New appeal for solving the Ukraine crisis: Controversial Debate continues in Germany 

 

By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

 

On July 21rst  the “Willy Brandt circle” published a public appeal under the title “A threatened peace”. Willy Brandt was the former German Chancellor (1969-74) and architect of the famous “German Ostpolitik” which having been initiated at the height of the cold War (1969/70), paved the way toward Détente between East and West. Among the signatories of the appeal are SPD politician Professor Dr. Egon Bahr, co-designer of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, as well as SPD defence expert Professor Dr. Walter Stützle and many others. The appeal should be seen as continuation of the public appeal  which was initiated December 5th 2014 by the former consultant of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Professor Dr. Horst Teltschik. The appeal was entitled “War again in Europe? Not in our name.” It was signed by 60 prominent German politicians (including former German President Dr. Roman Herzog, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, as well as representatives of the German industry, including Klaus Mangold and Eckhard Cordes). The call by the Willy Brandt circle is an attempt to revive the debate centered on the question, which ways must be chosen to find an exit out of the Ukraine crisis.

In the appeal the Russia-Ukraine conflict is described as “an expression of a looming Russo- Euro-Atlantic United conflict, which may lead to a disaster, unless the spiralling arms race and military provocations as well as a confrontational rhetoric are not stopped.” In memory of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, the signatories call for “a restart in relations with Russia before it’s all too late.”

The most important points raised in the call are: a strong rejection of political and economic sanctions; expansion of the energy infrastructure and commercial relations. The signatories demand that especially Germany must bring to bear its responsibilities in the coming year when it takes over the OSCE presidency and use this occasion to formulate new “dialogue oriented” concepts. Other key points include: re-integration of Russia into the G7, resumption of the NATO -Russia Council, the urgent need to solve the Crimean crisis; the establishment of   a “federal system” within the Ukraine and rejection of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO. What needs to be initiated is a close political and military cooperation within the OSCE framework between the European countries. “Europe needs Russia and Russia needs Europe: The crossroad we are facing is that we either to slip into a new cold war with an uncertain prospect or begin to reflect about the goal for establishing a common European peace order.”

The appeal gains particular importance if it is seen in the context of the frequent ceasefire violations that occur in Eastern Ukraine. This prompted German Foreign Minister F.W. Steinmeier to express his “extreme concern” to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov while the OSCE felt extremely irritated about the continuing ceasefire violations in Eastern Ukraine.

 

Debate on Russia in Germany

Amidst the newly sparked debate about the question how stable the “Minsk II agreement” really is and in the hope that Kiev will agree upon a constitutional amendment that would give Donetsk and Luhansk more autonomy, we should take a look at the current Russia debate in Germany. It is a symptom for the ongoing debate between “Russophobes” and “Russophiles” which is sparked by the question which options and peace models exist for finding a way out of the Ukraine crisis. Exemplary are some essays which were recently published by the Research Centre for East European Studies at the Bremen University and the German Society for Eastern European Studies in the magazine “Russlandanalysen” (“Russia analysis” No. 300).

The authors of the essays try to investigate the causes for the split in Germany’s public opinion about Russia. In contrast to this there is an article in the Magazine  Osteuropa ( Eastern Europe 4, 2015) in which the  Bonn political scientist Andreas Heinemann -Grüder describes the  German “Putin –Versteher” (those who defend Putin because they “understand” him) as an expression of the “Stockholm Syndrome”.

Russia opponents and defenders in Germany

In the magazine “Russia analysis” (300) the author Silvia von Steinsdorff  qualifies  the German public opinion about Russia as a “split” between  two antagonistic camps. The main reason for this is a contradictory assessment of Russia’s role. As result of this polarization a change in the personal image on Russia has developed which begins to resemble more and more the “enemy image” of Russia during the Cold War era. (…) While one side regards Russian President Vladimir Putin as the main responsible for the escalation of the conflict, the other side judges the President’s actions primarily as a response to the continued violation of legitimate Russian – (security) interests by the West.”

In another  analysis former Eastern Europe expert Professor Christian Geyer from the University of  Tübingen tries to examine historically the origin of the Russia “stereotypes” in Germany. His essay is reprint of a speech which he gave in 1985(!) and yet the findings which he made at that time are still relevant today. Geyer investigated the German-Russian history over the span of the 17th, 18th and 19th century. The conclusion he draws is that most of the Russia clichés emerged in the period after the 1848 Revolution, during the Restoration period in Europe. At that time the “Russian Czarist Empire” became a permanent topic in Germany’s public debate, Geyer stated. “Russophobia and Russophilia”, hatred for Russia and love for Russia, these categories got a confessional character and were used as instruments in the domestic German debate, blocking out any sober analysis.”

Considerable attention to the present debate in Germany is also given by the expert on Germany from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladislav Belov. In his analysis Belov differentiates between “Russia- Versteher” (“Russia has indeed made mistakes, but dialogue should be continued with them”) and “Russia opponents” (“Russia is a pariah and deserves a punishment”). As typical hardliners in the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU) he identifies Norbert Röttgen (Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag), Karl -Georg Wellmann, the chairman of the German-Ukrainian Parliamentary Friendship Group, and Elmar Brok, member of the European Parliament, while the majority of the Social Democrats plead for a continuation of Willy Brandt’s Policy on a larger scale. Special attention is given by Belov to the “balanced” and moderate stance taken by former German leaders, including ex-Chancellors Schmidt, Kohl , Schröder and former Foreign Minister Genscher. Equally important are from Belovs point of view the initiatives taken by political “heavyweights (s) like Horst Teltschik or Egon Bahr,  who because of their political experience took a  balanced attitude towards Russia and were constantly calling for a resumption of the bilateral and multilateral dialogue with Russia”.

