The steadily improving German-Russian relations are causing panic in Washington and other western capitals. The two countries are Europe's greatest powers and the convergence of their interests is seemingly posing huge challenge to the US and may even lead to expelling it all together from the European continent.
This increasingly warm Russo-German relationship is partially attributed to the 2008 financial crisis. Indeed, the Germans have been developing economic relations with Russia since the late 1980s — before the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall — but the economic crisis which hit several EU countries, particularly Greece, forced them to reconsider their relationship with Russia.
Since the end of the Second World War, Germany's foreign policy sought to realise two key objectives: first, maintaining close ties with France — its former historical foe — and subsequently eliminate the threat of war. Germany had fought three wars with France in less than seven decades (the 1870 War, First World War, and Second World War). Its primary goal was hence not fighting another one.
Germany's second objective was to ensure economic prosperity for its people. Memories of the Great Depression, which led to the rise of militarism and Nazism, made prosperity and economic development Germany's top priority in the aftermath of the Second World War.
For over half a century, Germany's twin foreign policy pillars could be achieved through European integration. The 2008 economic crisis has shaken German confidence in the European Union as an instrument of security, stability and prosperity, however.
Indeed, the Germans are not thinking of abandoning European integration, which had given them almost seven decades of peace. They are considering other foreign policy options, nonetheless. Here, better relations with Russia appear of paramount importance.
Russia supplies Germany with nearly 40 per cent of its natural gas needs. Without Russian energy, the German economy could literally collapse. Germany, on the other hand, is Russia's only hope to realise its long-awaited dream — integration with Europe's economic and security systems.
Germany could also provide Russia with badly needed technology and expertise to develop its economy and cease to be mere exporter of primary commodities. For over a decade, Germany has been leading European opposition to the US policy of containing Russia. In the April 2009 Nato summit, which was jointly hosted by Germany and France, Berlin lobbied to initiate a new "Strategic Concept" for the military pact that would exclude Russia from being viewed as an enemy.
Furthermore, it blocked Georgia and Ukraine's application for full membership in the western security organisation.
Germany's position was appreciated in Moscow since the two former Soviet satellites have been pursuing anti-Russian polices. Germany has also opposed the establishment of a missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic by the US. Russia has for long viewed the project as a major national security threat. During the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Germany vetoed an EU resolution to impose economic sanctions against Moscow.
Germany has been rewarded with billions of dollars worth of contracts. As a result, it is outstripping China as Russia's largest economic partner. The volume of trade between the two countries has increased by 23 per cent in 2009, reaching $90 billion (Dh330.3 billion). With over 5,000 companies operating in Russia, German investments in the Russian economy exceeded $20 billion this year alone, with Siemens and Daimler being the largest investors. This economic relationship made Germany immune to Russian pressure during the gas crisis of 2008. When Russia stopped supplying Europe with gas over a dispute with Ukraine over gas prices, Germany was unaffected. Unlike the rest of the European countries, which are dependent on Russian energy, Moscow made sure that Germany received its energy needs without interruption.
The emerging German-Russian alignment is a security issue as well as an economic issue. Between 1870 and 1940 there was a three-player game in continental Europe — France, Germany and Russia. The shifting alliances between these three powers had led to war on three major occasions: 1870, 1914 and 1940. For Germany that should remain past tense.
Embracing rather than antagonising Russia has been for a while Germany's key foreign policy objective. This policy seems to have paid dividends. Russia is cooperating more on the Iran nuclear crisis; it is becoming Nato's key supply route for the Afghan war theatre and is joining the western alliance in fighting ‘terrorism'. From an American perspective, the fruit of cooperation with Russia are short-term gains. In the long run, a German-Russian alliance constitutes major threat.
Dr Marwan Al Kabalan is the Director of The Damascus Centre for Economic and Political Studies.