Articles

Putin Builds His Moscow-Berlin-Paris Axis

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Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and France’s François Hollande meet at a conference in 2014. Russia, Germany, and France have routine meetings together, given their energy dependence on Russia (and Russia’s dependence on trade with Germany and France).

BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT

In his masterpiece on Russian soft power, “Putin’s Propaganda Machine: Soft Power and Russian Foreign Policy,” Marcel H. Van Herpen writes of Russia’s intention of building strategic triangles with Germany and France, in order to mollify American power in Europe. This concept of strategic triangles is nothing new. Indeed, it has been a staple of Russian foreign policy for centuries. The interest in strategic triangles was renewed in Russia during the tumultuous post-Soviet 1990s, by Yevgeny Primakov.

Yevgeny Primakov was a bull of a man. During the closing days of the Soviet Union, he was one of those who opposed the KGB failed coup against Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule in 1991. After the end of the Cold War, he became the Foreign Minister under President Boris Yeltsin, and then, a year later, he ascended to the position of Prime Minister. He was also viewed as Boris Yeltsin’s replacement. Primakov was a foreign policy guru. He envisioned the creation of a post-Soviet Russia that acted as an alternative power center to the U.S. and the West.

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Yevgeny Primakov.

However, Primakov’s presidential inevitability was crushed (as with so many things in Russia) during the severe economic downturn that befell Russia in the late 1990s. Sensing Primakov’s rising popularity, Yeltsin, sacked his Prime Minister in 1999 and blamed Primakov for much of the economic woes during the 1990s. To add insult-to-injury, the preeminent Primakov was superseded in Russia by a relatively unknown former KGB officer named Vladimir Putin.

Putin had been a nominal political figure in Russia following his time in the Soviet Union’s dastardly intelligence and security service, the KGB. Despite having changed its name, the KGB continued on mostly unscathed from the collapse of the Soviet empire. And, after the failed coup attempt against Gorbachev, as Karen Dawisha believes, the KGB cadre responsible for the failed coup attempted to implement yet another coup in Russia–but through covert means. Dawisha believes that Putin was a peripheral member of this club. Putin was likely brought along because of his former KGB connections and the fact that he was essentially an empty vessel that could be used by this cadre of former KGB agents and oligarchs to pour their deepest ambitions for the Russian state into. Of course, Putin is also a savvy player (though not as savvy as he believes, I suspect). Also, because of his relatively unknown status in Russian politics at the time, he did not carry with him the baggage that more known Russian figures did.

Indeed, Putin’s handling of Chechen rebels in 1999 played significantly well into his rise to ultimate power in Russia. Besides, Putin wisely made a bargain with outgoing President Boris Yeltsin. You see, Yeltsin and his family were threatened with prosecution on corruption charges. The Yeltsin family was suspected of having made sweetheart real estate deals based on their roles in the Russian government. Putin supposedly made a promise to prevent any prosecution against President Yeltsin or any of his family members, if he were made President.

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Putin and Primakov.

These factors all played into Putin’s rise and Primakov’s relative political demise. However, Primakov being the wily old strategist that he was, found a new way to leave a lasting impact on Russian foreign policy. In fact, upon Primakov’s passing in 2015, the Western media dubbed Primakov, “The Ideological Godfather of Putinism.” Because, although Primakov viewed Putin with suspicion in the beginning, he soon found that Putin was interested in hearing his views on critical foreign policy issues–particularly concerning the West.

Primakov became a leading skeptic of American intentions beginning in the 1990s. Like so many Russian foreign policy hands, Primakov was offended by the American-backed NATO expansion that occurred following the end of the Cold War. Firstly, most Russian policymakers believed that the U.S. had made an informal agreement with Gorbachev to disallow for the expansion of NATO. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Russia was at its weakest point in over a century. To the Russians, they believed that they could no longer pose a serious threat to the West. In their minds, they wondered why the Western powers would even be interested in expanding NATO, a Cold War-era alliance whose mission (preventing Soviet expansionism) was over. So, they questioned, why expand NATO unless the Western powers still viewed Russia as a threat and planned to press their inherent advantage following the dissolution of the USSR? Fear of encirclement, invasion, and territorial dismemberment has been a persistent Russian fear since the 13th century.

