German-Russian relations through history
Relations between Germany and Russia have been marked by alternate periods of cooperation and war. DW looks back at how two of Europe's major powers got on over the last millennium.
Converting the Kyivan Rus
Both Russia and Ukraine trace their cultural ancestry to the Kyivan Rus period in the early Middle Ages, when a loose federation of Slavic, Baltic and Finnic peoples formed a common identity. Missionaries from the Germanic peoples were eventually replaced by diplomats. This painting, depicting the Baptism of Prince Vladimir — or Volodymyr — in 987, hangs in Kyiv Cathedral.
Trade and war with Teutonic knights
Russia was under Mongolian rule in the late Middle Ages, but lively trade with the Hanseatic German cities continued. The period began with a victory over Teutonic knights in the so-called Battle on the Ice on a frozen lake in 1242. Sergei Eisenstein turned the battle into a patriotic Russian epic in the run-up to World War II.
The 'German' empress of Russia
Born in what is now Szczecin, then in Prussia, Catherine the Great acceded to the Russian throne in 1762, after the overthrow of her husband, also born in Germany. Her reign oversaw the Russian Enlightenment, whose intellectual ideals — freedom, liberty, and reason — she championed. Those ideals did not extend to Poland, however, which she partitioned with Prussia.
Alliance against Napoleon
Like many of Europe's colonial monarchies, Prussia and Russia found common cause in opposing revolutionary France and the military campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte. The alliance was sealed at the Convention of Tauroggen in 1812 between a Prussian general and a German-born general of the Russian Imperial Army, in which many Prussian soldiers served.
Conflict among cousins: World War I
In 1913, Kaiser Wilhelm II (right) invited his cousin Czar Nicholas II to Berlin for the wedding of his daughter. A year later, the two countries were at war, and four years later, both men had lost their thrones, with Nicholas executed in 1918. Millions of Russians and Germans were killed in the war, and both countries felt aggrieved by the terms imposed by the Western Allies.
Hitler-Stalin pact: World War II
Represented by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop (left) and Vyacheslav Molotov, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin (right) signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939. The following month, both countries invaded Poland. Germany tore up the pact in 1941 with the invasion of the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa. Nearly 14 million Russians and 6.8 million Ukrainians died during the war.
The kiss of death
East Germany fell under the Soviet Union's influence after the war, an alliance that found its iconic image in the "socialist fraternal kiss" between German Democratic Republic leader Erich Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1979. East Germans grew up learning Russian and until today many have more understanding and sympathy for the Russians and their President Putin than West Germans.
Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik
Chancellor Willy Brandt tried to normalize relations with the communist nations during his tenure from 1969 to 1974, a rapprochement that became known as "Ostpolitik." In 1970, Brandt (center left) signed the Moscow Treaty alongside Russian Premier Alexei Kosygin (center right), which formally recognized East Germany and temporarily abandoned the goal of German reunification in exchange for peace.
Friends at last?
"Gorbi, Gorbi!" was the jubilant headline of Germany's mass-circulation Bild tabloid in June 1989 when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to visit. For Germans he was — and still is — the hero who made the peaceful unification of the country possible.
Transformation through trade?
German-Russian relations developed throughout the post-Soviet years, with German Chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel hoping that deepening trade ties would bind the countries together and soften Russia's authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin. Schröder initiated the Nord Stream pipeline project, which many believe left Germany dependent on Russian gas.