World
Natalia Meden
February 19, 2014
© Photo: Public domain

German Foreign Minister F.-W. Steinmeier arrived in Moscow like an old acquaintance. At a joint press conference with his guest, Sergei Lavrov affirmed that Moscow and Berlin have no problems that are not open for discussion. This statement emphasizes the trusting nature of existing relations and is in tune with the interview with the German minister published the day before the visit in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. However, if there is still complete mutual understanding between the long-time partners, why is the German press calling the visit a «complex mission» and comparing it to «walking on the edge of the abyss»? (1) 

In the current government of Germany, F.-W. Steinmeier has the greatest experience in communicating with Russian partners, comparable only to that of A. Merkel. Keep in mind that Steinmeier first held the post of foreign minister from 2005-2009, in Merkel's first cabinet, which like the current cabinet consisted of representatives of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats. It has been argued that at that time, in opposition to the chancellor, he actively advocated development of bilateral relations with Russia, proposing the conception of «Cooperation for Modernization». While Merkel, who had declared her foreign policy priority to be developing transatlantic partnership, did not publicly criticize Steinmeier's proposal, she was skeptical about it. She presumed that Russia was not going anywhere; that it needs Western technology in any case, including for the extraction of the oil and gas it exports; and that Russia would be afraid to turn completely toward China, considering the demographic vulnerability of Siberia and the Far East. 

What has changed since then? While social democrat Steinmeier was in the parliamentary opposition, German diplomacy, led by Guido Westerwelle, did not propose any new ideas on the Russian front. A lot of space is devoted to Russia in the coalition agreement signed at the creation of the current federal government, but this mostly testifies to the coalition participants' lack of a unified strategy. The ideas set down in the agreement are good in and of themselves: open dialog and broad cooperation. However, is there a practical program behind these declarations, or at least a general conception? G. Schroeder had such a conception; in the book Clear Words, presented in Berlin on February 14 of this year, he says that only together with Russia can the EU and Europe be a counterbalance to the U.S. or China (2). 

Today leading German politicians are distancing themselves from the «culture of restraint» attributed to Westerwelle. Germany cannot be a big Switzerland, declares the Social Democratic Party's expert on foreign and security policy J. Janning (3). Today, Germany's more active foreign policy means increasing German presence in Africa and supporting the anti-government demonstrations of the Ukrainian opposition. It makes one wonder what's next. In what parts of the world will Germany take responsibility, and what actions will it take there? Russia's place in the new coordinates of German foreign policy has obviously not yet been determined. And while the Merkel doctrine (developing transatlantic partnership) remains in force, one cannot count on the success of the dialog between Berlin and Moscow. And that is just what the first Russian visit of the foreign minister from Merkel's third cabinet has shown. 

If the German side sees the recent visit as constructive, so much the worse. At Steinmeier's negotiations in Moscow, Berlin's only suggestion was to invite the OSCE to be a mediator in Ukraine. Moscow did not accept this suggestion, considering previous negative experience of the OSCE's mediation activities in resolving «frozen conflicts» in the former Soviet Union. It seems that this is exactly what Berlin was expecting 

Steinmeier's meeting with his Russian colleague turned out to be fruitless. Its only accomplishment was an exchange of opinions. Steinmeier said as much when he stated that meeting and discussing problems is better than remaining silent. But the German minister responded to Lavrov's criticism regarding intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine during the joint press conference with silence. What is that, a sign of agreement or unwillingness to enter into a dialog? To start with, it would have been appropriate for the German minister to somehow indicate his position on his predecessor Guido Westerwelle taking a walk on the Maidan with the Klitschko brothers; Westerwelle was the first Western politician to thus demonstrate his support for the antigovernment forces in Ukraine. Gernot Erler, the current coordinator of the German office for foreign policy on Russia, the Eastern Partnership and Central Asia, considers Westerwelle's act a mistake (4). Does Mr. Steinmeier share this opinion? That is unknown, as he eloquently refrained from commenting. Just as he did not say a word about the recording of V. Nuland's scandalous telephone conversation. 

