Germany and Russia: The End of Ostpolitik?
The American Interest
by Lilia Shevtsova & David J. Kramer
Germany’s role in the ongoing Euro crisis is a reminder of its economic superpower status in Europe. But Germany plays another leading role: defining European policy toward Russia. Brussels and other European capitals often follow Germany’s lead when it comes to dealing with Russia. And with the United States distracted with its recent election and other priorities, and with the reset not what it used to be, Germany’s role in defining the “Eastern strategy”—and specifically the agenda toward Russia—is likely to increase (even if Berlin tries to keep a low profile).
Until recently, the German-Russian relationship was viewed as the model of a happy, albeit weird, marriage of incompatible bedfellows. No longer: German public opinion has grown increasingly critical of Vladimir Putin’s regime and its clampdown on human rights and the political opposition. While this shift in public attitude has not had a major impact on the official Berlin line, it has reinforced the push by some Bundestag deputies, especially the German Greens, the only party that has consistently raised the issue of human rights in Russia.
But things have started to change in Berlin. This summer the German special envoy for Russia on behalf of the ruling coalition, Andreas Schockenhoff, prepared a critical motion on Russia (“The Civil Society and Rule of Law in Russia”), which sought to clarify Germany’s position before the high level Russian-German government consultations and annual meeting of the St. Petersburg dialogue in November. According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, however, the German Foreign Affairs ministry, headed by the Christian Democrats’ partner Free Democrats and its leader, Guido Westerwelle, substantially edited the motion. In fact, the ministry rewrote the key points, significantly altering the main message of the motion. See for yourself. Schockenhoff’s motion started with the following:
The German Bundestag seriously worries that Russia will be facing stagnation instead of progress on its path toward building an open and modern society due to the deficit of rule of law, investments and innovation
The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed that to say that Russia is “the key and essential partner of Germany and Europe . . . the largest state in the world that stretches through two continents . . . and is the crucial energy supplier in Europe.” One might almost think this was rewritten by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not the German one. But there’s more: German diplomats added a line stating that global problems could be solved only with Russia’s participation. The Foreign Ministry also took out the seemingly innocuous phrase that Germany and Russia are “interested in a politically and economically modernized and democratic Russia.” Apparently, the ministry did not like the Parliament’s mention of civic activism in Russia. They also took out the phrase, “After years of managed democracy and apathy a lot of Russians are ready for greater activism in their country,” and erased another assertion that the Russian “authorities view politically active citizens not as partners, but enemies,” broadening the gap between the authorities and the society. While tweaking a Parliamentary motion is not unheard of in German legislative history, in this case the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs turned the intent of the motion completely upside-down. This provoked a mini-scandal in a country where the political elite tries to avoid scandals at any price.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.