by Elisabeth Hellenbroich
A few days ago Professor James D. Bindenagel, former US Ambassador (1996/97) in Berlin, spoke about the “Challenges and possibilities for the transatlantic relations in the 21rst century” at an informal “pro-Atlantic” (Mid Atlantic Club) gathering in Bonn. The Ambassador focused his remarks on the new threats confronting the transatlantic relations, such as the Russia- Ukraine crisis, which – as he categorically stated in line with the various statements made at the recent Munich Security Conference – “can’t be solved militarily”. Professor Bindenagel, who served between 1989/90 as Deputy Ambassador at the US Embassy in East Berlin and who from 1992/94 was director of the Central European Department in the State Department, is presently the Henry Kissinger Professor for International Security and Governance at Bonn university. His main thesis was that the transatlantic “Community of values” (the defense of the dignity of man, freedom and democracy) “must be reaffirmed as response to the new challenges which we are facing”, including the challenges of the Russia –Ukraine crisis, the emergence of IS terrorism in the Mideast and the need to defend western values (rule of law, the principle of sovereignty) and a transatlantic free trade agreement TTIP.
Cooperation with Russia needed
Bindenagel called for a new Charter of Paris revision Conference, including the participation of foreign ministers and heads of states and the OSCE in order to find a way out of the impasse of the Russia /Ukraine crisis. We need the “cooperation” with Russia on Iran and nuclear questions, as well as confronting IS ,the ambassador stated. He reviewed some of the strategic “mistakes” which were committed by the West vis a vis Russia. An example was the Western proposal to have Georgia join NATO, which was also proposed to Ukraine. This, Bindenagel underlined, was understood on the Russian side as an affront. Concerning the ongoing investigations into the NSA affair, Bindenagel agreed that this had caused among transatlantic partners of the US, such as Germany, certain irritations. The period after 9/11 had made clear the need for functioning secret services which should fight the threat of terrorisms. But this, as Bindenagel stated at one point, should not mean the spying of the US on its own population. Reflecting about the subjective factor of politics and the effect which the US policy has on the American population, the Ambassador referred to a recent German Marshall Fund poll, according to which 53% of the American Population (10% increase within one year) is opposing Obamas foreign engagements, while in Germany 70% of the population rejects Germany taking more global political responsibility. The ambassador expressed however optimism by stating that in light of the new challenges, he believed in the viability and strength of the transatlantic “Community of principles and values”. While he did express doubts about the proposal to create a “common economic space between the EU and the Eurasian Union from Vladivostock to Lisbon,” he expressed some optimism concerning the coming into being of TTIP.
Skepticism concerning the transatlantic “community of values”
In the discussion which followed skepticism was expressed by some members the audience. Among the concerns was the view of a deputy of the European Parliament who had some doubts concerning the “viability” of a “Community of principles in transatlantic relations”. He pointed to a certain “double standard” on the US side, exemplified by Guantanamo, the use of torture, and the 2003 Iraq war which was based on wrong facts. Another discussant spoke about the “violation of certain principles of the Atlantic Charter” which in the 1940ies had affirmed the right of nations to self –determination, including religious freedom and the freedom of use of language for ethnic groups. This however was put into question by last year’s Kiev government decision that passed a law banning the use of Russian language for the Russian ethnic community in Ukraine. Another contribution focused on the double meaning of the term “democracy” in the US , which, as the discussant put it, was put into question by the Koch brothers, two of the richest US oligarchs who decided to channel $ 1 Bn into the republican electoral campaign, in order to bring about a regime change in the US. Lastly the discussion about the NSA affair, the spying on political friends (Germany) which – as one seasoned participant illustrated – can be compared to a football team playing against another where the member of one football team attacks members of his own defense team by kicking them down.
