“Something is broken on the Russian side”
By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Russian military doctrine
In a background discussion with an expert on the Russian situation, the expert expressed his deep concern about the evolving dynamics in the Russia / Ukraine conflict. He pointed out that the US and NATO will rearm the Ukrainian army and he did not rule out that there could be another confrontation in spring 2015.
From the standpoint of the Russian military elite, it was underlined, that this crisis is perceived as “unbelievable”, especially with regard to Germany. Russia is drawing its conclusions and will now even more go his own way. The economic sanctions and the collapse in oil and gas prices have hit hard the Russian economy. Among the problems with which Russia is confronted with there is: a huge “innovation decline”, which must be overcome as precondition for the modernization of the country. So far, this deficiency was covered up with petro-dollars. The economic sanctions make the situation worse. This has a major effect on the agriculture and the lack of machinery equipment in the agricultural sector. The time for “boasting” is over and what now sets in is a strategic “reorientation” – especially among the military and the Russian population which in the long term must accept that life conditions will become harsher.
From the Russian point of view the crisis was perceived as a “strategic escalation” towards Russia. This stretches from the Chechnya conflict over Syria, conflicts in the Black Sea area, Central Asia, from the bombing of Libya to the emergence of the ISIS terrorist organization.
The Crimean peninsula costs Russia a lot of money, the expert underlined, but militarily (this relates to the secret service, the army and navy) Russia is strong. The Americans will continue to give major support to the Ukrainian army and there will be no restoration of the conception of a Europe from Vladivostok to Lisbon.
This analysis differs significantly from the public debate conducted in the German security and strategic community. Nevertheless it should be taken seriously, because we deal with the question whether there can be a way out of the impasse and what priorities will be set in Germany’s foreign policy in the coming years.
At the moment, as the interlocutor emphasized, a lot has been “broken” in the relationship between Russia and Germany. Being a great power, Germany was always been looked at with great respect. Its present actions vis- a- vis Russia however are perceived by Russia as full of “ignorance”. When asked about the reasons why Germany is behaving this way at the moment, it was emphasized that many people speculate that this may have to do with massive strategic threats along the line: Where does Germany stand? Are you with us (USA) or against us?
Putin’s new military doctrine
On December 26, a new military doctrine was signed by Russian President Putin. According to Western media reports, such as FAZ.net from 30.12.2014, the new military doctrine points out the security risks which Russia sees itself confronted with:“An enhancing of the military capabilities of the Western/ NATO alliance, its extension to the borders of the Russian Federation and the destabilization in several regions”.
According to FAZ the newly formulated doctrine “is also a response to the situation in North Africa, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.” Leading countries in the world, above all the USA “are being charged to threaten independent states with a variety of instruments.” This would include “private military services, which are used to fuel the protest potential of the population or the encouragement of radical extremist organizations in order to realize their goals in other states.”
What does Europe want from Russia?
In this context, one should pay attention to a commentary which was published on 16. December in the Russian website “Ria Novosti” under the title: “The end of consensus – What does Europe want from Russia?” The author, Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow, expresses a critical view about Germany’s current policy towards Russia. Contrary to the majority opinion which sees the EU sanctions as a result of the Ukraine-conflict and as response to pressures from Washington, Trenin points to a deeper underlying reality which is cause for the deterioration in the EU / Russia relations. As Trenin states “Germany takes responsibility for the whole of Europe” and therefore long forgotten “geopolitical realities are revisited.” According to Trenin relations between Russia and the EU will remain frozen until further notice and in March 2015 sanctions will be tightened again in all probability.
Meanwhile the US is pursuing its own interests in relation to Russia and the view that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is an attempt by the US to “discipline” the Atlantic Alliance, is seen by Trenin as a “misconception”. He instead points out that there exist purely “European factors” which are in support of a continuation of sanctions, despite their negative economic impact on the EU economy.
Special attention is given to the role of Germany, whose position, according to the commentary, has changed towards Russia in the last three years, particularly since the re-election of Putin as President. The immense media campaign, which in the last two years has been launched to discredit “Putin –understanders” has created an “ideological basis for this new policy.” In contrast to the image of Russia under German Chancellors Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder, Berlin has become a tireless critic of Russia’s domestic and foreign policy and the era of Germany’s “pragmatic Ostpolitik” (policy towards the East) has been replaced by a “policy of moralizing” which is based on “principles and geopolitical interests”.
Another reason for the change of German policy towards Russia is located by D. Trenin in the “peaceful rise of Germany”. During the Euro- crisis Germany had risen to become a leading power, with France being a senior partner. Relations with the US in the last years have been reviewed and reevaluated. At the same time Berlin also reevaluated its relations with Russia. The “Ukraine conflict” hence was a “catalyzer”, but not the “cause” for this decision.
Germany views Russia’s actions in the Crimea and the Donbass as a violation of the “peaceful order in Europe”. At the same time Germany wants to demonstrate that it takes into account the interests of its “junior partners” such as Poland, the Baltic States and other countries, which have a rather hostile attitude towards Russia. These partners are very attentive that under no circumstances there would be a “return to the Ribbentrop / Molotov Pact”. Washington expects from the EU and in particular from Berlin that the collective security policy of the West is realized practically.
The author points out to some geopolitical factors which shape the current thinking of Germany. As a leading power in Europe, Germany sees itself as a competitor in Russian zones of influence. These zones of influence include not only the Ukraine but also Moldova, Georgia and other countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia. At the same time Berlin keeps a watchful eye on other potential candidates for EU –membership, including Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It tries simultaneously to contain Russia’s influence in the Balkans – in Serbia and Bosnia – and fights to curb the influence of Moscow in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary. The author concludes that we are dealing with a revival of the seemingly forgotten “traditional geopolitics”, which are being revived in the guise of new ideologies and in different areas, especially in the field of business and information.
A quarter-century after German reunification, Europe which is united under the leadership of Berlin and Washington’s military and political protection, has become “an ideological opponent of Russia” and its “geopolitical rival”.
Berlin will either alone or together with Brussels exert pressure on Moscow in order to force Russia to return to the international order, while it will maintain simultaneously “dialogue” with Russia. In this context Germany will certainly take into account Russian security interests (i.e. the rejection of a NATO membership for Ukraine). While the US-Russia confrontation cannot be reduced to the Ukraine conflict and will continue even if the Ukraine conflict were settled, a settlement of the Ukraine conflict could in turn play a positive role for Europe and Germany. The elections in Donbass made clear the importance of modernizing the Minsk agreement and pointed out the importance of a dialogue between Donbass and Kiev. In this respect Berlin would be a key partner for Moscow.
According to Trenin there could be a possible way out of the current dilemma, if it was connected with the question: what should be the principles for a “peaceful order in Europe” and what “new rules” and conditions are required.
In May 2015 the 40th anniversary of the solemn adoption of the Helsinki Final Act will be commemorated. In this Helsinki Final Act, 35 states signed a document which calls for the inviolability of borders, the peaceful settlement of disputes, the respect for human rights and state sovereignty. The commemoration of such a historical event could mark a new beginning.
Also from the point of view that in 2016 Germany will chair the OSCE. The author Trenin recommends that Europe and Germany should prepare for this moment in 2015 and pay more attention to this anniversary of the adoption of the Final Act of Helsinki.