They're Europe's odd couple. At a time when much of the continent is scrambling to find strategies to contain, avoid, and punish a resurgent Russia, Germany is pushing ahead with the most important and surprising post?Cold War alliance in Europe. Once titanic enemies, Germany and Russia are embracing a slew of big business deals that aim for everything from a joint resurgence in the world's nuclear-energy market to taking over a big chunk of GM's European empire. German technology will upgrade Russia's vast railroad network—and while much of Europe seeks to free itself of energy dependence on Russia, Germany's E.On is buying up Russian gas fields.

The stream of agreements reflects the depth of what has become Europe's most powerful new partnership. Based on a history of close ties, a decadelong surge in trade and investment, and massive German imports of Russian natural gas, Germany has become not only Russia's most important trading partner, but its principal advocate in the West. Germany has vetoed an EU-wide energy market that would reduce Europe's dependency on Russian supplies, and stayed cool on U.S. plans for missile defense. Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign-affairs committee in the upper house of Russia's Parliament, says Germany was Russia's "biggest helper" in its successful attempt to block the eastward expansion of NATO.

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