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NATO expansion merely piqued Primakov’s antipathy toward the West. The catalyzing factor was the Kosovo War. Russia traditionally viewed Yugoslavia as having fallen into its sphere of influence. Plus, the Russians were historically keen to exert undue influence over fellow Russian-speakers and fellow Slavs. Primakov (and most others in Russia) were angered by the fact that the U.S. and its NATO partners acted with relative disregard for the views of the Russians on the matter of the Balkans. Point in fact, the Russians supported the genocidal Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic. Primakov was so exercised at the failure of the U.S. to coordinate its strategy in Russia’s “Near-Abroad,” that, when he was informed the U.S. had begun attacking Serbian positions, to show his disapproval for the action, he demanded his flight be rerouted from its flight to Washington, D.C. back to Moscow (the media famously dubbed this maneuver the “Primakov Loop.”)

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explains to the media why he respected his predecessor’s decision to engage in what became known as the “Primakov Loop.”

Following this, Primakov began formulating his eponymous doctrine. Realizing that Russia could not match the U.S. in a military fight, he sought to undermine and sap America’s ability to project hegemonic power globally by using diplomacy and Russia’s soft power. Primakov looked at creating “strategic triangles” that would link Russian power with two other states in new political, military, and economic alliances.

Thus, Primakov sought to create a Russia-China-India axis. However, at the same time, Putin became enamored of adapting this concept intended for dealing with China and India, and wanted to apply it toward the creation of a Russia-Germany-France triangle. Putin intended this Moscow-Berlin-Paris axis to be a counterweight to the Anglo-American dominance in Europe. Remember: a key tenet of Russian foreign policy today is to keep Russia’s enemies to its West divided, in order to prevent the U.S. from bringing its full power to bear against the Russians. Therefore, removing Germany and France from America’s orbit would be a major strategic victory for Putin.

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For years, Putin has advocated for a multi-polar world in which the U.S. was but one of many power centers.

Of course, this was merely a pipe dream of both Primakov and Putin until the George W. Bush Administration invaded Iraq in 2003. Samuel Ramani writes, “As Putin’s political ally and foreign policy aide, Primakov’s scathing opposition to the reckless exercise of American hegemony converged closely with Putin’s.” He further adds that, Primakov’s “resistance to what many viewed as the most gratuitous act of US imperialism in modern times, won him plaudits in the Kremlin and cemented his powerful role as a Russian policymaker.” In fact, according to Ramani, “Russia’s steadfast opposition to the extension of the 2011 Libyan mission to the complete overthrow of Gaddafi and to any efforts to undermine Bashar Al-Assad’s leadership position in Syria were born out of Primakov’s doctrine of recalcitrance towards Western regime-change efforts.”

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Therefore, given everything that has gone on in the world these last few years, it should not be that much of a stretch that the Putin regime has embraced at least a core component of the Primakov Doctrine. Indeed, as I have argued repeatedly, Vladimir Putin is a nominal follower of Neo-Eurasianism. The man most credited with creating Neo-Eurasianism is gonzo Russian geostrategist, Alexander Dugin. And, Dugin has spoken approvingly of Primakov’s call for the crafting of strategic triangles as a means of reducing American hegemony. In fact, Dugin’s own book on Neo-Eurasianism insists that Russia break apart NATO and weaken the EU by forcing a strategic realignment between Russia, Germany, and France.

The real question, then, is how open to a strategic realignment away from the U.S. and toward Russia are Germany and France? The answer may just shock you.

