By John Vinocur
When asked who they would like to be the next President of the United States, 90% of Germans say Hillary Clinton, a major public-opinion organization reported in mid-October. Four percent favoredDonald Trump.
That may be just another poll, but if Mrs. Clinton is elected it should serve as encouragement for her tough-on-Russia views, and for putting them forward directly to Chancellor Angela Merkel as the leader of the United States’ most important ally.
Just how far the European Union, and Germany as its essential member, are from any kind of decisive response to Russia’s savagery in Syria or anywhere else was demonstrated last week when the EU said it is “considering all available options should the current atrocities continue.”
The wording of the final document was defanged to remove references from earlier drafts to “sanctions,” or to Russians who might be targeted by them. Threats of using “all available options” were about as likely to scare Vladimir Putin as the Obama administration’s repetition of the word “unacceptable” spooked the mullahs during negotiations with Iran on a nuclear weapons agreement.
An accompanying and revelatory glimpse on the enforcement of existing EU sanctions: Vladislav Surkov, a Russian regime figure who has been barred from entry into the EU since 2014 following Russia’s seizure of Crimea, attended a meeting Wednesday in Berlin between Mr. Putin and Mrs. Merkel to discuss Ukraine. A German press report said he had received a special dispensation.
Here’s a scared Germany, declining in stability, in the midst of an ineffectual Europe. The pillars of probity that were Deutsche Bankand Volkswagen are gone; Bundeswehr units supporting the anti-Islamic State coalition avoid lethal action in Iraq; and a pro-Russian right-wing party is likely to enter the Bundestag in 2017.
Mrs. Clinton surely sees the chancellor’s relative fragility. But there is one area in relation to Russia where, as a president-elect, she could urge Mrs. Merkel to take a nonmilitary but realpolitik stance that would represent Germany reuniting with its better instincts.
Mrs. Clinton should call on the chancellor to renounce the construction of Nord Stream 2, the second Russia-to-Germany direct undersea natural-gas pipeline. Scheduled to come online in 2019, it’s backed by Gazprom and five European minority investors, two of them German.
European critics have called it dangerous and politically inspired because Nord Stream 2 would dramatically increase Europe’s and Germany’s dependency on Russian-sourced natural gas to 80% and 60%, respectively. The pipeline replicates the Baltic Sea track of Nord Stream 1, which currently operates at only 70% of its intended capacity.
Nord Stream 1 was promoted by Gerhard Schröder, the former Social Democratic chancellor, whose political desires included Germany’s “emancipation” from America. Since his defeat by Mrs. Merkel in 2005, he has served as a Gazprom shill, being named this month as chairman of Nord Stream 2.
Before Mrs. Clinton was photographed holding the symbolic button for the Obama administration’s failed reset with Russia, she had warned in 2009, as the designated U.S. Secretary of State, that Russian control of European energy supply was “a challenge we ignore at our peril.”
Now, it’s time to block Nord Stream 2. This would hardly be good ol’ unilateral America in action, although that wouldn’t be a bad thing under the circumstances. Also vigorously opposed are German mainstream heavyweights such as Manfred Weber, who heads the Christian Democrat political grouping in the European Parliament, and to his left, Reinhard Bütikofer, who is chief of the Greens’ delegation.
Norbert Röttgen, the Christian Democratic president of the Bundestag’s foreign-relations commission, in a reference to linking Nord Stream 2 and Russia’s Syrian abominations, told me: “What we need is a transatlantic relaunch helping to redefine the German-American approach to an aggressive Russia.”
But Mrs. Merkel is described as regarding the pipeline as a private, commercial project, although she campaigned in 2005 to stop Nord Stream 1. Within months of her election, she flip-flopped to endorse the project and assuage her Social Democrat coalition partners. Eleven years later, led by Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrats remain zealous, Russia-friendly advocates of Nord Stream 2. The chancellor has not pushed back.
Could a newly elected President Clinton, seemingly willing to reassert an American leadership role on Russia, decide that fighting off its energy hold on Europe can wait without risking peril? Remember that in 2010 she rolled back her call for crippling sanctions against Iran in favor of “smart” ones that “would not contribute to the suffering of everyday Iranians.”
Here’s a test of credibility. In order to pass, Mrs. Clinton has to tell Mrs. Merkel and the 90% of Germans supporting her candidacy against Mr. Trump that they cannot allow Mr. Putin to employ new energy exports to finance Russia’s dearest destructive goals—which unmistakably aim at Germany’s effective neutralization.
Published on Oct 24, 2016 in The Wall Street Journal