Putin’s Next Move? Or Germany’s?

Bibi met Vlad for the fourth time in a year last week. The two old hands are unmistakably buddies, but the fact remains that the Levant has become a satrapy of Iran. Moscow’s air power in Syria (like US air power in Iraq) is more than just helpful, but together with pro-Iranian ground forces, the Persian imperium has now become a threatening menace. This could become especially true for Israel on the Golan.

Putin would like to be more reassuring to his Jewish state friends, but the fact is the Kremlin relies on Tehran in order to keep Assad in power. And Russia needs Assad and the Iranians as leverage against NATO and the EU. This means — whether Israel and the Sunni Arab states like it or not — that anywhere and everywhere the Kremlin can apply tactical advantage over the West, it will. Thanks to the expansive NATO policies of the previous three US administrations, Moscow will take this tactical advantage wherever it can get it.

NATO expansion eastward has left Europe with a huge geopolitical vacuum on or near the Russian border. Again (for a potential third time), if a modern world war is to be triggered, Europe will probably be the trigger. However, for Americans to understand the Russian dilemma they need to think Cuba, Central America or even Mexico. In fact, to understand the danger afoot in the world today, it is probably best to hearken back to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Then the Russian-Soviet enemy had placed arms and men just seventy miles from the US state of Florida. This triggered a showdown which almost caused a nuclear war. It was only after the US agreed to remove nuclear weapons from NATO territory in Turkey, that the Kremlin compromised and supposedly “backed down”.

Israel, like many other sovereign states, now finds itself caught in the strategic and ideological machinations of a 21st century European power struggle. The ideological element has also taken root on both sides of the strategic divide as tactical political pressure. Instead of a communist boogeyman to rally Western workers to vote against their class interest, today the European working class is being exhorted to either accept open-border globalization or closed-border racialist nationalism. Talk about a Faustian bargain.

The Kremlin would like to apply xenophobic nationalist pressure on all NATO and EU states in order to weaken the Western alliance system. To a certain extent, this tactical strategy has worked. Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, England and large Italian, French and Dutch minorities have been susceptible to the pressure of “outsiders”. But globalization (through free trade and the movement of cheap labor) has brought down working class wages. This has lead to a crisis of capitalism unparalleled since the huge stagflation of the 1970s. In turn, a concomitant global debt crisis has shrunk growth expansion, while Keynesian fiscal and monetary solutions — 99 months of zero interest rates, in combination with German-EU fiscal austerity — have essentially cancelled themselves out.

Now the global geopolitical map faces the extra burden of a huge economic-political contradiction: What will save Europe from the ravages of potential financial meltdown and depression? Will it be a Europe with the EU or a Europe without it? Putin understands that the deterioration or elimination of the EU will create a much bigger vacuum in Europe than the one on his border. This will serve the interest of the Kremlin because now Moscow is isolated from the large European security community. But the long-term security interests of the continent as a whole are ill served by a large Russian sphere of influence. A Europe without the EU is a Europe with a much weakened (if not destroyed) NATO alliance. NATO causes great instability for Russia, yet its absence would re-create the conditions that led to two world wars.

In other words, will Russia continue to face a Western monolith on or near its doorstep? Or will the wheel of European history turn once again with an insecure Germany facing a Russian sphere of influence (perhaps including Poland) on its border? Talk about a Faustian bargain. Will Germany be forced to go nuclear for its deterrent protection? Will Poland? Perhaps, and more likely, pro-EU-NATO political forces in Europe will hold the line against xenophobic nationalist parties. If so, what would be Putin’s next move? Would it be even greater nuclear saber rattling? Or it might take place in the Middle East, as an escalated proxy war in defense against US anti-Iranian military operations.

Putin’s next move? Your guess is as good as mine. A move into the Baltic states would be a desperate one. But it could bring the German-French EU leadership to its senses. Does extended US nuclear deterrence work for eastern Europe? Nobody wants to find out! But Putin is being challenged from his nationalist-right military hawks. These people have lost faith that better relations with Trump’s White House remain possible. If Trump wants to negotiate a deal with Putin and the Kremlin, his own security team, his own intelligence agencies, the US national news media, and significant majorities in both political parties are all working against him. Naturally, there is huge doubt surrounding Trump behind the walls of the Kremlin.

