The second tactic was to create alliances of convenience in Europe to help Moscow divide pan-European and NATO expansion and sentiment against Russia while bolstering Russia economically, financially and technologically. Czarist Russia made such arrangements with the United Kingdom during the Napoleonic Wars and with France ahead of World War I, and Soviet leaders formed an alliance of convenience with Germany ahead of World War II. It is not that Russia ever trusted any of these countries (or vice versa), but the Russian and European leaderships shared an inherent understanding that certain alliances are necessary to shape the dynamics on the Continent.
During Putin's era, Russia set its sights on what it considered three of the four premier European powers: Germany, France and Italy. The Kremlin considers the United Kingdom the fourth main power, but London's firm and traditional alliance with the United States has made it resistant to Russia's overtures. The Kremlin saw Germany, France and Italy as the countries holding the economic, political and military heft that, if unified within Western alliance structures, could oppose Russia in Europe. In order to forge partnerships with these countries, Putin built relationships with their rulers.
Putin's Personal Approach
Germany was Russia's natural first choice for a partnership; not only is it the core of Europe, but it is also the European state that the Kremlin fears most. Moreover, Putin has an affinity for Germany that dates back to his days with the KGB, when he was stationed in Dresden, Germany. In the early 2000s, Putin was able to use his fluency in German to develop a strong friendship with then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Schroeder saw the relationship first as an economic opportunity, since Russia is the world's largest energy producer and exporter and also a place for potential heavy investment.
During Schroeder's chancellorship, trade between Germany and Russia boomed, and Russia gave Germany special benefits as an energy partner. Germany -- in accordance with Putin's plan -- began supporting Russia's position in Europe on specific strategic issues. Schroeder's Germany was alone among Western governments in not vociferously supporting Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004-2005. Schroeder also led European opposition to U.S. efforts to begin the NATO accession process for Ukraine and Georgia.
As his friendship with Putin grew, Schroeder purchased an estate outside Moscow near Putin's home and even sought Putin's assistance in adopting two Russian children. Schroeder's ejection from office in 2005 did not end their friendship -- or Schroeder's usefulness to Putin. Despite widespread German criticism, even from Schroeder's own party, the former chancellor accepted a position with Russian state natural gas firm Gazprom to lead the Nord Stream project, a pipeline designed specifically to maximize Russia's energy leverage over Belarus, Ukraine and Poland.