He also judges positively the position taken by Matthias Platzeck, chairman of the German-Russian Forum  and by representatives of the German economy, including Eckhard Cordes from the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, a German business  organisation (BDI); Rainer Seele from the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce, who all have adopted a balanced position. They primarily plead to make use of “diplomacy” instead of “power politics” in order to regulate the crisis. Belov looks more confidently at the future of German-Russian relations. He emphasizes that he hopes for a calmer and more balanced view to emerge in the political and societal debate in Germany. Whether this holds will be seen according to Belov during in the second half of this year. By that time we should see whether some of the positive signals which aim at restoring the former inner- German and Russian-German dialogue, really will lead to a substantial dialogue in which one can listen to each other and arrive at mutually acceptable results. In order to overcome the “deficit” in the Russia analysis, Belov calls for the creation of a new Research Institute, the setting up of a “coordination centre”, which should concentrate its attention on the  post-Soviet space and which could become an effective moderator in the debate concerning Russian politics, society and science: “This institute should also include interested experts from Russia and the results  should serve as guideline for the political and business decision-makers in both countries.”

The “Stockholm Syndrome”

In contrast to the analysis presented in “Russia Analysis” (300) one should look at an essay which was published in the “Osteuropa” magazine (issue 4, 2015.) The author of the article “Lessons from the Ukraine conflict. The Stockholm syndrome of the Putin understanders”, is lecturer at the Bonn University, Andreas Heinemann-Grüder. With the help of clichés and prejudices he launches a frontal attack against the call “Once again war in Europe? Not in our name” (see above).  Grüders critical article is based on a strong “reaction formation” in reference to debates that took place in recent months within the EU. During that period countries like Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus have called for an end of the sanctions. As Grüder underlines, this will make a “united front within the EU increasingly difficult.” What he is even more concerned about is the fact that more and more critical voices emerge in Germany that “give preference to the interests of the ruling elite in Russia over those interests of the elite in Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States as well as the norms and goals of the OSCE.”  The commonplace that “European security could not maintained without Russia” threatens to mutate into a “formula”, with the help of which  “Russia would be given de facto military right to intervene in the post-Soviet space.”

According to Grüder this view is caused by the “Russian war propaganda” with the help of which people adopt a “Russian-nationalist perspective” which is a “variant of the Stockholm syndrome”. (!) Those who fear to be potentially affected by (Russian) violence, solidarize with the perpetrators of violence against a third; it is the one who wants to punish the perpetrators which could make them (in turn) even more dangerous. What seemingly looks like a policy of respect, empathy and dialogue (towards Russia E.H.), is psychologically the result of a hostage-taking”.

The call of the 60 personalities from politics, business and the media, which was published on December 2014, is judged by Grüder as an example of the “Stockholm Syndrome”. He underlines that the call adopted key arguments from Putin whereby „the Russian perception of a dangerous expansion by the West to the East (occurs) without being simultaneously accompanied by a deepening cooperation with Moscow.”

In Grüders eyes the call is “representative” for the camp that feels empathy for Putin. It uses Russian nationalist stereotypes that speak about an “encirclement” of Russia and accuse the Western states or the EU of being motivated by the desire “to go East”. Grüder accuses the signatories of the call to explicitly refer to Russia’s role during the 1815 Congress of Vienna: “This thinking”, he says, “is diametrically opposed to the concept of peace, which is based on the OSCE principles. The principles of the Congress of Vienna were: restoration of the old dynasties (‘legitimacy’), restoration of the pre- Napoleonic order, domestic monarchical authority, solidarity with the monarch toward the outside, balance of power  and the division of Poland. Does the reference in the appeal to the Congress of Vienna mean that they want to return to a quasi ‘Holy Alliance’ of the great powers which are opposed to the democratic self-determination of peoples?”

Despite the ideologically strident tone of the article, the author at the end of his article must   admit that not many options exist for the West that pave a way out of the Ukraine crisis. The military takeover of “Debalceve” at the beginning of the year – where some 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers were trapped – is described by him as a “major military defeat”. He advocates a “freeze” of the current conflict and sees this as a “realistic optimum”. This presupposes that both sides keep the cease-fire agreement of Minsk II. The author demands that Germany’s “Russia policy should be primarily Ukraine policy”: the essence of Germany’s Russia’s policy should be to assist the Ukrainian economy and policy by giving loans, making investments and giving know how in order to overcome corruption and oligarchical power. He recommends a “debt moratorium, that would prevent a sovereign default and a banking crisis”; conversion of short-term into long-term government securities, short-term loans issued by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank; the introduction of market prices for energy and especially investments in order to increase the energy efficiency as well as investments in alternative energies in order to reduce the dependency on natural gas from Russia. If this transformation were to fail, Putin’s Russia would profit from the weakness of the Ukrainian state and gain from it politically, economically and militarily.

 

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