But Steinmeier was not shy about expressing his indignation at how Russia had taken advantage of Ukraine's plight. Immediately after taking office he gave Moscow a lecture, calling its actions «completely outrageous». This was in reference to the Russian president's decision to give Ukraine a 15 billion dollar loan and a discount on the price of gas. As H.-H. Schroeder, a leading German expert on Eastern politics (from the government-connected Stiftung für Wissenschaft und Politik) summed up: «Steinmeier…makes sure that he does not say anything too positive about Russia» (5). And how does this style jibe with the assertion that «We can't do without Russia», which the minister expressed at the conference in Munich and repeated in his article in the weekly Focus? (6) 

It seems that the reason for such dualism is that Berlin wants to avoid new complications which could arise with regard to transatlantic partnership. At the same time, it does not want a confrontation with Russia. In general, it wants to arrange things such that it can make money and still stay out of trouble.

Any changes in Berlin's foreign policy are jealously monitored by the U.S. The phrase «Germany has been a problem» (7), uttered on the spur of the moment by the head of the Pentagon, speaks volumes. And the Germans, of course, understand how limited their possibilities are if a federal minister admits that «We in Germany have never been completely sovereign since May 8, 1945» (8). Apparently, Germany's «incomplete sovereignty» affects its relations with Russia.

An article by American experts from the Stratfor center (9) which characterizes Germany's policy in Ukraine as cynical and excessively assertive stands out… The Americans are offended that Berlin supports «its» Klitschko too openly, rather than Yatsenyuk, whom Victoria Nuland favors. And maybe Stratfor wants to throw the blame on Berlin as the main instigator of the Ukrainian uproar «just in case», and pit the Germans and Russians against each other while they are at it. After all, in the discourse of Stratfor head George Friedman one can hear a warning to the German upstarts: if you don't listen to us, you might end up all alone. Southern Europe hates you for your harsh demands for austerity measures, while the French are looking hopefully in the direction of Great Britain, dreaming of a new Entente Cordiale to counterbalance the hegemony of the Germans in Europe. And the Russians are angry at the attempt to snatch Ukraine away.

By all appearances, Berlin took heed of the signal from the U.S., and now Yatsenyuk enjoys equal status there with Berlin's former favorite Klitschko. In any case, Merkel has invited both Klitschko and Yatsenyuk to Berlin. 

But still, in spite of the wave of anti-Russian propaganda in the media, there exists a demand for normal neighborly relations with Russia in German society. It is no coincidence that for the first time in the past two years (!) Steinmeier has turned out to be a more popular politician in Germany than Merkel (10). Despite anti-Russian propaganda, independently thinking Germans condemn Western pressure on Ukraine. Signatures are being collected on a petition to that effect on the Internet. «This intervention is one more step toward starting World War III…we need peace and friendship with all countries, especially with Russia, against which this intervention is directed!» say those who have signed the petition (11). 

Steinmeier's comparison of Ukraine to a powder keg evokes disturbing historical parallels with the Balkans. Germany understands the dangers of a powder keg in the center of Europe much better than the U.S., and such an assessment in and of itself could serve as a starting point for renewing German-Russian relations.

(2) Cited from: «Vorher Herr Bundeskanzler, nachher Herr Schröder». Handelsblatt, 14.02.2014.
(3) «Deutschland kann keine grosse Schweiz sein»/Berner Zeitung, 07.02.2014.
(4) See: zeitschrift-ip.dgap.org. This interview was published in the journal Internationale Politik before Erler was appointed to his post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and thus it cannot be considered the coordinator's official position. Accordingly, there is no link to the publication on the Ministry's site.
(5) „Ohne Russland geht es nicht“/ Handelsblatt, 12.02.2014.
(6) Ohne Russland geht es nicht/Focus, 27.01.2014.
(7) Donald Rumsfeld in a speech to foreign journalists at the State Department, January 2003.
(8) Minister of Finance W. Schaeuble, 2011. theintelligence.de
(9) George Friedman and Marc Lanthemann. A More Assertive German Foreign Policy. Geopolitical Weekly, February 4, 2014. 
(10) According to an ARD-Deutschlandtrend survey, 70% of Germans are satisfied with Steinmeier's performance in office. Apparently he has exceeded the expectations of his countrymen, because in December 2013 only 53% of those surveyed approved of his appointment
The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.
A Few Words on the Incomplete Sovereignty of Germany

