Debating current troubles in German-Russian relations
By Alexey Pushkov, Senator; Member, Committee on Defense and Security, Council of the Federation, Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Moscow
and Dmitry Androsov, Munich Young Leader 2017; Member, Federal Political Council, People's Freedom Party PARNAS; Candidate for the State Duma Elections 2016, Moscow
What has recently been the German government’s most severe mistake in relations with Russia?
Pushkov: Before the conflict in Ukraine, Germany had a special economic relationship and a privileged political relationship with Moscow. It ended due to the unconditional support of regime change in Ukraine. However, it was wrong to believe that the Euromaidan would bring Ukraine into the European family of nations. This country is not ready to become a member of the European Union or a member of NATO. For the time being it is a semi-failed state with a sky-rocketing corruption and an extremely strong nationalism. Crimea made the relationship between Germany and Russia even more complicated and marked the starting point for hostile actions, sanctions and angry rhetoric towards Russia. If the German government thinks Russia has violated international law in Ukraine it should be consistent and also accuse the US intervention in Iraq, NATO’s actions in Libya, or Kosovo’s separation from Serbia. Does international law have to be applied on some occasions only, but not on others, especially when it is violated by the allies of the German government? These are evident double standards. Germany has become a hostage to the position of EU countries with pronounced anti-Russian foreign policies such as Poland and Lithuania. I wonder why Germany is paying so much attention to them and does not listen to EU countries that favor a more balanced approach towards Russia.
Androsov: Germany has always played a vital economic and political role for Russia. Nonetheless, the German government has missed opportunities that could have helped it strengthen support among Russian society for Germany and the European Union as a whole. The failure to abolish visas between Russia and the EU is a good example. A broad section of Russian society would have welcomed visa-free travel. At the same time, Germany should not falsely assume that the overwhelming majority of Russians support their government’s foreign policy. Although President Putin has certainly seen his popularity increase over the last few years, this is mainly due to effective state propaganda and false reporting, as is the case in all authoritarian regimes. As such, I am sure that democratic change will be accompanied by a change of mood throughout society. The sanctions that resulted from the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine are a further example. Our party – PARNAS – believes that sanctions should only affect the people responsible for taking political decisions. Otherwise, Putin will be able to exploit the resulting deteriorating economic situation to drive forward his anti-Western policies and spread anti-European hysteria throughout society.
Can you think of any mistakes that have been made by the Russian government in relations with Germany?
Pushkov: The relations deteriorated because of the crisis in Ukraine, not due to a conflict in our bilateral relations. Neither Russia, nor Germany did anything wrong in their bilateral relations. Russia did not act against German interests. We merely reacted to an illegal change in government in Ukraine and complied with the will of the people of Crimea. We did not start the conflict.
Androsov: The Kremlin has distanced itself from the West over the last few years through its aggressive foreign policy. The Kremlin demonstrates military strength towards neighboring countries that are undergoing processes of democratization, and evokes apparent ideological differences with the West. As long as the pretext of a clash of ideologies with the EU and the US serves Russian interests and helps to maintain his personal monopoly on power, improved relations with the West are not in Putin’s strategic interests.
Which steps would Germany and Russia have to take in the next years to improve their bilateral relationship?
Pushkov: Improvement of the relations is possible. Russia and Germany do not have territorial disputes. We respect the German political system, and Germany is not trying to change the government in Russia. However, Germany would be wise to focus more on a long-term strategy. Ukraine is neither the center of world policy nor something Germany’s future depends on. Germany can be a leading country in Europe, but having bad relations with Russia will always stifle Germany’s international importance. I therefore welcome the suggestion to regard Crimea as a fait accompli, rather than an impediment to normalizing relations with Russia. We should move beyond this crisis. This is the only reasonable thing to do.
Androsov: Russia would first have to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, end the support it provides to the separatists, and encourage negotiations at the United Nations over the status of Crimea. Germany would need to remain aware of its role as an intermediary and ensure that it keeps discussion channels with Moscow open. My grand vision is that Russia, Germany, and other European countries become integrated into a unified, wide-ranging alliance that also includes the military sector. This would make military disputes impossible, but it would require NATO to be dissolved or at least substantially reformed.