Opinion: Germany’s illusions about Putin and Russia | Opinion | DW | 17.05.2018
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Opinion: Germany’s illusions about Putin and Russia

It would be naive to think that Vladimir Putin's Russia is the better partner than Donald Trump's US, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

Germany's foreign policy "Russian week" will culminate when Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Friday. In recent days, new German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and German Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier have visited Moscow to discuss key international and European policy issues with their Russian counterparts.

Read more: Six stumbling blocks in German-Russian relations

This intensive diplomatic exchange has brought German-Russian relations back into the German public's focus, especially since US President Donald Trump's unilateral foreign policy has been severely testing his country's friendship with Germany. It is therefore no surprise that political voices in Germany have been calling for a rapprochement with Russia and for striking a balance with Moscow.

No time for appeasement

But anyone who is pinning their hopes on relations with Russia gradually thawing by making unilateral concessions on economic sanctions or other shifty compromises is gravely mistaken. This is not only because such an appeasement policy would only be interpreted as weakness by Moscow.

Ingo Mannteufel (DW)

Ingo Mannteufel heads DW's Russian service

Rather, there are many who still don't seem to have understood that Putin needs the confrontation with the West in order to secure his power within Russia because it distracts the Russian people from the economic stagnation and social problems in the country.

It is simply naive to believe that any agreement can be reached with Putin on Ukraine. Or that it will be possible to negotiate a new European framework for peace with him. He has already undermined such a framework with his aggressive foreign policy towards Ukraine, through attempts to influence Western elections, and through cyberattacks against German institutions.

At such times, it is doubtful whether Putin's Russia, but not necessarily Russia in general, is the right partner for any further expansion of German-Russian energy relations. In any case, it must be ensured that the planned gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea, Nord Stream 2, does not run counter to Europe's interest in economically and politically stabilizing Ukraine.

Read more: Russian pipe dream hits raw European nerve

It is therefore right and proper that Economic Affairs Minister Altmaier is considering asking for guarantees from Moscow that Ukraine will not suffer any losses in transit charges through Nord Stream 2. But such details must be seen as part of a larger and longer-term Russia strategy.

No quick agreement

It is first of all necessary for Germany's Russia policy to realize that dealing with Putin requires a great deal of perseverance and that there will be no quick agreement with Moscow.

As long as the Kremlin adheres to its aggressive Ukrainian policy — and it will, because it is Putin's way of consolidating domestic power - the sanctions must remain in place. Even a gradual phasing-out of sanctions would send completely the wrong signal. German foreign policy must stand by the principles of the European framework for peace that has been undermined by Moscow.

Secondly, we need to significantly increase our German, and also European, defense capabilities, both in traditional terms and against the new dangers of a hybrid cyber war. And thirdly, when dealing with Moscow (diplomatically one euphemistically speaks of a "partner") it is necessary to cultivate a pragmatic exchange in order to assert one's own foreign policy interests in individual international issues, such as the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Double strategy needed

This diplomatic strategy on Russia must, however, be underpinned by two other important elements. Firstly, politicians in the West must never react hastily and hysterically to provocations from Moscow. Ultimately, the Kremlin will only benefit from this, while the West's credibility will suffer considerably. British Prime Minister May has shown exactly how not to react following the attack on double agent Sergei Skripal. Such a reaction only serves to reinforce the Kremlin's hostile image of "the West" in Russia.

Secondly, Germany, and the whole of Europe, must open up more to Russian society. A comprehensive dialogue with all political forces and groups in Russia is needed, including nationalist, patriotic and conservative movements. The alienation between Germans and Russians, which has rightly been complained about, can be overcome in the long-term through dialogue alone, with a down-to-earth tone and the knowledge of one's own principles.


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