Chapter 5 analyses Angela Merkel’s recalibration of policy towards Russia in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Germany showed impressive leadership in the EU by achieving consensus on the need for strong political support for Ukraine and economic sanctions against Russia. German policymakers cleverly fashioned an EU policy towards Russia, invoking the spirit of NATO’s Harmel doctrine of the 1960s, which combined dialogue and deterrence and was a precursor to détente. For presentational purposes, this was important. It helped secure acceptance of the policy change in both Germany and other EU countries that had reservations about sanctioning Moscow. Germany was starting to emerge from its two decades of conscious denial about the direction of Russia. However, its limitations were also on show. German efforts to negotiate a peace process in Ukraine achieved only the semblance of one. In practice, Russia did not see sufficient incentives to change its policy. Despite its firm stance on sanctions, the government’s support for the new Nord Stream pipeline designed to double the capacity of direct gas deliveries to Germany indicated that its new approach to Russia retained an important old element. This policy prioritised the interests of German industry in cheap supplies over the security interests of Ukraine, the prime loser from the diversion of gas through the new pipeline. It also ignored the EU’s energy security strategy as well as the objections of its central European neighbours united in their vigorous opposition to the project.
This short, concluding chapter argues that to manage the challenge posed by Russia, Germany must rediscover the ability to design strategy. To do so, policymakers must define policy goals based on interests not emotions.
Chapter 2 examines some of the main trends in German thinking about Russia over the centuries. Stereotypes matter because they reproduce themselves through generations and influence relations between states. A turbulent history has shaped conflicting views of Russians among Germans, contributing to the contradictory relationship between them. Germans have oscillated between viewing Russians as Asiatic and barbaric on one hand, and pure and unspoilt by western influence on the other. Similarly, Germans have thought of Russia as both uncultured and cultured, regressive and progressive and as a partner and an enemy. For a nation that prizes rationality, these irreconcilable views buried deep in the national psyche create discomfort when thinking about Russia. It is harder, for German policymakers than for their British or American counterparts, for example, to discuss how to live with a confrontational Russia when their instincts are to avoid confrontation. Germans lack the detachment of others who have been less intimately involved with Russia and have not experienced a romantic fixation with it. As part of their historical conditioning, Germans have an emotional connection with Russia, one that can easily obstruct clear thinking about it. It is perhaps ironic that in Russia, Germans have a reputation for being logical thinker and a lacking emotion.
Chapter 4 surveys Germany’s Russia policy from 1990 to 2014 and shows how successive governments stuck to the idea that Russia was a partner in Europe and were prepared to disregard its backtracking on democracy and its violation of human rights and tolerate the development of a form of capitalism incompatible with rule of law. A key measure of Russia’s progress was the growth of trade with Germany. Berlin continued to believe that economic development would promote good governance and rule of law as though Russia could fall back on an earlier legal culture as Germany had done after 1945. The election of a German-speaking president in 2000 seduced Berlin into believing that relations could not be better. It closed its eyes to the Kremlin’s closure of privately owned media, its progressive stifling of political opposition and civil society and its subversion of the country’s legal system to consolidate power and facilitate self-enrichment. At the same time, German policymakers failed to heed the warning signs as high commodity prices injected adrenalin into the Russian system, stimulating it to begin challenging western policy and propose renegotiating the principles of European security agreed at the end of the Cold War. Berlin also failed to see that the EU posed a challenge to Russia in the ‘shared neighbourhood’, setting the scene for the dramatic breakdown of relations over Ukraine in early 2014.
History overshadows Germany’s relations with Russia today, greatly complicating Berlin’s efforts to design effective policies to manage the challenge posed by Russia to Europe’s stability. This book examines the impact of Germans’ intense and dramatic relationship with Russia going back centuries to explain the failure of Berlin’s Russia policy after 1991. It focused heavily on ‘soft’ power by promoting people to people contacts and encouraging trade. Grateful for Moscow’s blessing of reunification and anxious to avoid confrontation, German policymakers ignored Russia’s drift to authoritarianism, its growing confidence fuelled by high commodity prices and its gradual alienation from Europe. Confrontation was inevitable once Russia no longer felt bound by the security principles that ended the Cold War. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a deep shock to the German elites. It caused a sharp shift in Russia policy as Chancellor Merkel led a European response to stabilise Ukraine, which included imposing economic sanctions on Russia. However, true to its old instincts, Germany continued to promote energy cooperation with Russia and even supported the expansion of a gas pipeline from Germany to Russia that was damaging to Ukraine. The book discusses these policies and their outcomes and argues that the economic relationship is overstated and camouflages the true state of overall relations. The analysis also considers the issue of Russian influence in Germany and the dangers it poses. The book concludes that Germany needs to think strategically about Russia and to define policy goals based on interests not emotions.
