Will Germany decide to unfreeze relations with Russia after the pandemic? Czy Niemcy zdecydują się na odmrożenie relacji z Rosją po pandemii? [My interview]


“”The chances of changing the sanction policy are small, as long as the current government exists (German government – ed.). If Vladimir Putin offered significant concessions to Ukraine, there would be great pressure in Berlin and Paris to lift certain sanctions” – emphasizes Thomas O’Donnell    Foto: Bundesregierung/Schacht

Polish journalist Artur Ciechanowicz asked me and four prominent German experts whether Germany will lift sanctions on Russia related to Ukraine:

Polish article in Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, May 6 GazetaPrawna.pl.  

English (via Google Translate):

The head of Russian diplomacy declared Moscow’s readiness to dialogue with Brussels, Berlin and other EU countries. We asked German experts if Germany would decide to reset

DGP conducted a survey among experts of think tanks in Germany, which largely determine the shape of the government’s foreign policy in Berlin. We asked about the offer, which has been formulated by representatives of the Russian authorities for the West for several months.  Sergei Lavrov at the Gorbachev Foundation recently argued that relations with the West should be thawed.  The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the state that violated international law , annexing Crimea and triggering separatism in the Donbass in 2014, argued for the necessity of primacy of this law over the strength and indisputability of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of states. By the way, he created Russia as a key country in solving the problems facing Europe – above all the migration crisis.

Continue here, or – I suggest you go to a machine translated page of GazetaPrawna.pl

According to the analysts we surveyed, Berlin – without which a reset in EU-Russia relations is impossible – is not interested in Moscow’s offer. At least as long as the government is headed by Angela Merkel. The thaw could accelerate if anti-immigrant AfD or left-wing post-communists took power.

The illusion of change

– There is no significant change in relations between the EU and Russia. The situation in the Donbass has not improved significantly; the Russian side is not implementing the Minsk agreements. There is no ceasefire, no military withdrawal, no military advisers, etc. The same applies to the annexation of Crimea, Russian support for Assad in Syria or attempts to undermine the trust of EU citizens in its institutions. Especially through disinformation campaigns about the coronavirus. In addition, Russia’s position vis-à-vis the Union has now been further weakened by the fall in oil prices, says Walter Kaufmann of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which is the analytical base of the Green Party.

Kaufmann is supported by Susan Stewart from the Berlin Science and Politics Foundation (SWP), one of the most influential institutions in Germany, advising the government and the Bundestag on foreign and security policy. – Russia in the crisis associated with the coronavirus pandemic has been sticking to anti-Western rhetoric in recent years. It is directed against the EU and some of its Member States. It would be difficult for the Moscow elite to deviate from this rhetoric, especially since it partly results from actual beliefs about the West and Russia. This is a weak basis for any change, ”says Stewart. He adds that the Kremlin’s foreign policy priorities have not changed, which include weakening transatlantic relations, disregarding Brussels, focusing on bilateral contacts and deepening existing divisions in the EU.

– Russians traditionally locate opponents’ weak points to use them for their purposes. The current crisis offers many such opportunities. Divisions in the EU are deeper, so Moscow has no incentive to change the current line – emphasizes the expert.

Sarah Pagung from the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP) concretizes: – On the one hand, Russia is trying to present itself as a partner in crisis – it supplies medical equipment to Italy, the USA and Serbia, but it is about improving the image to help negotiate the lifting of sanctions . At the same time, however, it spreads fake news and misinforms. Which, of course, undermines this good image. So it has two strategies that are mutually exclusive.

Thomas O’Donnell, energy market analyst and lecturer at the private university of Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance, in turn, notes that at the beginning of March Russia tried to use the pandemic and the expected fall in oil prices to achieve its own goals. She refused to limit production, wanting to harm the interests of American and Saudi producers, and in consequence force the lifting of US sanctions aimed at companies constructing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. However, this shows that Sergei Lavrov’s words about dialogue are hypocrisy, says O’Donnell.

