'Putin is the dealer, Germany the junkie'
As one of Russia’s biggest trading partners, Germany is well-placed to defuse the Ukraine crisis, but it has reacted coolly to suggestions of sanctions. Does its dependency on gas make it “Russia’s helper”?
Germany is Russia’s third biggest trading partner and some commentators have argued this is the reason behind Berlin trying to steer a middle course between Moscow and Washington over the Crimea crisis.
It takes 24 percent of Russia’s natural gas exports - more than any other European country - and has an 8.7 percent share of Russia’s foreign trade.
As of October 2013, investment by German companies in Russia was valued at €16 billion, according to the German Foreign Office.
Germany is also Russia’s biggest oil market taking almost 700,000 barrels a day in 2012, figures from the US Energy Information Administration show.
This has made it wary about imposing any sanctions on Russia which could harm trade or energy supplies.
The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel argued on Tuesday that Germans were Putin's "willing helpers".
Writer Malte Lehming said the country’s authorities were “wringing their hands” over the Crimea crisis and Germany's dependency on Russia for energy.
This reliance on Russian gas is only set to rise as the country attempts to turns off its nuclear power plants in a process called the Energiewende, Lehming noted.
“What is worse than the consequences of a junkie taking drugs is, for the addict to alienate his dealer," he argued. “In this set up, the dealer is Putin, the drug natural gas, and the junkie us, the Germans.
“Germany's fear of nuclear energy is Putin's lifeblood,” he argued. “This fear fattens his war fund and enables him to more than simply flex his muscles.
“Like the Germans, Ukraine is also aware of its dependence [on Russian gas] but is choosing to duck away.”
The conservative Die Welt newspaper argued on Tuesday that Putin should be showed respect.
“Those who do not show respect to Putin will achieve nothing,” it said. There is psychology behind this rather controversial statement.
“Anyone who studies Putin can see that trampling on Russian pride could be counterproductive as his entire outward self is geared towards promoting the idea of strength.
“Behind a tough outer exterior lays a desire for recognition and acceptance,” it said.
Die Welt argued that Putin was behaving like a repressed neurotic.
“He needs to be embraced. Diplomacy is like talk-therapy and more respect for Russia should start shining through current understandable outrage.”
But the paper ended on a warning to keep healthy ties with its neighbours. “Without our friends in Eastern Europe – specifically the Poles – Germany could find itself taking up a central role in this conflict.”
Spiegel Online, meanwhile, criticized the response of US President Barack Obama to the crisis.
“Obama’s weakness makes Putin strong,” it argued on Tuesday morning, noting the US President was faced with the biggest foreign policy challenge of his time in office.
It said the crisis so far had showed Putin had the initiative with Obama reacting to the Russian leader’s moves rather than the other way around.
“Obama may well have been wrong about Putin. Russia's President is not about cooperation, but spheres of influence and so the bell rings in the hour of the hawks in the USA.”
For the Süddeutsche Zeitung Putin is an autocrat raised in the Cold War world of the 20th Century but acting like it is the 19th Century.
“Where enough Russians are living, he thinks he can intervene – including in Crimea. Only Putin decides what “enough Russians” mean.
But it argued that Putin’s power games did not mean a return to the Cold War where two blocks, the West vs the East dominated.