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October 23, 2014
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Current Concerns  >  2007  >  No 16, 2007  >  Germany and Russia [printversion]

Germany and Russia

The current Schroeder-Merkel dispute

by Karl Müller, Germany

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its sphere of influence at the latest, US governments have tried to extend the USA’s position as the only superpower. They tried to do that by using many empty clichés (“we bring liberty, democracy, and prosperity to the whole world!”) and by an actual policy of escalating violence and oppression. Contemporaries spoke of a “unipolar” world under the leadership of the USA in partly critical, partly cheering but also fatalistic undertones.
The world did not fall in with this. During the past years, above all Russia in the northern hemisphere has tried to free itself from an all too close adaptation to and subordination under the defaults of the US politics and to pursue a more independent course. And even more: The Russian President Vladimir Putin characterized – which is remarkable – the US politics several times in a very direct manner. Being one of the few politicians of worldwide importance, he made it clear that he was no longer willing to stand by and watch this policy. It is no coincidence that an increasingly sharp campaign against the Russian President in particular and Russia in general was launched running parallel to this development.

Germany is involved in the campaign against Russia

Germany is involved in this process. Since Angela Merkel has become Federal Chancellor, the German relationship to Russia is becoming worse. Rather than with the Russian policy this has to do with the close relationship between the German Chancellor and the current US-American President George W. Bush and his politics. And it has nothing to do with human rights or the like – although it is repeatedly claimed. Instead it is about a dissent between the USA and Russia on world politics, in which the US ascribes to  Germany and its administration the role as a rabble rouser.

There are objections

However, there are still a few renowned politicians in Germany, who do not want to act out this imposed role. Among the governmental parties, there are a few CDU politicians such as Willy Wimmer and perhaps the chairman of the Foreign Committee in the German Bundestag Ruprecht Polenz. Primarily, however, there are politicians of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) like the former Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Erhard Eppler, Federal Minister for many years, SPD mastermind and President of the Protestant Church Conference, and also there is the predecessor of Merkel in the chancellorship, Gerhard Schroeder.

“Our government must not give other States any advice”

Helmut Schmidt recently made his position clear in an interview with Der Spiegel of 29 October, in which he said among other things: “According to my judgment the Russians have not had as peaceful a government for centuries as in the time of Gorbachev. That also applies to the Yeltsin era and to the Putin era. The war in Chechnya was a civil war within the state; and concerning the rule of law, the situation in Russia is much better than ever before in its long history.” Then talking about the German policy: “Concerning the internal affairs of other states our government does neither have to give the Russians nor the Americans or the Chinese any advice publicly.” One would like to add: And above all we should be modest, as long as we have not tidied up our own house.

Former Chancellor Schmidt calls for adherence to international law

Schmidt said beforehand, “My fundamental basis is international law, the Charter of the United Nations, non-interference.” Those are the principles, which Russia, China, and many other states call upon today, as they must bear the fatal consequences of power politics, in particular by the US government and the NATO states that ignore international law and the Charter of the United Nations and interfere substantially, even by means of  war, with internal affairs of other states.

Former Chancellor Schroeder warns of antagonism to Russia

Now the former German Chancellor raised his voice. In a speech delivered on 16 November on the XIII European Forum in Berlin at the German Quandt Foundation, he advocated a solid partnership with Russia, in particular in the field of energy supplies. At the same time he warned against establishing an antagonism to Russia by certain rhethorics, by a missile system in Europe planned by the US government, by an increasing encirclement of Russia by the USA and their allies. Without mentioning Angela Merkel in particular, he also criticized her brainless policy towards Russia.
Not only Merkel’s closest henchmen like the CDU politician and Foreign Policy Speaker of the parliamentary group, Eckart von Klaeden, reacted allergically with sharp polemics. Almost the complete spectrum of national political media joined in, and it seemed as if they had been brought into line. Instead of addressing the issue, they monotonously insinuated that Schroeder was a lobbyist for Russia, because he had been working for the Russian energy company Gazprom since the end of his chancellorship. This is, however, rather manipulative, as the company, for which the former chancellor is a chair in the supervisory board, is run by Gazprom and by two German companies (BASF and E.ON) alike. Schroeder took over a specific task i.e. to get the construction of the Baltic Sea pipeline going. Germany is not less interested in it than Russia and there is still some opposition towards it, for example by the Polish government.

