8 March 2018

Germany´s Russia Challenge

By John Lough for NATO Defense College (NDC)

John Lough contends that prior to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Germany failed to read Russia correctly. Indeed, he suggests that successive German governments remained in denial about developments in Russia, leading them to support a system in Moscow that was hostile to German interests. So how did this happen? To provide answers, Lough examines the complex mixture of attitudes and impulses that have informed German thinking about Russia since the end of the Cold War. Further, he addresses what Germany must now do to tackle the threat Moscow poses.

‘Between Russia and America there are oceans. Between Russian and Germany there is history with all its weight’1

With US policy discussion on Russia paralysed, NATO-Russia relations deadlocked, and EU Russia policy restricted to sanctions and five principles covering less than a page, the transatlantic community urgently requires a sober analysis of developments underway in Russia and their impact on western interests. It must also decide which tools are best suited to pursuing its goals in relations with Russia. A return to the European security system of the 1990s is not possible. Instead, the West is once again confronted with the need to design a set of policies that counter Russia’s efforts to project power beyond its borders and rebalance the international system in its favour.

No country in Europe feels more acutely than Germany the current disharmony in Europe’s relations with Russia. However, despite its deep historical roots in Russia and its unparalleled contacts there,2 Germany is not well equipped to take the lead in devising a new narrative for western relations with Russia. A long held sense of threat from Russia often limits its ability to be clear headed and decisive about events there. Its strong economic links can be a liability, with German industry tending to push hard to maintain trade and investment even when Russian behaviour is difficult and different policy signals are necessary. In political and business circles, there is a reluctance to accept that Russia’s current assault on western institutions is an assault on German interests even if Moscow does not single out Germany as a country hostile to Russia. These attitudes combine to form a default instinct to appease Russia in order to avoid or reduce confrontation.

As a result, Germany’s western partners need to be realistic about what Germany can contribute to the challenge of resisting malevolent Russian behaviour, and over the longer term encouraging Russia on to a path of genuine reform and modernisation. They should also be cautious in reading too much into the remarkable shift in German policy towards Russia in 2014 when Chancellor Merkel fashioned a robust EU response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its attempts to re-format Ukraine by fomenting conflict in Donbas. The EU’s adoption of financial sanctions against Russia was in marked contrast to its lame reaction to Russia’s aggression against Georgia in 2008 that signalled the desire of some of its largest member states to return to ‘business as usual’ with Moscow as soon as possible.

Germany’s leadership in the Normandy format resulted in the Minsk Agreements and demonstrated a new readiness and ability to take responsibility for European security in the absence of the US. Washington had signalled that it regarded Ukraine as Europe’s business and would limit its involvement. Contrary to expectations, Europe showed that it had made considerable progress in developing the capacity to manage a crisis on its continent after the failure to cope with the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s.

For Europe to speak with a single resolute voice on Russia under Berlin’s direction was a notable achievement for several reasons. First, Germany had to overcome its reluctance to exercise leadership on security issues as well as suspend many of its orthodoxies about the handling of Russia. Second, the EU had to speak on Russia with a single voice, an aspiration not previously fulfilled. On this occasion, Germany chose to act out of character and this change of behaviour took some EU partners as well as Moscow by surprise. Possibly, for this reason in the case of Russia, the crisis management policy was effective: the combined EU and NATO responses to Russia’s behaviour appeared to shock the Kremlin into pressing the pause button to contain a situation in Ukraine that was close to spiralling out of control and threatening broader conflict in Europe.

While this German response was unprecedented, it would be wrong to say that the experience of Ukraine in 2014 has transformed German thinking about Russia or its policy instincts towards it. Traditional ‘accommodationist’ reflexes still run deep and there have been contradictions in Germany’s actions. For example, Berlin has been reluctant to intervene to prevent construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline,3 a project with clear geopolitical benefits for Moscow and strategic and economic losses for Ukraine. It has also sometimes been prepared to put more pressure Ukraine than Russia to implement the Minsk Agreements. These contradictions may yet become more pronounced. With a reduced CDU/CSU majority in parliament after September’s election, the Chancellor’s policy line on Russia is likely to come under pressure given discomfort with it in parts of her own party as well as among large sections of the SPD as well as other opposition parties. Aside from the delicate process of running a new coalition government, the sheer volume of urgent issues in Europe facing German decision makers - from Brexit to reform of the Eurozone and relations with Turkey - may also limit the time available for dealing with Russia and the countries in its neighbourhood, in particular, Ukraine.

Germany’s Difficulty in Seeing the Broader Context of Russian Behaviour

Beyond its successful crisis management policy in Ukraine, serious limitations remain on Germany’s ability to take the next logical step to develop a new conceptual framework for dealing with the problem of Russia. This is evident in the nature and quality of the public debate about Russia: across the political spectrum, there has been loud condemnation of Russian behaviour in 2014, but surprisingly little discussion of the broader problem that Russia poses to Germany and its allies. For example, in a speech outlining the need for a new European foreign policy in December 2017, Foreign Minister Gabriel referred to Russia as one of several countries exploiting the space left by the US on Europe’s periphery and undermining global order and regional power arrangements. Yet he did not make the argument that Russia is seeking to re-boot the international system with a set of rules and norms not authored by the West.4 This goes far beyond the filling of a vacuum left by the withdrawal of US power and represents a much more serious challenge to German interests.

Such short-sightedness is surprising considering that Germans have experienced the Russia challenge over centuries. Throughout its history, Russia has sought to expand its influence when it has felt strong, and conversely, during periods of weakness, it has retreated. At present, it senses the opportunity to project its influence not just across its traditional zone of interest but deep within the West as well. This is a joined up strategy designed to recover influence lost at the end of the Cold War and cement a new Russian global presence in a rapidly changing world. Russia is motivated to do this for two reasons. First, it views the West as weak and increasingly divided as Asia rises, US global power erodes and the EU remains mired in an existential crisis. Second, it sees value in exploiting these western weaknesses and divisions to protect its system at home. Its overriding goal is to accelerate the development of a global system of decision-making with reduced US influence.5 To do so, it is using a combination of instruments both soft and hard from disinformation to territorial conquest. It is an aggressive, well thought-out but ultimately high-risk strategy given Russia’s relative economic weakness and thinly spread resources. Yet Russia’s leaders must have concluded that there is less danger associated with taking the risk of protracted confrontation with the West than with accepting the status quo. The Soviet authorities’ failure to react in time to prevent the collapse of the USSR weighs heavily on the Kremlin today.

Viewed in a historical context, Russia’s use of hard and soft power is also not new to Germany – from the Berlin blockade through to the support of the peace movement in the 1980s. However, Moscow’s brazen yet often skilful application of these tools in a globalised world presents novel dangers and challenges. In the German debate, however, there is still remarkably little awareness of how Russia is seeking to weaken NATO and the EU, in other words attacking Germany’s strategic anchors. These not only secured the country’s historical transformation and enabled reunification on terms acceptable to its neighbours. They remain a key element of the global security order that has allowed Germany to become the world’s richest exporter.6

The lack of open discussion of these issues points to the scale of the challenge facing Germany in developing clear policy thinking about Russia. The situation can be partly explained by the following factors:

First, Germany does not have a developed strategic community, and continues to lack a strategic policy culture – both the natural consequences of decades of outsourcing leadership to the United States and operating within a consensus-driven multilateral framework in which it has consistently conflated German interests with broader European and western interests. Like many other EU countries, it tends to think of good neighbourliness in post-modern terms of compromise and mutual understanding. At the same time, Russia classifies as good neighbours countries that accept its dominance over them.

Second, for German policy planners, Russia is currently not a priority: managing relations with the new US Administration and driving renewal processes in the EU rank higher.

Third, there is a continuing lack of policy-focused academic expertise on Russia and the broader region, notably Ukraine. In common with other leading western countries, much of this knowledge disappeared from the government system because Russia was no longer viewed as a security threat. In addition, little thought was given to developing analysis and understanding of the non-Russian successor states of the USSR and the likely evolution of their relations with Russia.

Fourth, public discussion of Russia is emotive and politicised with a tendency to focus on areas of disagreement rather than agreement. Too often, it is clouded by a mixture of deep-seated historical and psychological sensitivities as well as pacifist and anti-American undercurrents that are present in both elite and popular thinking. The lobbying of commercial interests can complicate the picture further.

Fifth, there is a tendency on the part of policy makers, journalists and academics to resort to simplistic clichés about relations with Russia. For example, ‘there can be no security in Europe without Russia’7 or ‘there is hardly a single conflict in Europe affecting Germany that can be solved without or against Russia’8. These refrains spoken just as often by Russian officials9 ignore the reality that Russia has a different understanding from Germany and its allies of the nature of security and conflict resolution. Russia usually prefers to freeze rather than solve conflicts and sees relations with neighbours in zero-sum power terms. In a similar vein, German commentators regularly reach for the old chestnut attributed to Prince William 1 of Prussia who built up a formidable army but avoided initiating war. He famously warned that ‘friendship and harmony should be sought with the Russian Tsar.’ The risks from doing otherwise were great, he warned, and ‘nothing was to be gained’ from them. Nevertheless, he noted at the same time that, ‘one should not trust the Russians too much.’10

Other stereotypes regularly heard in Berlin include the views that Russia is destined to have an authoritarian system, rule of law is alien to Russia, and most Russians are naturally anti-western. For a country with a cultural tradition of closeness to Russia and a history of shared romanticism, these opinions are remarkably fatalistic, particularly considering the transformation that Germans themselves underwent after the catastrophic defeat of 1945.

