By Tomislav Jakić
An unusual scene was recorded by cameras during Angela Merkel’s recent meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow. It was the last in a long series of meetings between the two statesmen and at the same time a farewell visit of the German Chancellor, who will remain in office until the parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of September.
Sometime in the first minutes of the meeting (it is so common to allow cameramen to stay in the room where the meeting is being held), a cell phone rang in the pocket of the head of the German government. It is not remembered when something similar happened at the time of the official talks. Any, anywhere and anytime. Angela Merkel reached into her pocket a little awkwardly, took out her mobile phone and interrupted the call at the touch of a button, and Putin continued to speak and with a somewhat ironic smile said: “We will definitely continue our contacts, even by phone.”
The event was registered in the world, not everywhere, but only on the margins, as something ‘intaresting’. We did not notice that anyone wondered: what really happened and how it is possible that it happened. And that is exactly the question that needs to be asked. Because if in the midst of talks with Russian President the phone rings in the pocket of the German Chancellor, it is not by accident. This simply cannot be accidental. And here’s why.
The rules of good behaviour, let’s call it that way, during official conversations, even conversations that necessarily have a note of confidentiality, dictate that mobile phones should not be brought into the room where the conversation is taking place. The reason is very clear: these tiny devices without which, so today’s generations think, life is not imaginable, very easily – and without the knowledge, much less consent of their owners – are transformed into listening/spying devices (in addition to giving the exact position at any time of persons carrying them).
Since a few years ago it is known that US intelligence agency NSA (National Security Agency) is eavesdropping, and monitors electronic communications of literally countless multitude of people around the world. NSA also tapped the German chancellor’s cell phone. She reacted rather lukewarmly to the discovery, saying, “If that’s true, then it’s not right.” It was true, there is no doubt about it, and to say that it is not right, it is the mildest possible formulation, chosen obviously only because it was the Americans. Had it been established by any chance that the Russians or the Chinese are engaged in this work (whom the West is today accusing of waging a cyber war, even trying to prevent the Chinese company Huawei from marketing its products in the West , precisely under the accusation that the company’s mobile phones allow Chinese intelligence to monitor not only the movements but also the communication of their owners), reactions would have ranged from a protest note to the withdrawal of the ambassador for consultations. But, the reaction was lukewarm. It is to be assumed that German experts in the meantime ‘did their best’ (it is very ‘in’ to use that phrase today) to protect the chancellor’s cell phone. It is no less likely that they failed to do so. So it can be assumed that Angela Merkel’s mobile can even today serve as a device for eavesdropping.
The Russians are certainly not searching members of foreign delegations who come to talk to Putin to find out if they have cell phones with them. However, this author knows from his own experience (when he accompanied Croatian President Mesic on his meetings with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin) that members of foreign delegations are asked to put their mobile phones in a small locker with compartments before entering the meeting room. Angela Merkel has been with Putin many times, even in the Kremlin. There is no reason to assume that her delegation was treated differently from other delegations and politicians who come to meet with the Russian president. And even if the chancellor could forget that detail, her protocol could not and should not forget something like that. It is herefore to be assumed that the German protocol consciously let Chancellor to come to talk with Putin with a cell phone in her pocket .
Let’s move on: only a limited number of people, and not just any people, have the German chancellor’s cell phone number. Likewise, it is certainly known, at least to those who must know such things, who these persons are. The Chancellor’s daily schedule, including the programs of her stays abroad, is again known only to a limited number of people. Once again: not any people. And that someone who has her number and who knows the plan of her movement consciously calls her just at the time she is talking to the Russian president is impossible. Just as it is impossible that her mobile phone was accidentally activated (although this can happen with so-called smartphones). The call, therefore, was intentional. Had to be.
And for what purpose? Only one: to embarrass the German chancellor on the occasion of her farewell meeting with Putin, to portray her – perhaps – in his eyes as someone who knowingly comes with the phone in her pocket to talk to him, so that American (or at least: German) intelligence services could follow every word. Which would make her appear an untrustworthy partner, raising even the question: for how many years is she like this and can she be trusted in anything she says (or said in the past)? From this necessarily the next question emerges: who could have the ability and interest to do such a thing?
