Russia after Merkel: Will the volatility with the West continue?

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel will hand over power after elections in September after 16 years as the head of government. She has functioned exceptionally well as the leader of the federal republic and the world’s fourth-largest economy and Europe’s largest. While the entire world applauds Mrs. Merkel for her hard work and innovation, there are concerns about how her absence will affect Russia’s relationship with the West.

Angela Merkel & Vladmir Putin

Russia has been portrayed in the western media as an aggressor. This is mainly done by objectifying Vladimir Putin as an autocrat who wants to destabilize Ukraine and other new EU member states on the eastern fringes. These trends go back to the 1990s when Russia provide cheap energy to most of these countries. The move towards consolidating a pro-European identity saw many of these countries seek to break away from Russia’s influence.

Crimea became an issue of contention and Russia stamped its authority in the region, thereby placing it in the negative eye of the European Union. In all of this, one person who acted as a unifier was Angela Merkel. Her background as a person who grew in East Germany and spoke Russian made her a major influencer in this conflict, which threatened to commence a new Cold War. Mrs. Merkel was able to broker so many deals with Russia for win-win outcomes and this culminated in many positive acts that helped prevent further chaos and limit armed conflict in the region.

Risk of Russia using the Nord Stream Pipeline as a Weapon after Merkel

Russia has access to unlimited quantities of cheap energy. This was the catalyst for the Nord Stream Pipeline that was commissioned in 2011 to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany. The relative cost effectiveness of the natural gas from Russia makes it a major source of energy that cannot be rivaled.

Angela Merkel played a leading role in the shuttle diplomacy that caused the pipeline to be launched. She was able to negotiate and ask for calm any time Russia and its western neighbors had any form of strife. This kind of conflict often happens in the form of Russia trying to infiltrate either through ethnic Russians in these countries like Ukraine or by seeking influence through Russian-connected oligarchs. In all such situations, Angela Merkel was able to step in and negotiate.

However, after Angela Merkel steps down, there are questions about what will really happen if Russia tries to flex its muscles through the Nord Stream Pipeline.

Will it lead to blackmail?

Or will Europe try to look for alternatives?

All of these raise various levels of concern to different stakeholders.

Ukraine’s Desires in a Post-Merkel Era

The people of Ukraine seek more guarantees that Russia will not abuse its leverage over Germany’s political system. This is based on the fact that the chief mediator, Angela Merkel will not hold any political power after she hands over. Therefore, they need more assurance that Russia will be kept in check.

Ukraine still seeks NATO membership and support to build their military against Russia. This could be a possible solution they could use to prevent Russia from taking advantage of their supply of gas to Germany.

All this while, Germany has appeared to be uninterested in taking sides. However, when tensions rise and there is no credible face of mediation like Angela Merkel, there might be some extremist politicization of the matter and this could see Germany taking sides for or against one of the two countries – Russia or Ukraine.

Geostrategic Forecast

The way this conflict will turn out depends on who becomes Chancellor of Germany after Mrs. Merkel. A pro-establishment candidate might want to give in to Russia’s demands and turn a blind eye on Ukraine. A pro-European candidate might want to upgrade Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, move further west and even encourage their NATO membership.

In all cases, this will depend on the new chancellor of Germany and how Vladimir Putin will react to the changes that may come up. Angela Merkel will always be behind the scenes and can play some diplomatic roles in mediation, however, her authority will always be secondary to other needs and demands of the leaders of Germany.

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