On the face of it, there is no real reason for either Germany or France to abandon its beneficial relationship with the U.S. in favor of Russia. After all, the U.S. and France purportedly share common goals and history. And, Germany owes much to the U.S. for its assistance and support throughout the Cold War. However, there is actually historical precedent for such a change. Furthermore, there are significant changes occurring in both countries that just might force a strategic realignment. While France is a strut in this triangle, the key for Moscow to prompt Germany and France to make this turn lies squarely in Berlin.

Germany is the most powerful economy in the European Union. It certainly is the strongest exporting state within the customs union. What’s more, Germany is a top-tier trading partner for the Russians. Even in spite of the economic sanctions directed against the Russian Federation, several large German businesses are finding creative ways of circumventing those limitations on trade with Russia. Why? Because the Russian market has far too much potential for larger corporations (i.e. Siemens) to simply ignore. Also, while Germany has spent considerable time diversifying its energy portfolio, Germany just cannot seem to fully kick its addiction to Russian natural gas. In fact, Germany has encouraged the establishing of a major new pipeline between Russia and Germany, despite the fact that Germany claims to honor the sanctions imposed upon Russia’s economy following their unlawful annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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Courtesy of Bloomberg.

Vladimir Putin has always had a soft spot for the Germans (and so too do a majority of Russians). When Putin was a young KGB officer, he was assigned as a counterintelligence officer in East Germany in 1985 (he worked out of Dresden). While there, Putin came to appreciate certain German traits, such as the discipline, work ethic, efficiency, and punctuality of most Germans (of course, this was far more rigid in the Communist East Germany than it was in the liberal West Germany). Putin learned to speak German there as well, only furthering his appreciation of German culture. He came to love the food, the people, the language, and the German arts. He even sent his children to a German school in Moscow when he became President of Russia. Furthermore, Putin’s nickname in 1990 was nemets,” or “the German.” Given the high esteem a majority of Russians in post-Cold War Russia hold Germans in, one can see that Putin’s nickname is meant as a great compliment. In Russia, Germans are associated with politeness, professionalism, and the finer things in life (for example, German luxury cars are the preferred vehicles of most Russian elites). So, the Russians have slowly become Germanophiles…which, historically, is the norm.

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German citizens supporting Russo-German relations.

Remember, after all, Russians and the German-speaking peoples (especially the Prussians) stood together in opposition to Napoleon. Carl von Clausewitz, the father of modern Western military theory, fought in the Russian Army during the Napoleonic Wars. His experiences fighting for the Russians against the French directly inspired his classic treatise on military theory, “On War.” A large number of Russian foreign ministers in the pre-Communist period were also Germans by birth. And, although French was the language of international diplomacy during that period, it was Germans who the Tsar favored to represent Russia in several foreign capitals.

The Russians greatly appreciated Germany’s Otto von Bismarck, the father of Realpolitik. It was Bismarck who fathered the modern German state. Bismarck was also the man who insisted that Germany forge extremely close ties with Russia, in order to avoid being boxed in by neighboring (and hostile) France and Russia. In fact, Bismarck’s dismissal by the hotheaded Kaiser Wilhelm II was a key reason for why Russia ended up as an enemy of Germany’s in WWI.

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Otto von Bismarck.

In terms of the Communist period of Russian history, it is important to note that the Germans were instrumental in moving Vladimir Lenin and his Communists from exile in Europe into Russia. The train that carried Lenin and his cadre from their exile was chartered by the German government. The train had picked Lenin and his top advisers from Switzerland and, on its way to Russia, stopped over in Berlin, where German intelligence operatives delivered supplies and money to the Communist revolutionary. Lenin himself was German by birth. In fact, Karl Marx, the father of Communism, was himself German. The reason that Germany supported Lenin was due to the fact that they wanted to destabilize the Russian Empire from within, put Lenin and his Communists in charge, and then force them to surrender in WWI. Of course, Lenin had other ideas.