These limitations on Germany’s ability to see the broader Russian picture point to an obvious disjunction: the German system feels a greater responsibility than at any point since the end of the Cold War to demonstrate leadership and vision in the world. Self-interest obliges it to protect the post-1945 security order that integrated it into the West and was the foundation for Germany’s remarkable recovery from defeat and destruction in World War Two. Since unification in 1990, it has also been the foundation for the country’s most successful period of historical development. Yet to exercise this role requires developing strategy and the means to implement it. Despite successful management of the Eurozone crisis after the Great Recession of 2008-2009, and considerable progress since 2014 in facing up to the security threat posed by Russia, Germany still lacks the ability to think and act strategically.11 This is not surprising given the constraints of history and Germans’ discomfort with the notion of national interests. Despite their relative decline as international players, Britain and France both have strategic cultures influenced by history and reflected in their possession of nuclear weapons.

In terms of its Russia handling, Berlin is also a long way from having joined up interagency thinking and approaches. In recent years, for example the Federal Chancellery has consistently taken a more hawkish view on Russia compared to the Foreign Office. While this is partly attributable to the challenge of finding consensus positions in coalition government, there has been a reluctance across government to think beyond regional crisis management in Russia’s neighbourhood and to recognise the dangers from Russia to broader German interests. With such a heavily export-led economy, Germany is strongly motivated to preserve a peaceful, free and open world order and managing its increased economic and political weight by remaining deeply integrated into the transatlantic and European frameworks. Russia is attacking this system and Germans do not appear to see it, or at least do not wish to see it. This is surprising given that Germans are not in denial about other trends in the western world and their consequences for western institutions.

Before 2016, the pressures on the global economic and security architecture and the loss of cohesion and confidence within both NATO and the EU had been generating increasing angst in Germany. The twin blows of Britain’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election victory prompted a new wave of despair and a wealth of doom-laden prophecies. Chancellor Merkel’s words spoken the day after the 2017 G7 Summit ended without US commitment to the Paris climate change accord described an entirely new situation for Germans. ‘The times when we could fully rely on others are now a long way behind us, and so I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.’12 They showed that events had shaken her faith in the transatlantic bond, and that Europe had to face up to new and unexpected responsibilities.

Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer referred last summer to a power vacuum resulting from the ‘creeping self-abdication of the West’ and the erosion of the credibility of the US security guarantee for Europe, warning that no country is so unprepared for the consequences as Germany.13 25 years of reaping the peace dividend have also left the Bundeswehr requiring substantial investment.

Yet it is striking that this type of thinking does not extend to analysis of Russia and the consequences of its policies for Germany should they be left unchecked. This reflects perhaps a widespread tendency in EU countries that have grown accustomed to believing that conflicts can be resolved if the parties show sufficient decency, goodwill and pragmatism. While this may apply to relations among like-minded states, it does not extend to countries such as Russia that have different motivations and modus operandi. The result is a lack of readiness to recognise conflict and face up to it.

Additional Complications in Developing a Policy Focus on Russia

Under the Grand Coalition that governed from 2013 to 2017, there was a conscious effort to avoid a public discussion of Russia for fear of exposing divisions between the parties. The topic remains sensitive politically because of differing views within society that cut across generations and regions as well as business and civil society. Within the main parties too, there are divisions that are often categorised along oversimplified lines of Russlandversteher (those sympathetic to Russia) and Russlandkritiker (those critical of Russia). Within industry, there is also a range of views: the large companies often taking the traditional line going back to the 19th century that German industry benefits from the complementarity between the Russian and German markets (German manufactured goods in return for raw materials)14 and Russia as a bridge to China. On the other hand, smaller companies from the Mittelstand with their shorter history of relationships in Russia see the Russian market as potentially attractive but challenging because of its weak rule of law. These companies are not able to access the Kremlin to resolve investment problems unlike big business, but equally, they are often less dependent than the larger players on the Russian market and have greater flexibility to move operations elsewhere.

Following the 2017 federal election, the weakening of the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), the strengthening of the left-wing Die Linke party and the arrival of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) in parliament are set to muddy the waters further. During the election campaign, both Die Linke and the AfD and elements of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) played on widely held fears of Russia in society by appealing for an end to confrontational policies with Russia and the lifting of sanctions. Leaders of the Free Democrats (FDP) also raised the issue of regarding the annexation of Crimea as ‘a prolonged temporary factor’15 and the desirability of lifting sanctions.16

Other background influences less spoken about play into the public discourse about Russia and complicate it further. These include deeply embedded older notions of a German eastern orientation (Ostorientierung) as a country that is part of Mitteleuropa, and a romantic, cultural nation (Kulturnation) looking east and west and feeling a sense of closeness to Russia.17 According to this thinking, a number of German interests and reflexes were suppressed artificially by its incorporation into the West after 1945. This possibly explains why in some parts of society there is a curious mixture of anti-capitalist, anti-western (in particular anti-American) and anti-democratic sentiments that are instinctively sympathetic to so-called Russian conservative values and notions of ‘managed democracy.’

Much more visible, however, is the widely held belief in SPD and FDP circles that German unification was the result of the dialogue and confidence building at the heart of the Ostpolitik of the late 1960s and 70s that brought about détente and laid the foundations for the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The late Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Germany’s Foreign Minister from 1974 to 1992, was a strong advocate of this view. However, taken on its own, the argument is historically inaccurate since it disregards two important facts: first, that peace rather than unification was the main goal of Ostpolitik, and second, without NATO and an allied presence on West German territory and in West Berlin, there would have been no Ostpolitik anyway. In addition, without the NATO underpinning to western policies, the USSR would almost certainly not have bankrupted itself so quickly through excessive spending on defence. As events were to demonstrate in 1989, not only was the GDR in far greater debt than the Soviet leadership had ever imagined,18 the USSR too was in a precarious financial situation. Supported by the US, Helmut Kohl exploited this situation to impressive effect, achieving his goal of fast-track German unification within a NATO framework. This, in turn has led to a deep sense of gratitude to Moscow even if today’s Russian leaders would have scorned similar generosity to Germany and its western allies. Nevertheless, the experience of détente and the successful overcoming of Germany’s division have reinforced the view that the key to future German and European security lies in Moscow and that tension in relations with Moscow translates into insecurity for Europe as a whole.

Finally, there is deep-seated fear of Russia. Several factors contribute to this, including the scale of the defeat inflicted on the Wehrmacht during World War 2, and memories of how the Red Army entered Germany and engaged in licensed rape and pillage on a shocking scale as revenge for the behaviour of the invading Germans in the USSR (1941-5).19 There is also the legacy of GDR times when Soviet tanks were deployed to put down the workers uprising of 1953 and the East German authorities developed a highly repressive state security system on a Stalinist model. West German propaganda, and before it Nazi propaganda albeit in very different ways played their role in arousing fear of Russia. The default reaction to this angst on the part of the political class and broader public is to think in terms of ways to avoid conflict with Russia and to try where possible to assuage Russia’s leaders even at the cost of aggravating relations with central European countries. The recent controversy over the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a case in point.

Moscow grew accustomed to this approach in the early Putin years, so Angela Merkel’s decision in 2014 to stand firmly behind the new government in Ukraine and drive an EU sanctions policy to constrain Russian behaviour marked a genuine policy shift. Up to that point, Germany had been an ideal partner for the Kremlin. It had focused on economic cooperation as the basis of relations and avoided political disagreements, despite later efforts under Merkel’s leadership to pay attention to Russia’s beleaguered civil society and its increasingly isolated and dwindling liberal forces.

A failure to Read Russia Correctly

Given this complicated background, it is possibly not surprising that the public debate in Germany about Russia since 2014 has struggled to address properly the real issue: how German policy over more than 20 years managed to read Russia incorrectly allowing optimism to override realism. Despite the increasing evidence that policy aspirations were becoming divorced from Russian reality, successive German governments remained in denial about the type of changes taking place in Russia and their effects on Russian behaviour. They were not, of course, alone among western countries but they had reason to know better than most what was happening in Russia, and how the gradual re-emergence of a traditional model of governance in Russia with corresponding views of the West could not be wished away through dialogue and the promise of closer economic links.

As a result, Germany inadvertently ended up supporting a system in Russia that was friendly to Germany but increasingly hostile to German interests. This is particularly surprising for a country with such deep knowledge of Russian history and political culture, including Russia’s traditional view of its periphery as a buffer for security protection. During its history, Germany has also struggled with the lack of clear borders. It could and should have been alert to Russia’s instinctive need for ‘privileged relations’20 with the newly independent states and how this would create conflict as a result of Russia’s sense that it was entitled to limit their sovereignty for its own benefit. In the early 1990s, liberal policy makers in Moscow and not just Russian nationalists believed that Russia-first policies were necessary to reduce the economic burden on Russia itself, but with the expectation that a reinvigorated Russia would eventually regain influence over the former republics.21 The USSR’s withdrawal from Germany and Central Europe in 1990 was effectively Russia’s second Brest-Litovsk experience of the 20th Century.

Re-building an exclusive zone of influence in its neighbourhood was to become a defining feature of Russia’s relationship with Europe as soon as the Russian leadership under Putin realised that it could not join Europe without transforming Russia’s model of governance. Yet Berlin appeared to pay little attention. Similarly, Germany was remarkably insouciant about Russia’s reading of NATO enlargement, and did little to explain its purpose. It should have impressed on Russia’s leaders that from a German perspective, a key driver for enlargement initially to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland was the need to settle conclusively the German question to the benefit of Europe and Russia. As US diplomats put it at the time, ‘when Germany looks East, it should see West.’22 This message never entered the Russian public discourse during the 1990s when the country was still open to alternative arguments from the West.

