Putin also understands the fragility of the EU’s accomplishments beyond western Europe. EU bureaucrats and German diplomats don’t think culture matters as they build a multicultural and cosmopolitan New Europe from Dublin to Dubrovnik and from Sweden to Sicily. Putin thinks they are wrong, and when he looks at current conditions in Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy and Spain he sees the full confirmation of his theory. Europe, he believes, is not a country–and even if it were, it is not a German country.
Germany, he believes, is trying to build a Europe in defiance of the facts–and Germany lacks both the resources and the will to push this project indefinitely as its difficulties grow. Germany will not, Putin may well believe, find a way to turn the euro disaster around. The south will continue to fester and stew under an increasingly hateful and damaging system. Germany will also not be able to turn the Balkans into an orderly and quiet garden of Nordic and Teutonic virtues.
The key to Putin’s thinking is that he is betting less on Russian strength than on German and therefore Western weakness. In opposing the consolidation of a German Europe, he is betting on German failure more than he is betting on Russian success. The goal of Russian policy in Ukraine, for example, is not to create a new Ukraine in Russia’s image. It is not to conquer Ukraine–but to demonstrate that the East is indigestible. Germany cannot save Ukraine or organize Ukraine. It doesn’t have the money, the military culture or the political skills to convert this particular sow’s ear into the silk purse of a North Atlantic market democracy. Germany cannot save Ukraine when the price of oil is at $100 per barrel; it cannot save Ukraine when the price of oil is $25 per barrel.
But if Germany cannot save Ukraine at any price of oil, it also cannot reform Greece, Italy and Spain at any value of the euro. Putin doesn’t see his job as one of building up a powerful force to counter a rising Germany. He sees his job as being able to take advantage of the coming failures and catastrophes of what he believes to be the grandiose and unsustainable Western project in Europe.