The introduction briefly explains the subject of the book. It reflects on the long history of German–Russian relations and emphasises their centrality to relations between Europe and Russia more broadly. Unlike the USA and some of its European allies, Germany cares about Russia. The two countries have closely intertwined histories, and their national self-identities are partially based on perceptions of each other. However, this has not prevented Germany from making serious errors in its analysis of Russian intentions and actions. As the book argues, Russia in its current configuration poses a serious threat to the stability of Europe, and Germany must overcome its ‘Russia problem’, that is its inability to grasp the logic behind Russian actions, if it is to mount an effective defence.
Chapter 3 looks at the impact of Germany’s reunification on views of Russia. It explains how this miraculous outcome occurred more by chance than because of a conscious policy of benevolence on the part of Moscow towards Germans. Reunification is associated with a time when it seemed that a united Germany was fully reconciled with both its western and eastern neighbours and at peace with Russia. In historical terms, it was the shortest of unsustainable moments when the USSR was in retreat, close to unravelling and ready to make sacrifices in relations with the West to gain time. This was Russia’s second Brest-Litovsk of the twentieth century. Consequently, German gratitude to Moscow for reunification, while understandable, is exaggerated. Gorbachev’s decision to allow the USSR’s satellites to go their own way had made the process unstoppable. Germany’s good fortune lay in the fact that the speed of events outstripped Moscow’s ability to keep up and excluded the possibility to use force to save the country at least temporarily. In addition, Gorbachev accepted the western arguments that it made sense to integrate a united Germany into NATO. Even if Russia’s current leaders would not have followed the same logic and despise Gorbachev for allowing the USSR to disintegrate, they are still happy for Germany to feel a sense of obligation towards Moscow for making reunification possible. The emotions associated with the issue form another part of Germans’ historical conditioning and provide a pressure point for Russia in its dealings with Germany.
Chapter 8 considers the outlook for Germany’s handling of relations with Russia against the background of Russia’s likely development as well as the factors influencing its view of Russia and the instruments it has available to counter undesirable Russian behaviour. It is essential that it invests more in defence after more than twenty-five years of reaping a ‘peace dividend’. Germany’s thinking about the current Russian system is gradually evolving as it confronts more evidence of its criminal nature and practices, a process accelerated by the poisoning of the opposition politician with Novichok in the summer of 2020. However, it is not clear to what extent Berlin is ready to change its approach and create greater capacity to deter and resist Russian pressure.
Chapter 7 discusses the little-researched issue of Russian influence in Germany. The country has long been the target of Russian ‘soft’ power operations and espionage but, since 2014, it has experienced the use of some new ‘harder’ instruments of influence, including disinformation and cyberattacks. For now, Russia appears content with its level of ‘soft’ power penetration. German discussion of the subject has paid little attention to Russian influence through well-established networks in the mainstream political parties as well as in business. Not surprisingly, the issue is extremely sensitive and Germany’s intelligence agencies do not openly discuss it. The left-wing party Die Linke, with its roots in the former GDR holds some positions on Russia close to those of the far right Alternative für Deutschland. Together, the two parties’ different ideological sympathies with Russia provide an important additional form of influence in Germany focused on the large Russian German community. For now, Russia has used disinformation tactics only sparingly. Cyberattacks on the government and the Parliament have shown Moscow’s capabilities in this area. However, its decision not to deploy stolen data in the 2017 federal election suggested that it viewed its existing level of influence as sufficient and did not see the need to interfere in the election process, as it had in France, the UK and the USA.
Chapter 6 reviews the economic relationship between Germany and Russia and demonstrates that even before EU sanctions in 2014, it was under-developed and far less important to German business than commonly assumed. It explains how the gas relationship has changed significantly in recent years because of the EU’s success in forcing Gazprom to adapt to its regulatory framework. This was a major irritant in the EU’s relations with Russia and contributed to the breakdown of relations over Ukraine. For all Germany’s rhetoric about increased trade helping to promote good governance in Russia, in some cases major German businesses engaged in systematic corruption in Russia. Such double standards have been a gift to Russia’s leaders, reinforcing their view that western values are not for real and that German business is prepared to compromise them if the price is right. Beyond the gas relationship that is set to decline over time, the false notion that the Russian market is a major destination for German exports strongly influences views of how to manage relations with Moscow.