Following the poisoning of Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that the Kremlin critic was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to murder him.
Navalny’s Current Status
Navalny remains in intensive care in a Berlin hospital, but if Merkel’s claims are true, then this is the same nerve agent that was used during the Salisbury killings in 2018.
The German Chancellor said she expects Russian President Vladimir Putin to explain himself and that Germany would consult its NATO allies about how to respond, raising the prospect of new Western sanctions on Moscow, which would cause Russian asset prices to tumble.
Merkel Has Taken a Tough Stance Toward Russia
Considering this is one of many incidents that have occurred since Putin became President of Russia in 2000, Merkel is right to adopt a tough stance toward her Russian counterpart. Western nations must demonstrate that they will not tolerate such behavior and that there will be consequences.
The White House said that the use of Novichok was “completely reprehensible” and that the US would work with its allies to hold Russia accountable.
Britain and France stated that they also oppose the substance being used to poison Putin’s opponents.
Germany is Vulnerable to Russia Because of Nord Stream 2
Despite this, the German Chancellor must remember that her country is vulnerable to Russia for many reasons. There will be pressure on Merkel to cancel a multi-billion pound pipeline with Putin known as Nord Stream 2.
US President Donald Trump has already threatened any nation that complies with the construction of Nord Stream 2 with sanctions, which leaves the German Chancellor in a difficult place as Germany could suffer either way.
Nord Stream 2 is thought to be 94 percent completed and canceling it will have negative economic consequences. The project will cost €9.5 billion, with Moscow state-owned Gazprom providing 50 percent of the funds needed for Nord’s construction.
According to the Daily Express, the German Chancellor is unlikely to cancel Nord Stream 2 over fears of an economic rebuke.
Merkel’s Successor Must Rebuild Relations with the US
The completion of the first Nord Stream pipeline in 2012 left Germany dependent upon Russia for natural resources. Other countries that receive gas from this pipeline include France, which is why Merkel should tread carefully.
One of the first priorities of Merkel’s successor next year must be to rebuild relations with the Trump administration. A paper released by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in July discovered that poor relations between Trump and Merkel have exacerbated Berlin’s sense of exposure to potential dangers from Beijing and Moscow regarding Chinese and Russian interference.
Furthermore, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in July that of a total of 11,900 US personnel that will be leaving Germany under the US President’s proposal to pull nearly 12,000 troops out of the country, 6,400 will be returning to the US, from where they could be used for rotational deployments in eastern Europe and around the globe, while 5,600 will be re-positioned to other NATO states.
Pulling US Troops Out of Germany Could Prove to be a Mistake
Trump may be right to argue that Germany has not been meeting its NATO spending targets, but his decision weakens Germany’s defenses against Putin. There is no reason why Europe’s most successful economy cannot afford to meet its NATO commitments, particularly if poverty-stricken Greece has been meeting its NATO targets since 2006.
If Trump wins in November, Merkel’s successor would be wise to commit Germany to meeting its NATO commitments if they are serious about preventing Moscow from posing a threat to their country.
Though Merkel’s stance toward Putin is welcome, her actions will be limited by external factors that leave Germany exposed to the threat Russia poses to Europe. Sanctions have so far had little effect on Putin’s government. Until they damage the heart of Russia’s economy, the Russian President knows that he can continue to get away with actions like poisoning his opponents — for now.