During the Interwar years, Germany had secretly worked with the Soviet Union to illegally develop arms. German factories were built in Russia, where advanced weapons were built and tested. Indeed, Germany and Russia entered into the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that essentially created a militarist alliance between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia (despite the fact that Adolf Hitler was viscerally opposed to Communism). This alliance held strong from 1939 until 1942, when Hitler launched an ill-advised surprise invasion of the USSR that eventuated in the Nazi’s ultimate defeat in 1945.

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A cartoon mocking the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact signed in 1939.

And, after having endured as a partitioned state; after existing as a mere battleground between the nuclear superpowers of the U.S. and the USSR, the Germans returned to their positive relations with the Russians after the Cold War ended. There are many reasons for this. One of them was that Germans felt a degree of gratitude toward Gorbachev for his perceived desire to end the Cold War and remove Soviet forces from German lands. He was also credited for not trying to keep Germany divided by force. Meanwhile, Boris Yeltsin had a very close friendship with the German leader, Helmut Kohl. So, too, did Putin with Kohl’s successor, Gerard Schröder. German trade with Russia in the post-Cold War era was absolutely vital for the modernization of the Russian economy.

Also, a strain of anti-Americanism runs through the Russian, German, and French political cultures. Germany under Schröder was steadfastly opposed to President George W. Bush’s Iraq War. Russia, as mentioned earlier, was also threatened by this. And, as I’ve noted, France has been insistent on restraining American hegemony (or, hyperpuissance) so as to better position France as an independent power center away from America.

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Meanwhile, France and Germany are closely connected through trade (and they were the two primary movers for the formation of the European Union). Both states are closely linked to Russia as well. These factors coalesced in 2003 and allowed for France, Russia, and Germany to coordinate a highly effective effort to diplomatically isolate the U.S. in the run-up to the Iraq War. These efforts did not prevent the Iraq War from happening, but they did do irreparable damage to the transatlantic alliance.

But, Putin recognized that it was through Germany that he could get France to pivot away from the West and toward him. Or, as Hans Kudani wrote in 2015:

“a post-Western Germany could take much of the rest of Europe with it, particularly those central and Eastern European countries with economies that are deeply intertwined with Germany’s. If the United Kingdom leaves the EU, as it is now debating, the union will be even more likely to follow German preferences, especially as they pertain to Russia and China. In that event, Europe could find itself at odds with the United States–and the West could suffer a schism from which it might never recover.”

Well, as I predicted, Brexit has happened. And, now, it would appear as though France is deciding whether it will turn toward nationalistic-populism. Germany is still suffering through its own bout of nationalistic-populism, as well. These two events could potentially undermine the pro-Western–or Atlanticist–consensus that has dominated since the Cold War. Should that happen, Russia would most assuredly benefit from such a move.

First, it must be noted that Russia is not responsible for the creation of these nationalistic-populist movements breaking out across Europe. Neither Marine Le Pen nor Frauke Petry in Germany are Russian agents of influence. This meme created by the Democratic-Globalists in the West needs to stop. By their very nature, nationalistic-populist movements are organic. The most successful ones are able to grab a hold of their publics’ imaginations by speaking favorably about matters with which many agree. Now, that does not mean that nationalistic-populist movements and their leaders are overwhelmingly popular. What it does mean is that they are just popular enough to galvanize the right number of people that can fundamentally transform their country’s politics.

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The nationalistic-populist movements sweeping across the West (in this case, Europe) are responses on the part of many native-born Europeans to what they view as negative trends in their countries. For starters, general European fertility rates have plummeted since at least the 1970s. This has only been compounded by the massive increase in immigrants from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa–three regions of the world that share no common culture with European states (other than having been largely colonized by European powers at one time in history). To compound matters (though most Europeans fail to acknowledge this fact), the majority of European states are Social Democracies and, as such, they favor increasingly high levels of taxation, regulation, and centralization of authority. This, then, discourages private sector growth, depresses employment, disincentivizes wealth creation, and has allowed for the creation of expansive cradle-to-grave Welfare states.

