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February 4, 2023

Ukrainian crisis and the Ostpolitik – I

The Ostpolitik was the strategy undertaken in the late 1960s and pursued until the end of the old War by the Federal Republic of Germany. Initiated by Chancellor Willy Brandt, the Ostpolitik meant Germany’s openness towards the communist East, including USSR – in order to, using economic means and interdependencies thus created by the European Union, where the German economy was already taking the lead as a growth engine, speed up the installation of an indivisible security on the old continent in general and reunify the two German states in particular. The Ostpolitik actually had an extremely important role in the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which produced the fundamental document on the current security in Europe – the Final Act of Helsinki of 1 August 1975 – , as well as the sparking of the 1989 revolution wave leading to communism collapsing in Eastern Europe. The consequence of the above was that the reunification of the two German states was possible (October 1990) and CSCE was almost concurrently transformed, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe being signed in November 1990, by that enshrining the indivisibility of European security and equally the character of partnership of continental inter-state relations, turning the USSR from the enemy it had been so far into a partner. In that way, the Ostpolitik made perhaps a crucial contribution to bridging the divide of Europe into opposing political-military blocs and Germany raised a high profile as an indispensable power to the Euro-Atlantic state of equilibrium.

The Ostpolitik continued to be a basis for reunified Germany’s foreign policy also during the post-Cold War period. Any changes occurring in the territorial order of Europe post-Cold War were brought in keeping with the principles enshrined at Helsinki in 1975 and CSCE became OSCE in 1994, as the main regional security and cooperation organisation.

Without going into a number of details, including why the organisation has become of secondary importance in the meantime – this pertains to the US action in Europe – one needs to note that the Ostpolitik is an already classic philosophy in Germany’s foreign policy, according to which the achievement of peace and stability in Europe cannot happen while leaving out Russia or in spite of Russia, nut only with Russia.

Recent positions taken by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, especially after the G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, two weeks ago, brought some doubt as to the Ostpolitik line in German foreign policy being kept. Stressing that President Putin insists on his aggressive action in Eastern Ukraine as well as the destabilisation, in a variety of modes, of the situation of security in Eastern Europe  – meaning the area between Germany and Russia – , by suggesting that the current course of the Kremlin can only be changed by keeping up the sanctions policy and even augment it, the German Chancellor assumingly signalled an abandonment of the Ostpolitik, according to some.

Is this interpretation really correct? According to British daily ‘The Guardian’, which runs a piece on this topic, Merkel has dropped the Ostpolitik and the arguments of this thesis are rooted in the analysis of her address in Sydney, after the now famous nocturnal four hour talks with President Putin.


Can you recognise the following reference to the current position of Chancellor Merkel in this address?  ‘Looking back to the time leading up to 1914, one thing in particular stands out: the lack of communication among the political elites of European states and the complete failure of diplomacy. There was a lack of suitable mechanisms and institutions which would have allowed countries to exchange views, build mutual trust and engage in cooperation. There was no readiness to accept compromises. There was no will to settle differences peacefully – partly due to an arrogant belief on both sides in their own military superiority. Yet the belief that modern wars could be contained proved to be a fatal mistake. What was initially a regional crisis in the Balkans engulfed the rest of the continent within just’. This is obviously a reference to what Putin does today in Ukraine, anticipating, in the event of a continuation of this course, a genuine planetary catastrophe. And the chancellor’s reaction is undoubtedly decisive: ‘In 1914, national self-importance and cold-blooded military logic pushed aside responsible politics and diplomacy. In 2014, in contrast, we in Europe are striving to engage in dialogue and find peaceful solutions – no matter how difficult the negotiations may be. Today’s 28 member states of the European Union have put their faith in the power of economic, social and political integration. We have put our faith in the cohesive effect of a community of shared values. We have put our faith in institutions which are committed to the common European good.’ In not so many words, Europe will no longer allow itself being drawn into this game on the brim of the precipice. And, in order to be very clear about what she had in mind, Merkel said, in the same speech: ‘First of all, we are supporting Ukraine both politically and economically. Secondly, we will make every effort to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict by talking to Russia. Thirdly, we have imposed economic sanctions on Russia on the necessary scale and for the requisite duration. The overriding goal of this approach is to maintain Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, thus enabling it to decide its own future.’

Do these words of Merkel’s stand for an abandonment of the Ostpolitik?

The article quoted from ‘The Guardian’ does not hesitate  to hive am affirmative answer to this question. First comes the argumentation. The author says that, ‘According to polls, more than 80% of Germans feel that Russia can’t be trusted.Putin’s recent comments expressing an understanding for the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939 didn’t go down too well either.’ So the German public has had enough of a partnership, more or less visible, between Germany and Russia, which, during Chancellor G. Schroeder, reached the peaks of ‘cynicism’. Then it is noted that the ‘new course’ of Chancellor Merkel  – the post-Ostpolitik – will come against the hostility of ‘Putin’s strong network of <Russland Versteher>, people who ‘understand’  and side with Russia in Germany’.

If the analysis of the British daily is correct, then we have to assume that Germany understands to have more freedom of movement in its foreign policy than it has been used to having and more than the international community was used to it having. Germany will have to put its economic  and fatally, political weight in the international arena with the action required (and expected by others) by such weight in the international arena. Because, after all, Germany is the most robust and best performing power in the European Union and its position reflects on the role of Europe in the overall system. Or, the last time the same question was brought up, actually not long ago, a German president had to resign office (over the German military presence in Afghanistan and the rules of its commitment), although the president now in office has not hesitated to openly claim a backing of his country’s economic weight by military action. The same president, just at the beginning of the year, was asking the following questions announcing a change of role for Germany in the world:  ‘has Germany already adequately recognised the new threats and the changes in the structure of the international order? Has is reacted commensurate with its weight? Has Germany shown enough initiative to ensure the future viability of the network of norms, friends and alliances which has brought us peace in freedom and democracy in prosperity?.

So has Germany abandoned its traditional Ostpolitik?




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