Former Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke at an event about Russia. She hid behind her predecessor Kohl – with a rather selfish goal.
How would Helmut Kohl act today if he were still chancellor? It was obvious that this question would be asked at the first public event of the new “Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Kohl-Stiftung” in Berlin. What was interesting, however, was how the former Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who had been invited to speak, answered them – namely indirectly to justify her own Russia policy since 2005.
When politicians, historians or publicists pretend to know exactly what a deceased statesman would do in a current situation, there is usually a lot of wishful thinking involved. It is projected onto the deceased what one considers to be the appropriate or correct policy.
There is a lot to be said for Merkel’s thesis that Kohl would do “everything to protect and restore the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine”. After all, the “Chancellor of Unity” has always emphasized and defended the right of peoples to self-determination like hardly any other European politician. He wouldn’t have done it any differently with Ukraine.
Merkel’s second statement was more daring. Since Kohl never lost sight of “the day after” when making his decisions, today he would “always think about the unthinkable, almost unimaginable at the moment – namely how something like relations with and with Russia can be developed again.” In other words: in all measures against the aggressor Putin, Kohl would always make sure to return to “business as usual” after the end of the war with Russia.
Whether Kohl would have actually thought and acted that way is pure speculation. What Merkel assumes in relation to Kohl, however, is nothing more than justification of her own Russia policy. After all, Germany’s dependence on Russian energy imports increased dramatically during her reign. That is why Germany is suffering more than other European countries from the consequences of Putin’s gas war – with unforeseeable effects on economic development and the political climate.
When Merkel took office in autumn 2005, she took over Nord Stream 1 as the heir to her predecessor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) and his red-green government. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline project was launched during her reign. Putin had already started a war in Georgia. Not only Poland and Hungary urgently warned Berlin against an even closer energy policy cooperation with Moscow; the USA and Italy were also very skeptical about the project.
The occupation of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk by Moscow-backed pro-Russian separatists and the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, in violation of international law, were unable to deter Merkel from her course. Their thinking about “the day after” went so far that in 2015 the Russian state-owned company Gazprom, with the support of the federal government, was able to take over 100 percent control of the German gas storage facilities. It was a very strange “development” in relations with Moscow.
There was no need for the former chancellor to speak to the Kohl Foundation about Putin’s attack on Ukraine. She could have left it at that, honoring Kohl’s services to reunification. It was also fitting for the occasion that she reported in a humorous way what she had learned from the former chancellor: the importance of the personal, the will to shape things and thinking in historical contexts.
But Merkel wanted more: she wanted to defend her Russia policy – citing Kohl. As I said: the dead cannot defend themselves against appropriation.