Wolfgang Münchau

    How Russia wins

    The Kremlin’s EU gamble seems to be working

    How Russia wins
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    It is still too early to predict the outcome of the war in Ukraine. Russia has certainly solidified its position in the east and is making small military gains. What's become clear over the last few days is that Russia may, after all, be able to achieve at least some of its military goals.

    Here is an interesting, albeit disturbing, political scenario by Sabine Fischer, a senior fellow at a German foreign policy tank. She notes that the mood in Moscow itself has shifted. It is the Kremlin’s political calculation that the western nations will not sustain their massive financial and military support for Ukraine. 

    The longer the war drags on, the more tired Europe will become. By the autumn, just before the start of the winter, the Europeans' priority will be to secure gas from Vladimir Putin. The Russian read-out of the telephone conversion with Karl Nehammer, the Austrian Chancellor, says that Putin has reaffirmed Russia’s contractual obligations with regard to gas supplies. When Mario Draghi called, Putin even went further: he guaranteed fail-safe natural gas supplies to Italy at contractual prices. Putin deals with EU leaders one at a time. Not much there has changed.

    This idea of shifting priorities seems like a reasonable calculation from the Kremlin. Fischer goes further by combining these observations with potential political shifts in Ukraine itself as the war drags on. If Moscow succeeds in sustaining a full occupation of the Donbas for any length of time, Russia may feel encouraged to go for Odessa and possibly Kyiv.

    They can also rely on political instability in Ukraine which may bring down the Zelensky government – because a defeat in the Donbas and possibly the annexation of the occupied territories would make them extremely unpopular in the rest of [Ukraine].

    Her comments are directed at the German government and its de facto refusal to supply arms to Ukraine. Olaf Scholz is playing a double-game, pretending to be supportive of Ukraine. Yesterday he gave a television address directed at Ukrainians in which he told them that Germany was on their side. At the same time, his office is frustrating promised weapons deliveries. Germany has not delivered any weapons since March. His comments are probably directed at the gullible German media, always pro-government, regardless of whoever is in power.

    For anyone looking at this from the outside, especially from Ukraine, the game Scholz plays is pretty obvious. The German government is prioritising its commercial relations with Russia – as it always has done – while pretending to stand with Ukraine as part of the EU and Nato's consensus. It’s the old east-west double-game that Germany has been playing since the days of Willy Brandt. The Russians are gambling that the EU will return to its political status quo: weakness caused by division between the member states.

    Now imagine for a second how this scenario would play out in the EU if Russia were to annex the Donbas and take Odessa. The political recriminations within the EU would become unbearable. The relationship between eastern European countries and Germany is ​already as bad as at any point in living memory. It would get much worse if Ukraine was even partially defeated. More people in eastern Europe would ask themselves if it is in their interest to be part of a union that is run for the commercial interests of Germany. As members of Nato, they don’t need the EU for their own security. On the contrary, EU membership binds them into policies that might be detrimental to their security interests.

    German mercantilism is unsustainable. Either German politics will bring it to an end, which it shows no signs of doing, or it will lead to the fragmentation of the EU.

    This article was first published in the EuroIntelligence morning briefing. For a trial subscription click here.