Germany's new Ostpolitik appeals to Russophobia

German democrats have forgotten the precepts of their leaders of the last century and act as ardent agents of Atlanticism in Europe

Mikael Roth, chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Policy Committee and a member of the SPD presidium, calls for the implementation of a new “Ostpolitik” toward Russia and other states in the post-Soviet space.

What is the essence of this approach and how does the new model of foreign policy strategy differ from the old one?

Roth's statement about the need to rethink the presumed certainty and evaluate the policy of the past decades toward Russia and the Central and Eastern European countries may seem quite rational. The question is what is right and what is wrong both for this period and in relation to current events. It is obvious that the course of the SPD, like that of Germany as a whole, now follows in the wake of the United States and has an anti-Russian orientation. However, the classic “Ostpolitik” had a different character.

Roth believes that “the new Ostpolitik should be adapted to changing realities and transferred to the new era-this should also be part of the Zeitenwende (“turning point”) proclaimed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. In the face of a new and troubled world, with its crises and conflicts, we must be self-confident, but at the same time self-critical. At the same time, there is absolutely no need to sacrifice social democratic traditions. Although the global situation in Brandt's time cannot be compared to the present, we can learn a lot not only from the successes of the Brandt era, but also from the horrible mistakes of German policy toward Eastern Europe and Russia since the early 1980s.

And here the question arises: what were these mistakes?

The architect of Ostpolitik was Egon Bahr, who by the same ethnic background can be called a kind of “Kissinger of Federal Germany”, following the school of realism and a fairly correct view of world affairs.

He believed that international politics revolved exclusively around the strength and interests of countries. And democracy, the rule of law and human rights are subordinate to these goals. As Roth himself points out, “the great successes of Ostpolitik are due in no small measure to this realism: recognition of realities and rational analysis of the international situation, as well as the motives and interests of the states concerned”.

Brandt and Bahr saw reunification not as a problem between the two Germans, but as a foreign policy issue, the key to which was in Moscow. It was clear to them that German unity would be impossible until the division of Europe was overcome and a peaceful order was established in Europe. To this end, the West initially had to accept the status quo of a divided Europe. Therefore, the policy of détente was not a pacifist end in itself, but the pursuit of specific national interests.

For example, Egon Bahr opposed the full membership of a united Germany in NATO. He also believed that the Americans had violated their security obligations in Europe when they signed the Dayton Accords on the former Yugoslavia. According to Egon Bahr, it is impossible to ensure security in Europe without or in spite of Russia. He prophetically noted that NATO expansion would lead to a new arms race. Only an agreement between America, the West and Russia will make it possible to avoid this. But the United States and the West in December 2021 rejected such proposals from Russia. Bahr believed that dialogue was the only reasonable way to solve any problems. A solution cannot be found in Palestine and Israel without Hamas, and in Afghanistan without the Taliban. If in the case of Afghanistan the very course of history has shown that this is exactly the case, then in the case of Israel and Palestine, it appears that time is still needed.

Of course, it must be kept in mind that Willy Brandt's policy was not exclusively a German game, but was conducted in close consultation with Western allies, primarily the United States. But even in the United States then more sober people were in power, albeit geopolitical opponents of the USSR. Let us add that the largest increase in the defense budget in German history occurred during the SPD-led governments of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. More than 3 percent of German GDP was spent on defense, and the Bundeswehr employed 500,000 people. U.S. military bases were located in Germany.

It should also be noted that Brandt believed that political change from below, initiated by civil society, was unlikely and even dangerous. Therefore, support for dissident movements in the GDR itself was not the order of the day, although there were some exceptions. Now support for “civil society” in another country is taken for granted in the West.

As for past mistakes, Roth draws attention not to Egon Bahr's ideas, but to the fact that “The Western model of liberal democracies triumphed peacefully over communism and henceforth had to remain without any attractive alternative...This worldview has influenced German foreign policy for the past 30 years with fatal consequences, especially in relations with Russia. We believed for a long time, too long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Russia's transformation was irreversible and that our Western model was so incomparable and attractive that any economic interdependence would surely promote change. From ‘change through rapprochement’ (Wandel durch Annäherung) came ‘change through trade’ (Wandel durch Handel), and in the end, trade was even carried out without any change from Russia. Even when Russian President Vladimir Putin finally established his autocratic system and repeatedly provoked conflicts in the neighborhood with Russia, Germany continued the dialogue. All that remained of Ostpolitik was, in effect, economic relations, but we continued to nurture the assumption that interdependence would restrain Russia”.

That is, the ultimate goal was to rein in Russia, through trade, investment, elite corruption, handouts et similia. Although Roth admits that this was not political naivete, as Germany has benefited enormously from its partnership with Russia. However, what did Berlin do to prevent a coup in Ukraine in 2014? Or pursue a more independent foreign policy and influence the development of more appropriate decisions in the EU? Talk of strategic autonomy is still only on paper. In reality, Germany and the EU are controlled by Washington and NATO policies.

