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June 26, 2022

Ukrainian crisis and the Ostpolitik – III

Regarding the Ostpolitik pursued since the late 1960s of the last century by German and its possible abandonment by Berlin following Russian aggressiveness in the Ukrainian crisis it has to be noted that the article extensively commented upon in the previous two analyses is not the only one discussing the topic that has been published by international mass-media. More than that, the main artisans of German and Russian foreign policy have supplied further details on this apparent reversal of axis in the European policies in the last half of a century.

The last half of a century? I recall that a German historian wrote in the past century a few works on the German foreign policy since Bismarck and Hitler, avoiding, highlighting its inherent continuities and discontinuities. Among the historically mentioned continuities, the quoted historian, Andreas Hillgruber, was mentioning the fact that the German policy of keeping the European balance useful to its own interests constantly considered a policy of rapprochement to the East, to Russia. Such thing applied, for example, when, after defeating France in 1870-1871, in the 19th century, Bismarck realized that only a rapprochement/alliance of Germany and Russia could prevent a retaliation war by France against the second Reich proclaimed in Paris in 1871. The same view also prevailed when, confronted by a hostile England and France in the West, in 1938 – 1939, Hitler resorted to the famous pact with Stalin of August 1939. Translated in the context of the Cold War and post-Cold War period, such continuity becomes apparent in the Ostpolitik launched in the late 1960s (masterminded by Chancellor Willy Brandt), therefore keeping a power balance on the continent able to preserve a unique role for Germany, originally for achieving the reunification of the two German states and then, to quote Hillgruber, acquire the ‘semi-hegemony, a la Bismarck, in Europe.

So why would Germany quit such ‘semi-hegemony’ that ahs already been reached, making it the most powerful voice in the EU? Why would it quit its traditional Ostpolitik? In our opinion, Berlin hasn’t even embarked down this path. And here is why:

There is a distinction of nuance between the original Ostpolitik of the late 1960s and the continuity of policy in the East Hillgruber was mentioning during the Bismarck and Hitler’s time. That would be the fact that the new Ostpolitik was designed and implemented by contemporary Germany in tight connection with the powers in the West and not against those or seeking to deter them. Germany during the Cold War or in the post-Cold War age is a big power, firmly integrated in the West and, most importantly, framed in the Euro-Atlantic system (NATO) set up by the US. What to some may look like an abandonment of the Ostpolitik (therefore taking a very decisive attitude on Russia) does not actually mean an abandonment by Germany of its Western orientation, but a kind of policy meant to convince Russia to deescalate the serious situation in Ukraine, the two big Slavic states being on the verge of a war with an incalculable impact on the continental and even global equilibrium. Germany, as it ahs been observed (George Freidman), holds a unique role in Europe of today. In the last few years, Berlin has been an active supporter of the EU policy of attracting states of the Eastern Partnership – Ukraine, first of all, but also Georgia and R. Moldova – into a tight connection with the European bloc. Especially the policy concerning Ukraine has been proved to be a big and constant design of German foreign orientation, a line from which Berlin has never derailed from in the last year, since the Ukrainian crisis was ignited.

The pro-West Government of A. Yatzeniuk in Kiev, installed at the end of February 2014 and then the election of President Poroshenko were actions actively supported by Germany. To such position, ‘Russia responded- Friedman points out – by annexing Crimea and  supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, with both moves intended as a message to the West that the uprising would not be tolerated. However, Germany stood firm in its support of the Ukrainian government and followed through with EU plans to sign the association deal with not only Ukraine but also the pro-Western governments of Moldova and Georgia.’ As a matter of fact, it seems that those moves made by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited Tbilisi on 8 December 2014, and stressed the support of the pro-West orientation of the country, while denouncing Moscow’s recent attempt to subordinate Abkhazia, self-proclaimed independent with Russian military assistance, by that reprimanding the mutilation of Georgia’s territorial integrity, strengthened the extremely tough Russian response – for now materialising just in positions. Statement voicing Russia’s intention to resist any attempt by Europe (therefore by Germany, as a front-line country of the West) to bring closer states it believes belong to the area of influence it claims have become more numerous. At Tbilisi, Minister Steyenmeier declared not the abandonment of the Ostpolitik, but the German decision to be a decisive part of the West and its values, opposed to the forceful and illegal actions undertaken by Russia.

Secondly, very much related to this orientation of Germany which draws Russia’s attention that, while there is still room for compromise left, a change of policy and conformity to the position voiced by US President Barack Obama are necessary. A few days ago, he publicly said that  ‘What ultimately will lead Putin to make a strategic decision is if Putin recognizes that Europe and the United States are standing together over the long haul./…/If they see that there aren’t any cracks in the coalition, then over time, you could see them saying that the costs to their economy outweigh any strategic benefits that they get’.

So the Ostpolitik continues to be the same orientation in Germany’s foreign policy understood not as rapprochement to Russia and distance from the West – as it seems to be happening – but as an effort to attract Russia to the Euro-Atlantic values Germany is deeply attached to. The signal sent to Moscow on that could have not been missed by Moscow. Kremlin’s attempts to build a wall between the two shores of the Atlantic at the very heart of Europe (see the surprising announcement made by Putin about renouncing South Stream which makes  Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria unhappy) are doomed to fail in front of the decisive affirmation of the Berlin-promoted Otspolitik.



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