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Germany

Opinion: Merkel takes a stand against Putin

In an official statement, Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated that Germany is taking a new line towards Russia. DW's Ingo Mannteufel says Germany will stop accepting Russian pressure on its neighbors.

It was only at the end of her policy statement to the German parliament ahead of the summit of the Eastern Partnership of the European Union that German Chancellor Angela Merkel came out with what she really had to say on Russia. She had started out by speaking about the opportunities for countries in the Eastern Partnership, which they could gain from association agreements and free trade pacts, but then she said something which is likely to cause concern in the Kremlin and the Russian foreign ministry.

In her statement on Monday (17.11.2013), Merkel called on Russia to stop putting pressure on Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova as they attempt to move closer to the EU: "The countries decide on their own. No third country has a right to impose a veto." And she put this political statement into a legal framework by mentioning that the principle of non-intervention had been enshrined in the charter of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - a document signed by Russia.

Russian interests

Ingo Mannteufel Photo: DW/Per Henriksen

Ingo Mannteufel is head of Deutsche Welle's Russian service

Merkel's position may not sound at all strange to German ears. Germans assume that sovereign countries like Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova make up their own minds as to whether they get closer to the EU or not.

But in Russia, these words - which were no doubt chosen carefully by Merkel - will have set government ears tingling. Moscow assumes that former Soviet republics - and especially Ukraine - will be aligning themselves towards the Russian-sponsored customs union, as well as towards the Eurasian Union, that Russia wants to set up in 2015. Moscow's state media broadcasts, which are also received in Russia's neighboring countries, bang the drum for the project day after day. And, over the last few months, the governments of those neighboring countries have been subjected to massive political and economic pressure.

In the case of Armenia, the pressure has already worked: the government has recently announced that it will join the Russian-dominated customs union and won't sign an agreement on association and free trade which had already been negotiated with the EU.

Merkel's firm language on Russia's neo-imperialist foreign policy in an official government statement is a clear signal to Moscow and to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it's more than that: it is also a clear indication of one of the cornerstones of future policy towards Russia under a new German government.

Putin's third term

In Germany, there was initial disillusion when Putin returned to presidential office, but that is now changing into a new direction in policy. Merkel never took the position of her predecessor Gerhard Schröder, who saw himself as an "advocate for Russia in Europe," but she, too, has tried to increase understanding for Russian interests in Europe.

The best example was the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, when she and French president Nicholas Sarkozy rejected a plan by US President George W. Bush to offer Ukraine and Georgia membership in the EU. Her position was widely put down to German respect for Russian interests at a time when the recent election of Russian president Dmitri Medvedev had led to hopes for a new era in Russian-European relations. But that time is over.

German euphoria over Medvedev has long since dissipated. Germany now sees the realities of Russia with a sober pragmatism. Putin's third term in office as president is linked in German minds with repression at home and what looks like neo-imperialism abroad. And the chancellor made it clear in her official policy statement that the government now shares this view.

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