Dragica Šuc


State Interaction: Germany and Russia


The history of the interaction between German and Russian nations has led to evolution in this relationship, with periods of outright hostility, accommodation and—most recently—more amicable cooperation. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Germany (the Prussian nation at that time) and Russia, both absolute monarchies, had troubled relationships mostly due to the military strength of both powers, their imperialistic interests in the North-Eastern Europe and the Balkans and German stereotypes about Slavs. Germany’s fear about Russia was mixed with a superior attitude towards the Slavic population comparing them with “savages” from their colonies. The term of “Russian barbarism” was used not only to portrait Tsarist’s autocracy but for descriptions of the Slavs as people (Stargardt 1994: 50- 67). The policy of the Social Democrats was by the end of 18th century absorbed with containing Russia (ibid: 65).

After the German-Austrian alliance in 1879 and Russian coalition with the United Kingdom and France in 1907 the two countries became enemies in World War I. Before the rise of Hitler and the creation of the Nazi state, with its anti-Slav and anti-Communist rhetoric, the two states managed to improve their relationship.

However, before entering the Second World War as enemies again, the two “totalitarian” states were able to agree to invade and make a new repartition of the Eastern Europe (Sužiedëlis 1989).

Defeated Germany entered the Cold War divided in Eastern and Western parts but during the crucial years of Germany’s reunification, German policymakers enthusiastically appreciated the constructive role played by the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin (Rahr 2007: 137).

This goodwill continues today. Russian elites consider Germany as a friendly state and advocate for Russia in the West (ibid.). Gernot Erler, the State Secretary in the Germany’s Foreign Ministry, argued: “The strategy of Germany’s foreign policy is to include Russia into the regional partnerships with the EU” (Erler 2009). Erler argued that the political isolation of Russia, especially after the war in Georgia was not in the interest of the EU. According to Ambassador Rücker, Germany’s historical responsibility for over 20 million Russians killed in the Second World War and gratitude to the Soviets for supporting reunification of West and East Germany have greatly contributed to the current friendly German-Russian relationship (Rücker 2009).


German Perceptions about Russia

A few crucial factors influenced German perception of Russia:

(a) a special relationship for historical reasons

(b) the success of the policy of reconciliation after the World War II; and the

(c) constructive role played by the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin during the crucial years of Germany’s reunification (Rahr 2007; Wahlbäck 2009; Rücker 2009).

Long after the end of the World War II, the Germans had a general feeling of guilt for what Nazi Germany did to Russians during the Second World War (Rücker 2009; Wahlbäck 2009). On the other side, the feeling of gratefulness to Russian people and politicians for supporting the reunion of Eastern and Western Germany is present among Germans until today (ibid.). On the top of that, mutual dependency in the field of energy and a business lobby which enthusiastically applauds the new opportunities in the Russian market significantly shaped German perceptions of Russia.

German perceptions of Russia went through different phases, from the period of great fear to the creation of a strategic partnership in the energy sector. The biggest shift occurred after the end of the Cold war, especially during the period from 1990 to 2005 when Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Government was committed to incorporate Russia into the larger European establishment and therefore was reluctant about former Soviet republics joining NATO because he feared provoking negative reactions in Russia (Rahr 2007). Chancellor Schröder’s policy towards Russia was a mix of friendship and strategic partnership. It was focused towards an EU-Russian strategic alliance and toward opening new doors for economic cooperation as a step toward the creation of a free-trade zone between the EU and countries of the post-Soviet space (ibid.). The Nord Stream pipeline is a product of a German-Russian economic alliance originating at the time of Chancellor Schröder’s government. Schröder’s personnel friendship with Russian President Putin has been criticized by the American political elite and by political leaders of some former Eastern European states (Larsson 2007; Wolf 2006).

Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has a pragmatic stand towards Russia leading to a priority being given to economic and strategic interests of the state over solidarity with some EU member states and friendship with the US. Her rhetoric is different than Chancellor Schröder’s when she calls the German-Russian relationship a strategic partnership and not a friendship arguing that Germany doesn’t share as many values with Russia as it shares with the US. However, she emphasizes a strong interest in Russian development in a reasonable direction, as democratically as possible but with respect to the fact that Western style democracy can not be schematically transferred to Russia (Wolf 2006).

The German newspaper Spiegel Online International in the aftermath of the war in Georgia gave much more space to those who talked in favour of Russia or at least had more neutral stands towards the incident than to those who accused Russia for invasion on Georgia. According to my investigation, during the period from March 2008 to June 2009, 16 articles out of 33 were in favour of Russia, 8 articles took a neutral stand blaming both parties for the war and 9 articles criticized Russia for the aggression and for its politics vis-à-vis Georgia and other former Soviet states (Appendix 4). Despite the limitation of this research, it is indicative that a leading German newspaper took a stand common with German foreign policy and business elites and discussed the incident with positive sentiments towards Russia.

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Source book: Swedish Threat Perception of Nord Stream and the Dual State Energy Security Model: An Analysis of Realism, Resource Interests and Securitization