Erhard Eppler reminds us of Angela Merkel’s all too close US connections

Erhard Eppler, who has a reputation as a political personality of integrity in Germany and all over the world, came to the former Chancellor’s aid. Putin is “a man who does his best to govern a country in ruins democratically.” About Schroeder’s notes on Angela Merkel Eppler said, “Certainly Mrs. Merkel is molded by her political background in the former GDR. However, this concerns her way of thinking rather than the contents of her ideas.” When she was a GDR citizen Angela Merkel had accepted the primacy of the Soviet Union, this position has now obviously been taken by the US.
In a disintegrating world we must be grateful for even the smallest progress. Progress in the political development of humanity can probably only be achieved by obedience to international law, observance of equivalence, equal rights and the sovereignty of states and peoples. That is certainly better than the permanent superpower claim of a political clique in the USA and its enormous military machinery going wild, along with their willing vassals in Europe all of which can push the world into the abyss. Germany has to think twice about that, together with Mrs. Merkel and her entourage.    •

„I Consider This Course to Be Wrong, Almost Dangerous“

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder warns against antagonism towards Russia

Ladies and Gentlemen. You asked me to make some comments on the relationship between Europe and Russia, in particular on the energy partnership. I am pleased to do so, because it is my conviction that these relations are of greatest importance for peace and stability on our continent. In the past centuries, we witnessed times of good relations with Russia – and times of bad, very bad relations. At times when the relations were bad, peace on our continent was in danger. Therefore, we do well to support Russia and the integrated Europe heading for a joint perspective.
Currently, it seems important to me to stress this fact, because we arrived at a crossroads concerning the relationship between Europe and Russia. We have reached a point, where we have to decide in Europe in which direction these relations should be developed; and our partner Russia has to do the same. This decision is about approaching or distancing. If we observe recent discussions, we gain the impression that some people promote distancing, if not an antagonism towards Russia.
I consider this course to be wrong, almost dangerous. We must not listen to those, who want to rebuild walls, this time rhetorical and ideological ones. Some do this with reference to their biography, the experience they had with systems like the German Democratic Republic. I have a certain understanding for such stirred up emotions. However, the question is whether it is reasonable to let international policy be guided by them. I am convinced that the answer must be ‘No’ for two reasons: on the one hand, because the present Russia can in no way be equated with the former Soviet Union; on the other hand, because this way of thinking is retrogressive. However, if we want to shape the future, our main concern must be the improvement of relations – and not their worsening.
The relationship to Russia is very complex. It concerns culture, security politics, economics, energy, and of course democracy and human rights. The relations can only be understood in this entity. I do not plead for an uncritical, but for a comprehensive and fair judgement of Russia. The criticism must always consider the basic conditions, and we must not apply different standards when judging Russia. Those who think they must criticize developments in Moscow must not be silent in Tiflis, when democratic rights are suspended there. Nevertheless, we experienced exactly these reactions in Europe and in Germany as well - maybe out of false considerateness.
Russia has taken over an important role in international policy. In the global economy Russia will become an integral and equal partner with its upcoming membership of the World Trade Organization – with all its rights and – this should also be noted – with all its duties. Also, global challenges for security policy can only be solved with and not without Russian participation – particularly the problems of disarmament and the conflict to be resolved in the Middle East as well as on the Balkans.
We have to understand on both sides, in Europe and in Russia, that the Cold War is definitely over. Russia is no longer the weak negotiation partner of the 90‘s. Russia today is a self-confident political and economic power. That is however not bad for Europe – on the contrary, it is good. For a stable and reliable Russia at the eastern border of the European Union is a condition for peace and welfare in Europe.
The awareness of common interests and jointly defined values has replaced the antagonistic thinking and acting that prevailed in Russian policy for decades. Europe should therefore refrain from everything that could be misunderstood as policy of containment or policy of isolation against Russia. This concerns the American anti-missile defense system planned in Poland and Chechnya, for example. Europe and especially Germany are well advised to make use of their transatlantic relations in order to induce the United States to cancel their missile plans.

Excerpt from the speech of Ex-Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on the occasion of the 13th European Forum Berlin organized by the Quandt Foundation in Berlin
on 16 November 2007