Angela Merkel in Moscow: Key to Stability in the Middle East Is No Longer in Washington, but in Moscow and Ankara

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first trip abroad of the new decade was to Moscow, where she met with Vladimir Putin on Saturday. This was symbolic: Russia and Germany discussed how to re-stabilise the fragile world order. In this multi-polar system, appealing to the United States no longer makes sense for Merkel: President Donald Trump does not give advice, he only orders his allies around; if they do not obey him, he punishes them with sanctions. Whatever he does in the Middle East, he puts Europeans ahead of him. Trump also does not need European diplomacy to compete with American policymaking in the region. If Europe wants to play a key role in the Middle East, it has to come to an understanding regarding the regulatory power of Russia there.

Putin and Merkel discussed many key issues related to world politics. The foreign ministers and the most important foreign policy advisers from both countries took part in the talks. The main thing was to prevent worse things from happening. If Iran actually builds a nuclear bomb, the United States will stop Tehran by all means and intervene there militarily. Iran may then attack Israel. Germany should side with Israel. An escalation spiral would shake the entire region – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya would then be subject to further destabilisation and states could collapse. The result of this dramatic development would be the strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism; Europe would then face a new wave of refugees, which Merkel would like to prevent at all costs.

The “Arab Spring,” supported by the West, has failed. Instead, the Arab world is falling apart. The terrorist Islamic State is regrouping, the US is being pushed out of the Middle East, Russia and Turkey are increasingly acting as regulatory powers there, and the Europeans are onlookers – too weak to influence potentially catastrophic developments. The region has becomes a powder keg – if it implodes, it will sweep Europe into the vortex.

We Don’t Have Another Europe and We Don’t Have Another Russia
Timofei Bordachev
In 2020, statutory matters in Russia’s relations with Europe and the leading European powers will be limited to building their respective diplomatic narratives. In this sense, there can hardly be any agreement on whose actions paved the way to WWII, just as the East and the West could not agree for centuries how to make the sign of the Cross.

Putin has never made a secret about wanting to cooperate with the West in the Middle East, on the condition that the West respects Russian interests. In the meantime, Merkel may have realized that successful peacekeeping in the region should be negotiated with Moscow rather than with Washington. If an agreement was reached, the EU would also have to give up its blockade of Russia. In any case, with her visit to Russia, Merkel demonstrated that Germany and the EU will seek their own strategy toward Russia instead of letting themselves be harnessed against the rest of the world by the US. 

For the time being, a civil war akin to what happened in Syria could be stopped in Libya – not by the West, but through the mediation of Russia and Turkey. Merkel has called for a Libya conference in Berlin, but Putin has signalled to her that all Libyan actors must be at the negotiating table on an equal footing. It will no longer resemble what the West has demanded in Syria: that Assad should leave under all circumstances. The West will also have to put up with the fact that Assad is the world’s main contact in the Syrian conflict. The US could now be willing to support regime change in Iran, but the failed Arab revolutions of the past decade should have taught it that this is unwise.

Merkel cannot herald the end of her chancellorship with a new wave of mass migration. She wants a more glorious finish. The irony of the story is that Putin and Erdogan can help her more than Trump.

She knows that the key to regional stability is no longer in Washington, but in Moscow and Ankara. Diplomacy with Russia could allow her to address some of Putin’s positions, including the de facto freezing of the Donbass conflict, a common stability pact for battered Syria, and an exit from sanctions.

Putin also has to make concessions to reconcile with the EU. He has already done so in the Ukraine conflict. The Russian economy is sluggish; Russia still needs the West as a modernisation partner. Powerful business lobbies and the consumer society in Russia are pushing the Kremlin to pursue a more positive agenda with the West. Lost trust must be restored. Merkel’s Moscow trip would be the first step.

The Trend of World Politics for the 2020s
Alexander Rahr
The trend of world politics for the 2020s is evident. The transatlantic bloc is weakening, but it remains united under American pressure. In Asia, a counter-alliance is developing, in which China and Russia will play the leading role.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.