BERLIN — It's a strange state of affairs. Two madmen are leading two of the three greatest world powers: Donald Trump, who has turned his former TV show The Apprentice into a governing method in the White House, and Vladimir Putin, who lets himself be photographed hunting bare-chested, showing off his muscles, who eliminates critical media, and who constantly saber-rattles on the international stage.
Russia's presidential election clearly shows that the Putin era is not over yet. And his goal remains the same: "Make Russia great again." The measures deemed appropriate to achieve this goal include, among others, the destabilization of Western democracies (for instance by bombing in Syria, which has led to making every other Syrian a refugee), the annexation of Crimea, threatening Ukraine, huge military maneuvers on the eastern borders of NATO, new nuclear missiles, etc. Oh, and I almost forgot: the use of nerve agent to poison a former double agent and his daughter in Great Britain.
Putin leaves nothing to chance.
This nerve agent was developed in Russia, according to the British, and has now been used for the first time since the end of World War II. This was not just an attack against agents, but an attack against NATO. The unscrupulous use of poison can also affect entire armies.
Russia's destabilization strategy includes Germany as well. For one thing, Germany is becoming increasingly dependence on Russian natural gas. If we want to make the transition to renewable energy, we need natural gas. And this is what Russia provides us via Gazprom, which is chaired by none other than Gerhard Schröder, our former chancellor.
There's also constant Russian interference in the German Internet, as evidenced by the blatant disinformation campaign launched two years ago following false claims that a 13-year-old girl was raped by a migrant. As it turned out, there are groups of hackers somewhere in Saint Petersburg who, acting as trolls, spread such rumors on the Internet to fuel xenophobia and promote right-wing ideas.
And let's not forget that of all the countries in Europe, Germany is impacted most by the wave of Syrian refugees that Russia's bombing of Syria (in support of Bashar al-Assad) has done so much to provoke. Just a coincidence? Putin leaves nothing to chance.
It's time for the West to take a stand, to adopt a stronger defense line and tougher sanctions, because the sanctions imposed so far haven't slowed Russia down or weakened its economy. The travel bans imposed on certain people and companies have had little effect.
There are groups of hackers somewhere in Saint Petersburg who spread such rumors.
It's time the West prepared itself for a new Cold War with Russia instead of hoping still that everything will be alright, because for Putin, this dilly-dallying is a sign of weakness. Europe must modernize its armed forces and find a common security policy to deter Russia from further ventures. It will take years before this is implemented, but a rotten Bundeswehr is certainly no deterrent.
There is, however, one signal that can and should be sent right now: a boycott of this summer's FIFA World Cup in Russia (June 14 - July 15). Europe's national teams should forgo the event. They should stay home, and that is something that can actually be imposed on European soccer associations, with or without their approval.