The precipitous decline in population has further compounded the crisis of the European Welfare State, as there are now more people retiring and going on the public dole than there are enough workers to replace it. Even if there were enough workers to replace those retiring Baby Boomers, the staggering unemployment levels and anemic economic growth levels in most European states (particularly countries like France) mean that the ability to fund the sprawling Welfare State is a nearly impossible task.

Many European states–Germany and France notably among them–looked to their former colonies in the Mideast, South Asia, and Africa to replace their lost workers. However, these immigrants rarely share European values. What’s more, in places like France especially, integrating these immigrants proves nearly impossible, due to the host government’s Politically Correct immigration policies (that purposely neglect to integrate the immigrants into the larger French body politic), as well as because many of the native-born Europeans are suspicious of the immigrants. The native-born understandably fear that these immigrants will steal their jobs and take away their entitlements, since immigrants are allowed access to the already overburdened Welfare State.

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Dismal growth projections for the EU.

Between the Great Recession of 2008 and its aftermath, as well as the exponential increase in immigration into Europe, many Europeans are questioning the wisdom of remaining in the Democratic-Globalist camp. The EU, while experiencing a return to positive growth rates, are barely reaching 1.5% growth (which is not that good). Meanwhile, the open borders policies of the EU (for trade purposes, initially) have become the unhinged door through which ceaseless (and increasing) scores of Muslim refugees, “temporary” workers, and illegal immigrants have crossed into. As a corollary, Angela Merkel’s open-hearted (though, likely soft-headed) appeal to allow as many refugees to stay in Germany who can get there has also exacerbated much of the political instability in Europe today.

Throughout this period, the nationalistic-populist fronts in both Germany and France have only grown more popular. Throw in the fact that the EU is the poster-child for Globalization (despite having a massive external tariff which, I have been told is against the laws of global capitalism), and you can see the disparity of economic hope in places like France and also Germany. The EU has been very good about orienting itself as a leader in the post-industrial “Knowledge” economy. In France, for instance, the cosmopolitan metropolises are the hotbeds of employment and productive economic activity (this is true also of Germany). However, most Blue-Collar, industrial, manufacturing jobs have gone away, leaving scores of people in the countryside twisting in the wind. These trends have only been exacerbated in recent years by government policies.

The “old” middle class in these countries have become the (strengthening) backbone of the nationalistic-populist movements negatively reacting to the status quo in both French and German politics. The Kremlin has closely monitored these trends and deftly played the irrevocably changing political landscapes in both Germany and France to its advantage. Therefore, it is unfair to claim that Russia is responsible for the rise in nationalistic-populist movements. However, it is completely fair to state that Russia not only benefits from the continued success of these movements, but also, likely, indirectly lends assistance to these movements. After all, they have a shared goal of ending the postwar international liberal order.

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Putin believes that multipolar world would benefit Russia.

Indeed, in the case of Brexit, Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party, and the AfD in Germany, disparate Russian elements have lent assistance to these causes in very minimal ways. For Brexit, several Russian expatriates living in the United Kingdom gave financial support and expressed political support for the Brexit movement (though, in many cases, these were the children of wealthy Russian oligarchs attending university in the UK). Marine Le Pen has famously met with Vladimir Putin and refused to speak out against Russian revanchism. Lastly, Putin also met with the former AfD candidate for German Chancellor, Frauke Petry. Also, a smattering of mid-level AfD leaders are said to have accepted money from sources connected to Russian intelligence entities. Then, of course, there is the ceaseless Russian information war being waged upon the West, as well as the never-ending tale of Russian cyber espionage directed against Democratic-Globalist political leaders.

