By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
End of March an interesting book was published by well-known German Kremlologist Alexander Rahr who in his book under the Title Arrogance- How Germany gambles away its reputation with the Russians, gives insight into the Russian narrative and thinking about Germany. He called his book a desperate scream – so that everything will be done to save the German- Russian relations, which since the occupation of Crimea and the Navalny case are in shambles. According to all those who are defamed in Germany as “Russia-understanders” it is a fact, that any future dialogue will only be possible, if both sides -i.e. Russia and Germany carefully “listen” to the arguments of the other and try to rebuild confidence.
Right now, it seems almost impossible to get back to the kind of dialogue and confidence – if one looks at the almost hysterically charged debate in Germany and the disappointment expressed by leading Russian politicians about Germany. An example is a recent interview (April 1rst) which was given by Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov to Russian TV “Channel 1 – Boshaya Igra (Great Game). In the interview with Yacheslav Nikonov and Russian US expert Dmitri Simes Lavrov made an extensive tour d’horizon reflecting about Russia’s role in the present geostrategic configuration. He made clear that at present Russia has no illusion in respect to US president Biden and his foreign policy agenda, in particular his agenda in respect to Russia, the EU and Asia.
Being asked about US President Biden’s interview with ABC TV channel, in which the President had called President Putin a “killer”, Lavrov emphasized that there is a “consistent degradation of the deterrence infrastructure in the military, political and strategic spheres,” where the term “war is getting more frequently used.” He located this on the background of the series of cancellations of arms reduction treaties. This included the US decision to drop the ABM Treaty, followed by the establishment of an Anti- Missile Defense system in Europe (supposedly directed against Iran), which according to Lavrov is part of a “global project designed to contain Russia and China.” The same process is underway in Asia and the Pacific -region. Lavrov emphasized that the global system is designed to back the “US claims to absolute dominance” including the military threats and the nuclear spheres which go in line with a “reckless eastwards advance of NATO built facilities.”
Being asked about his recent trip to China (23.-24.3.), the Russian Foreign Minister described China as a country that thinks in terms of a “long term historical future and not in electoral cycles (“a big journey which begins with a small step”). He specifically referred to the common statement that was signed between him and Chinese foreign Minister Wang Yi, concerning certain issues of global governance in modern conditions, in which both emphasized the “unacceptability of violating International Law or substituting it by some secretly drafted rules of interference in other countries’ internal affairs and overall everything that contradicts the UN Charter.”
Lavrov announced that soon another document will be signed by President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which is dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the “Treaty on neighborly Friendship and Cooperation.” At the same time, he underlined that Russia “will not pursue the goal of a military alliance with China.” The Russian Foreign Minister was very skeptical concerning the present state of mind of the EU, which he perceives as a reemerging “Cold War allegiance.” Despite the fact that relations between Moscow and EU were developed over a span of more than 30 years, Lavrov made clear that at present this door is “closed.” While the EU had been originally conceived as an “economic cooperation alliance,” it is now more and more adopting a “missionary style” and “we will not knock on a locked door.” Our common values lie in our history, the mutual influence of our cultures, literature, art and music.”
He referred to the outrageous US- China summit in Anchorage (19.3.) where US NSC advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “lectured the Chinese on human rights, ethnic minorities and democracy in China.” He added that the EU wants to replace International Law with their own rules and that the US is promoting those values as a tool to ensuring dominance.” With the Americans creating a “new alliance of democracies”, what does this mean in terms of BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and other such cooperation’s that Russia is working with, Lavrov was asked. He responded that the US and Europe are “active in Central Asia trying to create their own formats” and that they “pursue an unambiguous goal to weaken our ties with our allies and strategy partners in every possible way.” Similarly, there would be attempts towards the Indo- Pacific region and Afghanistan –all designed, to weaken ties with the Russian Federation. “In terms of the US Indo- Pacific concept, Lavrov stated that it is aimed at “hindering China’s Belt and Road initiative and at limiting China’s influence in the region,” creating constant irritants for that country. There have been some steps about creating an “Asia NATO” given that China is declared a “target for containment.” At the end he reiterated that Russia is fully committed to the UN Charter and its enshrined International Law.
