AMAC Exclusive by Herald Boas
While the world is fixated on events in Afghanistan, the Biden administration’s apparent incompetence has led to another setback, the consequences of which have hardly yet been felt—but if history is any guide, it might add up to major problems for America and NATO.
Earlier this year, President Biden came under fire from both sides of the political aisle for waiving sanctions on Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline that will run from Russia to Germany. The project is unpopular in the U.S for political reasons having to do with Germany, a NATO ally, becoming unnecessarily vulnerable to economic blackmail by Russia. It’s also unpopular in Central Europe and Ukraine (which the pipeline will bypass) for geoeconomics reasons. Former President Trump famously opposed the project, and just this week, Senate Republicans put up an ad attacking Biden on his decision to withdraw Trump’s policy blocking it.
Many Americans may be puzzled why Germany would wish to make itself energy dependent on Russia. But history reminds us this is not the first time Russia and Germany have made a controversial agreement that shocked their allies and served their own interests to the detriment of everybody else. In fact, they have done it repeatedly.
This Monday, August 23rd, will mark the 82nd anniversary of one of the most disreputable deals ever entered into between two nations. Just days before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the two murderous dictators of Europe, Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, signed a nonaggression agreement, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The world was stunned that these two countries, implacable enemies, would make common cause. But the episode was only the latest in a series of troublesome German-Russian deals that threatened the peace and security of the world.
The trend began near the end of the First World War. The German Kaiser and his military high command had sent the Marxist leader Vladimir Lenin to Russia from Switzerland on a secret train to lead a revolution against Czar Nicholas II, whose Russian army had tied up Germany and its allies on the eastern front of the war. The gambit worked, and months later, Leon Trotsky, representing the new Soviet regime, signed the famed Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, taking Russia out of the war. But the strategy came too late for Germany, which had run out of resources, and the war ended with its defeat.
But soon after Germany’s defeat in World War I, only 15 years before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and before Hitler and Stalin were in power, the two nations had made another alliance which enabled them to restore their military and economic capabilities after being devastated by World War I. This forgotten agreement in many ways set the stage for the conflict to come.
Germany and Russia were the biggest outcasts following the Armistice in 1918 — Germany because many blamed it for starting the war, and Russia because it was a communist state. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 made it difficult for the new Weimar Republic of Germany, weighed down by heavy reparations, to obtain needed food and other supplies. Russia was left isolated because it posed an ideological threat to the Western democracies and lacked technological and manufacturing resources.
In 1922, with the Bolshevik victory in Russia completed and Lenin in power, the Marxist leader sent his able foreign minister Georgi Chicherin to Genoa, Italy where the victorious war allies were meeting. Secretly, Chicherin negotiated a treaty of economic and diplomatic cooperation at nearby Rapallo, Italy with German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau. When the treaty was publicly announced, it deeply upset the allied leaders meeting in Genoa. Those leaders would have been even more disturbed if they had known about the Russo-German military part of the deal that was kept secret.
In effect, the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo enabled Russian food and needed supplies to be sent to Germany where they were badly needed. In return, Germany sent military technology and equipment to Russia. Russia also provided the German army, limited in size and capability by the Versailles Treaty, with secret venues at which it could train its soldiers and test its military equipment — a direct violation of the peace agreement.
The Russian-German treaty was expanded and reaffirmed in 1923 and 1926, and continued in effect until 1933, when Hitler, virulently anti-Soviet, came to power in Germany. By that time, Stalin had solidified his own power in Russia and was preoccupied with purging his domestic enemies, real and imagined. Both dictators despised each other and the opposing regime, but only six years later, eager to carve up Poland, they found it diabolically advantageous to sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that led directly to World War II.
But even the memory of bitter fighting during World War II and the resentment between Russia and Germany during the Cold War was not enough to separate these two nations forever, as their Nord Stream 2 cooperation shows. Once again, the world is wary of the potential fallout from the partnership.
It is a curious phenomenon that Germany and Russia — two nations that historically have so often been opposed ideologically, militarily, and strategically — have nevertheless found it to their mutual advantage to make deals over the last century with such far reaching economic, military, and diplomatic implications. Many of these Russian-German agreements have altered the course of European and world history, shocking neighbors and allies alike. Anyone who is surprised or puzzled today by the Germans’ desire to make a pipeline deal with their supposed Russian adversaries should not be.