BERLIN – Germany is no stranger to the wrong side of history.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that for the past 16 years, Berlin has been firmly on the wrong side of the divide on how to deal with Russia.
Less predictable has been the speed with which Germany overturned its stance on Moscow in recent weeks, halting the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, sending arms to Ukraine, imposing sanctions on Russia and even announcing it would start doing so to pump considerable sums into their own army.
In other words, it agreed almost overnight to do whatever the US and other allies had urged it to do for years. Berlin even came up with a hashtag-ready motto for the shift: turning pointie the beginning of a new era.
Weeks later it becomes clear that the German leadership actually wants to say: “Let’s continue”.
In this respect, the Germans have been about as lucky as the Russian army in Ukraine. Because Germany not only “misjudged” Putin, like Angela Merkel’s longtime foreign policy adviser Christoph Heusgen, the new chairman of the Munich Security Conference, called last week.
Germany’s dogged insistence on cooperation with the Russian leader in the face of his ongoing aggression (a series of misdeeds ranging from the invasion of Georgia to assassinations of enemies abroad and war crimes in Syria) was nothing short of a catastrophic mistake that deserves to be done Merkel will have a place in the pantheon of political naivety alongside Neville Chamberlain.
Slowly but surely, it is beginning to dawn on Germans that Merkel’s soft dealings with Russia – which peaked in 2015 with the decision to green-light the Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its role in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine — not only opened the door for Putin to go further, but effectively encouraged him to do so.
However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a rejection not only of Merkel’s chancellorship, but of a generation of German politicians from across the spectrum blinded by nostalgia Ostpolitik and Change through Handel, Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy of détente in the 1970s, which, according to German legend, led to the end of the Cold War.
Germany’s shared responsibility makes turning the page easier said than done. There hasn’t been a Churchill-like figure in German politics who has been warning of the dangers of trusting Putin for years. While Merkel bears most of the blame for falling into the Russian leader’s trap, the truth is that Germany’s entire political class is guilty.
As Merkel’s finance minister and vice-chancellor, current Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose Social Democrats were the driving force behind the Nord Stream pipelines, espoused the idea that the best way to deal with Putin was through never-ending “dialogue.”
Jens Plötner, currently Scholz’s national security adviser, was one of the main architects of this policy during his years as a senior diplomat in Germany’s Foreign Office, where he served as chief of staff to then-Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (a Social Democrat who is now German President) and most recently as Political Director of the Ministry. Even after Putin massed tens of thousands of soldiers on the Ukrainian border in December, Plötner advised Scholz to stick to Nord Stream 2 and publicly repeat the fiction that it was little more than a “commercial project.”
Plötner’s old boss Steinmeier, who accused NATO in 2016 of “Sable rattling and warmongering” for holding a military exercise on the alliance’s eastern flank, argued almost until the first shots were fired at the Ukrainians that Germany should use energy to build bridges with Russia.
Steinmeier, who as Federal President is supposed to be Germany’s moral authority, is currently busy organizing “Freedom and Peace” concerts with Russian and Ukrainian musicians. (One of the events took place in Dresden in early March, when bombs fell on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.)
Andriy Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, said over the weekend that he would boycott Steinmeier’s latest event. saying Ukrainians had no time for “great Russian culture” while Moscow murdered innocent civilians.
Though less responsible than Merkel’s Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats for the policies that led to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the smaller parties in Germany’s governing coalition — the liberal Free Democrats and the Greens — have not exactly covered themselves in glory either.
The Greens rejected Nord Stream 2, but for ecological reasons as well as out of solidarity with Ukraine. More significant was their staunch resistance to arms deliveries to Kyiv, which changed only after the fighting began.
The Free Democrats have been divided over what to do about Nord Stream 2, with many in the party, including deputy party leader Wolfgang Kubicki, in favor of greater engagement with Russia. According to Melnyk, the leader of the Free Democrats, Christian Lindner, who is also Germany’s finance minister, told him on the day the war began that there was no point in Berlin sending arms to Ukraine or excluding Russia from the international payment system SWIFT because his country had only “a few hours” sovereignty.
Skepticism about Ukraine’s prospects, not to mention concerns about the consequences of cracking down on Russia too harshly, was shared by many in the main opposition party, the Christian Democrats (CDU). Just weeks before the invasion of Russia, CDU leader Friedrich Merz warned that Russia’s suspension from SWIFT was a “Atom bomb on the capital markets.”
“We were all wrong”
Germany’s politicians, who have been wrong at every step about Russia and Putin, are resorting to the “who knew?” Map.
“I was wrong, we were all wrong,” said Wolfgang Schäuble Gray eminence of German politics and longtime CDU finance minister, told the world on Sunday at the weekend.
What Schäuble and his colleagues leave out, however, is that for years Germany has been warned by its allies not to underestimate Putin. Faced with this reality, the Germans are at a loss as to how to react.
After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reminded German lawmakers in a speech to the Bundestag this month that Germany’s dealings with Russia had helped finance the war against his country and attacked them for paying “worthless” lip service to the Holocaust after she gave him a standing ovation – and then promptly went back to business as usual, which included wishing two MPs happy birthdays.
During the Cold War, the term “useful idiot” became a label for moderates in the West who fell prey to the gullible arguments of the communists.
From Germany’s veto on Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO membership in 2008 to its pursuit of gas deals with Moscow to its opposition to arms shipments to Kyiv, the country’s leaders have served as useful idiots for Putin.
In doing so, the so-called Russia understanderthe smug Russian sympathizers who populate the country’s political establishment have dismissed criticism of their course, insisting they know better while (literally) Laugh in Washington’s face.
Nobody laughs anymore.
Berlins also welcome as allies turning pointdon’t let his foxhole conversion fool you.
Devastated by Germany during World War II and ending up losing more than 15 percent of its population, Ukraine will certainly not be forgiven and forgotten.
Germany, too, will have no real credibility within the transatlantic alliance (no matter how many billions it allocates to defense spending) until there is an honest reckoning with the history of the Merkel-Putin years.
As Germany knows only too well, there is no escape, although it is possible to hide from history for a while.
https://www.politico.eu/article/putin-merkel-germany-scholz-foreign-policy-ukraine-war-invasion-nord-stream-2/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Putin's Useful German Idiots - POLITICO