Nevertheless, the sensitivity of NATO enlargement did eventually register in Berlin. Germany intervened in 2008 together with France to prevent the granting of NATO Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to Georgia and Ukraine. This move possibly pre-empted Russian action against Ukraine since the operation to seize Crimea was developed years earlier as a response to moves to integrate Ukraine into the Alliance. However, the compromise communiqué language at the NATO Bucharest Summit fought over by Germany and some Central European countries was not helpful in reassuring Moscow about NATO’s intentions: ‘We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.’23 To NATO insiders, the open-ended formulation was vague enough for it not to oblige member states to admit the two countries at any time in the short or medium-term, and then only assuming they had no conflicts with Russia. In other words, NATO had kicked the issue in to the long grass and expected Moscow to understand. Although Russian policy makers will have known this thanks to personal assurances and intelligence data, it was not how they chose to the view issue given their tendency to interpret diplomatic language by the letter and not its spirit. Again, the German system with its sophisticated understanding of Russian sensitivities could have been expected to have identified the problem, drawn the consequences and gone the extra mile to communicate the message. However, this did not happen, and the response came quickly as Russia increased its pressure on Georgia and succeeded in goading President Saakashvili into attacking Russian ‘peacekeepers’ in South Ossetia just four months later. This was a signal to Ukraine and NATO of the limits that Moscow felt obliged to set on the Alliance’s enlargement. Although the decision not to give MAPs to Georgia and Ukraine possibly forestalled Russian moves to seize Crimea, the western desire to return to ‘business as usual’ after Russia’s aggression against Georgia made possible the outcome it wanted to avoid. There are strong grounds to believe that Putin’s decision to annex Crimea was influenced by the belief that he would not face a meaningful response from the West.

Later signs that Russia was seeking to mobilise its diaspora in other countries through a ‘Russian World’ concept also did not receive the attention they deserved. Berlin failed to intervene in 2013 to prevent the issue of Ukraine’s Association Agreement being used as a pretext by Moscow to cement its control over Ukraine’s foreign and security policy. The argument advanced by some German diplomats that Germany was in an election campaign in the summer and early autumn of 2013 (federal elections took place on 22 September) and could not react in time to address the problem in time is hardly persuasive. The issue had been on the agenda for several months beforehand, and it was clear that the Russian leadership had changed its view of EU enlargement from Putin’s statement in 2004 that Russia had no objection to Ukraine joining the EU.24 At that time, Moscow saw NATO as the threat to its interests rather than the EU. After the US misadventure in Iraq, it hoped there would be increased estrangement between the US and its European allies.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the settlement of the German question opened the Russia question: how Russia, an expanding EU and the Europe in between (Zwischeneuropa) should relate to each other and what institutional arrangements should support these relationships. It is understandable that Germany was unable to demonstrate a clear vision in the early 1990s of how Russia and its neighbourhood were likely to develop. The collapse of Europe’s last empire had come at a dizzying pace on top of rapid German unification, and had effects that spread beyond the borders of the USSR, notably the break-up of Yugoslavia and the start of a vicious civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The scale and pace of change were bewildering and policy makers focused on managing the situation day by day with concerns ranging from the feeding of the population in Russia to the security of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, elements of which were suddenly present outside Russia’s borders in newly independent Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

However, in the years that followed, German policy towards Russia and the other newly independent former Soviet republics was hostage to the post-modern thinking that prevailed in the West rather than Russia. Nevertheless, throughout this time, despite Germany discarding notions of Russia as a security threat and developing separate relationships with the other newly independent countries of the region, Russia policy always remained Chefsache, the preserve of the Chancellor’s Office.

Consistency of Policy From 1990 Through to 2014

a. Helmut Kohl (1990-1998)

In the immediate aftermath of German unification in October 1990, Chancellor Kohl referred to integration and cooperation as the ‘key concepts’ for developing the European architecture of the future.25 He explained that they represented the final move away from 19th century European structures of state relations that had failed to provide long-term stability. His message to the USSR was that the Cold War had meant that many in the West had forgotten that many Soviet peoples were connected with Europe through culture and history and that this connectivity could now be made politically useful for the future.

Less than a year later, those peoples had declared independence and the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. This left Germans staring in disbelief at maps showing countries that they barely knew, but deeply conscious that German unification could not have taken place without Mikhail Gorbachev’s pragmatism even if he had wanted to sustain the GDR as a socialist state. In the shortest space of time, Gorbachev went from being the leader of a superpower to presiding over the break-up of his own country, feted in Germany but reviled in Russia. Germany’s attention had to turn immediately to dealing with Gorbachev’s nemesis, Boris Yeltsin, a process that Kohl managed quickly and sensitively, offering western financial assistance and specifically German experience in transitioning from an authoritarian system to a democratic one requiring ‘the establishment of rule of law with efficient, capable administrations close to citizens and independent courts.’26 The encouragement to Moscow to develop Rechtsstaatlichkeit (rule of law) would become a recurrent theme for many years in official German statements about Russia.

The withdrawal ahead of schedule of Soviet/Russian troops from the former GDR was no small achievement on the part of the newly designated Russian Armed Forces and created considerable hardship for returning officers and families in the absence of adequate housing. Germany did its bit to help, paying for the construction of 45,000 apartments and retraining programmes for military personnel leaving the service. This was undoubtedly a small price to pay and, as Kohl later noted, Russia could easily have found grounds to delay the withdrawal.27 Russian goodwill, in this case, contributed to a relationship of trust between Kohl and Yeltsin that also influenced the German and more widely shared western view that Yeltsin was the best guardian of democratic development in Russia. This despite the fact that the shelling of the Russian White House, the establishment of a super-Presidency and the manner of Yeltsin’s reelection in 1996 indicated the opposite. In July 1997, Kohl could speak of German-Russian relations as being the best ever in history.28 He and Yeltsin enjoyed a close personal relationship built on their common experience of war, and Kohl went out of his way to support Yeltsin internationally.29 By this time, Russia had been admitted to the G7 with strong German support, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act had been signed as a counter-weight to NATO enlargement. In language that was to set the tone for later German policy towards Russia, Kohl stated that it was ‘now necessary to tie together (flechten) the network of partnership with Russia ever closer’30 through political and economic development and support for Russia’s transition to a market economy.

b. Gerhard Schröder (1998-2005)

The 1998 coalition agreement between the SPD and Greens did not contain a single reference to Russia, and the new Chancellor Gerhard Schröder found himself in a different relationship with Boris Yeltsin. Unlike Kohl, he did not have wartime experience in common with the Russian President and lacked the same emotional connection. By the time Schröder travelled to Moscow in late 1998, Russia had defaulted on its sovereign debt and was looking to Germany to provide large-scale financial assistance that Schröder did not want to give. Yeltsin’s health was declining rapidly and there were limited opportunities to build the personal relationship. A year later, Yeltsin had left office, ceding the reins of power to a young German-speaking KGB officer who had made an unspectacular career and spent five years in a bureaucratic backwater in Dresden.

This relationship was different. Like other western leaders, including Tony Blair, Schröder believed that Putin was a moderniser who deserved personal support. The development of relations through opposition to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 laid the foundation for a personal bond between Schröder and Putin that remains valuable to the Russian President to this day. The former Chancellor’s recent appointment as Chairman of the state oil company Rosneft, and his continued outspoken advocacy of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline are the latest examples. Putin developed the relationship skilfully, helping Schröder and his former wife Doris to adopt two children from Russia,31 the first while Schröder was still in office. It is not hard to believe that this created a kinship between the two men that Putin has exploited to the maximum.

Putin’s courting of the German political and business elite began in earnest in September 2001 when he addressed the German parliament in German in a powerful speech that is still regularly quoted today. He played cleverly on German historical and cultural perceptions of Russia and called for Russia’s integration into Europe in order to secure Europe’s position as a ‘powerful and independent middle point in global politics’ based on unifying its capabilities with ‘Russia’s human, territorial and natural resources as well as with its economic, cultural and defence potential.’32 The video footage of the speech shows how effectively Putin was able to communicate to his audience. Many MPs found themselves moved by the experience of listening to a young Russian President address them in their own language.

As liberal economic reforms began to bear fruit in the early years of Putin’s rule, German business began to increase its exposure to Russia and exports grew significantly. In 1999, Germany imported €8.4 billion worth of goods (mainly oil and gas) from Russia. In 2003, the figure rose to €14.2 billion. Proportionally, exports rose even more - from €5.1 million in 1999 to €12.1 million in 2003, principally cars, machinery and chemical products.33

By this time, Schröder had assumed Kohl’s mantle of speaking up for Russia’s interests abroad but his approach involved him personally defending Putin and ignoring the erosion of media freedoms, as well as the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, CEO of Yukos, and the subsequent nationalisation of Russia’s largest oil company. Despite his emphasis on building economic ties, in particular, in the area of energy, he did not publicly express concern about property rights or rule of law although he claimed that he did discuss difficulties in Russia’s transformation process in private with Putin.34 Nor did he voice concerns about Russia’s continued retreat from democratic norms and practices, instead claiming famously in late 2003 that Putin was an ‘absolutely pure democrat’ and would make Russia into a proper democracy.35 He also repeated Putin’s arguments about the need to strengthen the Russian state so that it could protect its citizens as well as domestic and foreign investors.

It was understandable from a German domestic perspective that Schröder wished to prioritise exports to Russia as he set about reforming the Germany economy and boosting growth, and that he sensed support in his party and the broader public for developing good relations with Russia. However, he played into Putin’s hands, continuing to defend Putin’s actions long after it had become clear that the Russian President did not intend to join the West and sought instead to use his relationship with Schröder and later Silvio Berlusconi to create divisions within Europe and stop western countries from presenting a united front to Russia.

