CDU defense and foreign policy politician Roderich Kiesewetter warns of Russian attempts to divide the West ahead of the major field training exercise 'Anaconda,' which begins in Poland on Tuesday.
DW: Mr Kiesewetter, on Tuesday, the German armed forces will take part in the military field training exercise "Anaconda" in Poland. It is not a NATO exercise, but a number of NATO members are participating. Some have criticized the exercise, because they say it will further strain relations with Russia. How do you see the situation?
Neither NATO nor the EU have strained the relations; it was Russia that did so by occupying Crimea, hindering legal elections and destabilizing Ukraine. Germany's position is that we will always extend our hand in friendship. However, the prerequisite for that is that Russia implement the Minsk Protocol. Another aspect is that Germany must do its part within NATO to ensure that the NATO-Russia Founding Act is upheld.
Therefore we will participate in exercises at the battalion level. In terms of scale, that means some 400 to 600 soldiers will participate, as opposed to a brigade or division level, which would mean between 5,000 and 15,000 troops. That is a decisive difference. Secondly, our country - as a signal for deescalation and a willingness for dialogue - has actively argued against permanently stationing troops in the area. But it is up to Russia to finally relent, and to cease destabilization and misinformation directed at European states.
Should NATO strengthen its presence in Poland and the Baltic states as Warsaw has requested?
NATO already has. Firstly, we have well-equipped headquarters in Stettin, and further enhancements are to be made. Secondly, with our NATO rapid response troops, we have a rotating exercise system that serves to stabilize Poland. I won't rule out the option of showing a more active NATO presence in the region, if Russia continues to breach the sovereignty of airspace in the Baltic states, but at the moment I don't see the need to do so.
Russia annexed Crimea and supports the rebels in Eastern Ukraine. The West has responded with sanctions. But both sides seem to be blocking one another. Should there be an attempt at new discussions with Moscow?
There have been attempts. For instance, NATO has approached Russia on the subject of missile defense. We are prepared to open a dialogue - by the way, that was a German initiative. Secondly, the NATO-Russia Council has met twice since it was suspended in 2014, and it remains intent on meeting again before the Warsaw Summit in July. That means that all available diplomatic channels are being used, and Russia is very aware of that.
Are you alarmed by the fact that Poland is currently creating a paramilitary militia, several members of which will also be participating in the exercise?
The issue is about the security of each individual country, and also about the responsibilities of those individual countries. I would like to see Germany make more use of its reservists as well, and that we would also consider creating more training options to do so. Therefore, I don't see the creation of a militia that takes pressure off of Poland's regular armed forces as troubling, but rather as a sensible step. But that is Poland's issue, and it in no way breaches NATO or EU frameworks.
The Polish government is very nationalistic, very Euroskeptic and is also critical of the German government. That said, are you comfortable with the German armed forces taking part in the exercise?
We are witnessing growing nationalism in many NATO states, and in the European Union as well. Uncertainties are arising from Russian policies and especially from the way that Russia is acting in the Middle East. Its actions have done nothing to lessen the number of refugees coming to Europe. Russia's main interest is to destroy European unity. Therefore our task must be to maintain European cooperation. Of course, we are concerned about Poland's increasing radicalization. But I am much more concerned about developments in Turkey, which is also a NATO partner. And we cannot alter these developments by shutting out Poland. We must do the opposite, and give the Polish people a sense of security and unity. If we can do that, Poland will also correct its path of radicalization.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) parliamentarian Roderich Kiesewetter is the Union's defense expert and foreign policy chairman.
This interview was conducted by Christoph Hasselbach.