After calling it ” ineptitude » the idea that Russia could invade Ukraine and caused an outcry by his remarks, the head of the German Navy, Kay-Achim Schönbach, announced his resignation this Saturday, January 22. This event is symptomatic of a Germany that has been hesitating about its attitude towards Russia lately.
Since the arrival at the Chancellery of Olaf Scholz on December 8, 2021, and the establishment of a coalition made up of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Liberal Democratic Party and the Greens, several positions have been taken showed firm differences of opinion, particularly on the Russian and Ukrainian questions. To better understand the reasons for these disagreements and the geopolitical consequences, Marianne spoke with Paul Maurice, researcher at the study committee for Franco-German relations (Cerfa) at IFRI, the French Institute for International Relations.
Marianne: Is Germany stuck between Russia and NATO?
Paul Maurice: We cannot say that Germany oscillates between Russia and NATO since its security is framed by NATO. There is therefore no anti-tanotism in Germany, except perhaps within the extreme left, but it is very marginal. Nevertheless, these recent events are indicative of the tensions in German politics at the moment. The German position on the Russian question is indeed quite paradoxical: among the social democrats, the idea of the chancellery, which dates from the beginning of the 2000s, is that it is necessary to get closer economically to Russia so that it itself closer to Europe. At first, ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the originator of this impulse, had been criticized for having done so in an interested way because he now sits on the board of directors of Gazprom.
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The Greens are very firm on this subject: the decision of the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, to expel two Russian diplomats to Germany on December 15, bears witness to this. As for the liberals, they are quite paradoxical: on the one hand, they advocate respect for civil liberties – they notably openly supported Alexeï Navalny after his poisoning – and on the other, they are in favor of free trade. It is therefore impossible for them to express particular objections to Russia.
Historically, how can this openness to Moscow be explained?
It is explained by the rapprochement with the East initiated by Chancellor Willy Brandt [1969-1974], and the position of the SPD in the 1970s: the idea was to find compromises. And that still marks the compass of the SPD today. But the impetus of the early 2000s with economic rapprochement is also essential. We find this desire to calm relations with Russia in France: Jacques Chirac had met Vladimir Poutine in 2000 and Emmanuel Macron had welcomed him to Versailles in 2019.
“The most plausible hypothesis is that there are no major changes in German foreign strategy and that a consensus is found. »
But the assessment of Russian policy remains heterogeneous in European countries. And the divisions that remain are a real problem. It is difficult to find a consensus on the format of discussion, whether between European countries or in the company of the United States. During the European Council last June, there was an opportunity with the Franco-German proposal for a format for discussion between the EU Member States and Russia. Except that this initiative was very badly received by the Baltic countries, who see Russia as a threat and feel sidelined. Beyond all this, for Vladimir Putin, there is a real trauma: that of the question of NATO membership of former satellite countries. Russia is concerned about NATO’s rapprochement with its borders.
Is the coalition (SPD, Greens, Liberal Party) in power contributing to a change in German foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia?
Yes and no because Angela Merkel’s foreign position on Russia was already quite firm. Having grown up in the GDR, she was aware of the Russian danger. Nevertheless, the economic logic with Nord Stream 2 has always been an important point for her. While a political change may appear with the Greens, the real question is who leads German foreign policy. Is it under the orders of the chancellery or autonomous? The most plausible hypothesis is that there are no major changes in German foreign strategy and that a consensus is found. However, we will have to monitor the German position on security issues and see if it is ready to engage more with its European partners.
In your opinion, could the remarks made by the head of the German Navy have been made under the Merkel period?
It is quite possible that such remarks could have been made when Angela Merkel was in office because the admiral was already in office. Note also that the German army is parliamentary, that is to say that its missions are controlled and ordered by Parliament. In addition, a defense commission ensures the absence of excess or militarism. This therefore implies that the military are under the orders of a civilian power. Faced with probable pressure, it is possible that the head of the German Navy would also have resigned.
“Germany has trouble waging war, it did in Afghanistan in 2001 but it was a real trauma. »
I do not think that the comments he made show opposition to the transatlantic alliance. It seems to me rather that he was in a logic of appeasement because no one really knows if Putin’s threats are real or not. Finally, we must not forget the events of 2014 and the role of Russia in Crimea and then in Donbass. It has already used force, more or less directly, during these conflicts.
Germany is struggling to go to war, it did in Afghanistan in 2001 but it was a real trauma. The American fiasco of the summer of 2021 did not encourage her to commit. Thus, Germany prefers to help Ukraine by delivering a field hospital to it rather than by sending it weapons.
What role does the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline play in this diplomatic sequence?
The Greens are the only ones in the ruling coalition to frankly oppose its implementation and have justified it by European decisions. The Social Democrats, like the CDU, are rather in favor of it. As for the liberals, they were in favor of a moratorium on Nord Stream 2. The German position concerning the gas pipeline, on the other hand, is indicative of Germany’s desire to play it alone in Europe and not to take into account the global positions vis-à-vis Russia. This behavior is criticized, in particular by the Baltic States and Poland, which consider that Berlin does not take into account their security situation. Germany has also announced the end of nuclear power by the end of 2022 and of coal by 2030. However, let’s not forget that the only alternative for Berlin to get out of coal and maintain affordable prices for consumers is gas.
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