In Russia, Schröder’s relationship served to strengthen Putin and became an increasing source of concern to Russian opposition politicians who, as one Russian commentator noted in 2005, were increasingly convinced that Germany had de-prioritised democratic values and was conducting a cynical Realpolitik consisting of unconditional support for Putin and lobbying the interests of German business in Russia.36 In Germany too, discomfort was growing. Media coverage of Russia was becoming increasingly negative as civic freedoms came under further attack. A government-funded think tank even published an article entitled ‘Silence for Gas?,’37 a reference to the German government’s practice of failing to raise sensitive issues for the Russian side in recognition of Germany’s increasing gas dependency on Russia (38% of imports in 2004). However, it is noteworthy that in the case of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, Schröder and his Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, were the first to say that the elections had been falsified. Schröder almost certainly played an important role in defusing the crisis and persuading Putin that the election needed to be re-run. Viktor Yushchenko’s ultimate victory was a humiliating outcome for the Russian President, and not the last that he would experience in Ukraine.

A defining feature of Schröder’s Russia policy was his continuation of Kohl’s personalisation of relations with the Russian President. By contrast though, his friendly relations with Putin proved more advantageous to Russia than Germany. Schröder not only publicly defended Putin, but also put clear emphasis on economic interests rather than democratic values in bilateral relations. While this increasingly created discomfort in Germany as the space for civil society narrowed and flagrant abuses of the Russian legal system increased, Schröder was able to dress up his policy in terms of economic engagement creating long-term incentives for improving rule of law.

There might have been merit to this view if it had not been for the exact opposite occurring with the expansion of a neo-feudal system of governance and the associated weakening of property rights and civil society. German policy makers at the time either did not fully understand the developments taking place in Russia or chose to ignore them. Fischer showed little interest in Russia, leaving Schröder solely in charge of relations. The Chancellor’s lobbying of the Nord Stream pipeline and his later acceptance of the role of Chairman of the Shareholder Committee of the company building the pipeline caused outrage in Germany. He and Putin had attended a ceremony to mark the signing of the contract on the construction of the pipeline two weeks before Schröder left office, and the former Chancellor confirmed his acceptance of the new role barely three months later. This was a coup for Putin and revealed Germany’s lack of regulation to prevent senior government officials from exposing themselves to potential conflicts of interest. Symbolically, it reinforced the fact that Germany had suspended its moral principles in dealings with Russia in favour of economic interests.

c. Angela Merkel (2005 - present)

The 2005 CDU/CSU election programme used strong language to distance itself from Schröder’s foreign policy, noting the lack of a comprehensive foreign and security policy concept and the damage to Germany’s reputation in the world ‘through a systematic hollowing out of NATO and through Russia and China policies bereft of principles.’ It expressed a desire for good relations with Russia – but not over the heads of its neighbours and it called for Germany not to ignore problematic internal developments in Russia.38 However, the need for a Grand Coalition produced a policy vision that differed less significantly from the previous SPD-Green version. It noted that Germany had a particular interest in supporting Russia’s modernisation and that its aim was a prosperous Russia ‘orientated to values to which Europe is committed’ that ‘with consideration of its traditions successfully overcomes the transition to a stable democracy.’39 The divisions over the emphasis of policy were clearly visible in the handling of Russia by the new Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Merkel brought a new coolness to the personal relationship with Putin. With her East German background and command of Russian, she was far better placed than her predecessor to read Putin’s intentions. She spoke pointedly of partnership between Germany and Russia rather than friendship.

Meanwhile, Steinmeier was promoting a neo-Ostpolitik policy of ‘Annäherung durch Verflechtung’ (Growing Closer Through Tying Together) with the emphasis on promoting closer relations between the EU and Russia rather than the broader goal of political and social modernisation in Russia. In language that must have pleased Moscow, the German Foreign Office had concluded in a strategy paper that despite Russia developing along a different path from the EU, it remained an important partner vital for preserving peace in Europe and resolving conflict in the Balkans and the Middle East.40 Germany had made itself the demandeur in the relationship, apparently without considering how it could exert influence on Russia to achieve its desire for cooperative security. Instead it spoke vaguely of promoting ‘Russia’s constructive engagement through new offers of cooperation and integration’ and ‘anchoring it irreversibly in Europe through close political, economic and cultural relations.’41

Ahead of Germany’s 2007 EU Presidency, Steinmeier was trying to lay the foundations for negotiating an updated EU-Russia cooperation agreement by demonstrating that Russia was still welcome in Europe. In the view of the Foreign Office, this was to include a free trade area and discussion about closer cooperation with Russia as part of European Security and Defence Policy, including possible joint peacekeeping. The strategy paper placed strong emphasis on the energy relationship and the advantage of putting energy security on to a reciprocal legal basis, including acceptance of EU competition rules. Gazprom’s takeover of Shell’s controlling stake in the Sakhalin-2 project in late 2006 was a source of concern to the German government because it revealed that Putin’s ‘dictatorship of the law’ did not extend to the protection of a major international company’s property rights in Russia. At this time, there was widespread concern in Europe that Gazprom would not be able to produce sufficient gas to supply its domestic and international customers. However, there was little sign of concern in Berlin about the evolution of Russia’s energy diplomacy and the use of energy relations to seek political advantage.42

The Russo-Georgian war of 2008 set alarm bells ringing in Berlin and exposed the lack of realism in policy thinking. Just three months earlier, Steinmeier had outlined his ill-fated concept of a ‘modernisation partnership’ between Germany and Russia, describing Russia as ‘Germany and the EU’s indispensable partner in shaping tomorrow’s political world’ and in providing ‘security and stability in Europe and far beyond.’43 Georgia was the first indication that Moscow had chosen to break with the West, and that beyond technical modernisation it was not interested in the ‘historically unique transformation process’44 that Germany saw open to it.

Analysing Russia’s actions in Georgia, Merkel correctly spotted the emergence of a deeper problem related to Russian grievances from the 1990s onwards that stemmed from its alleged treatment by the West. Presciently, she referred to the danger of Russia and Germany coming to entirely different conclusions about what had led to German unification and the expansion of NATO and the EU after the collapse of the USSR.45 At this point, Russian policymakers had woken up to the transformative power of the EU after its 2004 enlargement that included the three Baltic states and four central European countries followed by the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. She appealed for open discussion of the issues to avoid the German and Russian publics forming their own opinions ‘from which frictions could arise.’ Putin’s speech five and a half years later marking the annexation of Crimea demonstrated that Merkel had been correct in anticipating that Russia would develop its own historical narrative, but in this case for revanchist purposes.

Similarly, in a further sign of increasing German concern about Russian behaviour, the Foreign Office demonstrated remarkable foresight in anticipating where further problems could arise on Russia’s periphery. It chose to open a General Consulate in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk in 2009. According to German diplomats, the purpose was to learn more about a region that Germany did not understand well in anticipation of further possible disputes on Russia’s borders.

Despite the Georgia experience and abundant evidence that Russia’s new President Dmitri Medvedev was not the ultimate decision maker, Berlin decided to court him. It hoped that President Obama’s ‘reset’ policy would improve US-Russia relations with positive consequences for EU-Russia relations as well as bilateral ties but there were increasing references to inadequate levels of trust between Russia and its western partners, including Germany. Medvedev’s poorly presented idea of a European Security Treaty was initially outlined in Berlin before Russian intervention in Georgia. It gained no traction because of it. This latest rejection served to inflate Russia’s increasing sense of grievance that accompanied its growing sense of power.

The 2009 coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU and the FDP stated that the German government viewed Russia as ‘an important partner in overcoming regional and global challenges,’ including Afghanistan, the Middle East, international terrorism, climate change and global epidemics.46 It also declared optimistically that it would ‘support Russia in consistently continuing the course of modernisation and in the process, reducing the shortcomings related to human rights, rule of law and democracy.’ The appalling death of the 37-year year old lawyer, Sergey Magnitsky, in a Moscow prison barely three weeks after the new government was sworn in spoke volumes about how German policy had become divorced from reality in Russia.

Merkel preferred dealing with Medvedev rather than Putin. He seemed to have a more modern outlook and spoke of an agenda for change based on economic and social renewal that was appealing to parts of the Russian middle class. Yet it was clear at the time that shared only a small group in the ruling elite shared this vision and that it lacked influence. Humiliatingly, Medvedev had to announce that he supported Putin’s candidacy to replace him in the 2012 presidential election despite his desire to stay in office. Berlin’s hopes that Medvedev would usher in a period of genuine modernisation had been dashed.

By this stage, the US-Russia ‘reset’ was over, and Russia’s relations with the EU and NATO were stagnating. Moscow was becoming increasingly frustrated with the impact of the EU’s Third Energy Package on Gazprom’s business model in Europe and EU efforts to diversify its gas supply away from Russia. However, German-Russian business ties had continued to develop, symbolised by the opening of the Nord Stream pipeline in November 2011, for the first time connecting Germany directly to Russian gas supplies. This again pointed to contradictions in German policy – its stated aims of supporting the EU’s energy security strategy and the government’s commitment to consider the legitimate interests of its neighbours in building relations with Russia were not followed. The Nord Stream pipeline contributed to increasing gas supplies from Russia to Europe but was strongly opposed by Poland and other new EU member states. Ignoring these countries’ warnings that the new pipeline served Russian political objectives, Merkel stated pointedly at the opening ceremony that Nord Stream was a ‘commercial project.’ German officials would later use the same disingenuous formulation in describing Nord Stream 2, despite Russia’s history of using energy for political purposes, and the fact that a Russian state company had a majority stake in the project.

Notwithstanding the absence of structural economic reforms and the deterioration of the human rights situation in Russia during the period after Putin’s re-election as President in 2012, as well as actions by the authorities to marginalise political opposition, the new German government that took office in late 2013 still spoke of pursuing a modernisation partnership with Russia. Clear indications of Russia’s demodernisation (with the exception of its armed forces that were enjoying substantial re-investment) and its turn away from Europe were not sufficient to deter the CDU/CSU/SPD Grand Coalition from stating the old cliché that ‘security in and for Europe can only be achieved with, not against Russia.’47

Putin had returned to the Kremlin after unprecedented protests in late 2011 by middle class Russians angered at his decision to seek re-election, effectively depriving voters of a real choice of a national leader, and the foreclosing of Medvedev’s tentative efforts to develop a reform agenda. Not surprisingly, this necessitated an effort to reconsolidate support for the regime. It focused not on structural reforms of the economy and strengthening rule of law but on the opposite: the expansion of state ownership in the economy, the promotion of anti-western conservative values, the defence of the Kremlin’s version of Russia’s national interests and intimidation of potential opposition forces.

