Why are Germany and France at odds with the Anglosphere over how to handle Russia? | Ukraine


Can the Western alliance against Russia over its troop buildup on the Ukrainian border hold? It’s a question politicians and diplomats are increasingly grappling with amid fears that Germany and, to a lesser extent, France risk breaking away from the US and UK, no not only on how to respond to any future acts of Russian aggression in Ukraine, but also in their assessment of the imminence of the threat.

Every effort is made to minimize differences within the NATO alliance, including through regular calls like the one led by Joe Biden on Monday, but they may be impossible to avoid as they not only reflect different short-term assessments on intelligence, but a deep fissure dating back decades on what Germany and France, as opposed to the Anglosphere, see as the best way to handle Russia.

France, looking at the same intelligence provided by the CIA, does not see an imminent invasion, or a gathering of forces equipped to invade within the next three weeks – an assessment shared by top Ukrainian defense analysts.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has openly criticized Germany for allowing itself to be so dependent on Russia for energy, and Berlin’s recent refusal to allow Estonia to send German-made weapons to Ukraine. The idea of ​​Germany supplying weapons to be used against Russia for the first time since World War II is anathema. Speaking in Berlin on Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended the decision, saying it was rooted “in the whole development of recent years and decades”.

In Poland, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a Facebook post that he remained concerned about Estonia’s lockdown.

In the United States, the German question increasingly annoys Republicans, prompting comments in the Wall Street Journal under the headline “Is Germany a Reliable American Ally?” Nah.

The tensions reflect two different interpretations of how, even now, Russia can be prevented from becoming a force hostile to the West, interpretations that have dominated post-Cold War politics.

The differing assessments in Berlin, Washington, Paris and London on how to build something stable from the rubble of post-Soviet Russia have always been in flux, with different capitals taking different views at different times.

The United States under Bill Clinton was as reluctant as anyone to let the four Visegrád countries – the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – into NATO and made its belief in the risks clear at the summit. of the organization in January 1994, according to the Atlantic Alliance. could not “afford to draw a new line between East and West that would create a self-fulfilling prophecy of future confrontation”.

Tony Blair must also have been undeceived that Britain could lure Putin into the Western camp and was an enthusiastic supporter of Russia joining the G8. Boris Johnson visited Moscow as Foreign Secretary in 2017 and, despite poisoning Salisbury, was extraordinarily lax on Russian money in London.

France too blew hot and cold following the Russian occupation of Crimea in March 2014. It was only after sustained US pressure that Francois Hollande canceled a £1billion contract signed by his predecessor to the French presidency to sell Mistral-class combat helicopters to Russia. bound for annexed Black Sea ports in Crimea.

At a summit in Paris in December 2019, from left to right: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy;  then German Chancellor Angela Merkel;  <a class=French President Emmanuel Macron; and Russian President Vladimir Putin” src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/037d179684da6686addf631f70748089dcfb41d4/0_179_3500_2100/master/3500.jpg?width=445&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=622bae2b6c10544444d9033e1987da7f” height=”2100″ width=”3500″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-1989ovb”/>
At a summit in Paris in December 2019, from left to right: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy; then German Chancellor Angela Merkel; French President Emmanuel Macron; and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photography: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Emmanuel Macron invited Putin to Versailles around an exhibition on Peter the Great in May 2017. In the face of Trump’s isolationism, Macron, in a major speech in 2019, called for an end to “frozen conflicts” with Russia . In June last year, together with Angela Merkel, he blindsided other European leaders by offering Putin a summit. In Berlin on Tuesday, the French president said he still plans to speak to the Russian leader this week, but only about de-escalation.

However, the central actor in Europe’s relations with Russia is Germany, as it has been since unification.

It’s why Germany takes such a stubbornly lenient or optimistic approach to Putin fills the bookshelves, and the most recent offering Germany’s Russian Problem, written by John Lough, details the full extent of the networks – commercial, political, cultural and intellectual – between the Germans and the Russian elites. It also explains how Putin plays on German war guilt and refuses to repay the German pardon.

Examples raised by Lough include how, following Russia’s intervention in Georgia in the summer of 2008, then German Social Democratic (SPD) Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier put warns Europe against sanctions that he says would close the doors to the rooms it wanted. to enter later.

Although Merkel’s response to the 2014 invasion of Ukraine was strong, Steinmeier, convinced that the SPD understood Russia better than Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, visited Moscow and proposed an economic partnership with Russia. At the same time, three former German chancellors – Helmut Schmidt, Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Kohl – have all warned Merkel not to isolate Moscow. Less than a week after the invasion, the general manager of Siemens was in Moscow. As the diplomatic situation worsened, a group of former senior German officials and politicians sent a moving letter calling for a return to the policy of détente.

This German-Russian relationship, according to a recent Chatham House article, was shaped by two factors. First of all, Ospolitik, which refers to the foreign policy strategy of “change through rapprochement” towards the Soviet Union and its satellite states, pursued in the 1970s by Social Democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt, which attempted to overcome hard lines by focusing on common interests. Politics is still seen by many as the way forward.

Second, the mutual dependence agreement between the two countries that dates back to the 1970s, when the Soviet Union and Germany agreed to exchange natural gas from the USSR for German pipes and steel. It is based on the belief expressed by Schmidt that “those who trade with each other do not shoot each other”. In 2018, Germany accounted for 37% of Gazprom’s sales and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was agreed. German exports to Russia increased fivefold between 2000 and 2011.

This remains the dominant thought in some parts of the SPD. Current Economy Minister Robert Habeck, whose ministry is in charge of sanctions, opposes cutting off Russia’s access to the Swift payment system. He told Der Spiegel: “We should be thinking about new areas of activity that can help both sides move out of the confrontational role.”

However, in recent weeks, the compromises inherent in Ostpolitik were challenged by a younger generation. Michael Roth, the SPD’s chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, argued that his party must escape Brandt’s shadow, adding “we cannot dream of the world being any better than it is”. Other ministers have insisted that energy, including the future of Nord Stream 2, cannot be removed from the list of potential sanctions, as it was in 2014.

All of this leaves Scholz in a different position with his American interlocutors, none of it facilitated by his alliance with a green foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, who wants to inject values ​​into German foreign policy. The SPD, to avoid a public split, will now have a formal party debate on its approach to Russia.

A diplomat underlined the relevance of a remark by Alexander Solzhenitsyn at the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, who warned of the dangers of managing the break-up of the empire. “The clock of communism has stopped ringing. But his concrete building has not collapsed yet,” he wrote. For this reason, the task at hand was not yet to “break free”, but rather “to try not to be crushed by its rubble”.


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