There is movement in the relations between Germany and Russia. Even the former German Secretary of State Willy Wimmer, who in recent years has commented with a clear emphasis on Germany’s Russian policy, speaks in an interview with the website World Economy1 of a “special kind of indication”.
km. Willy Wimmer responded to the Moscow visit of Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer and his meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Wimmer says, “This actually is the form of cooperation that is appreciated by most people in Germany. When it is made clear that we do not see our role narrowed into a NATO prison, that instead we are trying to maintain good relations with our neighbours, small and large. This picture of joint visiting – by Mrs Merkel in Washington on the one hand and by Mr Seehofer in Moscow on the other hand – has clarified that something is in motion in Germany, namely in some sense that the people in Germany consider it right. This double visit is perhaps the first sign of making use of the uncertainty about the further course of the United States here in Berlin, to give new signals of coping with the European situation, and to give appropriate indications of how we envisage our future. It is a special kind of indication, which deserves to have special attention drawn to it.”
It is interesting that Willy Wimmer gave this interview on that day when former Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber held the ceremonial address2 at the German-Russian Forum in Berlin, which called for a rapprochement between Germany and Russia. At the beginning, Stoiber cites a statement by the former Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU chairman Franz Josef Strauss from the year 1974: “It was always a good time for Europe when Germany and Russia had good relations, times were bitter for Europe, if this was not the case.” He shares this opinion with a view to the events of the Second World War. After this war, both the Russians and Germans, had “given the historical response of ‘Never again’”. He adds, “as a lesson from history, this must never be forgotten.”
In his contemplation of the present, Edmund Stoiber puts forward a tone, other than one has been accustomed to by German politics in recent times. According to Stoiber Russia is “undoubtedly a world power.“ In almost every international challenge Russia is “part of the solution”. “Without Russia, there would be no […]ceasefire in Syria.” Russia even played a central role in the “negotiations of a ceasefire in Syria, as opposed to the US and the EU”. “The Iran agreement as well would not have come about without Russia.”
Stoiber criticizes the attitude of former US President Obama. The statement that Russia was only a regional power „greatly contributed to the growing alienation between the United States and Russia. It was one of the most insensitive and false statements by an American president.”
For the former Prime Minister of Bavaria, it is a fact “that the sanctions against Russia harm both sides”. Thus, he implicitly opposes the sanctions and adds: “There is no greater peace guarantee than mutual interests and close economic relations.”
This is the core of his speech. Corresponding with the analysis of Willy Wimmer a remarkable formulation follows: “Against the background of the new protectionism on the other side of the Atlantic, we should not self-inflict artificial prohibitions of thought. A study by the Ifo Institute revealed significant growth gains for the EU and Russia through a comprehensive free trade agreement.”
It is also remarkable that Edmund Stoiber was the keynote speaker at an event honoured by Fritz Pleitgen, the former editor-in-chief of the WDR, during which the Honourable commented humorously: “Who would have thought that we would get so close! You, the right-wing head of Bavaria, and I of the ‘left-wing broadcaster’ WDR. We see that Russia is approaching. Russia ensures understanding.“3
Fritz Pleitgen criticized the fact that German troops had been moved near the Russian frontier: “Would we be pleased if Russian troops would appear close to our cities?” He added: “I do not believe that Helmut Kohl had armed NATO vehicles with the German Balkenkreuz on the Russian border in mind when negotiating the German unity and the NATO membership of the united Republic of Germany with Mr Gorbachev. If we begin with moving our troops to emphasize our policy, then we will reach the Ultimo quickly.”
He continued: “The European Union has been pursuing its sanction policy for three years. It’s time to take a hard look at what has occurred. What has remained of the sanctions? Other than mistrust nothing could be described as a turn to the positive. If something does not work, one should leave it.”
The former SPD party chairman and Brandenburg’s Prime Minister, Matthias Platzeck was optimistic about both speeches, the one by Edmund Stoiber and the other by Fritz Pleitgen, on the chairman of the German-Russian Forum. In an interview with the German edition of the Russian station Sputnik of 21 March 20174, he expressed that he expects an improvement in German-Russian relations still in this year. The German Chancellor will also travel to Moscow in May and the new Federal President “clearly signalled that he would end this long drought of a German President visiting Moscow”.
Taking into consideration the experience with Egon Bahr’s and Willy Brandt’s Eastern bloc policy, Matthias Platzeck advocates practicing the art of simply putting problems aside which are not solvable at the moment, “and to turn towards problem areas where one can do something together, develop cooperation, shape cooperation”.
Matthias Platzeck also mentions the strategic consideration, which Willy Wimmer mentioned already, and which Edmund Stoiber also supports: “There is also the geopolitical challenge that Europe must be very careful not to stand alone one day. There are isolationist tendencies in the US and the power house in Far East with China. And suddenly there we are. It should be our great interest to bring Russia closer to us. Not that we then lose Russia to China in 10, 20 years.”
At the end of the interview Matthias Platzeck once again emphasizes that Europe and the world are faced with enormous problems, and points out that “without or against Russia we will not be able to solve all these issues.” The problems cannot be delayed. In seriousness he adds, “We should not whitewash the world. The alienation between Germany and Russia is growing, the mutual knowledge of each other is decreasing. This bears a high-risk potential, because thereby all kinds of errors and false alarm can grow more quickly and danger of escalation grows with it. That is why I believe that there is very little time left.”
This corresponds to what the German expert on Russia, Alexander Rahr, expressed in a conversation with the Sputnik station on the same day.5 For many years, Alexander Rahr was the Russian expert of the influential German Foreign Relations (DGAP), also known as the German Council on Foreign Relations.
Rahr says, “the relationship between Germany and Russia is as bad as has not been seen in decades, even worse than during the Cold War.” And this, despite Europe having no other choice but “to create a common Europe with Russia.” The problem of the German-Russian relations is “not Mrs Merkel,” and certainly not the majority of the German population which is neither anti-Russian nor Russia-phobic, “but a large part of the German elite that has alienated itself from Russia“. An increasing number of the European elites state that “above all the Western and Central Eastern European states, wish for a Europe without Russia”. Rahr is doubtful of whether such path, such new Cold War “will end as peacefully as the first.”
Therefore, it is all the more important and urgent that the movement of Willy Wimmer, Matthias Platzeck, Edmund Stoiber, Fritz Pleitgen, Alexander Rahr and others is given more support. •
1 www.world-economy.eu/pro-contra/details/article/k-frage-keine-winterstiefel-oder-zu-leise-stimme/ from 20.3.2017
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