By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

A real wake-up call was launched in an interview which the German Magazine “Der Spiegel” (Nr. 11, 9.3.2019) had with Prof. Dr. Horst Teltschik. As former advisor of Chancellor Helmut Kohl he played an active role in the negotiations that led to the successful German Reunification in 1989/90. From 1999 till 2008 he was chairman of the Munich Security Conference.  The German C.H. Beck Verlag had announced the publishing of a book by Horst Teltschik entitled “Russian Roulette – From Cold War to Cold Peace” (21.03.2019), in which Teltschik identifies the mistakes which at present are committed by leading western politicians towards Russia.

In the interview Teltschik characterized President Putin as a man whom he personally experienced as a “charming” and “open minded” dialogue partner by recalling that he met Putin for the first time in 2001 in Moscow. As chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Horst Teltschik at that time intended to invite Putin to this prestigious international conference. The conditions he discussed with Putin were that Putin would openly talk and engage in a frank discussion with the audience. “For Putin,” Teltschik underlined, “this was something taken for granted, not like US Vice President Pence at the Munich security conference some weeks ago, where he announced what the US policy was and what the Americans  expected from us and then left the conference.” (Without any discussion, leaving a perplexed audience E.H.). Teltschik underlined in the interview with “Der Spiegel,” that this was not the only meeting he had with Putin. He reported, that during the first presidential term President Putin regularly invited a group of German experts –  a changing circle of politicians and economic experts who at that time had discussions about international policy and future events like for example Putin’s speech in front of the German Federal Parliament in 2001. As Teltschik recalled: “At that time Putin was open to develop close relations with the EU, he was even ready to talk about a membership in NATO. Of course not as part of NATO’ military organization. His defense minister at that time told me that he didn’t expect that the German Bundeswehr in case of a crisis would defend Russia at the Chinese border. I could only agree with him.”

According to Teltschik big mistakes were made by the West in respect to Ukraine and Russia, which historically have always had a special relation. When Europe and the US began to think about how to deal with the Ukraine, including a membership in the EU and NATO, “they should have made offers to Russia including a Pan-European Free Trade zone, but we didn’t offer anything to Russia.”

In respect to Putin Teltschik stated very clearly to “Der Spiegel” that “Putin is not an adversary of Europe. He looks for alternatives. He feels pushed aside by the Europeans. And what deeply hurt him was the statement by Obama when he stated that Russia was a ‘regional power.’” He referred to Putin’s summit with the Chinese and with India where Putin essentially was signaling that “they rejected a unipolar world order and conceived themselves as players in a multipolar world, whose existence Obama had put into question.” He also referred to the Paris Charta 1990 which ended the Cold war. In this agreement there was reference to “a Pan-European security where everybody, including Russia, had equal security in the Common House of Europe.”

Teltschik emphasized that from Russia’s point of view the most important factor is “security.”   Being asked for a comment concerning Putin’s remark, that the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century had been the collapse of the Soviet Union, Teltschik made reference to the negotiations that he also had been involved in with Russia in 1989/90: “Our offer that a unified Germany would give security policy guarantees, led to the breakthrough. When Putin became President he was concerned that Russia could disintegrate.  Therefore he brutally hit back in Chechnya in order to demonstrate what the “red line” is. As Teltschik commented: “Only on this background one should understand him.”

In respect to the Crimean annexation Teltschik recalled a discussion that he once had with Putin about the Ukraine, in which Putin had told him that all Ukrainian presidents are scallywags. “He is right. If you only look at the present presidential candidates you see that the dirty tricks continue,” Teltschik stated. The tendency exhibited by the media to describe Putin as an “omnipotent evil man” is just one- sided.  This one – sidedness particularly in the German public is judged by Teltschik as “heritage of the Cold War.”

In the interview Teltschik calls for a “constructive approach” in dealing with Russia. He recalls that former Chancellor Willy Brandt (SPD, German Chancellor from 1969-1974) at the end of the Prague spring 1968 picked up the proposal of the Soviet Union for a Pan- European Security conference. “He negotiated the ‘Moscow treaty’ (the Moscow treaty was the start for a new constructive Ostpolitik under Brandt – it was based on the agreement to solve conflicts between SU and Germany in a peaceful way) and Brandt went swimming with President Leonid Brezhnev.” Teltschik underlined, the key to come to some mutual understanding is that one has to understand the “motives of the adversarial partner.”  “In 1982/83 we had to deal with Jury Andropov (longtime KGB head and then General Secretary and leader of the Soviet Union. EH) in the Kremlin, who threatened us with a Third World War. When Helmut Kohl became Chancellor (1982), the first thing I suggested to him was to “write a letter to Mr. Andropov and explain that you want to develop relations in a positive way.’ And in summer 1983 we were in Moscow despite Andropov’s threats.”

