Petersburg Dialogue: a Look from Berlin

Petersburg Dialogue: a Look from Berlin

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, former Ukraine’s ambassador to Ukraine, told German Bild newspaper that the aid received by Ukraine from Germany was insufficient. (1) Ukraine has asked Germany to supply it with diesel engines for its troop carriers ahead of a possible Russian «winter offensive». (Bild, November 28 edition, Ukraine Warns about Russia’s Winter Offensive). The Minister believes that Moscow is chomping at the bit for launching an attack when frost strikes taking advantage of the fact that Ukrainians are used to warm European weather. And they lack even diesel engines for troop carriers! It’s good that the North Atlantic Alliance supports Ukraine's territorial integrity and is ready to meet the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces, according the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove. The General never made precise what exactly needs he meant, but it was clear the Klimkin’s statements were prompted by Breedlove who visited Kiev on November 26. 

Since a long time ago the United States and Great Britain have been rebuking Germany for excessive pacifism. Some time ago Washington and London joined efforts to make Bundeswehr boost its Afghanistan contingent. Finally Germany increased its military presence in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Now Germans have become contemptuous of pacifism. Though they don’t mean Afghanistan this time. Germany should be prepared to intimidate Russia as well as detect, capture and eliminate terrorists in their hideouts, like the ISIS militants, for instance, says Dr. Guido Steinberg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – SWP) in Berlin, a think tank known to provide analysis on foreign policy issues to the Bundestag and the German Federal Government. Zeit weekly compared pacifism to treason: it says being a pacifist means to betray friendship, the family, the nation, justice and freedom. 

No matter that, Germans still oppose the instigation of militarist sentiments. That’s why the idea of sending arms to various hot spots lacks public support. According to the recent poll, 74% of respondents support restrictions on arms exports, 13% oppose weapons supplies to the countries with conflicts taking place on their soil, 90% believe that in case of armed conflict in other countries Germany should resort to diplomacy and talks or provide humanitarian aid and prepare peace proposals, 21% support the idea of providing lethal military aid to a victim of aggression and 17 % say yes to military involvement into conflicts. (2) That’s what people say. But politicians think otherwise. 

It’s worth to pay attention on what Green Party politician Marie-Louise Beck, an MP and an expert on Russia, said at the Party convention in November. According to her, the time was right to think about defending those who were attacked. Beck is one of ardent opponents of the Petersburg Dialogue, a biannual meeting of politicians, businessmen, and civil-society representatives from Russia and Germany founded in 2000. The forum became a target of growing criticism since the Ukraine’s crisis began. Beck poured more fuel on the fire by making her letter public in mid-October. She refused to take part in the November session. Andreas Schockenhoff, a member of conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said grandiloquently that holding a session of Petersburg Dialogue under the circumstances would be tantamount to betraying the idea. As a result, the government postponed the forum indefinitely. 

Schockenhoff, Beck, Gerhard Wahlers, deputy general secretary of the Adenauer Foundation and Ralf Fücks, the head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, submitted to the government a blueprint for reforming the Petersburg forum. The paper was never published but it was reported that the proposed reform envisioned broader participation of those who represent the civil society. 

Schockenhoff, who served as coordinator for Russian and German civil ties in Merkel's previous center-right government, has done a lot to spoil the bilateral relations. The current government had difficulties choosing the right candidate for the position. Finally, Gernot Erler was appointed as a new Coordinator for German-Russian Intersocietal Co-operation in early January while Schockenhoff retained his position as Deputy Chairman of the CDU/CSU (the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria). Unlike Schockenhoff, who enjoys the support of government, Lothar de Mézière, the co-chair of the forum, thinks the dialogue should not boil down to criticizing the Russia’s foreign policy. Germany contradicts itself. On the one hand, Berlin calls for keeping the door open for a dialogue with Russia on Ukraine. On the other hand, the German government narrows the agenda down. The door is not closed with a narrow slit remaining open and Germans want to decide themselves who is going to get through. The representation of Germany should be broadened to include other people besides the high standing functionaries of major political parties. There are 116 political parties registered in Germany today along with many social organizations. For instance, Russian participants would like to hear those who oppose shale gas production or building gas pipelines going across the territory of their communities. It would be helpful for clear vision of prospects for bilateral cooperation. 

A dialogue with small parties of Germany would be useful too. For instance, in May some small parties were elected into the European Parliament, including the Animal Protection Party that received 366 thousand votes. The party’s program calls for the guarantee of personal freedom and immunity for…apes to be added to the country’s constitution. No matter how extravagant it may sound it’s not a joke but a provision of the political party’s program and it reflects the Germans’ state of mind. Die PARTEI ((English: Party for Labor, Rule of Law, Animal Protection, Promotion of Elites and Grassroots Democratic Initiative) is another political party to get into the European Parliament. It brings together all those who view the German culture with scathing vitriol. The party was founded by former publisher of satiric weekly. It proposes to establish a “laziness quota” for top managers. The very appearance of such a party clearly reflects the loss of trust in the country’s political system. Or take, for example, the Greens. Marie-Louise Beck is not the only member of the party. Ulrich Kremer has different views than the government on Ukraine. He opposes the unleashing of another Cold War by Berlin. If German media outlets ignore him, whatever is the reason, and then why not give him a chance to speak his mind at the Petersburg Dialogue? 

(1) Ukraine warnt vor Winter-Offensive der Russen /Bild, 28.11.2014.
(2) The survey was conducted by TNS Emnid ,10.30. - 11.1., 2014. Results.: Greenpeace Magazine,.11. 27.2014.


Tags: Germany  Russia  Ukraine  Merkel  Putin