Theoretically it is possible that it was even the Russians themselves. Just to show her that they know what she was doing, that she brought her cell phone, this potentially tapping device on a conversation with Putin. But apart from making her funny in the eyes of the public (because, let us remember, everything happened in front of tv cameras) and thus ‘repaying the debt’ for her agreeing to US sanctions on Russia, though not always enthusiastic, there was no serious reason for such a ‘joke’. And because Moscow takes politics seriously, that possibility, although theoretically existent, can be forgotten.
Of the actors on the German political scene, there is no one who would have the need to compromise Angela Merkel in the last weeks of her political career. Namely, she does not run in the September elections and withdraws from active politics after them, so she is no longer dangerous to anyone as a possible competitor. This eliminates the Germans. However, there remain those who resented Angela Merkel as the Prime Minister of Germany and one of the most prominent, but also the most influential figures in European and even world politics. Two countries come immediately in mind, but basically one. These are the United States and Ukraine and that is why we say that it comes in fact only to one country, because Ukraine without American help could have not (should have not) staged something like this.
Washington will not and cannot forgive the German chancellor for not giving in to pressure and stopping work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will provide not only Germany but also Western Europe with natural gas from Russia. It started in the Trump era, with Donald Trump threatening in his own rude way with sanctions every German and European companies that participated in the realization of this project (and accusing falsely Germany of being totally dependent on Russian gas). Joe Biden, however, gave up sanctions on Germany, but provided for an American-German agreement that – if only on paper – leaves to Ukraine its privileged position as a country that charges for the transit of Russian gas to Europe through a pipeline which runs on the Ukrainian territory (and sometimes steal gas intended for Europe, when the Russians halt supplies to Ukraine because of unpaid bills). North Stream 2 is nearing completion and obviously nothing can stop it. What ‘hurts’ and the Americans not only for political reasons (someone resisted them, potentially depriving their ‘player’ – Ukraine), but also for economic ones. With natural gas provided from Russia (which, at least until now, has never used energy as a means of pressure or political blackmail), there will hardly be anyone in Europe who will agree to buy more expensive liquefied American gas. Enough reasons to at least make a mockery of Angela Merkel at the end of her political career, especially during her meeting with Putin, so disliked by the US.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has two reasons to take revenge on the German chancellor. The first is the mentioned Nord Stream 2, against which Ukraine, together with several other countries, the so-called new Europe, all of them former Soviet satellites, cried havoc. With no results! A second is that, although Angela Merkel persistently reiterates that Germany will not recognize “the annexation of the Crimea”, she insists on agreement from Minsk which the Ukrainian side does not even thing about of fulfilling (because it would mean that Kiev has to practically give up some key aspects of its anti-Russian policy, at least in Ukraine). So, Ukraine has enough reasons, the only question is: does it have the knowledge to do something like that? On their own – probably. But as Kiev is becoming increasingly an ‘American player’ in Eastern Europe and on the border with Russia, it is to be assumed that organizing the ringing of German Chancellor’s cell phone in the midst of her talks with the Russian could not have been staged without American approval, and it is even more realistic to say: without American help.
Will the enigma with the ringing of the cell phone of German Chancellor during her meeting with Russian President ever to be resolved, for now remains an open issue. But even if it apparently will be lifted, there will be, at least for the public, no answers to key questions: who was calling and why. The public should treat this as one pretty little story from the sphere of high politics. And nothing more.
Because that’s what the public is allowed to do: have fun with stories. A thinking public is not desirable, at least in the world we live in. The thinking is reserved for those who eavesdrop.
About the author:
Tomislav Jakić is one of the most influential Yugoslav and Croatian journalists, who is covering the international relations for over 50 years and who served as Foreign policy Advisor to Croatian President Stjepan Mesic (2000. – 2010.).