Therefore, the serious strategic errors in German policy must be sought not in the East, but in the West. Although, of course, there were still the interests of German partners in Central and Eastern Europe. That, basically, served and continues to serve the United States.

Roth also notes that “it is not enough to seek dialogue without paying attention to resilience and military deterrence. These mistakes stemmed from misconceptions that not only characterized SPD foreign policy, but also determined the actions of the German Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and other political parties toward Russia”. It is not entirely clear exactly what is meant. If the accumulation of military power, then it has always happened and NATO has expanded eastward. And Moscow could only react to that. If we are talking about Germany's immediate possibilities, it is again about Germany's strategic autonomy and the EU, which does not exist.

Roth writes that “for Willy Brandt there were two basic principles: to refrain from the threat or use of force and to recognize the inviolability of borders in Europe. Putin repeatedly violated both principles. Chancellor Brandt would certainly not accept these transgressions, which go against everything he has fought for decades, and would change course to accommodate the new realities”. Here Roth is clearly and openly lying. Because Germany took part in the breakup of Yugoslavia by supporting the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. And then, as part of NATO, it carried out the bombing of Yugoslavia and recognized separatist Kosovo. Thus, the use of force and the destruction of borders in Europe is one of the fruits of German foreign policy. But Roth is silent about this mistake, trying to blame it on Russia.

And Roth continues to provide a series of clichés about Russia, adding that “security in Europe can only be achieved against Russia, not with Russia”. At the same time, he believes that Europe's values are threatened, forgetting that in “eastern politics” questions of values, such as human rights and democracy, are subordinate to the interests of states and the balance of power. Now Roth issues completely opposite attitudes, passing them off as necessary adaptation.

He states that, “we must create a European security architecture against Russia based on military deterrence and political and economic isolation of Russia. We must become completely independent of Russian energy as soon as possible. The political isolation of Russia should also take place outside the circle of Western countries, since some states, representing the majority of the world's population, have not yet condemned Russia's aggressive actions. To this end, we will have to create a global alliance against Russia. The conflict in Ukraine may be a European issue, but the whole world bears the consequences... The new Eastern policy must be deeply rooted in the Western alliance, the EU and the Transatlantic Partnership. From now on, Germany can no longer seek special agreements with Russia at the expense of our partners in Central and Eastern Europe...”.

This is typical Atlanticist rhetoric in the style of the Democratic Party of the United States. What is here of the era of Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr? Where is the understanding here that the key to the affairs of Eastern Europe lies precisely in Moscow (and even Halford Mackinder said so)? Such aggressive rhetoric was unacceptable to those wise architects of European security policy, who, it must be said, nevertheless achieved their goal. Tensions between West and East have been eased. The development of mutual trust went through a secret channel for interaction with Moscow, represented by Vyacheslav Kevorkov for Russia, and Egon Bahr for Germany. They prepared the 1970 Moscow Treaty, under which the Federal Republic of Germany for the first time recognized the inviolability of the postwar borders in Europe, and this was a very painful issue for the Germans. By the way, so the USSR promised not to interfere with the possible unification of Germany by peaceful means in the future. The Moscow Treaty formed the basis of a peace treaty with Poland, and during a visit there, Willy Brandt knelt before the monument to the victims of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. And as early as 1971, according to the Quadripartite Treaty, Federal Germany officially refused to recognize West Berlin as its integral part. A year later, the Founding Treaty between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany was signed, under which the two German states were mutually recognized, and West Germany eventually abandoned the Hallstein Doctrine that granted it exclusive representation of the German people as a whole. In 1973 the German Democratic Republic was admitted to the UN.

With current German foreign policy planners, this is almost impossible. Even though the West still continues to believe that it is the exclusive center of world politics. Roth and his ilk seem to have overlooked the role of China, India and other rapidly expanding states in the non-Western world.

Instead of objective rethinking, Roth proposes military escalation and militarization, noting the creation of a special fund for the Bundeswehr in the amount of 100 billion euros and the strengthening of NATO's eastern flank as key decisions. He goes on to state that “the new Ostpolitik, in addition to its governmental aspect, must also have a solid civil society base. The Russian component should include maintaining contacts with Russian civil society, protecting dissidents in exile, and providing a safe haven. The Eastern European component should include strengthening civil society there, as it is key to the transition of these countries and should support exchanges between civil societies in Europe”. And these are nothing but the tools of “colored revolutions” and meddling in the affairs of other states, in this case in the affairs of Russia.

Roth is right only about the fact that “we are living in troubled times”. But this turmoil started in the West and is spreading from the West. The West has forgotten its historical roots, erased its traditional culture, and even Mikael Roth has completely perverted the essence of “Eastern politics”, offering instead a new “crusade” against Russia.

No one is asking Olaf Scholz to go to the Donbass and take a knee. But a true “eastern policy” of Germany would only be possible if Berlin stopped supporting the criminal regime in Kiev and took part in the denazification of Ukraine.

Translation by Costantino Ceoldo