A cry of despair to save the German- Russian relations
On the background of Lavrov’s interview which expresses deep frustration and disillusion with respect to the US administration and the EU, one should study the recently published new book by German Kremlologist Alexander Rahr on Germanys dwindling authority and respect in Russia (Anmaßung – Wie Deutschland sein Ansehen bei den Russen verspielt , Berlin 2021). The book focusses on the Russian narrative and how it came that the confidence between the two countries, which was built over 30 years by such pioneers such as Gorbachev, Kohl and Genscher, got destroyed. Rahr noted that in 2021 almost one third of the German population qualify Russia as “dangerous” in respect to their security, in contrast to 2019 when it was only 6%. They seem to be more interested in transatlantic relations and respect from the US than in relations with Russia, the author comments. The author himself was raised in the West as son of a Russian emigrant family. Since the fall of the Berlin wall he has travelled 300 hundred times to Russia, being actively engaged in the “St Petersburg Dialogue”, the “Eurasian Center” of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, as well as being advisor to the Russian Company Gazprom. Rahr (bearer of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany) wrote this book as he put it, as “a cry of despair – save the German- Russian relations and take into account the view from Russians!”
In the beginning of the book Rahr reminded the reader that this year we commemorate the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s aggression against the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany conducted a war of annihilation against the bolshevist SU. It was the worst war, that mankind had lived through till then, with the SU losing 27 million people, half of them being civilians who died within four years of war. Germany lost seven million people, one third of them being civilians. In terms of “collective memory culture”, Russia and Germany commemorate and remember differently. Fact is, as Rahr underlined, that the “future of the entire European continent hangs on a true reconciliation and good relations between the two nations that were once adversaries.” 2021 is also the 20th anniversary of President Putin addressing the German Federal parliament in which he declared the end of the Cold War and proposed a constructive partnership. However, did the Germans take his hand? Not really, Rahr stated. Ten Years later (after 2001) Germany cancelled the “Modernization- partnership” with Russia under the pretext that Russia had turned away from democracy. Today, according to Putin, Germany is no more „advocate” of Russian interests. The case of Navalny, which will probably never be clarified, as Rahr stated, has “poisoned” the German-Russian relations. The well-known Russian political scientist Dmitri Trenin spoke about „the bitter end of a strategic special relationship between Russia and the Federal Republic of Germany.” Germany is no more the preferred nation for Russia in Europe. German think tanks advise the government to „treat Russia like an adversary” (sometimes even more like an “enemy”) and deal with Moscow from a position of strength (as Defense Minister Kramp- Karrenbauer once stated) while “Spiegel” wrote that Germany should really „hurt Putin.”
Difference of characters: What Russians like about Germans and what they dislike
The book is based on a series of discussions which Rahr had during the last year with different representatives from Russia: This includes discussions which were conducted with a Russian social researcher, a Russian diplomat and high-ranking business men as well as a discussion with a Russian pollster with native Russians living in Germany, as well as with people from the Russian Youth Parliament.
A young Russian who was born 1988 expressed admiration concerning German discipline and industriousness, as well as the German pragmatic way of life: Yet like others of his age, he expressed disillusion about what they perceived very often as a „profound lack of humor” and “arrogance” on the German side vis a vis Russians. A young Russian entrepreneur was astonished about the deep respect which Germans show towards the US which in turn expresses itself in a “schoolmasterly tone” vis a vis Russians. Germans often have a “moralizing” attitude trying to teach others, as if they had the right to do so. For Russians it was stated, this “type of arrogance is strange.” This also is expressed, as a Russian film maker noted, by the fact the life in Germany is often conducted following political stereotypes and clichés. He observed that many Germans look at their culture as being superior to others, which disturbs Russians.
A political scientist criticized that Germany “condescends on the Russians. They don’t recognize Russian certificates and think German institutions are superior to Russian ones. The Russians consider this as humiliating. Why should German norms be superior to Russian ones?”
A pupil from a secondary school described Germans as “pedantic, bureaucratic and disciplined.” They often don’t understand fun and call the police immediately when small rules are broken. For the Russian mentality German girls are bitchy.”
The Russian conflict researcher Alevtina in a background discussion with Rahr reviewed the history of German- Russian relations as they developed over centuries, including the period of the Hanseatic League: where German salesman discovered sales routes in the Baltic Sea and via the Baltic Sea they came till Ladoga Sea and Novgorod, where they got precious goods from Siberia. She mentioned the Russian Tsar Peter the Great (1682-1725), the most known from the Romanov dynasty, that ended with Tsar Nikolas II (1894-1917) who was murdered together with his family. She reported that many leading Russian state officials who served the tsars were Germans and that in Russian literature these were often portrayed as “overblown, pedantic, narcissist and intellectually limited.”
Another Russian social researcher in a discussion reviewed the history after the First World War and the German -Russian 1922 Rapallo treaty, that was a non- aggression pact. She also noted, that today those states in Eastern and Central Europe which between 1945 and 1990 were under Soviet control, today form the same “cordon sanitaire” they represented before. All of them today are in NATO and the EU. In the second half of the 20th century – those 50 years were determined by the US and the Soviets. Germany’s Russia policy was determined by Washington. Then in the 60ies and 70ies there were the Ostverträge pushed by people like W. Brandt from the SPD et al. and the SU became the most important energy supplier for Western Europe, with the West supplying technologies and credits.
