Prospects for Russia-Germany Dialogue
Natalia MEDEN | 02.12.2015 | OPINION

Prospects for Russia-Germany Dialogue

To a large extent the future of the Russia-Europe relationship depends on the bilateral dialogue between Russia and Germany. There are two forums used for regular contacts between Moscow and Berlin: the Russia-Germany Forum and the Petersburg’s Dialogue. The both are brainchildren of the former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. 

In 2014 Germany froze the contacts as a result of Ukrainian crisis and the following deterioration of the relations between Russia and the West. In the both cases Germany appointed new co-chairs while the contacts were suspended. Ronald Pofalla (CDU) was chosen as the new co-chairman of the Petersburg Dialogue after Andreas Schockenhoff passed away in December 2014. Pofalla held a very important position before the appointment – he was the Chief of Staff of the German Chancellery and a Federal Minister for Special Affairs from 2009 to 2013 as part of the second Merkel cabinet. It shows he belongs to the Chancellor’s inner circle. 

Lothar de Maizière, the co-chairman of Russia-Germany Forum, had to go. In 1990 he headed the government of East Germany. Back then Angela Merkel served as his assistant. She also held the position of his press-secretary. De Maizière was reproached for being too soft on Russia. Matthias Platzeck, Minister-President of Brandenburg from 2002 to 2013 and party chairman of the SPD from November 2005 to April 2006, took office as the forum’s new co-chairman. Now it’s his turn to come under criticism from German media for not being tough as he should be on Russia. Moscow wonders if the appointments of the new co-chairmen would fundamentally change the substance and goals of the dialogue. If so, where will the tide turn?

Some comments make us believe that Germans will not «slam the door». It’s not the way Germans normally do things. During the whole year they have been saying that «the door is open for a dialogue with Russia». This phrase could be interpreted in different ways. Some hold an opinion that the Putin’s «adventure in Ukraine» forced Europe to finally «come out of the paralysis» and allowed Germany to become a power in place of «the toothless Brussels» and «the guarantor of a new European unity». Such ambiguous language does not create proper conditions for elevating the Russia-Germany dialogue to new heights. It eclipses a very important moment in the history of the country that Germans should remember – to a great extent the miracle when the «political dwarf» turned into the «political giant» became possible thanks to Russia (which was part of the Soviet Union those days).

Today many publications call for repetition of the West’s success when it won the Cold War. I don’t believe that such dubious writings could influence the sentiments in political and business circles in Germany. Practically minded people are evidently prone to normalizing the relationship. At all events, it’s a positive sign that Germany refused to keep the dialogue «frozen» any longer. It has formally informed Moscow that it is interested in the continuation of the contacts.

The Petersburg Dialogue Forum took place on October 22-24 in Potsdam. Before the event kicked off, Ronald Pofalla told Handelsblatt that Germany wanted to hold a dialogue as it has done during the recent 25 years no matter the both countries had to go through the hardest period in the history of their relationship.

This intention should be welcomed. The Russia-Germany Forum session was held in September before the Petersburg Dialogue started. True, the status of the both events was lowered upon Germany’s initiative. The Petersburg Dialogue was usually held simultaneously with inter-government consultations. Not this time. The heads of state did not open the sessions as before, though Angela Merkel sent greetings to the participants. She emphasized that Germany was interested in durable partnership with Russia. 

On October 23, prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an article titled Merkel Stands for Dialogue with Russia. There were other publications is support of such stance written by Wolfgang Ischinger, the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Gernot Erler, the Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Eastern Partnership Countries, Franz Josef Jung, former Defence Minister. Upon Germany’s initiative the recent Petersburg Dialogue session was devoted to the «Modernization as a Chance to Build a Joint European Home». 

One can see some similarity with the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, signed in Paris on 21 November 1990, when Mikhail Gorbachev, the «best German», headed the Soviet Union. I believe having entered the new epoch (hardly will anyone disagree that a new epoch of international relations began in 2014) in the history of international relations the world needs new ideas and new decisions. A new business platform was formed in order to foster closer business ties, as was announced at the last day of the forum. The new platform will be made up of the Association of Russian Industrialists, the Russian business association Delovaya Rossiya, the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations and the German-Russia Foreign Trade Chamber. The forum’s press-release said the German business had no intention to let China or other countries take its place in the Russian market. It was interested in favorable conditions to be created by Russian government to allow German entrepreneurs make their contribution to import substitution. There is a lot to talk about. 

The press-release mentioned China. The relationship between Russia and China, or Asia in a broader sense of the word has come into focus recently being touched upon in many speeches. Does Russia believe it is a part of Europe or does it consider itself as a part of Eurasian space? This is a frequently asked question.

There is another question to ask. What about Europe? Does it see itself as an independent civilization or a part of Trans-Atlantic space called the «Old Continent»?

What’s the use of Ronald Pofalla’s calls for «reset» of Russia-German relationship if, at the very same time, he says the European Union will prolong the anti-Russian sanctions even if Russia cooperates with Europe and the United States in an effort to reach a peaceful settlement of Syria’s crisis? Pofalla believes that these are different things. He is wrong. Everything is intertwined when it comes to foreign policy (if the policy is well thought over and coherent). Russia will continue to pursue its interests in Ukraine and the post-Soviet space, even if Europe and the United States respond to its calls and finally join Moscow in its fight against terrorism, the proposal Moscow has put forward many times.

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