Ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to apologize for her Russia policy. She says she saw through what Putin wanted early on. But why didn’t she act accordingly? The record Chancellor is making it too easy for herself. We shouldn’t do it.
Why is it even important to deal with Angela Merkel’s Russia policy? Because new mistakes can only be avoided by recognizing old mistakes.
This applies not only to Germany’s future relations with Russia. The same applies to China: Because you can’t continue with China the way you were doing with Russia until shortly before the big bang. And in Europe, too, Germany cannot continue as Merkel has been handling by ignoring warnings from Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics about Russia.
Merkel’s performance yesterday at the Berliner Ensemble was noteworthy for a number of reasons, and you can read why here. But Merkel’s Russia policy has been flawed, and her refusal to apologize may still be a matter of taste. Their offensive justification is no longer a matter of taste. You shouldn’t let her get away with it.
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Not because it’s about patching up Merkel’s stuff one more time. But because it’s about truthfulness and because Merkel’s method of justifying herself is a tactic of concealment. Now, after her performance, there is one major contradiction that she now has to resolve:
How can it be that Merkel wants to have recognized as early as 2007 what Putin’s true goal is, namely a war between the systems (democratic versus authoritarian) and the “destruction of Europe”, and then, as chancellor, to increase Germany’s dependence on this aggressor even more ? And this at the expense of and against the explicit, openly stated interests of those countries that lie between Germany and Russia?
To speak briefly of historical responsibility: these are the countries in which first Joseph Stalin’s and then Adolf Hitler’s colonialist extermination policy murdered millions of people. In the Baltic States, in Poland, in Ukraine, in Belarus. Which is why one must not make the devastating mistake of relating German historical responsibility only to Russia. And why one should not make the mistake of equating Russia with the Soviet Union. Because that’s what Putin is doing, that’s the justification for his revisionism, which consists in making Russia the most powerful power in Europe again and throwing the Americans out of Europe as a protective power.
That’s what it’s all about, and Angela Merkel has captured that dimension perfectly. But what consequences did this have for their politics? To put it another way: In the knowledge that for Putin the collapse was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century and for her the “happiest state of my life” – if she hadn’t in 2007, but no later than seven years later, after the conquest of Crimea, said “ “Zeitwende” speech, which Olaf Scholz then gave again eight years later?
Merkel said on Tuesday that it had not been possible to integrate Russia into a European security architecture. In fact, that was the goal of all their governments, that was also the goal of Frank Walter Steinmeier – first as foreign minister, then as head of state. Which leads to this question:
So if 2007 was clear how Putin thought, and if Merkel says one would do well to listen “closely” to what this man says and if she sees a “continuous line” with him, pointing to first destabilization and then conquest Soviet country – was it then right to seek a “modus vivendi” (Merkel) WITH Russia instead of a modus vivendi AGAINST Russia?
Merkel says that unfortunately it was not possible to overcome the Cold War. But if this was already certain in 2007, wouldn’t it have been better to continue this Cold War, which was uncomfortable but secured peace for decades?
Instead, Merkel did what she usually did: she adapted to the mainstream, which meant: she followed the spirit of the time – instead of shaping and shaping it. The renowned Berlin political scientist Herfried Münckler recently formulated what is meant by this when he was critically asked about the policy of Gerhard Schröder and Manuela Schwesig in relation to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline by “Welt”:
“You mean the project of integrating Russia, which emerged from the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union as a power with a tendency towards revisionism, into a European peace order through economic integration and, on top of that, securing Germany as an industrial location through the oil-gas deal? It was a project that secured prosperity in this country.”
You can put it another way: Merkel’s Russia policy followed Germany’s reason of state. Doing business with Russia and ignoring its basic imperialist orientation has a decades-long tradition in Germany. Almost as old is the tradition of naively and historically ignorantly praising this as “change through trade” or “change through rapprochement”.
However, Merkel does not even allow this accusation, which shakes social democracy to the core. Rather, she says openly and honestly that she never believed that Putin would change through trade.
Merkel’s picture of Vladimir Putin was crystal clear, she was under no illusions. She also attributed this to why she took a hard stance against US President George Bush at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest and denied Ukraine (and Georgia) accession to the western defense alliance. It was clear why.
None other than Frank Walter Steinmeier justified this fundamental decision at the time: This would lead to a strain on relations with Russia. Steinmeier would later go even further – and justify the Nord Stream pipeline with Germany’s historic commitment to Russia. On the occasion, Steinmeier did not say a word about Germany’s historic commitment to Ukraine. Later, on the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre not far from Kyiv, he did it, although not so much to honor Ukraine’s status as a victim, but primarily with a domestic political objective: to protect against burgeoning German anti-Semitism in Germany to warn.
Moments with Angela Merkel: Close-ups from 20 years by exceptional photographer Laurence Chaperon
The truth – and Merkel’s apology – is that France and Italy were also against Ukraine’s NATO membership at the time. But Merkel could have seen it differently, like the US President. She didn’t want it. Because that would have, Merkel said on Tuesday, confrontation with Russia, whose “provocation” means. And that was not Merkel’s policy.
It was probably their policy to prioritize Germany’s prosperity over Ukraine’s security before Putin. She let herself be guided by a small picture, one that follows the circumstances as they happen to be at this moment. The US had the bigger picture – they wanted to exploit Russia’s weakness at the time to break another state out of the Russian sphere of influence.
Merkel said on Tuesday that Putin had interpreted this as a “declaration of war”. This and the classification of Germany’s prosperity as Germany’s reason of state determined Merkel’s Russia policy. Merkel is silent on this point, the money motive.
There was no significant resistance to this, probably for that reason, in Germany. That came much later.