German Foreign Minister F.-W. Steinmeier arrived in Moscow like an old acquaintance. At a joint press conference with his guest, Sergei Lavrov affirmed that Moscow and Berlin have no problems that are not open for discussion. This statement emphasizes the trusting nature of existing relations and is in tune with the interview with the German minister published the day before the visit in the Russian newspaper Kommersant. However, if there is still complete mutual understanding between the long-time partners, why is the German press calling the visit a «complex mission» and comparing it to «walking on the edge of the abyss»? (1) 

In the current government of Germany, F.-W. Steinmeier has the greatest experience in communicating with Russian partners, comparable only to that of A. Merkel. Keep in mind that Steinmeier first held the post of foreign minister from 2005-2009, in Merkel's first cabinet, which like the current cabinet consisted of representatives of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats. It has been argued that at that time, in opposition to the chancellor, he actively advocated development of bilateral relations with Russia, proposing the conception of «Cooperation for Modernization». While Merkel, who had declared her foreign policy priority to be developing transatlantic partnership, did not publicly criticize Steinmeier's proposal, she was skeptical about it. She presumed that Russia was not going anywhere; that it needs Western technology in any case, including for the extraction of the oil and gas it exports; and that Russia would be afraid to turn completely toward China, considering the demographic vulnerability of Siberia and the Far East. 

What has changed since then? While social democrat Steinmeier was in the parliamentary opposition, German diplomacy, led by Guido Westerwelle, did not propose any new ideas on the Russian front. A lot of space is devoted to Russia in the coalition agreement signed at the creation of the current federal government, but this mostly testifies to the coalition participants' lack of a unified strategy. The ideas set down in the agreement are good in and of themselves: open dialog and broad cooperation. However, is there a practical program behind these declarations, or at least a general conception? G. Schroeder had such a conception; in the book Clear Words, presented in Berlin on February 14 of this year, he says that only together with Russia can the EU and Europe be a counterbalance to the U.S. or China (2). 

Today leading German politicians are distancing themselves from the «culture of restraint» attributed to Westerwelle. Germany cannot be a big Switzerland, declares the Social Democratic Party's expert on foreign and security policy J. Janning (3). Today, Germany's more active foreign policy means increasing German presence in Africa and supporting the anti-government demonstrations of the Ukrainian opposition. It makes one wonder what's next. In what parts of the world will Germany take responsibility, and what actions will it take there? Russia's place in the new coordinates of German foreign policy has obviously not yet been determined. And while the Merkel doctrine (developing transatlantic partnership) remains in force, one cannot count on the success of the dialog between Berlin and Moscow. And that is just what the first Russian visit of the foreign minister from Merkel's third cabinet has shown. 

If the German side sees the recent visit as constructive, so much the worse. At Steinmeier's negotiations in Moscow, Berlin's only suggestion was to invite the OSCE to be a mediator in Ukraine. Moscow did not accept this suggestion, considering previous negative experience of the OSCE's mediation activities in resolving «frozen conflicts» in the former Soviet Union. It seems that this is exactly what Berlin was expecting 

Steinmeier's meeting with his Russian colleague turned out to be fruitless. Its only accomplishment was an exchange of opinions. Steinmeier said as much when he stated that meeting and discussing problems is better than remaining silent. But the German minister responded to Lavrov's criticism regarding intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine during the joint press conference with silence. What is that, a sign of agreement or unwillingness to enter into a dialog? To start with, it would have been appropriate for the German minister to somehow indicate his position on his predecessor Guido Westerwelle taking a walk on the Maidan with the Klitschko brothers; Westerwelle was the first Western politician to thus demonstrate his support for the antigovernment forces in Ukraine. Gernot Erler, the current coordinator of the German office for foreign policy on Russia, the Eastern Partnership and Central Asia, considers Westerwelle's act a mistake (4). Does Mr. Steinmeier share this opinion? That is unknown, as he eloquently refrained from commenting. Just as he did not say a word about the recording of V. Nuland's scandalous telephone conversation. 

