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Much of the commentary in the U.S. over the crisis in Ukraine has presented the conflict as a throwback to the Cold War, with the U.S. and Russia facing off as the two principal foes. But the most important actor in this drama may be a third party, Germany, which as the largest economy in Europe has far closer ties to Russia and has a keen interest in resolving the dispute with as little fuss as possible.
Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already pushed back against the idea of booting Russia from the Group of Eight, a punitive measure that is seen in the U.S. as one of the least aggressive moves the West can make. According to Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy, Merkel hopes to defuse the situation with a face-saving measure for Vladimir Putin that would entail sending monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to Crimea to ensure no Russian-speaking citizens are in danger, which is the ostensible reason for Russia's incursion into the peninsula in the first place.
There are plenty of reasons to think Russia would reject such an offer, or try to take Germany on a diplomatic detour while consolidating its control of Crimea and beyond. What then? Germany has a reputation for being almost China-like in its reluctance to shoulder responsibility for the global security that undergirds its economic success. But as Der Spiegel notes, since winning a historic third term in September, Merkel has suggested that Germany is prepared to play a more assertive role in foreign affairs. It remains to be seen whether the woman who grew up in East Germany at the height of the Cold War will do just that.