How to deal with Vladimir Putin? Political leaders in Germany and Europe are struggling for an answer. At the E.U. summit on Thursday, the French want new economic sanctions against Russia. But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel want warmer, not colder, relations. And Chancellor Angela Merkel? True to form, she’s holding back, waiting till the last minute to test the political winds.
Michael Harms, head of Germany’s Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, wants Putin and western leaders to smoke the peace pipe. “We believe there can only be a solution in Syria together with Russia,” Harms told Handelsblatt. He’s right: You don’t have to be a Putin expert to know that sanctions will only make the Russian leader more stubborn, not less. If you back him into a corner, there’s no room for a negotiating table.
First the good news: The Iraq Army, with help from U.S. forces, has freed Ramadi, Fallujah and Tikrit from the Islamic State and is marching on Mosul to liberate its 1 million inhabitants. Now the bad news: The battle for Mosul, where 5,000 ISIS insurgents are dug in, could trigger a new wave of refugees. Both sides are bracing for the worst. To combatants, Mosul residents will be collateral damage; to fathers and mothers, they are sons and daughters.
With federal elections a year away, Social Democrats are debating who from their party should challenge Angela Merkel. Chairman and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel tops the list. But other names are being tossed around like Martin Schulz, the loquacious president of the European Parliament and Olaf Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg. But don’t expect much of a power struggle. With support for the SPD at a historic low, no one is eager to become Merkel’s next victim. In this race, the spoils may go to the no-show.
You wonder whether VW CEO Matthias Müller slept well last night. Today at 8 a.m. in San Francisco, Judge Charles Breyer will announce whether he will accept a multi-billion-dollar deal to compensate U.S. buyers of a Dieselgate vehicle. VW has agreed to pay about 600,000 American customers $16.5 billion to settle civil and government claims. If the judge agrees, which is expected, Müller may want to ponder French philosopher Albert Camus’ words before nodding off tonight: “It is no shame to be happy.”