But Steinmeier was not shy about expressing his indignation at how Russia had taken advantage of Ukraine's plight. Immediately after taking office he gave Moscow a lecture, calling its actions «completely outrageous». This was in reference to the Russian president's decision to give Ukraine a 15 billion dollar loan and a discount on the price of gas. As H.-H. Schroeder, a leading German expert on Eastern politics (from the government-connected Stiftung für Wissenschaft und Politik) summed up: «Steinmeier…makes sure that he does not say anything too positive about Russia» (5). And how does this style jibe with the assertion that «We can't do without Russia», which the minister expressed at the conference in Munich and repeated in his article in the weekly Focus? (6) 

It seems that the reason for such dualism is that Berlin wants to avoid new complications which could arise with regard to transatlantic partnership. At the same time, it does not want a confrontation with Russia. In general, it wants to arrange things such that it can make money and still stay out of trouble.

Any changes in Berlin's foreign policy are jealously monitored by the U.S. The phrase «Germany has been a problem» (7), uttered on the spur of the moment by the head of the Pentagon, speaks volumes. And the Germans, of course, understand how limited their possibilities are if a federal minister admits that «We in Germany have never been completely sovereign since May 8, 1945» (8). Apparently, Germany's «incomplete sovereignty» affects its relations with Russia.

An article by American experts from the Stratfor center (9) which characterizes Germany's policy in Ukraine as cynical and excessively assertive stands out… The Americans are offended that Berlin supports «its» Klitschko too openly, rather than Yatsenyuk, whom Victoria Nuland favors. And maybe Stratfor wants to throw the blame on Berlin as the main instigator of the Ukrainian uproar «just in case», and pit the Germans and Russians against each other while they are at it. After all, in the discourse of Stratfor head George Friedman one can hear a warning to the German upstarts: if you don't listen to us, you might end up all alone. Southern Europe hates you for your harsh demands for austerity measures, while the French are looking hopefully in the direction of Great Britain, dreaming of a new Entente Cordiale to counterbalance the hegemony of the Germans in Europe. And the Russians are angry at the attempt to snatch Ukraine away.

By all appearances, Berlin took heed of the signal from the U.S., and now Yatsenyuk enjoys equal status there with Berlin's former favorite Klitschko. In any case, Merkel has invited both Klitschko and Yatsenyuk to Berlin. 

But still, in spite of the wave of anti-Russian propaganda in the media, there exists a demand for normal neighborly relations with Russia in German society. It is no coincidence that for the first time in the past two years (!) Steinmeier has turned out to be a more popular politician in Germany than Merkel (10). Despite anti-Russian propaganda, independently thinking Germans condemn Western pressure on Ukraine. Signatures are being collected on a petition to that effect on the Internet. «This intervention is one more step toward starting World War III…we need peace and friendship with all countries, especially with Russia, against which this intervention is directed!» say those who have signed the petition (11). 

Steinmeier's comparison of Ukraine to a powder keg evokes disturbing historical parallels with the Balkans. Germany understands the dangers of a powder keg in the center of Europe much better than the U.S., and such an assessment in and of itself could serve as a starting point for renewing German-Russian relations.

(2) Cited from: «Vorher Herr Bundeskanzler, nachher Herr Schröder». Handelsblatt, 14.02.2014.
(3) «Deutschland kann keine grosse Schweiz sein»/Berner Zeitung, 07.02.2014.
(4) See: zeitschrift-ip.dgap.org. This interview was published in the journal Internationale Politik before Erler was appointed to his post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and thus it cannot be considered the coordinator's official position. Accordingly, there is no link to the publication on the Ministry's site.
(5) „Ohne Russland geht es nicht“/ Handelsblatt, 12.02.2014.
(6) Ohne Russland geht es nicht/Focus, 27.01.2014.
(7) Donald Rumsfeld in a speech to foreign journalists at the State Department, January 2003.
(8) Minister of Finance W. Schaeuble, 2011. theintelligence.de
(9) George Friedman and Marc Lanthemann. A More Assertive German Foreign Policy. Geopolitical Weekly, February 4, 2014. 
(10) According to an ARD-Deutschlandtrend survey, 70% of Germans are satisfied with Steinmeier's performance in office. Apparently he has exceeded the expectations of his countrymen, because in December 2013 only 53% of those surveyed approved of his appointment