Tuesday, December 16, 2014

German Chancellor Merkel Won’t Let Ukraine Get in the Way of Business

By Marin Katusa, Chief Energy Investment Strategist

The Ukraine crisis has moderated for now, but it should have awakened the world to the new “great game” being played in Eastern Europe. Vladimir Putin is positioning Russia to control the global energy trade, knowing that he holds the trump card: Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas.

This epic struggle between the US and Russia could change the very nature of the Euro-American trans Atlantic alliance, because Europe is going to have to choose sides.

The numbers in Putin’s OIL = POWER equation are only going to keep getting bigger as Russia’s control and output of energy continues to grow and as Europe’s supply from other sources dwindles—as I outline in my new book, The Colder War. Finland and Hungary get almost all their oil from Russia; Poland more than 75%; Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Belgium about 50%; Germany and the Netherlands, upward of 40%.

Cutting back on energy imports from Russia as a means of pressuring Moscow is hardly in the EU’s best interest.

Germany, the union’s de facto leader, has simply invested too much in its relationship with Putin to sever ties—which is why Chancellor Angela Merkel has blocked any serious sanctions against Russia, or NATO bases in Eastern Europe.

In fact, Germany is moving to normalize its relations with Russia, which means marginalizing the Ukrainian showdown. Ukraine is but a very small part of Moscow’s and Berlin’s plans for the 21st century. Though the U.S. desperately wants Germany to lean Westward, it has instead been pivoting East. It’s constructing an alliance that will ultimately elbow the US out of Eastern and Central Europe and consign it to the status of peripheral player. (The concept of the “pivot “ in geopolitics was advanced by the celebrated early 20th century English geographer Halford Mackinder with regard to Russia’s potential to dominate Europe and Asia because it forms a geographical bridge between the two.

Mackinder’s “Heartland Theory” argued that whoever controlled Eurasia would control the world. Such a far flung empire might come into being if Germany were to ally itself with Russia. It’s a doctrine that influenced geopolitical strategists through both World Wars and the Cold War. It was even embraced by the Nazis before Russia became an enemy. And it may still be relevant today—despite the historical animosities between the two countries. After all, the mutually beneficial alliance of a resource-hungry Germany with a resource-rich Russia is a logical one.)

Considering the deepening ties between Russia and Germany in recent years, the real motive for the US’s stoking of unrest in Ukraine may not have been to pull Ukraine out of Russia’s sphere of influence and into the West’s orbit—it may have been primarily intended to drive a wedge between Germany and Russia.

The US almost certainly views the growing trade between them—3,000 German companies have invested heavily in Russia—as a major geopolitical threat to NATO’s health. The much-publicized spying on German politicians by the US and the British—and Germany’s reciprocal surveillance—shows the level of mutual distrust that exists.

If sowing discord between Russia and Germany was America’s goal, the implementation of sanctions might look like mission accomplished. Appearances can be deceptive, though.

Behind the scenes, Germany and Russia maintain a cordial dialogue, made all the easier because Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel get along well on a personal level. They’re so fluent in each other’s languages that they correct their interpreters. They often confer about the possibility of creating a stable, prosperous and secure Eurasian supercontinent.

Despite the sanctions, German and Russian businessmen are still busy forging closer ties. At a shindig in September for German businesses in the North-East and Russian companies from St. Petersburg, Gerhard Schröder—former German prime minister and president, and friend of Putin—urged his audience to continue to build their energy and raw-material partnership.

Schröder’s close personal relationship with Putin is no secret. He considers the Russian president to be a man of utmost trustworthiness, and his Social Democratic Party has always been wedded to Ostpolitik (German for “new Eastern policy”), which asserts that his country’s strategic interest is to bind Russia into an energy alliance with the EU.

Schröder would have us believe that they never talk politics. Yet in his capacity as chair of the shareholders’ committee of Gazprom’s Nord Stream—the pipeline laid on the Baltic seabed which links Germany directly to Russian gas—he continues to advocate for a German-Russian “agreement.”

That’s a viewpoint Merkel shares. In spite of her public criticism of Putin’s policy toward Ukraine, Merkel has gone out of her way to play down any thought of a new Cold War. She’s on the record as wanting Germany’s “close partnership” with Russia to continue—and she’s convinced it will in the not-so-distant future.

Though Merkel has rejected lifting sanctions against Russia and continues to publicly call on Putin to exert a moderating influence on pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists, it looks like Germany is seeking a reasonable way out. That makes sense, given the disproportionate economic price Germany is paying to keep up appearances of being a loyal US ally.

Politicians in Germany are alert to the potential damage an alienated Russia could inflict on German interests. Corporate Germany is getting the jitters as well, and there are a growing number of dissenting voices in that sector. And anti-American sentiment in Germany—which is reflected in the polls—is putting added pressure on Berlin to pursue a softer line rather than slavishly following Washington’s lead in this geopolitical conflict.
With the eurozone threatened by a triple dip recession, expect Germany and the EU to act in their own interests. Germany has too much invested in Russia to let Ukraine spoil its plans.

As you can see, there’s no greater force controlling the global energy trade today than Russia and Vladimir Putin. But if you understand his role in geopolitics as Marin Katusa does, you’ll know how he’s influencing the flow of the capital in the energy sector—and which companies and projects will benefit and which will lose out.

Of course, the situation is fluid, which is why Marin launched a brand new advisory dedicated to helping investors get out in front of the latest chess moves in this struggle and make a bundle in the process.
It’s called The Colder War Letter. And it’s the perfect complement to Marin’s New York Times best-seller, The Colder War, and the best way to navigate and profit in the fast changing new reality of the energy sector. When you sign up now, you’ll also receive a FREE copy of Marin’s book. Click here for all the details.




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