The 2013 coalition agreement nevertheless stuck to traditional statements such as ‘Russia is required to adhere to legal and democratic standards to which Russia has also committed itself internationally.’ It also talked of seeking a new partnership agreement between the EU and Russia. Strikingly, the agreement was published a day before the start of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Lithuania at which Ukraine’s President Yanukovych indicated that he could not sign the proposed Association Agreement with the EU because of Russian pressure. For all its good intentions, Germany’s Russia policy was about to be cruelly exposed as having misread Russia’s development and the calculus of its leadership. The over five-fold increase in German exports to Russia from 2000 to 2011 (in 2011 exports were worth €34bn)48 had not contributed to an improvement of the investment environment or promoted the rule of law. The development of trade simply showed that the Russian leadership was correct in believing that western companies would continue to do successful business in Russia without the far-reaching legal and governance reforms that their governments claimed were necessary.

It is noteworthy that Russian exports to Germany had also grown significantly, from €14.6bn in 2001 to a peak of $40.6bn in 201149, a reflection largely of increased oil and gas exports at higher prices. Yet considering the size of Russia’s GDP, the overall trade balance (€74.6bn) was low. German-Czech Republic bilateral trade in 2011, for example, was nearly €66bn50 without the Czech Republic being a major energy exporter to Germany. German-Polish bilateral trade was fractionally larger than trade between Poland and Russia.51 By comparison, US-German trade was worth €147.5bn in 2011,52 2.5 times more than with Russia, and bilateral trade with China stood at €144.4bn53.

Despite the weak compromises of the coalition agreement, part of the German political class was becoming anxious about the direction in which Russia was heading. Parliament had unanimously passed a tough resolution in November 2012 initiated by the Greens54 that called on the government to observe its international human rights obligations and express concern at increasing Russian restrictions on democratic freedoms, including limiting opportunities for protest, discouraging NGOs from receiving foreign funding and broadening the definition of high treason. Unprecedentedly critical of the Kremlin’s retreat from democracy, the resolution expressed concern about Berlin’s readiness to put economic interests before values and its de facto acceptance of the Kremlin’s concept of modernisation defined in traditional terms of technological modernisation. It also sounded the alarm about the future of relations, correctly predicting that the internal developments in Russia threatened to restrict opportunities for cooperation and identifying the danger that these ‘could lead to a growing alienation between Russia and the rest of Europe.’

Yet the warning appeared to go unheeded as Berlin failed to connect Russia’s increasing turn away from European norms and the Kremlin’s growing attraction to the latest iteration of Russia as a ‘cultural nation’ with interests, rights and responsibilities on the territory of neighbouring countries. Brussels was left in charge of leading the process of seeking an EU Association Agreement (including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) with Ukraine despite obvious signs in the summer of 2013 that Russia was placing increasing pressure on the authorities in Kyiv not to sign. Armenia had opted for the membership of the Customs Union over an Association Agreement with the EU after Moscow used increased gas prices and arms sales to Azerbaijan as a signal of the measures it could take to weaken Armenia’s international position if it chose to try to leave Moscow’s orbit. Russia had also applied pressure to Georgia and Moldova, indicating that Russia’s opposition to the EU’s initiative was not just restricted to Ukraine. However, there was no demarche from Berlin to address some justifiable Russian concerns about the Agreement, in particular the issue of goods from the EU being illegally re-packaged and sold in Russia as Ukrainian under CIS free trade arrangements. However, despite later protestations to the contrary, Moscow did not seek these talks as a matter of priority. As a senior Russian source later confirmed, they had been on offer on several occasions at previous EURussia Summits.55 For all its desire to manage bilateral relations within an EU framework, Berlin had underestimated the impact of the Eastern Partnership initiative driven largely by Poland and Sweden as a response to events in Georgia in 2008.

By contrast, Germany’s patient role in securing the release from prison of the former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his colleague Platon Lebedev in December 2013 was an indication of its reach into the Russian system and its desire not to give up on human rights issues. Former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher was closely involved in the process. The two men had spent more than ten years behind bars on politically motivated charges. Their jailing together with the nationalisation of Yukos, Russia’s biggest oil company at the time, had caused considerable damage to Russia’s investment environment.

Crimea – a Rubicon Crossed

Russia’s seizure of Crimea caused dismay, disbelief and fear in Berlin. Moscow’s behaviour was particularly disturbing for Germans, given their history. It not only represented a violation of international law that was deeply offensive to a country with a strong legalistic culture. It also evoked memories of the Nazi past and the tragedies associated with mobilising diaspora populations and using them to justify territorial expansion in the cases of Hitler’s seizure of the Sudetenland and the Austrian Anschluss. In addition, Russia had shown that it was prepared to disregard its bilateral obligations to Ukraine as well as its commitment to Helsinki principles. Merkel’s statement to the German parliament on 13 March 2014 was unequivocal about Russia’s disregard for Ukrainian and international law in Crimea, its violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its exploitation of Ukraine’s weakness. She said that unlike in the case of Georgia in 2008, there could be no return to business as usual. She also argued that from the German perspective, the Association Agreement was an invitation to Ukraine to modernise just as Germany and the EU had proposed a modernisation partnership with Russia.

To a country that had so successfully rejected and overcome its totalitarian past and abandoned geopolitical thinking, it was hard for Germans to understand why Russia would not want to follow a similar process, avoiding conflict with its neighbours and focusing national development around strengthening rule of law and democratic institutions. To a German mind shaped by the success of the EU as a peace project, territorial expansion and balance of power politics were simply passé and flew in the face of the consensus-based international politics of a globalised world in which countries should not act simply out of self-interest but demonstrate collective responsibility. Yet for years, Moscow had signalled that it understood the idea of collective responsibility more as a zero-sum game than an exercise based on common interests. This was logical, given that its interests were increasingly in conflict with those of the West.

As Merkel noted in her address to parliament, Russia was strongly tied into the globalised world. She listed Germany’s efforts to ensure this: its annual government consultations with Germany, civil society interaction through the Petersburg Dialogue mechanism, the German-Russian Raw Materials Forum and more than 20 bilateral agreements with the EU. She also referred to its membership of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the G8, G20 and the NATO-Russia Council, in addition to negotiating mandates in the Middle East peace process and the nuclear talks with Iran and ‘much, much more.’56 Summarising her incredulity at Russia’s behaviour, Merkel went on to say: ‘That … is the environment in which we just as in Georgia in 2008 and now in … Ukraine are experiencing a conflict about spheres of influence and territorial claims as we know it from the 19th or 20th centuries, a conflict that we believed we had overcome.’

There are strong grounds to believe that President Putin had either not given sufficient thought to the German reaction or simply miscalculated what it would be. Sources in Berlin close to the Chancellor’s Office say that after the fall of the Yanukovych regime, Putin lied to Merkel about Russia’s intentions in Crimea and that this destroyed any remaining trust that she may have had in the relationship.

Up to this point, Russia had enjoyed from its perspective a politically valuable and economically lucrative relationship with Europe’s most influential country knowing that Berlin was reluctant to stand up to Russia. It had multiple levers of influence in Germany through business, political relationships, old GDR networks, and a Russian-speaking community comprising an estimated three million people57. Yet by its behaviour, Russia forced Germany to think and act geopolitically and propose economic sanctions. As Merkel put it in her statement to parliament: ‘If Russia continues its course of the last weeks, this would not just be a catastrophe for Ukraine. We would then sense that … as a threat. This would then change not only the relationship of the EU as a whole with Russia. No, that would damage … Russia massively, both economically and politically. For – I cannot say it often enough or with enough emphasis – the clock cannot be turned back. Conflicts of interest in the middle of Europe in the 21st century can only be successfully overcome when we do not resort to the examples of the 19th and 20th centuries. They can only be overcome, when we act with the principles and means of our time, the 21st century.’58

No official German statement since then has expressed so clearly the depth of the differences between Moscow and Berlin and the extent of the collision of interests and security cultures. It is remarkable that it took Germany so long to recognise that Russia did not share Germany’s post-modern outlook and that no amount of dialogue or economic cooperation was going to make it change its instincts. The British analyst, James Sherr had written five years earlier after events in Georgia: ‘Today Russia is pursuing a number of classically nineteenth century aims - great power status, diminution of the rights of small powers and the formation of ‘regions of privileged interest’ - and it is doing so with a mixture of classical and twenty-first century tools - intelligence and covert penetration, commerce and joint ventures, ‘lobbying structures’ and litigation, energy and downstream investment and, in the former USSR, Russian diasporas and other ‘civilisational’ forms of soft power.’59 It is hard to believe that Germany’s security and intelligence communities had not reached similar conclusions.

In 2014, the Russian system acting on these instincts took them to their logical extreme and undermined the security order that it had been chafing against for several years, but with the exception of Georgia, had not seen fit to challenge openly. Germany was not alone among its EU partners in sustaining the hope that Georgia was a blip caused by the foolhardiness of the Georgian President and that Russia would continue to respect the inviolability of borders and the impermissibility of using force to solve problems. Yet to sustain this hope required optimism bordering on self-deception. It was clear after the experience of Georgia that Russia, like any rule breaker that had escaped serious censure, was more rather than less likely to re-commit the offence. This raises questions about the claim by some German officials that Germany was not over-optimistic about Russia and had few illusions about its intentions. It would imply that German policy planners had in fact expected Russia might challenge borders again on its periphery but had not seen the need to deter such a prospect.