Frostbite. Yes but…

– The chances of changing the sanction policy are small, as long as the current government exists (German government – ed.). If Vladimir Putin offered significant concessions to Ukraine, there would be great pressure in Berlin and Paris to lift certain sanctions – emphasizes Thomas O’Donnell. – In fact, however, Putin had many opportunities to compromise. Especially when Volodymyr Zelenski became president of Ukraine and began to talk to Russia about the Donbass. Putin did not propose anything that could justify leniency – he reminds us.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is the DGAP DG Sarah Pagung. – Even if somehow there was a breakthrough in the implementation of the Minsk agreements, a change would be unlikely. Although the supporters of sanctions have lost an important ally with Britain’s exit from the Community, he points out.

Explaining why the head of the German government is unlikely to change her attitude, Susan Stewart from SWP talks about Merkel’s past. – Thanks to the experience of living in the GDR, the chancellor understands the USSR and Russia. He accurately assesses the situation and motivation of the Kremlin regime – he concludes. However, it allows change if political forces come to power in Germany, where a positive attitude towards Russia prevails.

For Walter Kaufmann, the biggest unknowns in this matter are Ukraine and France. – The temporary readiness of President Zełski to recognize the representatives of the separatist republics of the DNR and ŁNR as official negotiating partners has increased uncertainty. If the Ukrainian government itself – pressured by the president, who wants to fulfill the election promise and bring peace to the Donbass – would call for the lifting of sanctions against Russia, it would certainly weaken the EU position – he predicts.

The second unknown is the approach of French President Emmanuel Macron – since last autumn he has called several times to treat relations with Russia as a priority. But also Macron will not be able to fight the abolition without progress in implementing the Minsk agreements, argues Kaufmann. – I can’t imagine a scenario in which Berlin accepts the occupation of eastern Ukraine. Although the German media talks primarily about “separatists” who support Russia, in fact politicians in Berlin are well aware of the presence of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine – and not just in the Crimea, “says Miriam Kosmehl from the liberal Bertelsmann Foundation.

SWP’s Susan Stewart emphasizes that Berlin has invested a lot of political capital in order for Minsk agreements to be concluded and strongly emphasized the link between their implementation and sanctions . However, he reminds that the current president of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as the head of German diplomacy, promoted the idea that the agreements would not have to be met in full. – Their gradual implementation was to be rewarded with the gradual removal of sanctions. This idea never disappeared. He is constantly appearing among politicians, in economic and expert circles. Under certain political conditions, this position could gain importance, signals Stewart.

Such conditions could possibly arise during the term of office of the next government, predicts Thomas O’Donnell. – Until then, things will remain frozen. However, the new coalition may press Kyiv to make concessions and provide an excuse to lift sanctions and release German-Russian trade, he concludes.

In the German Bundestag, the vast majority are in favor of maintaining sanctions. Only two parties are openly in favor of their unconditional abolition: Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Left. Surveys show that one of these two groups will play a significant role in forming the next government is very unlikely.

Conditional Reset

Miriam Kosmehl from the Bertelsmann Foundation regrets that the possibilities of “selective German involvement” in Russia are limited. – It will continue as long as Moscow focuses on cooperation with individual EU member states, or right-wing populist groups. The same applies to cooperation in foreign policy. This shows the case of Libya and Syria – believes Kosmehl.

– Of course, all this does not mean that you should abandon attempts to look for fields of cooperation. However, attention should be paid to violations of the law, cyber attacks, hybrid attacks and propaganda. Not taking this into account would be interpreted by Moscow as a sign of weakness – he adds.

According to Thomas O’Donnell, Russia is not interested in developing cooperation with Germany in many areas. She is interested in energy and technological projects. – From Putin’s perspective, Berlin is needed as a partner to complete the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Germany, however, has not fulfilled its commitment that the project will be implemented in accordance with German rather than European regulations. They also failed to prevent the imposition of American sanctions on him. Nevertheless, Berlin will be looking for technical ways to openly or discreetly facilitate Moscow’s completion of NS2, in violation of US sanctions. It may work in a year or two, says the analyst.



One response to “Will Germany decide to unfreeze relations with Russia after the pandemic? Czy Niemcy zdecydują się na odmrożenie relacji z Rosją po pandemii? [My interview]

  1. Better focus on the pandemic now. Country issues later. It surely can wait than saving lives


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