In a March 18 speech on the signing of the treaty for the entry of Crimea and Sevastopol into the Russian Federation, the Russian president directly addressed the German people, drawing a parallel between today and the reunification of Germany. Pointing out that the USSR supported «the sincere, unstoppable desire of the Germans for national unity», President Putin expressed the hope that «the citizens of Germany will also support the aspiration of the Russians, of historical Russia, to restore unity».
I read a comment on an article summarizing Putin's speech on the Internet forum of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; the article, while brief, was a favorite according to the number of views on the Internet, and the comment was gratifying as well (1): «I wish Crimea, which gave the people the opportunity to make a decision on its future by a free vote and slipped out of the paws of the fascists in Kiev, happiness. I'm happy for the Russians and for Crimea; I recognize the reunification! The mention of the fate of the German people is fair… It goes without saying that in a neutral, self-sufficient Ukraine the East should have a guaranteed special status».
The majority of Germans who are discussing this important international event on Internet forums are making more neutral remarks, but express understanding for Russia's actions… The Russian president's speech and his arguments seemed convincing even to those who admit that they do not sympathize with Moscow: «In this case Putin is right, he has acted intelligently, the Russians are proud of him; the government in Kiev is unlawful, and they should not be dealt with».
At the same time, someone called Putin's speech «Soviet propaganda», not wishing to compare the Crimean precedent with the reunification of Germany. Such a reaction in understandable, especially if you consider the official position of Berlin, which called the reunification of Crimea with Russia an «annexation» and the treaty for the reunification of Crimea and Sevastopol with Russia a violation of the norms of international law. In addition, all respectable German newspapers obligingly explain the policy of their government to their countrymen. Berthold Kohler, one of the editors of Frankfurter Allgemeine who published an article with this type of «explanation» (2), received many responses on the newspaper's forum, and the most popular comment was this one: «It's getting boring, Mr. Kohler! It's not interesting to follow you making the same arguments over and over again». Probably in order to relieve their boredom, the newspaper has dragged out forgotten clichés from the Cold War era. It is trying to frighten Germans with a military threat from the east, comparing the «Crimean crisis» with the Caribbean crisis (3), and – why think small? – with 1914 and 1938. It ascribes «aggressive plans» to Russia, but did anyone in the West listen to Moscow's multiple calls over the course of two months to stop supporting the anti-government demonstrations on the Kiev Maidan and not to make the situation worse? The West remained deaf to these calls. Antje Vollmer, a representative of the Green Party, which cannot be accused of pro-Russian sympathies, described the situation in an interview with Berliner Zeitung as follows: «The escalation of the protests occurred under the influence of rash promises which the West can never keep» (4).
After the results of the Crimean referendum were announced, EU Commissioner for Enlargement S. Fule stated in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt that perhaps the European Union should use its most powerful policy tool – enlargement. The credulous Ukrainian media interpreted Fule's vague phrase as if he had offered to consider the question of Ukraine joining the EU. The reaction of Europeans was unambiguous: they made it clear to Kiev that the European Commissioner had spoken too hastily and disavowed his statement (5). According to the chairman of the Social Democratic political group in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda (Austria), at present offering Ukraine the prospect of EU membership would be a mistake. Fule, when he hinted at accepting Ukraine into the EU, spoke of one condition: if the EU wants to seriously change the part of Eastern Europe affected by current events. By all appearances, however, the EU today does not know what it really wants. The funds the European Commission decided to allocate to Ukraine are very modest: a first installment of 600 million euros, and then another 1 billion euros over the course of a year (6). European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn pointed out that this assistance comes with strict conditions and is tied to compliance with IMF terms. It is not difficult to guess what these terms will be like if you look at least at the example of Greece (an EU member since 1981), which has received a long-awaited new 10-billion-euro installment. It continues to reduce employment in the public sector; for example, medical staff in Greek hospitals has already been reduced to a tenth (!) of what it was (7). Those Ukrainians who still place their hopes in help from the West in overcoming the crisis have an idea of the price of this help.
Many serious politicians, at least in Germany, now admit that the West practically set off the Maidan. That, for example, is what former EU Commissioner for Enlargement Gunter Verheugen believes. To the question of a Deutschlandfunk radio correspondent, «Is everything Vladimir Putin does wrong?» the seasoned politician answered: «From my perspective, of course not. He is protecting interests which even the Americans consider legitimate – the interests of Russian security» (8). Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl spoke out rather sharply on the European Union's eastern policy. «In past years the West has made a lot of mistakes here. The reaction to discontent in Ukraine was not too wise. In the same way, communication with our Russian neighbors, especially with President Putin, was lacking in tact», noted Kohl (9). Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder spoke in the same vein: «I ask myself whether it was right to place that choice before such a culturally divided country as Ukraine: association with the EU or a Customs Union with Russia».
However, as soon as Schroeder said this, a real hurricane started in the media, even accusing him of betraying national interests. German Greens Rebecca Harms and Daniel Cohn-Bendit even introduced a draft resolution to the European Parliament saying that the members of parliament «regret» Schroeder's statements and «emphasize» that the former chancellor «should make no public statements about Russia». Thus is the state of freedom of speech in the free West. Die Welt called a spade a spade: the greens were demanding that the former chancellor's mouth be shut (10). But this odious resolution was not passed by the European Parliament.
However, journalists who do not think and write «as they should» are being shamelessly pressured out of the media. A fresh example is the end of the long-time collaboration between the weekly Zeit and freelance journalist Moritz Hartmann on the decision of the head editor of Zeit Online. Now the following note must be placed under the journalist's stories: «The author works for the supplement ‘Russia Today’, which is financed by the Russian government. This goes against our principles. We offer our apologies». This refers to the weekly supplement which starting in 2010 had been published weekly by Süddeutsche Zeitung, which has now discontinued it in connection with the Crimea referendum.
But still, despite the nervous reaction of the media, surveys show that the majority of Germans consider harsh sanctions against Russia to be an inappropriate response to the Crimean referendum. 42% prefer a diplomatic solution to the problem, and 27% believe that the West should accept the results of the referendum; only 20% of those surveyed agree with the adoption of sanctions (11).
(1) faz.net, Accessed 03-19-2014.
(2) Putins Jalta / Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 03-18-2014.
(3) Welt, 03-14-14.
(4) „Auch die Grünen scheinen mir sehr geschichtsvergessen“/Berliner Zeitung, 03-13-2014.
(5) Reuters, March 18, 2014 / reuters.com
(6) EU/Ukraine: Commission proposes a further €1 billion in macro-financial assistance. Brussels, March 19, 2014. europa.eu
(8) «Gefahr einer Spirale nach unten»/ Deutschlandfunk, 03-18-2014.
(9) Altkanzler Kohl mahnt zu Besonnenheit/ Bild, 03-12-2014.
(10) Florian Eder. Grüne scheitern mit Sprechverbot für Schröder/Welt, 03-13-14.
(11) Reuters, March 16 2014. de.reuters.com