Maintaining German-Russian Relations: It’s The Only Option
On January 17, the German Ambassador to Russia, Rüdiger von Fritsch, gave an open lecture at HSE entitled, ‘Russia, Germany, Europe – Where To From Here?’ HSE gives you an overview of his main ideas.
What binds Russia and Germany
Over the centuries, Germany has had close ties to Russia in practically every sphere. It could be said that Russia has never been closer to another Western country than it has to Germany and there are few countries to which Germany has been as close as it has to Russia – in culture, art, politics and economics. For example, 160 years ago, it was Siemens, a German company, which laid the first telephone lines in Russia. We have been through good times and bad together, particularly in the 20th century. Even after the worst conflict of all, we were able to reestablish cooperation during the Cold War, thanks to the détente and what is referred in Germany as ‘Ostpolitik’. With the end of the Cold War, our countries came together like magnets and our ties to each other in all spheres only became stronger.
Why did conflict occur?
Our relationship became more strained after the conflict in the Ukraine. In order to understand it, you have to look at what happened 30 years ago. From the point of view of the West, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia were able, for the first time, to determine their futures independently. For almost all of the Eastern European countries, this meant joining the EU and NATO, which Russia considered to be infringing upon her interests. The situation became even more strained when talk turned to the vote in the Ukraine, and Russia felt obliged to act.
What did Russia do?
In view of the outright, in our opinion, violation of the territorial integrity of this government located in the heart of Europe, the EU took certain steps. It didn’t use military force, rather, it used coercive measures such as sanctions, and marked a sort of ‘line in the sand’, so as to prevent the conflict from developing further. At the same time, a dialogue was established between sides (in particular, between the Normandy Four). It is essential to reach a compromise because, while the Ukraine conflict remains unsolved, it is a threat to our relations.
What is the current situation?
Ideally, we will move towards an end to the conflict. There are positive steps being taken. For example, we support the initiative to involve the UN, if indeed it will facilitate solving the conflict, rather than freezing it.
Unfortunately, the most recent tendencies in global politics have not helped to reach this compromise. Governments are acting unilaterally, exiting agreements and announcing that the current global situation is conflicting with their own interests. However, history has shown that such an approach to international relations, that is, when only one or a handful of powers decides for all, does not work. What’s more, conflict between countries becomes inevitable.
Where to from here?
The answer lies in European history. We shouldn’t impose our will on others, rather, everyone should be given equal rights. Is it naive to think that this is possible? No. It’s a reality which has existed in Western Europe for 70 years already. The EU was created to unite the interests of different countries such that it would be disadvantageous for them to bring harm to each other. And the EU’s effectiveness in doing just this has been observable over a long period of time. The EU faces certain challenges and has experienced a significant number of crises in its lifetime, all of which it has succeeded in overcoming.
What does the future hold for German-Russian relations?
Our contradicting views with Russia do not mean that our ties should be broken – on the contrary, we should make them stronger. One area which gives us an opportunity to do so is science and education, by way of student and youth exchanges. We also maintain tight business and economic ties, despite the decrease in trade during the economic crisis. We don’t see any alternative to maintaining positive relations between Germany and Russia, and Russia and the rest of Europe. They are necessary for a whole range of reasons, not least in order to maintain peace in Eurasia.