’s start with the most important. President Vladimir Putin was in Crimea earlier this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. There he also officially inaugurated two major upgrades to Crimea’s power grid.

Located in Simferopol and Sevastopol, two new power plants will produce 940 megawatts and secure Crimea’s energy needs for now and into the future.

Power has been Crimea’s Achilles’ heel since breaking off from Ukraine in 2014. It received almost 90% of its power from the mainland. In November 2015, the trunk lines into Crimea were sabotaged by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, encouraged by President Petro Poroshenko plunging it into darkness as winter took hold.

Does this sound familiar? A place that defies US edicts geopolitically is first hit with a full trade embargo, sanctions and threatened militarily by proxies before having its electricity shut off?

*Cough* Venezuela *Cough*

And there are reports that the US has game-planned a similar fate for Iran as well. For Crimea it was easy because of the single-point-of-failure, the trunks from the mainland. For Venezuela it was as well, with the Guri dam, which affected nearly 70 percent of the country.

So, Putin timing the fifth anniversary of reunification with the announcement of the plants moving to full operational status was yet another smooth bit of international political maneuvering.

A not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Gang Who Can’t Sanction Straight in D.C. as well as lame duck Poroshenko. Elections are at the end of the month and this celebration by Russia and Crimea will not sit well with many Ukrainians, especially the diaspora here in the US which is virulently anti-Putin in my experience.

Secure and stable power generation is a hallmark of a first world territory. Without that economic growth and stability are impossible. This is why to first help stabilize the situation in Crimea after the blackout Russia brought in 400 MW of power across the Kerch Strait from Krasnodor.

Tying Crimea to the mainland via the Kerch Strait bridge was a masterstroke by Putin. The initial power lines were simply a necessity. For those that complain he isn’t doing enough to counter US and European aggression need only look at the Kerch Strait bridge.

Not only did the Russians not seek international approval given the nearly universal refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian they built the thing in a time frame that defies description.

Imagine if this had been an EU project. They would still be debating the initial engineering plans and the political effects on some protected minority.

Not only does it open up the Eastern Black Sea to trade via Crimea but it ends the use of the Sea of Azov as a potential staging ground for naval provocations as last fall’s incident proved. Ukraine is cut off from acting aggressively and cannot count on any help from the US and Europe.

Moreover, Crimea is now permanently Russia’s. And every bit of infrastructure Russia builds there ties the two further together and weakens any bonds Crimea had with Ukraine. The resultant growth and modernization will make its way, economically and culturally back into southern Ukraine and erode the hard border over time.

This is far more important than striking out and metaphorically punching Poroshenko in the mouth, that many of Putin’s detractors wish for.

Presidents change, after all. Patience and attrition is how you beat an aggressive, distant enemy like the US

To remind everyone just how insane the Trump White House has become on matters international, no less than Vice President Mike Pence lobbied Germany to provoke another naval incident at the Kerch Strait.

If there was ever an example of how little Trump’s gang of moldy neocons think of Europe it is this bit of news. In effect, Pence was saying, “We can’t start a war with Russia because it would go nuclear, but you can because Russia can’t live without your trade.”

This coming after the US unilaterally pulled out of the INF treaty and is now flying nuclear bombers to eastern Europe. The message is clear. If the EU doesn’t get with this open-ended belligerent program against Russia and China of John Bolton’s they will be the ones paying the price when chaos breaks out.

On the other side there is Putin; building bridges, pipelines, power plants and roads.

He’s making it clear what the future holds not only for Europe but the Middle East, central Asia and India. We will defend Crimea at all costs, develop it not only into a tourist destination but also a major trade hub as well.

You are more than welcome to join us. But, we don’t need you.

These power plants will raise Crimea’s power output well beyond its current needs, allowing first export of power as well as providing the foundation for future growth.

And as if it weren’t coordinated in any way, the Chinese, on the morning of Putin’s speech, announced that Crimea would be an excellent fit for investment projects attached to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That’s according to the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili. “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society,” he said at an event dedicated to the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was held in the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

It is also ready to contribute to the establishment of “reliable partner ties” and the explanation of legal details of business cooperation with Crimea, Ge Zhili said. “The Chinese society hopes for the development of friendly cooperation with Crimea; we are ready to overcome difficulties for fruitful results.”

Again this is a direct challenge to the US who has Crimea under strict sanctions in the West. China is happy now to move forward with integrating Crimea into its plans. It’s just another example of how Russia and China simply ignore Trump’s fulminations and move on.

I can’t wait until I get to write this article all over again, this time about North Korea, now that Bolton has thrown Russian and Chinese assistance in getting North Korea to the negotiating table back in their face by destroying the Hanoi talks.

This announcement is not to be underestimated given that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is in Rome this week to open up relations with the new Italian government. Five Star Movement’s Leader Luigi Di Maio said he would welcome becoming a part of BRI, much to the consternation of Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as his coalition partner Lega Leader Matteo Salvini.

It’s already well known that Salvini is interested in ending sanctions on Crimea and re-opening trade with Russia. Italy is desperate for new markets and opportunities, currently stifled under the euro itself as well as Germany’s insistence on austerity hollowing out Italy’s economy and its future prospects.

These issues as well as energy security ones are coming to a head this year with Brexit, the European Parliamentary elections in May and the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline later this year.

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence. Salvini will lead a Euroskeptic revolt within the European Parliament in May. It may be big enough to finally defy Merkel and end EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea.

At that point the US will also have a choice, burn down the world economy with even more sanctions, tariffs and acts of war or accept the facts on the ground.

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