Putin is especially concentrating his efforts on France, due to their ongoing presidential election, as well as in Germany, because of its impending elections and the fact that Germany is essential to his aims at achieving a strategic rebalancing of Germany and France away from the West and toward Russia. In the case of France, Putin believes that Marine Le Pen will initiate a French exit of the EU, thereby further neutering the potency of the West’s “threat” to Russia’s western periphery. It is also believed that if a “Frexit” were to occur, then the EU would truly become a German-dominated entity. And, if an Alternative Right-wing candidate could rise to power in Germany, the EU would be friendlier with Russia. In all likelihood, should that occur, Eastern European members of the EU (such as Poland), as well as the Nordic states would breakaway, as they are most threatened by Russian revanchism. Thus, the EU would truly disband. And, I believe, Putin hopes that he could swoop in and craft his strategic triangle by formally enmeshing the nationalistic-populist Germany and France into an alliance.

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These are the stakes of the current French presidential election as well as the impending German elections. However, how threatened is America by these changes? After all, as evidenced during the Iraq War, when both Germany and France were run by “Eurocrats” like Gerard Schröder and Jacques Chirac, respectively, they still acted contrary to American interests at that time. An especially pernicious strain of anti-Americanism has run through French politics since at least the time of Charles de Gaulle. Meanwhile, Germany has always held anti-hegemony sentiments toward both the United States and the UK. In fact, there is likely a bipartisan consensus in both Germany and France that is opposed to the perpetuation of the American colossus (see, Robert Kagan’s Of Paradise and Power” for more on this view, please). By the way, as articulated above, this is a consensus shared by the majority of the Russian leadership as well.

Writing on the French-Russia connection, Marcel H. Van Herpen wrote:

“Like Putin. Chirac declared himself to be in favor of a ‘multipolar world.’ Both men were convinced that a multipolar world, instead of bringing instability, would foster peace.”

Not only did Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin share Yevgeny Primakov’s grand vision of a multipolar international order designed at reining in Anglo-American hegemony, but so too, did Chirac’s successor, Nikolas Sarkozy. A man who ran for the French presidency vowing a turn away from Russia and a rapprochement with the U.S.; who vowed to make human rights the centerfold of his presidency, ended up being a sharp practitioner of Realpolitik. The Sarkozy-Putin alliance began in the weeks after the unlawful Russian invasion of Georgia, when Sarkozy was charged with the task of negotiating a settlement of the crisis. When Sarkozy, a foreign policy novice, met with the Vladimir Putin/Dmitri Medvedev “tandem” in Moscow, he ended up not only abandoning his role as representative of the West (in favor of merely representing French interests), but he ended up acquiescing to a sweetheart settlement deal for the Russians, in exchange for lucrative French business contracts with Russia.

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Bosom Buddies: French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin.

Who says Marine Le Pen is the only French political leader to strictly adhere to French national interests?

Following this, several French policymakers and analysts applauded Sarkozy’s spate of new deals with Russia (including the selling of advanced weapons and military craft). Philippe Migault of the French think-tank, IRIS, claimed these deals would “open a new diplomatic era in Europe.” He believed that a Russia-Germany-France axis “without London” (because it was “subservient to Washington”)  would not only “make sense, but it would permit to exercise an even greater influence internationally.” What’s more, there was historical significance here: from 1892-1917, there existed the Franco-Russian alliance that helped to inform European politics for 25 years.

By 2013, the budding Russia-European condominium seemed inevitable. However, in the short term, Putin’s plan of building a Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union that ran from Vladivostok to Lisbon was complicated by the loss of Ukraine. This explains why he insisted on invading Ukraine and threatening greater war with Europe. This, then, distanced both Germany and France. However, as time has progressed, and as the underlying economic, demographic, and immigration concerns in both France and Germany moved to the forefront of domestic politics in both countries, Russia seems poised to gain significantly from the rise of nationalistic-populists there.

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Marine Le Pen and Vladimir Putin.

