The Specter of Germany’s New Ostpolitik

A fascinating situation is developing in Germany regarding EU-Russia relations. According to the International Herald Tribune, Germany’s Social Democrats in control of the Foreign Ministry have drafted an internal paper outlining a new energy-focused Ostpolitik (sound familiar, anyone?) that makes no mention – no mention whatsoever – of human rights. Tractor.jpeg The article says:

The Foreign Ministry’s paper, titled “The German EU Presidency: Russia, European Neighborhood Policy and Central Asia,” states that “Russia will play a central role in the German EU presidency. Germany wants its chapter of close German-Russian relations to be brought into the wider development of a European-Russian partnership.” Gernot Erler, state secretary at the Foreign Ministry and a Russia expert, said the government hoped to achieve this goal through a new Ostpolitik based on “Annäherung durch Verflechtung” or “growing closer by interweaving.” In the ministry’s vision, this policy would actively engage Russia and the post-Soviet states to bring them closer to Europe. “We aim at a comprehensive integrationist and forward-looking approach with clear signals that Russia is welcome in Europe,” the paper states. The section on Russia highlights the energy ties between Russia and Europe that were strengthened by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, from 1998 to 2005. Russia, it says, “will remain a key partner for Germany and the EU.”

Engaging” Russia is a necessary strategy and important for the development of a solid partnership – as long as it is done so in a constructive manner, with clear and direct statements on Western standards of human rights, civil society, and democratic practices. However, the engagement that the Social Democrats and Frank-Walter Steinmeier are advocating is nothing more than a euphemism for surrender – an overt signal to the most base elements within the Kremlin that their belligerent authoritarianism will be tolerated, and that Germany is willing to sweep dozens of violations and crimes under the rug in exchange for preferential treatment in energy relations in the short term. This extraordinarily opportunistic position of the Social Democrats does great collateral damage to innumerable victims. The SPD is turning its back on the victims of war crimes in Chechnya, opposition parties and NGOs under the jackboot of the siloviki, political prisoners like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and anyone who dares to tell the truth or criticize the country’s descent into autocracy, such as the courageous reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was brutally assassinated today in front of her home. They are turning their backs on the young democracies of the former Soviet Union, such as Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland, and others – and Russia has already demonstrated how it intends to treat these nations. And last of all, they are placing their fellow members of the EU at a significant disadvantage by negotiating bilaterally with Russia rather than as a united Europe. Are we witnessing the end of the Franco-German Axis of influence in the EU? Steinmeier_3.jpg The Social Democrat’s renewed Ostpolitik poses a classic free rider problem to the rest of the EU. By using human rights (or rather the toleration of the lack thereof) as a currency, Germany is the actor that intends to consume more than its fair share of the resource (in this case, preferential energy relations with Russia), while the rest of Europe is forced to shoulder the great burden of the cost (in this case, they shall see themselves paying up with portions of sovereignty to Russian interference in politics and economy). If Ostpolitik goes through, the EU will be forced to view any Russian human rights violation as a German human rights violation. Every time a political party is outlawed, Germany’s signature will be on the paper, every time a dissident is imprisoned without fair trial, Germany’s hand is on the key to the jail, and every time an investigative journalist is savagely murdered, the blood is on Germany’s hands. This is the only way to awaken a conscience among the Social Democrats. At the conclusion of the Herald Tribune story, Jorg Himmelreich of the German Marshall Fund sums up the situation quite succinctly:

“The Social Democratic Party has a long tradition of promoting a policy toward Russia that is driven by a deep inclination to understand and to accept quickly Russia’s deviation from Western models of democracy, human rights and civil society.”

Somewhere Willy Brandt is smiling in his grave.