With so many changes afoot in Germany following the elections, there is surprising little discussion about how all this is going to affect relations with Russia. There’s a pretty good reason for that, as everyone assumes the likely appointment of Guido Westerwelle will pose little to no change from the former SPD-led Russia policy.
Such was the conclusion of this piece on Russia Profile by Graham Stack, who argues that “Russia policy is likely to remain pragmatic and constructive, including disavowing Ukraine and Georgia’s bid to join NATO.” Stack’s article was interesting in the amount of attention he gives to the lobbying muscle of Germany’s energy corporations, such as E.ON. So while the CDU victory may have marginalized the Gerhard Schröder-leaning wing of the policy community, the Kremlin has done a pretty good job of diversifying its portfolio of high-level German influence.
Further, it is interesting to note that much of the Russia-is-going-to-control-us-with-gas fear mongering we have seen in Germany over the past couple of years actually has nothing to do with real energy security, concern for the integrity of EU, or even sovereignty of member states … it was a convenient pitch line for those invested in the country’s nuclear power plants to slow down the phasing out of these plants.
One missing element I am seeing in all the analysis of the new CDU Russia policy is how Russia appeared to have seen the winds of change early on, and spread its bets (though the Russian people may want to know how Schröder is going to earn his 390,000 euros now). Very few people are talking about the possible influence Russia may have obtained by having the Canadian company Magna act as a front for Sberbank to get in control of the former GM property Opel. Even if thousands of jobs are slashed, having Russian money save German workers will get you the support of several key regions.
Whereas Schröder used to be Russia’s most powerful employee in Germany, now they probably give more credit to Wulf Bernotat of E.ON to act in their interests. It is probably the most notable and dangerous development in Europe-Russia relations how doing business with state-owned companies appears to carry with it a packaged negotiation to accomplish political goals with the company’s home government – regardless of the national interest. Russia has perfected this with Germany, as the change in government but continuity in policy shows.
However, despite the gloomy outlook for anything positive to come out of Europe’s largest economy on dealing with Russia’s worst human rights abuses, there are a number of other wild cards up in the air which can incrementally shift the balance. Westerwelle is relatively young, openly pro-American, and sees himself carrying on the tradition of the new generation of progressive politicians with the courage to be more innovative in policy decisions. In an interview with CFR.org, William Drozdiak, President of the American Council on Germany, says he believes that Westerwelle will continue to work closely with NATO in Afghanistan, use Germany’s leverage on Iran to a greater degree, and will aggressively push forward with nuclear disarmament plans with Russia … the longtime dream of the party’s ideological patron, Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
Were I a pessimist, I would say that names such as “Estemirova” could soon become invisible under a sea of campaign donations from E.ON. Were I am an optimist, I would argue that Germany’s forging of a closer relationship with Russia will only increase its ability to wield positive influence over all of the terrible events happening there.
I haven’t yet made up my mind, but regardless there’s no reason to give up.