Editor's Note: German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with U.S. President Barack Obama on Feb. 9 to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, as well as other issues such as nuclear talks with Iran and Greece's financial turmoil. In the news conference afterward, the two leaders announced that sanctions on Russia would remain in place and that the two countries would work with the International Monetary Fund to provide financial support to Kiev. Obama said he has not made a decision on providing weapons to the Ukrainian military, a move the German government opposes out of fear that it could lead to an escalation of the conflict. The dilemma sheds light on Berlin's struggle to balance between its military and political alliance with the United States and its political and economic ties with Russia.
While Merkel and Obama met, the European Union postponed the implementation of new sanctions against Russia until Feb. 16 to wait for the outcome of the summit between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine scheduled for Feb. 11. Germany is trying to protect its leadership of the European Union and keep the Continental bloc together at a time when countries such as Cyprus, Austria, Italy and Greece see sanctions against Moscow as counterproductive. Stratfor has been closely tracking how Germany manages its ties with the United States and Russia. Included below are analyses that chronicle the developments in Berlin's relationships with Washington and Moscow.
June 18, 2013: Germany's geographic position at the heart of Europe forces Berlin to formulate a multifaceted foreign policy. It must balance its military, political and economic alliance with the United States against its energy ties with Russia, Berlin's largest natural gas supplier. This balancing act often creates friction between U.S. and German leaders, but both countries are interested in developing stronger economic ties.
June 7, 2014: The Europeans will continue to threaten Russia with sanctions to pressure Moscow to help implement the Geneva agreement on eastern Ukraine. An important reason is that Germany has prioritized strategic commercial deals with Russia and is reluctant to see relations deteriorate further. Yet with the German public and other European countries calling for greater energy freedom from Russia, it will become more difficult for Berlin to defend stronger ties with Russia.
July 15, 2014: On July 13, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met to calm tensions between the United States and Germany brought about by alleged U.S. espionage in Germany. The allegations spawned weeks of friction at a time when Germany had begun reshaping its foreign policy, seeking a balance between its military and political ties with the United States and its trade and energy ties with Russia.
Nov. 9, 2014: For the past century and a half, European history has revolved around the "German question." That is, how to deal with a powerful and assertive Germany at the heart of the continent. Germany originated from fragmentation: It was repeatedly defeated, invaded and occupied. And yet it continually reemerged, each time forcing its neighbors to deal with the same conundrum. 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europeans are once again dealing with a powerful Germany and wondering what it will do next.
Nov. 19, 2014: German officials confirmed that one of the country's diplomats in Moscow was expelled in retaliation for Germany's expulsion of a Russian diplomat from the consulate in Bonn, reportedly on the grounds that the official was involved in espionage. Despite this, Germany's goal is to maintain its ties with Russia, avoid more significant EU sanctions on the Russian economy and ensure that a cease-fire is maintained in eastern Ukraine. While German leaders will continue taking calculated steps to censure the Kremlin, as long as Russian-backed separatists do not significantly expand the territories under their control, Germany will avoid taking concrete measures that would further harm its commercial and political relationship with Russia.
Dec. 9, 2014: In an interview with Welt am Sonntag, German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused Russia of "creating problems" for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, all of which are currently pursuing closer ties to the European Union. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by saying that Moscow is "concerned with the behavior of German leaders" and called on Berlin to play a more constructive role regarding the European Union's ties to Russia.
These rhetorical attacks are merely the latest incident in what has been a steady deterioration of relations between Russia and the West this year as a result of the crisis in Ukraine. But they also underline Germany's unique role in the crisis — as both the only European country that can put serious weight behind the European Union's moves in the former Soviet periphery and the key country in negotiations with Russia to reach a potential settlement.
Jan. 27, 2015: Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, recently visited Kiev, where he promised that a small number of Army trainers would deploy in Ukraine shortly. This weekend, Stars and Stripes published an interview with Hodges in which he announced that the United States is making preparations to pre-position equipment in Europe, including armor, other vehicles and logistical support material. Some of the equipment will be stored in Germany. Since delivering equipment is time consuming and moving troops is much faster, the time for a U.S. response to an escalation in Ukraine will be dramatically reduced.