But, this is a foolish assumption. After all, the future is never written in stone. Yes, Moscow seems likely to be the greatest foreign beneficiary of the potential rebalancing of Germany and France away from the Anglo-American-dominated West. And, yes, there is historical precedence for this event. Also, it is true that there are underlying ethnocultural tensions bubbling to the surface–primarily in the form of classical Franco-German dislike of the Anglo-Saxon world. Yet, as history has proven, these are cyclical patterns. What’s more, if history is a guide, Russia is unlikely to benefit from these trends.

The fact is that Marine Le Pen in France is a nationalist, which means that it is unlikely she will be a shill for any foreign state. Sure, like the Paleoconservatives in the U.S. today, she disfavors viewing Russia as a threat (choosing instead to focus on the immediate threat of Islamic terrorism), however, that does not mean she will blindly support policies that will be to Russia’s benefit. After all, how many in the West have argued that President Donald J. Trump in the U.S. is a Putin stooge? How many were floored when Trump’s UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, took to the UN and called Russia out for its sovereignty violations? Or when Trump himself tweeted that Crimea was taken unlawfully by Russia and must be returned? Or when the Trump Administration bombed Russia’s client, Bashar al-Assad, in Syria? Trump perceived Russian actions and intentions as being inimical to America’s national interests. Who is to say that potential French President Marine Le Pen will not “turn” on Putin in a similar way?

As for Germany, while the business community continues to clamor for a cessation of the sanctions regime against Putin, the German government seems to support the American-backed sanctions. What’s more, in recent weeks, the AfD has imploded. Thus, the only real threat to the Merkel-ites on the German mainstream Right are the Social Democrats, and they are also unlikely to be Putin cronies.

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With the removal of party leader, Frauke Petry, as the next candidate for German Chancellor, the AfD has likely negated its rise.

Still, though, the diminution of the EU due to a Frexit and/or a serious German pivot toward neighboring Russia would be profoundly destabilizing for both the international economy, as well as American foreign policy–in the short term. Russia is undoubtedly poised to capitalize on any further split within the EU. But, the attractiveness of the U.S. economy as a trading partner is far greater than that of the Russians. Furthermore, the presence of a fellow practitioner of realpolitik, Donald Trump, and the fact that Trump seems disinterested in forcing American hegemony upon either the French or Germans, indicates that Putin would be sorely disappointed with his “strategic triangle.” After all, there have been several points in the diplomatic histories of Russia, Germany, and France, in which all three states believed their mutual alliances would provide the necessary push for dividing Europe away from the Anglo-American world. These attempts all failed. History has a way of repeating itself.

After all, in 2003, John C. Hulsman made the excellent assertion that,

“The Continental Europe of today […] remains divided into Gaullist and Atlanticist camps […] A Europe of many voices, where the nation-state is again seen as the primary unit of foreign policy decision-making, will best suit American interests well into the future.”

There can be no doubt, however, that Putin is agitating for the creation of his Moscow-Berlin-Paris strategic triangle. He is also trying to move Rome, Athens, and several smaller European states into this proposed concert’s orbit. If that were to occur, it would be under the aegis of an “anti-Atlanticist” political movement that would swear fealty to neighboring Russia. The Primakov Doctrine is most definitely in effect in Moscow and Putin’s efforts are being aided by the natural political changes occurring in the West.

The EU’s collapse, I believe, is inevitable and the U.S. should not seek to stop it from happening. However, the U.S. must try and soften the landing. It must do so in order to buy time for the international economy to be better able to withstand the shocks, and for the U.S. foreign policy community to craft better policies that will allow for the U.S. push its agenda forward effectively. Also, as I argued in my recent (apparently controversial) talk at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., the key line that America must straddle is a) punishing Russia for its unlawful aggression, b) managing the decline of the EU, and c) ensuring that Russia does not completely collapse due to onerous sanctions. The prevention of a Moscow-Berlin-Paris strategic triangle will be key. But, it will also be important to prevent the complete dissolution of the Russian Federation.

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