Henry Kissinger’s critical view
The event demonstrated the necessity for frank discussions on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than engaging is empty rhetoric about the “community of values”. In mid-February, 91 year old Dr. Henry Kissinger gave an interview to the Swiss magazine “Weltwoche” in which he emphasized that he considered the “Ukraine crisis as a tragedy”. He pointed to some obvious mistakes which were committed by the West, including the fact that the Ukraine association negotiations with the EU were turned into a dominant “domestic” issue; the financial conditions for joining the EU association were so harsh, Kissinger stated, that Russia saw a chance to offer credits to the Ukraine. At that point the Europeans panicked and when Russia proposed triangular negotiations, these were in turn rejected by the Europeans. The big “sin” of the state leaders, as Kissinger stated, was that nobody saw what was at stake and said “wait a moment, the future of Russia, the Ukraine, Europe and US is at stake. Where are we heading to? “I don’t justify annexation of Crimea”, Kissinger said. “This is not the issue. But the point is that the West missed the chance by not understanding up to this day that this crisis could have been used to keep Russia within the community rather than driving Russia into isolation. But with this opinion I stand alone. What is instead needed is a conceptual discussion with President Putin.”
German industry: The vision of a common economic space between the EU
and the Eurasian Union
A very realistic reading concerning the effects of the Russia /Ukraine crisis on German industry was given recently by representatives of the German industrial companies which are engaged in Russia and Eastern Europe. Mid February the results of a poll were presented at a press conference in Moscow by the chairman of the German – Russian Foreign trade chamber ( Rainer Seele) and by the chairman of the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (Ostausschuss des BDI), Eckhard Cordes. The poll was based on a questionnaire involving 156 German industrial companies who do business in Russia. These companies involve mechanical and plant engineering, automobile industry, transport and logistics. They represent 71.000 employees in Russia and have a turnover of 19 Billion Euro in the Russian Federation and 520 Billion worldwide.
During the press conference, Eckard Cordes warned that the “economic split of Europe in two blocks” would be a big mistake, the consequences of which can be seen in the terrible tug war, which has started around Ukraine. “We must end this erroneous way and begin to talk about a common economic space in Europe, in which the EU, Russia and Eurasia can be part”, Cordes said, further underlining that he hoped that positive signals would also be given by Russia on this proposal.
A closer look at the poll shows that three quarter of the German companies in Russia are of the opinion that the Russia/ Ukraine conflict has negative effects on their business 91 % of the companies expect that the Russian economy will develop negatively in 2015. As result of economic sanctions, a decline in oil prices and decline of the Ruble, Russia is at present in a recession, which in turn has direct consequences on the Russian population, the Russian economy and all foreign enterprises. “There is no quick solution”, according to Rainer Seele. “But Russia is the biggest trade partner of Germany in the region which is underlined by the presence of 6000 German companies.” This is a clear signal that everything must be done in politics to start a dialogue and find sustainable solutions.
Economic effects of the German-Russian relations
German exports to Russia have shrunk by 18% in 2014, i.e. 6 Billion Euro. 72% of the companies also expect a decline in exports this year to Russia, while many expressed concern that Russia may turn to China and Asia. They are however convinced the Russian German economic relations can be revived if fighting in Ukraine stops immediately. “A free trade zone from Lisbon- Vladivostok could have the effect on the countries participating in it like a huge stimulus program”, the chairman of the Russian-German Chamber of Commerce, Rainer Seele said.
The effects of the economic sanctions against Russia which a majority of the German Business companies has rejected ( 34%) or qualified as inadequate means to respond to the crisis (42%) – is reflected in majority of these companies ( 91%) which expect 2015 to be negative in terms of economic outlook (as opposed to 14% a year ago). Only 1% expects positive developments (a year ago this was still 28%). Many also expect a slowdown in terms of further investment plans, due to the decline in demand and financing problems for certain projects as well as domestic Russian factors such as bureaucratic problems, protectionist obstacles etc. Almost three quarter of the German business companies (73%) plan in the next 12 months no investments in Russia (2014 this was 61%); 27% plan despite bad economic conditions further investments in Russia..
Eurasian Economic Union
Asked about the future scenario concerning Ukraine: The majority, i.e. 78% of the German business companies, wishes that the Ukraine becomes part of a common economic space between EU and Eurasian Economic Union (which began Jan 1rst 2015 counting among its members Russia, Belorussia, Kazakhstan and Armenia). 11% of the German companies want an association between Ukraine /EU, while only 1% wants full membership of Ukraine in the EU. The grand majority wishes that the very close economic relations with Russia do not get interrupted and focusses its attention on a longer term political and economic perspective. If there is growth at all, it is expected to take place in the agricultural and food sector as well as in information and telecommunication, mineral raw materials and logistics and the energy sector.