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February 3, 2023

Ukrainian crisis and the Ostpolitik II

The immediate reaction of some (not few) of the readers – we are guided in our evaluation by the comments made on the column cited in part I – was to reject the assumption of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s abandoning the Ostpolitik, be it for global geopolitical and European equilibrium reasons, be it on ideological grounds, ‘The Guardian’ being a left-wing publication (various nuances). ‘Don’t be two quick to discount Ostpolitik-assessed one reader. It’s very close to the heart of Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD), her extremely experienced and ‘weighty’ Foreign Minister. The key issue, as it has been for a long time, is whether the Ukraine gets a path for NATO membership and that all-important mutual defence guarantee.’ The two politicians ended the attempt of the US to grant the NATO accession roadmap to Ukraine and Georgia at the North-Atlantic Alliance Summit in Bucharest in April 2008. Therefore, a matter of internal German politics, the solidity of the ruling coalition being related to keeping the traditional Ostpolitik. Another reader has an opinion shared by other 28: ’But she /Merkel/ won’t be there for ever, so the idea that Ostpolitik is dead is a complete fallacy. Even Merkel’s apparent position on Russia is best understood as a ploy to placate hawks in the U.S.’

The side of those who understand Russia’s ventures in Ukraine seems to represent a majority, some readers note, which means that dropping the Ostpolitik would be a wrong move. ‘The Schröder years had brought Ostpolitik to a cynical climax.’ – one reader quotes from the article and asks: ‘What is cynical about conducting EUR billions of trade creating jobs and prosperity between two trading partners? Trade with the East is one of the German success stories of the last 20 years – would the author simply write off all the business and investment’. The same reader tried to demolish the entire theory of abandoning the Ostpolitik and make an attempt to demonstrate the emptiness of some of  the article’s arguments: ’According to polls, more than 80% of Germans feel that Russia can’t be trusted.’ I can’t read German, but I’d love to know precisely what they were being asked about! Since the article doesn’t say, and given its biased nature, by now no-one reading it would take such a statement at face value. ‘The central European countries are divided, with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and even some Czech officials playing to Putin’s tune’. Again, central Europeans are looking after their own states’ national interests. They are not dancing to Putin’s tune. Why do we not also say that the Germans are dancing to the US tune, or the French for that matter? No-one is dancing to anyone’s tune – its just national interests.’ There are also quite a few readers who are seduced by the leftist theses of the headway made by the American imperialism down the line of global domination and Europe’s impotence to resist it. One of them states: ‘The writer says that Merkel’s belief – if indeed it is ‘her’ belief – that Putin is a <threat> to Europe is well-founded, but offers no hint of the foundation. It sounds like she’s an apologist for Merkel’s buckling under neocon threats from the US. She’s sold Germany down the river and damaged the economic prospects of Europe. Why does the US ‘hate’ Putin so much? The conventional narrative is that the neocon plan for world hegemony sees Russia as a geopolitical obstacle. But it is always ‘Putin’ that’s cited as the ‘problem’. Could it be anything to do with his war on the oligarchs who bought up Russian assets for cents on the dollar under the CIA clown Yeltsin?’ (54 readers support this point of view). The understanding of Putin’s action, surprisingly or not, comes from a variety of angles: ‘Is Putin a bellicose nationalist? Yes. Is he an unreformed secret policeman? Yes. Is he corrupt? Quite probably. Does he represent the dark side of Russian culture and history? Yes. But he isn’t some lunatic dictator seeking global hegemony. He is a Russian leader acting very much as Russian leaders always have done, which is defend what he sees as Russian national interests – and that is why he has the Russian public behind him. Peter the Great, or Alexander I, or Stalin, or Khrushchev, would have acted the same or very similarly, were any of them in his situation.’ (70 readers share this opinion). Pursuing his own aims which are consistent with Russia’s interests, however in spite of the neighbours who equally pursue their own aims, the Russian leader could, however, be in for a few surprises:  ‘Putin probably is trying to deter a NATO expansion into Ukraine, yes. And that’s entirely understandable and rational, from the point of view of Russian interests .But the ex-Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact satellites have politics and interests too. And in a democracy, may express those interests. And just like Poland and the Baltic States pressed for NATO membership, so does Ukraine, when not run as an informal Russian satellite as under Yanukovitch. In short, what Putin is going about achieving is the opposite of what he wants. NATO military deployment from Tallinn to Kharkov (or maybe even Lugansk).Because the governments of those countries have an understandable wish for collective security.’

Shared by 24 readers is the opinion that the abandonment of the Ostpolitik is what needs to be done in German foreign policy and such thing is the result of an extensive debate in Germany: ‘Imposing sanctions on Russia does hurt German exporters, sure. So? Currently Germany is spending about 0.8% of its GDP on defence. It can get away with doing that, because it’s embedded in a firm system of collective security. (NATO and the EU).It’s in Germany’s vital economic interests to keep that system of collective security working. And outside the Left Party, that fact is acknowledged by every German politician.’ Or the following, similar opinion, embraced by 15 readers: ‘First, this of course wasn’t a decision made purely by Merkel… but is the result of many months or longer of serious debate in the German Government. Second, this reinforces the truth of the power of Germany in the 21st Century. Having rejected neoliberalism, which has annihilated our countries, and stuck with Christian conservative ordoliberalism, Germany is strong, and powerful with a solid economy and great social services. It can stand up to Moscow.’ And another 26 readers share a similar opinion, but in a different perspective: ‘Putin has been on record saying that he wants the return of the USSR sphere of influence, so first the Ukraine, then the Baltic states, and of course he’s put a submarine in Swedish waters. I hope for Western democracy in Russia one day – maybe even joining the EU and NATO. With their economy the size of Italy’s, but with more than double Italy’s population, If they didn’t have nukes, no-one would take any notice of them.’

In a recent press article, former head of German diplomacy Joashka Fischer voices his own position on the crisis in Ukraine: ‘It is no coincidence that one of Putin’s central aims is to disengage Germany from the West (or at least to neutralize it). But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has undergone a remarkable transformation. Though she has remained willing to talk to the Kremlin, her commitment to Western unity has been unwavering.’

The crisis in Ukraine can therefore also be construed from this point of view: Putin’s failed attempt to detach Germany from the North-Atlantic Alliance. Which, of course, does not rule out the Ostpolitik.




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