The history of the European continent unfortunately did not go in the direction outlined by the “Paris Charta” conference” 1990 which designed a future peace order, after 1989.Today the US as the leading Western power, looks at Russia and China as a “threat” to Western security. It wants to do everything to “keep Moscow down” while at the same time it is “keeping it away “from Europe. A functioning strategy according to Rahr’s Russian interlocutor was, if the Federal Republic of Germany could convince the Central and Eastern European states that they understand that a conflict with Russia endangers peace for the entire continent; that the idea of a common European House from Lisbon to Vladivostok should not disappear in history.
But Europe is no more the center of the World. The “Asian era” has begun and the salvation of Europe -and the Russians see this clearer than the Germans- it was stated during discussions, “is located in the natural Unity of Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” The interlocutors of Rahr admit that Russian policy makers today after the “modernization partnership” with Russia was cancelled 10 years ago by Germany, followed again by EU and German sanctions in response to the annexation of Crimea, have realized that they “can’t expect much from Germany.” They perceive German elites at present as not only being loyal to their transatlantic orientation; they want to strengthen it even more under US president Biden.” Even if the German population may look at this differently (39% consider relations with the US as more important than with Russia). Hence Moscow’s elites “resign” and are disappointed by Germany, a country which they once had hoped for so much.
This aspect was particularly reiterated by a Russian diplomat Volodja in a discussion with Rahr, who reviewed how much Russia had been grateful after the collapse for the strategic help which they received from Germany: “We Russians will be grateful for ever for the economic support which was given to us under social emergency conditions after the demise of the SU by Germany.” Gorbachev was the most respected Russian post- communist leader. Since 2020 however, according to the Russian diplomat, Russian- German Relations were in shambles and the Navalny case deepened the rift between the two countries dramatically up to the point that people in the German elite called Putin a “murderer.” The irony is that Putin was the most pro German president ever in the Kremlin. One has to only recall his speech in front of the German Federal parliament 2001 as well as his speech at the Munich Security Conference 2007. According to the Russian diplomat, Putin had offered Germany (2001) “to develop a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, the exchange of Russian raw materials against German high technology, a common anti- terror fight and an energy alliance.” All this over the following years was cast aside. It was Chancellor Merkel who “reshaped” the St Petersburg –Dialogue, once created by Chancellor Schröder and President Putin, by transforming it into a “monologue”, a platform where only civilian society questions were to be discussed. In Moscow at a St. Petersburg Forum 10 years ago, it was reported, she complained in response to a Putin speech at that occasion, about the frame up of “Pussy rioters” by Moscow authorities in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, as violation of Human Rights, which infuriated many Russians who felt humiliated by this.
The Russian diplomat emphasized that the West can’t simply prescribe to the Russians their “life style.” He concluded that Germany after the Navalny affair is no more functioning as “advocate” for Russian interests. That Russians didn’t accept German criticism concerning Russia’s handling of Crimea and Ukraine (like it is happening again now) and that Russia is disappointed particularly about Germany rejecting Putin’s offer to concretely cooperate on Syria, including Merkel’s rejection of a stability pact for Syria.
Russia in the future needs multi- lateral partners. The hope expressed by the diplomat was that maybe France could become such a partner with Macron becoming a matured president after the 2021 German Federal Elections. According to a Russian Europe expert: “Germany can administer Europe, but France has the idea of a strong sovereign Europe which counts and which should give life to Berlin.”
At end of the book Rahr reports about a Zoom conference between representatives from Russian and German Industry,including Gazprom, Rosneft and BASF, Deutsche Bank, Sberbank and Daimler. Unlike in former times where economic personalities and political heavyweights like Otto Wolff von Amerongen, Berthold Beitz, Klaus Mangold and F. Wilhelm Christians, who were highly esteemed in Russia and had direct telephone connections into the Kremlin, today particularly after the Ukraine crisis which led to a significant drop in German- Russian Trade, a situation has emerged where the Russians realize, that German business people consider the US market as more lucrative than the Russian one. The perception among Russian business people is that in the case of the pipeline construction Nord stream 2 Washington “has humiliated” and treated Germany like a “vassal”, with the intent to break Russia’s position on the European energy market, which it had in the last 50 years. In a situation where the Ukraine crisis is actually played up again by the US and the warning about a potential new Ukraine / Russia conflict, it is urgent to keep nerves and soberly understand that with a “new Asian era” beginning, Germany and Russia will have to cooperate multilaterally including the necessity to fight against new dangers emerging from the Mideast and Africa.