Despite its late awakening, Germany’s efforts to contain the war in Donbas and protect Ukrainian sovereignty have been impressively consistent. EU financial sanctions may not so far have persuaded Russia to change its policy on Ukraine, but together with NATO’s response and the Minsk Agreements, they have almost certainly encouraged Russia to take a step back and evaluate its options. Despite the obvious imperfections of the Minsk documents, German diplomats can argue with justification that they have at least created a process. In diplomacy, a process often serves to slow down events and seek compromises as calculations change. Putin’s recasting in September 2017 of an earlier Ukrainian proposal to send a UN peacekeeping force to police the rebel-held areas might indicate that Russia is finally seeking an end to the stalemate albeit not on the terms of Ukraine and its western partners.

Where Does Berlin Go From Here?

From 2014 through to the 2017 federal election, Merkel kept to her policy forged in crisis of deterring further Russian aggression against Ukraine and potentially other neighbourhood countries through a combination of economic sanctions and reinvigoration of NATO’s collective defences. At the same time, she held the door open for dialogue to resolve the issue of control of the rebel-held territories in southeastern Ukraine. Her diplomacy defined the EU response to the most serious diplomatic crisis in Europe since 1945 and mirrored the Obama administration’s policies to contain the situation, including sanctions against Russian individuals and business entities as well as political and material support for Ukraine’s new authorities. De facto, though, Germany was in the lead with Berlin assuming a new and uncomfortable level of responsibility.

For a cautious leader such as Angela Merkel, this was a bold policy that carried considerable risk. Predictably, it came under heavy attack in Germany, in particular, from an influential older generation of former officials, businesspeople and politicians who in December 2014 appealed for the government to restore dialogue with Moscow and for Europe to embark on a new détente.60 Gerhard Schröder was among the signatories. The ghosts of Ostpolitik were stalking Germany again with renewed discussion of the need to include rather than exclude Russia from Europe and to respect Russia’s security needs that were no different from those of Germans, Poles and Ukrainians. The German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (Ostausschuss) was vocal in its criticism of sanctions but the more influential Federation of German Industry (BDI) recognised that political interests trumped economic interests and supported the policy. As the Chairman of the BDI put it: ‘It does not matter what one businessman finds right or wrong. It’s the primacy of politics that counts.’61

However, as elsewhere in Europe, the effects of the shooting down of MH17 from rebel-held territory in Ukraine and the mounting casualties from the war served to emphasise that Russia was exporting violence to Germany’s neighbourhood and that dialogue alone was an insufficient response. Moscow’s loose talk about nuclear weapons was unnerving to Germans and probably also helped encourage a view that a NATO response was necessary to constrain Russian actions. There is good reason to believe that Moscow deliberately played the nuclear card, knowing the German public’s sensitivity on the issue. In her earlier statement to parliament, Merkel had warned that ‘a long breath’ would be necessary to resolve the situation in Ukraine (including Crimea). This was probably an allusion to the time taken to reunify Germany. It reflected the fact that crisis management could reduce tensions, but it could not realistically resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia on the one hand and between Russia and the West on the other.

This did not prevent tensions within the Grand Coalition from spilling over. In June 2016, Foreign Minister Steinmeier criticised a series of NATO exercises held in Poland and the Baltic states as ‘sabre rattling’ and ‘warmongering,’ calling instead for dialogue with Moscow on issues such as conventional arms control and the curtailment of Iran’s nuclear programme. This was classic SPD thinking about Russia and probably represented some early electioneering designed to tap into the public’s pacifist sympathies. As a perceptive German journalist noted a few months later, there were dangers in the SPD harking back to its glory days of Ostpolitik when it had enjoyed its biggest election victories. Serving up old policies risked misleading a willing public into believing that it was simply a question of making the right offer to Russia’s leaders in order to put relations right.62

Other issues helped to retain support for Merkel’s policy in both Germany and the EU. These included the ‘Lisa affair’63 in January 2016 and a series of cyber-attacks on parliament64 as well as details of Russian ‘active measures’ in Germany, including the alleged establishment by Russian military intelligence of over 60 military sports schools in German cities that a Russian security expert described as ‘sleeper cells’ of the Russian intelligence services.65 As elsewhere in Europe, Russia’s intervention in Syria and its bombing campaign in support of the Syrian leadership kept the German political class and public alert to Moscow’s willingness to use force beyond its borders with apparently little regard for civilian lives.

However, with German politics in a state of unprecedented flux and Merkel’s authority weakened by the CDU/CSU’s smaller majority in parliament after September’s election, it is by no means certain that Germany’s Russia policy will retain the substance and momentum it acquired in 2014. Although Russia was not an election issue in 2017, pressure from across the political spectrum to seek to ‘normalise’ relations with Moscow is likely to increase. The consensus within the EU on maintaining sanctions is also likely to fray further increasing the likelihood that at some point Germany’s policy line will soften assuming there is no deterioration of the situation in Ukraine directly attributable to Russia. Moscow’s decision not to meddle in the German election may also play to its advantage by helping disarm those forces in Germany that see hostile intent in Moscow’s policy towards Germany. Equally, though, the Kremlin’s likely anti-western rhetoric in the run up to the March presidential election could help freeze current German policy in place for some time longer.

Time for a Serious Debate on Russia

To develop a strategy to address the challenges that Russia poses to German interests, Germany must have a serious debate about the nature of the challenge and the means available to address it. This requires rigorous analysis of Russia’s strengths and weaknesses relative to those of NATO and the EU. The discussion needs to address the strategy that Russia is using and to identify the most effective means of countering it, encouraging Moscow over time to return to a path of reform as the best guarantee of achieving its national security goals. In other words, persuading future Russian leaders to change Russia rather than try to change the international system to accommodate an unreformed Russia. Careful consideration must also be given to the state of Germany’s neighbourhood and the outlook for the EU’s Eastern Partnership countries. Germany is well positioned to contribute more to promoting the reform process in Ukraine both in terms of financial support and technical assistance. Successful democratic institution building in Ukraine and sustainable economic improvement could have far-reaching consequences for the development of Russia itself since there is a broad consensus in the Russian political class that Ukrainians are culturally very close to Russians and unsuited to developing a western-style democratic system. Germans must recognise that Ukraine is the new battleground for the struggle between Russia and Europe over the boundaries of their respective political, social and economic models. As such, Ukraine deserves greater attention in discussion of German interests in the region. There is a still a marked tendency in the political class to think of Ukraine as historically part of Russia and a resistance to engaging with it as an independent country. Some Germans believe that this attitude is influenced by suppression of the memories of Hitler’s ‘war of annihilation’ against the USSR that aimed above all to enslave Ukrainians and place the agricultural and industrial resources of Soviet Ukraine at Germany’s disposal. Equally, Germans have tended to embrace a Russian narrative about Ukrainian nationalism that is both historically inaccurate and exaggerated, but which has served to discredit Ukraine’s reputation in Germany.66

Ukraine is in fact part of a much larger picture: Russia’s struggle against western dominance of international affairs and the preservation of its institutions after the end of the Cold War. By its nature, this collision of interests is not going to be resolved by improved confidence-building measures or dialogue. These may reduce its intensity, but ultimately for the conflict to end, one side will have to change course. Russia appears to believe that it enjoys strategic advantage and that it can force the West to change course – not through direct confrontation but by cumulatively taking advantage of the weakened condition of western alliances and the West’s overall loss of confidence and purpose. However, the Russian triumphalism of 2014 after the annexation of Crimea and its sense that it had the upper hand in the struggle with the West appears to have given way to a discomfiting sense that the struggle could last much longer than it initially expected and inflict higher costs.

For Germans to have such a debate will require putting aside much of the elite’s cherished thinking about Ostpolitik and the approaches used to manage an entirely different problem in Cold War days. This is not, of course, to say that there is no value in dialogue with the authorities and promoting contacts with Russian society, but there must be a broader guiding focus. Germany knows better than most from history that Russia has had a deeply ambivalent attitude towards Europe from the days of Peter the Great, alternating between the poles of Europeanisation and Pan-Slavism. There is no reason to believe that Russia will not eventually turn back again to Europe as its traditional source of modernisation. Its confidence that it can manage the rise of China, including Beijing’s determination to seek a greater international role, without a balancing relationship with the West is likely to be severely tested. In short, Russia is likely to need western allies and this will make it a different type of player from what it is today.

This perspective is important for the purposes of developing a long-term strategy western strategy to manage the challenges and dangers posed by Russia. The USSR overspent on defence and brought about the collapse of the country, the Russian Finance Minister recently noted, in a reference to the dangers of unaffordable defence spending.67 Demographics are also not in Russia’s favour and the transition away from fossil fuels that is likely to occur over the next 10-30 years and the competition within that shrinking market spells major long-term dangers for Russia’s economy that remains more reliant on oil and gas exports than in the late Soviet days.68 Complex changes are also taking place in Russian society as a new less sovietised, albeit not fully de-sovietised generation, comes to the fore. The impact of further digitalisation on government and business is likely to be considerable, leaving Russia further behind its competitors.

The respect for Germany in Russia and its achievements put it in a position unlike any other country in Europe. This should provide a basis for Germany to use its soft power to communicate how it overcame its past and built institutions and relationships with its neighbours of an entirely different type that allowed it to prosper. With their Darwinian view of global affairs, Russians can easily recognise that the talents of a people put Germany back on its feet after the defeat of Nazism. Yet there is little understanding in Russia of the German path of self-transformation and what made it possible.

