Scharping Trying to Dampen Russian-NATO Rift

March 2 (Stratfor)

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping met with acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev Feb. 29 and March 1, before traveling directly to Washington. There he will meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. The impromptu nature of this trip suggests that Germany is trying to play an increasingly precarious balancing game between Russia and NATO in an effort to avoid a costly confrontation.

The timing of Scharping�s trip is no accident. First, it coincides with a NATO ambassadorial meeting in Ukraine that can only serve to inflame Russian sentiments. Second, Russia has accused NATO of spying with radars in Norway and Estonia and complained of increased cooperation among the Baltic states, NATO, Sweden and Finland. Finally, the war in Chechnya is reaching its conclusion, and there are ongoing issues over managing the unrest in Kosovo. Of these issues, Germany is most anxious to avoid an all out confrontation over Ukraine or the Baltic States � which would be catastrophic to German interests.

Germany is not interested in restarting the Cold War at this point. Russia owes Germany more than $42 billion in outstanding loans � about one-third of total Russian foreign debt. More importantly, Germany does not want the distraction of a security problem on the eastern border of Poland while it is spearheading the effort at greater European integration. Nor does it want to increase defense spending while trying to overcome serious domestic economic problems.

Scharping�s visit apparently was planned on short notice. A spokesman in the German Embassy in Washington indicated that it had only been scheduled for a �couple of weeks.� This timing indicates that German officials in February foresaw the multiple issues of Chechnya, Kosovo and NATO expansion coming to a head, coincidentally right as the NATO ambassadorial meeting occurred in Ukraine.

It is no coincidence, however, that when Scharping�s plans were being formulated Putin�s number two, Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, was meeting in Berlin on Feb. 10 with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. It is entirely plausible that Kasyanov used that opportunity to make the Germans aware of the increased Russian concerns.

Russia is apparently concerned about the cycle of events and scheduled Scharping�s meetings with Putin, Ivanov and Sergeyev with very short notice. Germany � with its extensive investments in Russia and concern over the eastern border of NATO � makes a convenient medium for Russia to ensure its message is heard in Washington.

Scharping was careful to separate the German government�s very real concern over human rights in Chechnya from the business at hand. After their meeting, in a press conference with Foreign Minister Ivanov, he said, �There are of course disagreements, and disagreements would even be too weak a term in regard to Chechnya. But regardless of these deep, very principled differences � there are other possibilities of the development of relations.�

As an attempt to deflect the human rights concerns of Scharping�s coalition partner � the Greens � Scharping and Defense Minister Sergeyev reportedly discussed a program to send Russian officers to Germany for training to teach them respect for �[human] rights, law and democracy.� Putin has acknowledged the human rights issue in Chechnya, possibly because of this possible German bone of contention.

It is clearly against Germany�s interests to see the NATO-Russian confrontation escalate, and Germany can be counted on to use its substantial voice within the alliance to hinder such an escalation. There is the danger that a substantial rift could emerge between Germany and the United States over NATO�s relations with Russia. Germany, essentially, would be taking the Russian position over critical issues such as NATO enlargement or relations with Ukraine and the Baltics.

The Kosovo experience has been very instructive to German officials, who clearly felt that they were forced into a commitment that resulted in an unwanted escalation. They do not want to repeat that experience on a larger scale in Ukraine or the Baltics. The emerging rift between Germany and the United States will only deepen if NATO pursues a �get tough� policy with a Russia trying to reassert itself.

With Haider Gone, A Split in Europe Widens

Feb 29 (Stratfor)

Joerg Haider, Europe�s favorite bogeyman, resigned suddenly on Feb. 28 as leader of the far-right Freedom Party. His departure will smooth the way for a number of issues crucial to the development of the European Union but will not change the dynamics of European nationalism. Indeed, nationalism may be intensified.

On the surface, Haider�s departure will elicit a sigh of relief from many Western capitals. Western Europe can wave goodbye to a dark reminder of its past and Eastern Europe can rest assured that one more roadblock to EU accession has been removed.

But the EU�s crisis of conscience is not over. The Union shunned Austria � to the degree that some senior European diplomats are avoiding EU meetings � simply because the Freedom Party is a junior coalition partner in the government. Unless the new Freedom Party leader � Haider�s lieutenant, Vice Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer � can effectively muzzle her former boss as well as mainstream much of her party�s platform, the ostracism of Austria will continue.

Beyond Austria, Haider exposed a deep split between countries that are strongly pro-Europe � such as Belgium and France � and those that approach the EU with caution � such as Sweden and Denmark. The EU�s ability to indirectly force Haider from official power will only deepen this split. Pro-federalist states will quietly cheer his departure; pro-national sovereignty states inside and outside the Union will seethe at the EU�s ability to bully member states. This is a victory with a price.

As the EU accelerates its eastward march, and European Commission President Romano Prodi bulldozes member states in his continuing drive to reform the union�s basic institutions, Europe will become a much more complicated place.

More and more states � and populations � will question the wisdom of surrendering additional power to a supra-national government that has shown both the ability and will to directly interfere not only with the makeup of member governments, but the leadership of individual parties. Since rapid expansion turns on questions of significant reform, Europe�s future is itself at stake.

It is in this realm of supra-government power � more than abstractions such as a single currency or a social charter � where nationalist movements will find juicy targets. It is one thing to protest EU standards on the health of cattle. It is quite another to force an elected official from a non-governmental post. Europeans across the spectrum will remember this; Haider will keep it fresh in their minds.

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