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The recent incident involving Navalny has become a game-changer: This bizarre event has fuelled an international crisis far beyond the importance of the figure concerned. Navalny is an activist with marginal support in Russian society, and his appeal has been relatively stagnant over recent years.
There have been ample opportunities and means for Russian authorities to silence Navalny quietly, yet the prevailing thesis in Berlin is that the Kremlin attempted to assassinate one of its own citizens in a spectacular and public manner, but somehow failed.
Novichok is one of the most dangerous chemical weapons in the world, with a strong established brand name and obvious connotations in the West. Despite the supposed willingness to use a chemical agent that could have caused mass casualities and chaos at a Russian airport, we are to believe that Russian authorities decided to treat Navalny at a state hospital before approving his transfer to a German medical facility. The narrative of water bottles as the source of contamination, after Russia proved with CCTV that Navalny’s tea could not have been poisoned at the airport, only added to the absurdity. Why would Germany uncritically accept this narrative, and why is Navalny depicted as a great opposition leader that keeps Putin up at night?
Something has apparently changed following this event. While Moscow is unlikely to draw parallels between the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and Germany’s current European policies, it is evident that there is a return to history. Germany is no longer seeking to restore its political subjectivity as a middle-power in the West, rather it is leading the EU which has structured its interests in direct opposition to Russia. In its new role, Germany did not seek cooperation with Russia to resolve the Navalny case, but demanded an apology from Moscow and urged the EU to impose sanctions.
Moscow is subsequently becoming much more vocal in its criticism of Berlin and the imagery of Germany as the “good European.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even argued that diplomatic relations no longer served a purpose: “Those people who are responsible for foreign policy in the West do not understand the need for mutually respectful conversation. Probably, we should just stop communicating with them for a while.”
So, here we are. 75 years after Moscow smashed Berlin’s last attempt to dominate Europe, the Germans are back. We are a long way from the hopes of a united continent of equals, which looked possible just a quarter of a century ago.
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