Some CDU politicians accuse Boris Pistorius of pursuing a pro-Russia course before the war broke out. Our new Secretary of Defense – a man from the Russia Connection?

Boris Pistorius is under fire even before he takes up his new position in the Bendlerblock. The CDU, in particular, questions his suitability and accuses the previous Interior Minister of Lower Saxony of representing a pro-Russian stance.

Among other things, the opposition is now holding up old statements about the sanctions imposed in the course of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. At that time, in an interview with the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, Pistorius asked whether the sanctions were “the right way” to make Russia understand.

In an interview with the “Bild” Pistorius now made it clear: “I have not criticized the sanctions themselves or their goal, but like many others questioned their effectiveness. Today’s sanctions cannot be compared with the sanctions from back then and, as we know, they are effective.”

Another accusation against the designated defense minister is that he continued to advocate for town twinning with Russian cities after Russia had already annexed Crimea. Pistorius actually accepted an invitation from the Russian honorary consul Heino Wiese to come to Hanover when he was in office as interior minister. According to reports from the German-Russian society, the talks were also about maintaining Oldenburg’s twinning with the Russian city of Makhachkala.

However, many town twinnings were still maintained during this time. City partnerships have only been discussed again in many places since the invasion of Ukraine last February. The Lower Saxony CDU member of the Bundestag Tilman Kuban referred to this meeting with Wiese when he criticized on Twitter that with Pistorius “the next person from the Russia connection […] took his place in the federal cabinet”.

Andreas Busch, Professor of Comparative Politics and Political Economy at the University of Göttingen, considers the accusation based on the meeting to be unfounded. “It’s far too simple to draw any conclusions from it.” He tells FOCUS online: “It was a question of political assessment back then, today you wouldn’t do it anymore.”

Maintaining the town twinning is also understandable from Busch’s point of view. “At the time, it was understandable to try to get other forces in Russia on your side,” he adds.

In the same year, the then SPD Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for a more critical line towards Russia. Pistorius still believed at the time: “We will not be able to achieve a European peace policy without Russia,” an attitude that the then Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) also held for a long time.

At the time, the CDU-led federal government had also pursued projects such as Nord Stream 2 with Russia – so as not to break the wire to Russia.

It is also true that Pistorius, in his office as a member of the Bundesrat, met colleagues from the Russian Federation Council once a year as part of the German-Russian Friendship Group – until it was dissolved in April 2022. The same group included the Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmar (CDU) and the Baden-Württemberg Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann (Greens).

In addition, shortly after the start of the war in February 2022, Pistorius spoke out in favor of a clear course to put Russia in its place. Immediately after the outbreak of war, the Social Democrat condemned the actions in no uncertain terms: “I am shocked and stunned by the dramatic developments and the brutal attacks on Ukraine by the armed forces commanded by Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

Busch believes it is wrong to attest the SPD in Lower Saxony a more pro-Russian attitude across the board. With former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a pro-Russian social democrat was at the helm for a long time. Even after the start of the war, he initially did not distance himself from Russian President Vladimir Putin and retained his position on the supervisory board of the state-owned company Gazprom.

But Pistorius cannot be counted “so strongly” among this group “that has long dominated the state party,” said Busch. He tends to include party leaders like today’s party leader Lars Klingbeil. However, he also “corrected” his position and in October admitted that his party had made mistakes in dealing with Russia. At a party event, Klingbeil said specifically that “blind spots” had arisen in dealings with Russia, “that was a mistake”.

Independent of Pistorius’ appointment and already in December, the state CDU had asked the state government an extensive list of questions on the subject of Russia connections. According to Ralph Makolla, member of the CDU state parliament, the answers are currently being evaluated and will also be published in the coming days.

The current Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil (SPD), had to declare several contacts with Russia in the state parliament last year, at the request of the FDP. He named companies like the oil company Lukoil and Sberbank, which are state-controlled.

At the time, Weil spoke of “typical company visits”. At the time, the Prime Minister did not want to answer whether Weil had had contact with former Chancellor Schröder in his supervisory board position on energy policy issues during his visits. The question of contacts with the early Russian honorary consul Wiese also remained open at the time.

In any case, Busch adds, it will hardly depend on Pistorius how to proceed in the case of Ukraine: “The idea that the defense minister would have his own decision-making power here is erroneous.” Scholz made it clear that in the case of Ukraine he would ” with the American allies”. It is more important for his job as head of ministry that he can assert himself.