Perhaps Putin will attempt a 21st century variation on the Balkans War. Bosnia remains unstable. The events in Kosovo remain a humiliating raw bone in the throats of Moscow and Belgrade. And now, little Montenegro wants to join NATO. Could there be a US-Russia face-off in the skies over the former Yugoslavia? Would an arrogant and bellicose Donald Trump back down in such a situation? I wouldn’t bet on it. Of course, there is always Sweden. I don’t think Trump would ever come to the defense of Sweden, even though the Finns and the Swedes actively cooperate with the NATO alliance.

Perhaps another round of Syrian refugees from Turkey will push the anti-EU political parties forward. After their weak performance in the Dutch elections, it now appears that the pro-EU center will probably hold in France, and most certainly in Germany. This is not good news for Putin or the Middle East. Russia’s relationship with Iran is a product of its isolation in Europe. As long as that isolation creates a security vacuum in the states that border Russia, the Iranian-Russian detente will continue and strengthen.

In the global disarray apparent across the geopolitical map today, even a small state like Israel can become a significant player. Germany, Russia and the US all have described their relationship with Israel as “special”. However, like Berlin, Jerusalem also has a strategic relationship with Washington and by default with NATO (including Germany). Israel could address the quagmire in Europe in order to undermine Iranian intentions in the Middle East. Because without a new security architecture for Europe, the entire Middle East will continue to be a proxy war between NATO and Russia.

Only through superpower cooperation can the future of the Levant become peacefully established. Only through superpower cooperation — involving a new European security system — can another world war be avoided. Any singular reckless move by Russia might obligate a politically isolated US President to arm the Ukrainian government. Such an action would place NATO-Russian relations at a point of deepening escalation. In such a scenario, Europe and the Middle East would be forced into their own Faustian bargain — who to support and how far to support them?

It is high time for a Grand Bargain to replace the potential of unthinkable, dystopian and Faustian, zero-sum possibilities.

Germany started WWI and WWII. The Jewish nation suffered unconscionable acts of cruelty at the hands of the Germans. Now the Germans say that they have a “special relationship” with Israel (the world’s only Jewish state). But Berlin trades with Iran, it blindly trusts the PLO and the so-called two-state solution, and Germany is a direct signatory to a deeply flawed international agreement that will allow Iran an industrial- level nuclear program in the very near future. These policies are hardly “special”. Recently the Germans (through NATO intelligence services) were engaged in pushing the EU states eastward (toward the Ukraine, using openly anti-Semitic political parties). This destabilization of the Ukraine has now put Europe and the world at risk of another war. This potential conflagration places the nations of the Middle East (with its vast oil resources) equally at risk. Enough is enough!

Germany must offer the world something more than war. The Germans need to propose a new peace plan for Europe. Only then can Israel be safe from the machinations of a radical Iranian regime hell-bent on Israel’s destruction. Germany, as the aggressor in two European and global wars, owes it to the world (especially Russia and Israel) to be at the forefront of peace. In both Europe and the Middle East, the recently unified Germans are failing badly.

It is past time for Berlin to stop hiding behind simplistic slogans (like a liberal world order) and meet its geopolitical responsibilities head on. A post-Western world order as a structure for European and global peace is not against anyone’s values. Peace (at this stage of history) must be a partnership between neighbors across the globe. Germany and Ms. Merkel should know better — hegemony in the name of values is still hegemony. Whether or not such Western hegemony is cloaked in the language of human rights makes no difference. The world doesn’t need to be lectured to from Berlin (of all places). What it does need from some German political party is a brand new blueprint for European peace. NATO has become an anachronism, like empire or sphere of interest. On this basis, a new structure for German-Russian partnership must be developed. If not, the war-hawks on both sides will take over.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).