Berlin turns sympathetic ear to Moscow

28.01.2014 | Oleksiy Kaftan

Another round of the German-Russian rapprochement carries risks both for Eastern Europe and stability of the European Union

The formation of the so-called grand coalition and predictable reshuffles inside the German government could lead to a substantial modification of the foreign policy of the EU´s most powerful stakeholder, in particular, in its Eastern vector. This forecast is based on the first statements and interviews of the new leaders of German diplomacy made in early January

Significant transformations are evidenced not even with the appointment of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a close associate of one of the architects of the Nord Stream project and former Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schroeder, to the office of a field minister, albeit seemingly less important, though even more symbolic. For example, Social Democrat Gernot Erler became the new coordinator of cooperation between Germany and Russia in the German Foreign Ministry. He is a historian and a Slavic linguist. During Schroeders tenure in office and in Merkels first coalition he was a parliamentary secretary and a parliamentary minister of the Foreign Ministry. He was one of the ideologists of Germanys economic expansion into Russia and a die-hard proponent of enhanced cooperation between Berlin and Moscow.

Some observers claim that this will not affect fundamental policy issues, as they are still defined by the chancellor. In particular, this opinion was expressed in the interview for Deutche Welle by an employee of the Berlin Foundation Science and Politics Professor Hans-Henning Schroeder. He believes Steinmeiers trip to Warsaw and criticism in connection with Moscow´s position on the Ukrainian issue suggests that the Foreign Ministry supports the current Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. It is difficult to describe, however, what is Merkels Eastern line, while Dr. Schroeder mentioned the absence of Germanys Eastern European strategy in the previous government. We doubt it. The core of the European Peoples Party in the European Parliament is made up of Merkels party members, such as the head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok and a member of the partys bureau Michael Galer, both known for their tough stance towards the domestic and foreign policy of the Ukrainian government. Of course, the effectiveness of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is debatable. German voters have recently expressed their opinion and did not support the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Of course, the Federal Chancellery will be in charge of foreign policy, but the defeat of the FDP partners forced Merkel to cede the Foreign Ministry to the friends of her predecessor, which will obviously expand the autonomy of the foreign policy department within the government. Such a turn is linked to two appointments first of all, the Social-Democrat Michael Roth, Minister of State (in Germany it is a multifunction office, though in this case he is the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs), who is responsible for ensuring coordination between Germany and France. It is believed that Roth will give a new spark to an intra-union alliance.

But the foreign policy change is not associated with Roth or the aforementioned Erler. His predecessor in the main Eastern office Andreas Schokkenhoff criticized Russia and Erler is expected to have a totally different position, clearly not in vain.

The matter is that Erler, Steinmeiers deputy in the previous government of the grand coalition, assumed the inclusion of Russia in the discussions of the Unions Eastern European policy. Erler, who is almost 70, supports evolutionary transformation of the post-Soviet countries and quiet diplomacy. He speaks Russian and wrote a book about Putin and in his first official interview spoke about the Ukrainian crisis quite ambiguously.

His theses are as follows: the current events in Ukraine are unlikely to lead to political changes, its political orientation to the West or the East is unimportant, both the EU and Russia have to do their best to salvage Ukraines economy and the possibility of cooperation between Ukraine and the EU and the former joining the Customs Union taking into account Russia´s interests should be seriously considered. It is worth reminding that this is exactly what the Kremlin wants and what the current Ukrainian ruling party is promoting.

What conclusions can be drawn from this despite Steinmeiers claims: heightened attention of Berlin to the interests of Moscow and discretion of the new leadership in the German Foreign Ministry in matters related to the Ukrainian political crisis?

First of all, one should not assume that the positions of Merkel, Steinmeier and Erler are multi-vectored. For example, the chancellor is irritated with the refusal of German President Joachim Gauck to participate in the opening of the Olympic Games in Sochi. This is hardly surprising, since it is an unpleasant demonstration of the lack of unity in the CDU/CSU on the Russian issue.

Perhaps the party is dissatisfied with Merkels excessive pragmatism and surrender of the Eastern vector at the mercy of the coalition partners. Moreover, in this case, Berlin is clearly conceding the agenda in expansion of the EU towards the East and protection of human rights in geographical Europe to Warsaw and Stockholm.

The following circumstance is also related. Trying to guess the moods of her voters, the chancellor and her entourage slightly cooled down regarding EU matters, in particular its common foreign and defense policy, as well as further expansion. This is confirmed by the results of a recently held meeting during which Paris achieved a pan-European sanction for intervention into the Central African Republic and Berlin was only interested in the evacuation of Bundeswehr property from Afghanistan. The discussion of a common defense and foreign policy essentially choked and reeked of bureaucratic demagoguery.

Finally, the extremely negative assessment of Berlins position in its ways of overcoming the European recession and debt crisis was expressed by the influential American businessman and philanthropist George Soros. He described Merkels rejection of the project of turning national bonds of southern EU countries into Eurobonds and outtalking the issue of forming of a single treasury to regain investors confidence in the Eurozone as short-sighted. Such a position will aggravate the crisis and continue the march of the right-wing extremists and the Eurosceptics in the national elections in crisis-ridden countries, not to mention the prospects for the European Parliament elections, as well as the collision of Greeces presidency in the Union, which is critically connected to Germany´s position in the matters of the Union. In other words, Berlin agrees to leave things as they are in the military and political sphere, giving the initiative to Paris and Washington. It should be noted that the German Ministry of Finance is now headed by Wolfgang Schuble, who is prone to listen to Americans. But, in Eastern Europe, Merkel clearly intends to listen to the opinion of Vladimir Putin.

Germanys pragmatism and Berlins artificially inflated political sympathies towards Moscow unfortunately suggest a deepening of the Ukrainian integration crisis and shaking the European Union. This is fundamentally contrary to the moods of elites in the entire political region that Donald Rumsfeld called a New Europe. Now representatives of these elites cannot find influential interlocutors in Washington. Therefore, at present there is an imbalance of powers, may be temporary, in favor of Russia in the region. And only its internal weakness restrains the Kremlin from a decisive thrust towards the West. Regarding Ukraines sovereignty, the revival of the Moscow Berlin axis hardly bodes well

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