To shape and lead further Europe’s policy towards Russia, Germans must:

a) Recognise that Russia’s assault on the international system undermines German interests and must be resisted. Ukraine is a critical battleground in this struggle and Germany must do more to stabilise the country by promoting reforms, particularly in areas where it has expertise such as energy efficiency, decentralisation and judicial reform

b) Free themselves not just from the strictures of Ostpolitik but also examine their other reflexes in dealing with Russia, including the historical guilt complex, that impede unemotional thinking about Russia

c) Abandon the traditional concept of economic relations with Russia (German technology for Russian raw materials). This is outdated and risks sustaining a raw materials-based economy in Russia with its associated disadvantages, in particular, the disincentives to innovate and diversify, and the vulnerability to fluctuations in demand. Germany’s dependence on Russian gas is overplayed since the role of gas as an energy source is set to decline sharply in the medium to long-term because of the shift to renewables.

d) Beyond the economic factors, show greater sensitivity to their immediate eastern neighbours that understandably see in projects such as Nord Stream 2 a German instinct to prioritise relations with Moscow over ties with them.69

e) Analyse the policies Germany adopted towards Russia and the neighbourhood after 1990 to establish how and why they fell short, and what policy makers can learn from those deficiencies. This will be essential to developing a confident posture towards Russia beyond the impressive crisis management measures that Berlin adopted in 2014

f) Take confidence from the fact that Germany’s Russia policy of 2014 promoted western solidarity through NATO and the EU and helped slow down Russian efforts to create divisions and undermine western institutions

g) Educate the public about Russia’s policy goals and improve understanding of the tools it is using (information, cyber, influence) to try to disrupt western societies, including in Germany

h) Remember that Germany has high levels of soft power that it can export to Russia associated with its standards of governance and education, its enduring technological prowess and its respect for culture. Continued interaction with the Russian scientific community is particularly important

i) Recognise that in the past when Germany and its allies have chosen to resist Moscow’s pressure, they have been successful. This was the case in 1948 with the Berlin blockade, the 1952 offer of unification, the efforts to prevent the FRG from joining NATO in 1955, the Berlin Ultimatum of 1958 and the preservation of West Berlin after the building of the Wall in 1961. The 1971 Berlin Agreement reversed previous Soviet policies and laid the basis for renewed contacts between the FRG and GDR that were later to play such an important role in making unification possible. Finally, the deployment of Pershing and cruise missiles in 1983 under the FRG’s twin-track commitments of 1979 took place despite the fall of the Schmidt government and strong Soviet support of the peace movement in the FRG. These were considerable achievements given that Bonn was facing a country much more powerful than today’s Russia.

Evaluating reflexes does not mean abdicating responsibility for the horrors inflicted by great grandfathers on the peoples of the USSR (not just Russians). Rather it requires approaching the task of developing policy towards Russia with a clear, practical and unsentimental understanding of German and European interests, acting with confidence as a country that has overcome its past and become a model European state. It is no longer sufficient to hide behind slogans such as ‘There is only long-term security and stability with and not against Russia’70 when Russia subscribes to a fundamentally different vision of security from Germany.

At the same time, Berlin’s European allies, in particular, France, Poland and the UK, need to encourage German policy makers to think longterm about Russia and to debate with them openly the policy options. Germans cannot perform this task on their own.

NATO remains the bedrock of German security policy. German defence policy based on ‘credible deterrence and defence capacity as well as readiness for dialogue’71 is fully aligned with the NATO’s response to Russia’s violation of the European security order, and Germany’s command of a multinational battalion in Lithuania as part of NATO’s Readiness Action Plan is an important contribution to the reinforcement of its defences. History is relevant here. Collective defence and an accompanying quest for détente were the core of the 1967 Harmel Report that shaped NATO policy through to the end of the Cold War. Then as now, the international situation was highly fluid and unpredictable. The US was bogged down in Vietnam and American public opinion was turning against the US Army presence there. France had withdrawn from the NATO integrated military structure the previous year, and there were concerns that NATO might cease to exist after 1969 in line with Article 13 of the Washington Treaty that provided for member states to leave after the Treaty had been in force for 20 years.

Despite these challenges, NATO retained sufficient purpose and cohesion to deter aggression and resist Soviet pressure to change the balance of power in Europe. This led to a belated attempt by Moscow to modernise the Soviet system that ultimately ended the Cold War. Angela Merkel’s reference to the need for a ‘long breath’ to find a resolution in Ukraine is appropriate. Nothing less than a long-term approach is necessary to address Russia’s challenge to Europe.


1 Putin V, quoting German historian, Michael Stürmer, Speech to the German Parliament, 25 September 2001, https://www.bundestag.de/parlament/geschichte/gastredner/putin/putin_wort/244966

2 Among western countries, Germany has by far the best-developed set of contacts spanning politics, business, culture and science as well as relationships with NGOs, youth organisations and twin towns. Reflecting this extensive range of interaction, Germany’s embassy in Moscow is its largest in the world.

3 Sources close to the Chancellor’s Office say that it is not supporting the project but nor is it going to intervene to stop it. Merkel had apparently hoped that the European Commission would find a reason to block it, but this proved not to be the case. Although the project may still run foul of EU regulations, some observers believe that Merkel does not want to create another source of irritation with Putin. They think that she would like instead to use her goodwill on the issue to extract a concession from Putin, possibly on Ukraine. Such a policy will come at a cost, in particular, to Ukraine by depriving the country of gas transit revenues and reducing its strategic significance as a transit country.

4 Warum Europa eine neue Außenpolitik braucht - Rede von Außenminister Gabriel beim Forum Außenpolitik (‘Why Europe needs a new foreign policy – Speech by Foreign Minister Gabriel at the Foreign Policy Forum’), 5 December 2017 https://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Bulletin/2017/12/117-3-bmaa-forum.html

5 For a discussion of Russia’s strategic objectives, see Covington S, ‘Putin’s Choice for Russia,’ August 2015, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/putins-choice-russia

6 The Ifo Institute calculated in January 2017 that Germany’s 2016 foreign trade balance hit a new record of $297 billion, ahead of China’s which stood at $245billion, ‘Deutsche Leistungsbilanz erneut auf Rekordniveau’ (‘German trade balance again at record level’) http://de.reuters.com/article/deutschland-leistungsbilanz-idDEKBN15E1QE?il=0

7 ‘No security without Russia,’ Die Welt, 25 September 2015 (summary of longer article by Elbe F, Kujat H and Teltschik H. https://www.welt.de/print/die_welt/debatte/article146832503/Keine-Sicherheit-ohne-Russland.html

8 Steinmeier F-W, Speech at the 12th Petersberg Discussions, 8 October 2016 https://www.auswaertigesamt.de/DE/Infoservice/Presse/Reden/2016/161008_Petersberg.html

9 For example, Aleksandr Grushko, Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO, RIA Novosti, 8 December 2016, https://ria.ru/world/20161208/1483085462.html

10 Quoted in Stürmer M, Understand Russia, 8 July 2016, https://www.welt.de/print/die_welt/debatte/article156892508/Russland-verstehen.html

11 For a detailed discussion of Germany’s need to develop a foreign policy strategy, see Mangarasian Land Techau J, ‘Führungsmacht Deutschland’ (Leadership Power Germany), dtv 2017.

12 A. Merkel, cited in B. Ulrich, ‘Angel Merkel: Ihr Langer Weg Nach Trudering’ ‘Angela Merkel: Her Long Path to Trudering,’ 31 March 2017, http://www.zeit.de/2017/23/angela-merkel-transatlantische-beziehungen-kritik-donald-trump

13 J. Fischer, ‘Wir sind auf uns gestellt’ (‘We are dependent on ourselves’), 26 July 2017, http://www.zeit.de/2017/31/joschka-fischer-ex-aussenminister-westen

14 Former Chancellor Schröder typifies this view. Speaking at the Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona in October 2017, he stated, ‘I see that the United States is interested in a weaker Russia, and the interest of Europe and Germany is that Russia will prosper for two reasons: we need a market, especially Germany, we need resources for our industry,’ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/us-weak-russia-gerhardschroeder-german-chancellor-trump-putin-europe-eu-a8009296.html

15 Krim-Konflikt FDP-Chef Lindner fordert “dauerhaftes Provisorium” (Crimea-Conflict: FDP-Leader Lindner calls for ‘a prolonged temporary factor,’ 5 August 2017 http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/krim-konflikt-fdp-chef-lindner-fordert-dauerhaftes-provisorium/20151156.html

16 Kubicki zweifelt am Sinn der Russland-Sanktionen (Kubicki doubts the sense of Russia sanctions), 13 October 2017 http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/fdp-vize-kubicki-kritisiert-russland-sanktionen-15244926.html

17 German cultural romanticism in the nineteenth century exported to Russia the notion of Seele (soul) that is often used to describe the supposedly deeper emotionality of Russians compared to Westerners. German romantics spoke of a Seelenverwandschaft (kinship of souls) with their Russian counterparts. For an excellent account of the cultural magnet of Russia for Germans, see Koenen G, Der Russland-Komplex (The Russia Complex), C.H. Beck 2005

18 P. Zelikow and C. Rice, ‘Germany Unified and Europe Transformed,’ Harvard University Press, p. 87

19 Helmut Kohl referred to the need to remember not just the horrors of what Germans did to Russians in World War Two but also the revenge meted out to Germans, ‘Ansprache bei einem Festakt im Schauspielhaus Berlin anläss;ich der offiziellen Verabschiedung der Westgruppe der russischen Streitkräfte,’, (‘Address to mark the official departure of the Western Group of Russian Armed Forces in the Berlin Theatre’) 31 August 1994, http://www.helmut-kohl-kas.de

20 D. Medvedev, interviews to television channels Channel One, Rossia, and NTV, August 31, 2008, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/48301

21 J. Lough, ‘The Place of Russia’s ‘Near Abroad,’ F32 Conflict Studies Research Centre, January 1993 22 J. Kornblum, interview with the author, October 2017