“We must promote exchange on all levels”  

A constructive approach towards Russia at present involves according to Teltschik all levels – that is not only strategic military dialogue but also a broad cultural and scientific exchange. Therefore he underlined that “we must promote exchange.” He pointed to the present chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, a close friend of Putin, who as Teltschik emphasized, conducted ac concert in Palmyra after the city got liberated from the IS.  “Russia is not the SU, there are no more ideologies, and 40 Million of the 140 Million Russian citizens were born after the end of the Soviet Union. Why don’t we grant visa freedom to all those under the age of 25? Why don’t we promote the student exchange?”

He deplored that Foreign Minister Lavrov’s speech at this year’s Munich Security Conference (February 2019)  in which Lavrov had spoken about European Security (a Pan- European Security from Vladivostok to Lisbon E.H.)  that this could have been an issue for discussion at the NATO- Russia Council, which as Teltschik noted, during the last years  only met at the level of Ambassadors instead of meeting and discussing the East- West conflicts on the level of  heads of government, Foreign Ministers and Defense ministers. One of the reasons why this doesn’t function – according to Teltschik – has to do with the “alleged Russian threat” against Poland and the Baltic states. He remembered a discussion that he once had with the former Russian Defense Minister and long- term chairman of the presidential administration Sergei Ivanov who told him: “We are not suicidal. If we did something against the Baltic countries we would immediately deal with NATO.”  (…)  “I don’t think that the Russians are that stupid to attack NATO,” Teltschik commented and stated further on that Russia has long historical experience: “It was always the West that attacked Russia: Charles XII, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler.  …they lost 27 Million people during the war. Russia’s interests are in essence defensive.”

Of course Poland would look at this differently which is why they want NATO troops to be deployed in Eastern Europe. But in order to illustrate how he sees the problem Teltschik  observed: “How does a normal Russian citizen feel when he hears that German soldiers are again at the Russian border?” He vividly remembered a discussion he had with a Russian veteran in the Caucasus in 1990 after the negotiations (about Germany’s reunification) had been concluded between German Chancellor Kohl and then Russian President Gorbachev in July 1990. These negotiations were concluded by a breakthrough that paved the way for Germany’s reunification. Teltschik remembers that the Russian and German delegation, that he was part of, went to a common press conference. Being conscious about the fact that Gorbachev had just given away the war booty, Teltschik recalls, that he felt deeply touched by a remark that was made by a Russian veteran who approached him saying “Russians and Germans must be friends.”

For a new Ostpolitik and Detente

On this background Teltschik put emphasis on the senseless military “escalation” spiral where one side (NATO) is engaged in military manoeuvers that are immediately responded by the other side on equal terms. He therefore warned emphatically that “We are facing a real dangerous game.” The NATO-Russia Act and the Agreement between Russia and the EU open many possibilities, “but we don’t do anything.”

The drama in all this, as he sees it, is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the only one in the West who has direct access to President Putin any time, by telephone or personally. During the Ukraine crisis “she went to see Putin together with the French President and all three went to Minsk and as result they worked out the Minsk Agreement.” The problem however, according to Teltschik, is that “if Merkel was determined she could achieve a lot.”  Former Chancellor Kohl “would try to establish a personal relation with Putin. You can see with former Chancellor Schröder, how this functions. I don’t know whether Merkel deploys Schröder, I would do so. During my time there was Egon Bahr “(Federal Minister for special policy affairs under Willy Brandt and key negotiator of Brandts Ostpolitik in the 1970ies E.H.), Teltschik recalls. “Before Bahr – like Willy Brandt SPD party member-travelled to Moscow he would come to meet me and he offered help. We told him where the problems were and whenever he went he always helped.”

The weakness which Teltschik perceives in Chancellor Merkel is, that Merkel doesn’t “really trust Putin and that she is also not someone who likes to give leadership”- as Merkel’s behavior towards Macron illustrates. Macron “who is really a fortunate case for us. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl would have immediately travelled to Paris after hearing Macron’s speech about the future of Europe, he would have embraced him and said ‘let’s go.’ In 2007 Merkel proposed to further develop relations between Russia and NATO. But she never concretized it even if that was the right timing then.”

Teltschik therefore gives the advice to the new Chairman of the CDU, Annegret Kramp- Karrenbauer- who has no experience with the East- (and who is a potential future chancellor E.H.), to engage in discussions with representatives from Russia independently from whether she likes them or not. “Confidence can only be built up step by step. And in order to do this we must really talk and talk.”

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