More than seventy German academics and foreign policy experts published an open letter on January 14 demanding that Germany’s Russia policy fundamentally shift from tacit encouragement to open resistance to Vladimir Putin’s expansionist designs.
Many German intellectuals have consistently criticized Berlin for its willingness to pursue normal relations with an increasingly authoritarian Russian regime that unreservedly rejects the values and behaviors that Germany and its European allies claim to be at the heart of the European project. This new statement is different: not only does it offer sustained criticism and insist on radical change; it was also signed by some of the leading German and Austrian Eastern Europeans.
The letter begins with a damning overview of the Putin regime’s domestic brutalities and acts of foreign aggression. The authors then proceed to muddle Germany‘s tolerance of Russian misconduct. “As Europe’s largest economic power, Germany viewed these events for more than three decades critically, but above all passively.”
Germany’s reaction to Russia’s “numerous revenge adventures” has not been “appropriate”, the open letter notes. Indeed, experts say, Berlin’s policies actually helped weaken the non-nuclear states of Eastern Europe and bolster an “increasingly expansionist atomic superpower.”
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The authors of the open letter provide a number of specific examples. For example, they claim that the Nord Stream I gas pipeline “paved the way for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” in 2014. This attack was the “logical consequence” of Germany’s 20 years of “political passivity”. towards Russian neo-imperialism”. As a result, the signatories argue, Germany must abandon its “special East European lane” or “Sonderweg”, a loaded term tied to Germany’s past experience of imperialism and authoritarianism.
The authors of the letter clearly state that the crimes of Nazi Germany during World War II in Russia do not justify Berlin’s reluctance to respond to the “revanchism” and “nihilism” of the Putin regime with regard to the right international. This is all the more true since a new Russian invasion of Ukraine would target a nation that also suffered catastrophically as a victim of Hitler’s Germany.
“The Russian policy of the Federal Republic must be fundamentally corrected,” the experts conclude. Continued inaction will only encourage Russia to engage in “new escapades”. As a “key land” of the EU, NATO and the Western community of values, Germany must bridge the “gap between its public rhetoric and its actual practice” by adopting a variety of “political measures, parallel and concrete legal, diplomatic and civil society”. – targeted technical and economic measures.
In summary, the letter stresses that Germany must do much more to “contain and sanction Russia” as well as to “support the states that have been dismembered and oppressed by Moscow.”
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It is sensible and welcome language, although the lack of concrete policy suggestions is regrettable, even if understandable in an open letter. Meanwhile, the deliberate non-inclusion of military measures is striking, but also not surprising.
Will Berlin answer their call? It should. The experts who put their names to this open appeal are quite right to suggest that Germany has no right to promote Russian aggression and imperialism, especially in countries like Ukraine, which were devastated by German aggression during World War II.
And yet, Germany’s political and business elites seem oblivious to this obvious point. Gerhard Schroeder surely knew that he was acting hypocritically, even criminally, by agreeing to work for Gazprom. Angela Merkel, too, cannot plead ignorance of the nature of Putin’s regime. Needless to say, German companies wholeheartedly support the Nord Stream II gas pipeline project.
Why this apparent blindness to Russian imperialism? For starters, there is the long history of friendship between Germany and Russian autocrats. Otto von Bismarck maintained close political and cultural relations with Imperial Russia. Weimar Germany signed the Treaty of Rapallo with the Bolsheviks in 1922.
It is well known that Nazi Germany signed a non-aggression pact with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1939, paving the way for the joint invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.
In recent years, German political parties have continued this tradition. Both socialists and Christian Democrats tolerated and encouraged Putin’s adventurism, revanchism and neo-imperialism. The Socialists did so because their commitment to peace blinded them to the threat of war, while the Christian Democrats were guided by their close ties to German business.
Not everyone in Germany agrees with this Russian approach. The recently published open letter demonstrates, once again, that a large part of Germany’s intellectual leaders have abandoned the immoral opportunism of the country’s political and economic elites. Their call will not end the Kremlin’s neo-imperialism, and it may not convince Berlin to act immediately, but it certainly underscores the need for a major debate within German society over the controversial approach. of the country vis-à-vis Putin’s Russia.
Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University in Newark.
The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.
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