23 Bucharest Summit Declaration, 3 April 2008 http://www.nato.int/cps/ua/natohq/official_texts_8443.html

24 ‘Barroso: Without EU enlargement, Russia would have gobbled up Bulgaria, the Baltics,’ Euractiv, 29 October 2014, https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/barroso-without-eu-enlargement-russia-would-have-gobbled-up-bulgaria-the-baltics/

25 H. Kohl, ‘Das vereinte Deutschland und Europas Architektur’ (‘A united Germany and Europe’s Architecture,’ Financial Times, 29 October 1990, http://www.helmut-kohl-kas.de

26 H. Kohl,, ‘Ansprache bei einem Abendessen zu Ehren des russichen Präsidenten Boris N. Jelzin im Palais Scahumburg in Bonn’ (‘Address at a dinner in honour of Russian President Boris N Yeltsin at the Schaumburg Palace in Bonn’), 21 November 1991 http://www.helmut-kohl-kas.de

27 H. Kohl, Erklärung auf der internationalen Pressekonferenz in Moskau zum Besuch in der Russischen Föderation (Declaration at the international press conference on the visit to the Russian Federation), 20 February 1996 http://www.helmut-kohl-kas.de

28 H. Kohl, Rede anlässlich des Kolloquiums der Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft für internationalen Dialog zum Thema ‘Russland – was tun?’ in Berlin (Speech at the Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Dialogue Conference in Berlin on the subject ‘Russia – what is to be done?’ 4 July 1997 http://www.helmut-kohl-kas.de

29 A German journalist noted in 1998 that ‘Kohl was crazy about the Russian soul. He thought that he was the only person in power in the West who understood it and felt himself to be the country’s advocate.’ http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/16755118 ©2017

30 Ibid.

31 The Schröders adopted a three-year old girl in 2004 and a baby boy in 2006. They were too old to adopt in Germany. https://de.sputniknews.com/panorama/20110901260372217/

32 Putin V, Speech to the German Parliament, 25 September 2001, available in English at http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/21340

33 Spiegel Online,1 December 2004, http://www.spiegel.de/international/moscow-mon-amour-gerhard-schroeder-s-dangerous-liaison-a-330461.html

34 Rede von Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder auf der Deutsch-Russischen Investitionskonferenz am 28. Oktober in Stuttgart, Speech by Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the German-Russian Investment Conference in Stuttgart, 28 October 2004

35 https://www.abendblatt.de/politik/deutschland/article106930893/Schroeder-Putin-ist-lupenreiner-Demokrat.html

36 A. Zagorsky, Россия и Германия: преемственность и перемены, (‘Russia and Germany: succession and changes’), IFRI,Russia.Cei.Visions nº6(a) 2005 37 R. Götz, ‘Schweigen für Gas,’ SWP-Aktuell 43, September 2004.

38 Regierungsprogramm Deutschlands, http://www.kas.de/upload/ACDP/CDU/Programme_Bundestag/2005-2009_Regierungsprogramm_Deutschlands-Chancen-nutzen_Wachstum-Arbeit-Sicherheit.pdf

39 ‘Gemeinsam für Deutschland – mit Mut und Menschlichkeit, Koalitionsvertrag zwischen CDU, CSU und SPD’ ‘Together for Germany – with courage and humanity, Coalition Agreement between CDU, CSU and SPD’ http://www.kas.de/upload/ACDP/CDU/Koalitionsvertraege/Koalitionsvertrag2005.pdf

40 T. Gutschker, Nüchterne Ostpolitik (‘Sober Ostpolitik‘), Die Politische Meinung (445) December 2006, p 9

41 Ibid.

42 J. Lough, ‘Russia’s Energy Diplomacy,’ Chatham House Briefing Paper, May 2011, https://www.chathamhouse.org/publications/papers/view/171229

43 Speech at the Institute for International Relations, Ural University, Yekaterinburg, 13 May 2008.

44 Ibid.

45 Speech to the 8th Petersburger Dialog, 2 October 2008.

46 http://www.kas.de/upload/ACDP/CDU/Koalitionsvertraege/Koalitionsvertrag2009.pdf, p. 120.

47 Coalition Agreement between CDU, CSU and SPD, 27 November 2013.

48 A. Merkel, speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (Ostausschuss), 25 October 2012 https://www.bundesregierung.de/ContentArchiv/DE/Archiv17/Reden/2012/10/2012-10-25-merkel-60-jahre-ostausschuss.html

49 ‘Entwicklung der deutsch-russischen Wirtschaftsbeziehungen’ (Development of German-Russian Economic Relations), Deutscher Bundestag, 2016 (WD 5 – 3000 – 043/16) p. 4

50 http://www.mzv.cz/berlin/de/wirtschaft_und_handel/tschechisch_deutsche_wirtschaftsbeziehun/bilaterale_wirtschaftsbeziehungen.html

51 German-Polish bilateral trade was worth €75.8bn in 2011, http://www.polen.diplo.de/contentblob/4070340/Daten/6961392/statistik.pdf

52 http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Aussenpolitik/Laender/Laenderinfos/01-Nodes/UsaVereinigteStaaten_node.html

53 http://www.china.diplo.de/contentblob/3443046/Daten/7796961/Wirtschaftsdatenblattdd.pdf

54 Antrag der Fraktionen der CDU/CSU und FDP, Durch Zusammenarbeit Zivilgesellschaft und Rechstaatlichkeit in Russland stärkken (Motion of the CDU/CSU Party Groupings, Promote civil society and rule of law in Russia through cooperation,’ 6 November 2012.

55 C. Grant, Is the EU to blame for the crisis in Ukraine?, 1 June 2016 http://www.cer.eu/insights/eublame-crisis-ukraine

56 Government statement by Federal Chancellor Merkel, 13 March 2014, https://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Regierungserklaerung/2014/2014-03-13-bt-merkel.html

57 ‘Wie viele Russischsprachige leben in Deutschland?’ (‘How many Russian speakers are living in Germany?), 21 April 2017 https://mediendienst-integration.de/artikel/datenlage-wie-viele-russischsprachigemenschen-leben-in-deutschland.html

58 Ibid.

59 J. Sherr, Memorandum submitted to the Defence Committee Inquiry of the UK Parliament ‘Russia:

a new confrontation?,’ 23 February 2009 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmdfence/memo/russia/ucr1302.htm

60 ‘Wieder Krieg in Europa? Nicht in unserem Namen!’ (‘War again in Europe? Not in our name!), 5 December 2014, http://www.zeit.de/politik/2014-12/aufruf-russland-dialog

61 Banken und Industrie würden Sanktionen mittragen (‘Banks and Industry to support Sanctions’), 18 May 2015, https://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article128136411/Banken-und-Industrie-wuerden-Sanktionenmittragen.html

62 R. Veser, ‘Die falsche Russland-Politik’ (‘The Wrong Russia Policy’), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 12 October 2016.

63 The case relates to a 13-year old Russian girl resident in Germany who went missing for a day and later claimed that she had been abducted and raped by non-German speaking immigrants. Coinciding with the arrival in Germany of large numbers of refugees from Syria, Russian media used the story to stir up discontent among the Russian community in Germany. Demonstrations took place in several cities and Foreign Minister Lavrov castigated the German authorities for not taking proper action. In the event, German police established that the girl’s story was false and she had been neither abducted nor raped. The incident provided a powerful introduction for the German public to Russian-driven disinformation.

64 ‘Large amounts of data’ were seized during a cyber-attack on the parliament in May 2015, according to Hans-Georg Maasen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Reuters, May 4 2017 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-security-cyber-russia/germany-challenges-russia-over-alleged-cyberattacksidUSKBN1801CA

65 ‘Experte warnt vor russischen Kampfsportschulen in Deutschland’ (‘Expert warns of Russian military sports schools in Germany’), 27 May 2017, http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/experte-das-sind-schlaeferzellen-sicherheitsgefahr-durch-russische-systema-kampfsportclubs-in-deutschland_id_7183952.html

66 For a discussion of this and German historical responsibility in Ukraine, see’ Timothy Snyder on Germany’s Historical Responsibility towards Ukraine,’ lecture and discussion in the German parliament, 20 June 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDjHw_uXeKU

67 Глава Минфина рассказал об опасности увлечения оборонными расходами (‘Head of MinFin spoke about the danger of increasing defence spending’), RIA Novosti, 6 October 2017 https://ria.ru/economy/20171006/1506356604.html?mc_cid=a08566c42e&mc_eid=1febe57787

68 For a detailed examination of available data, see M. Kubinowa, ‘Estimating GDP and foreign rents of the oil and gas sector in the USSR then and Russia now,’ Bank of Finland Institute for Economies in Transition, BOFIT Policy Brief No. 10 2016 https://helda.helsinki.fi/bof/bitstream/handle/123456789/14404/bpb1016.pdf?sequence=1

69 Foreign Minister Gabriel’s recent call for a European Ostpolitik rather than a German one with Germany’s ‘new NATO and EU partners in Central and Eastern Europe on board’ is at variance with his lobbying for Nord Stream 2, S. Gabriel, ibid

70 S. Gabriel, ibid.

71 Weissbuch 2016 zur Sicherheitspolitik und zur Zukunft der Bundeswehr (White Book 2016 on security policy and the future of the Bundeswehr) p.66, https://m.bundesregierung.de/Content/Infomaterial/BMVg/Weissbuch_zur_Sicherheitspolitik_2016.pdf;jsessionid=8AAAB7EB19A7A9907F7D62BAE26F94EE.s2t1?__blob=publicationFile&v=2

About the Author

John Lough is Associate Fellow of the Russia & Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, and Managing Director of JBKL Advisory Ltd.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Kremlin.ru. (CC BY 4.0)

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