Steinmeier on Belarus

Well, following up the last post on Belarus, it seems that German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has mirrored what went on in that Patterson School command post exercise to an eerie degree. In the simulation, apparently, Gerhard Schröder made a fool of himself by lining up with the Russians…and, strange to tell, Steinmeier has done so too, at least in the eyes of Transitions Online’s Belarusoblogger.

Seems he’s arguing for a “measured” approach and more “dialogue” with the Belarus government – or to put it another way, doing nothing. Is it “the natural gas, stupid”? Perhaps. One of the delivery pipelines from Russia to Germany (the Yuma pipeline) passes through Belarus, but German policy seems to be more about bypassing the Central Europeans, and surely (as I blogged regarding the Ukrainian gas crisis) it would be in the EU’s interest to limit the degree to which Russia can disaggregate the customer states.

Deeper than that, I think it’s fair to say that Germany – or to be more accurate, the German foreign policy establishment – has an enduring preference for Moscow. As far back as Willy Brandt, in fact. The Treaty of Moscow in 1970 preceded the Treaty of Warsaw and the Grundlagenvertrag with East Germany, and extensive partnership agreements were signed with Gorbachev as a preliminary (indeed a quid pro quo) to the reunification. Timothy Garton Ash, I think, remarked that “this Germany and all previous Germanies have a special interest in good relations with Moscow”.

This was obviously true regarding Deutschlandpolitik and reunification–the Ostpolitik was a prerequisite of the Deutschlandpolitik. But is it still true now? Clearly the degree of hostility between Germany and Russia is much less, which is all good, but the degree of interdependence is much greater. And the conflicts of interest are hardly less.

One thing the German policy establishment did well in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was to synchronise their own policy with that of the EU. It would seem that a tension is emerging.

13 thoughts on “Steinmeier on Belarus

  1. the German foreign policy establishment – has an enduring preference for Moscow

    Germany needs Moscow. It doesn’t need Minsk. It has little need for Kiev, and, truth be told, if forced to decide, it needs Moscow more than Warsaw.
    Russia is still a world power. It may be in relative decline, but so is Europe. In contrast to that, I wouldn’t bet a limb on Belarus being an independant country in ten years.

    Timothy Garton Ash, I think, remarked that “this Germany and all previous Germanies have a special interest in good relations with Moscow”

    To explain this, all you need is a map, preferably one that shows pipelines and natural resources.

    One thing the German policy establishment did well in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was to synchronise their own policy with that of the EU. It would seem that a tension is emerging.

    That’s jumping a little short. The most vocal opposition is coming from the new members and most of the old members in the end don’t care.

    How large can the EU grow and retain common goals in foreign policy?

    On a philosophical note, how much do we want to undermine the Westphalian system? If the choice of leaders is no longer an internal matter, there are no internal matters. If we ever find ourselves on the receiving end of such treatment, we are in trouble. In the mean time, we are undermining the basis of peaceful co-existance.

  2. Well, pipelines to Europe are shorter. By default we are better customers than China.
    Secondly, the European political risk is lower.
    On the third hand, how many papers of intent are signed without resulting actions?

  3. This German cravenness toward Russia is profoundly depressing. Not only is Russia no longer a world power, but it is getting weaker, not stronger, over time. How much more blatant lying from German politicians do we have to put up with: “Putin is a democrat”, “Russia is free”, etc.

    As long as this goes on and French pussy-footing with China continues, I don’t want to hear any more lectures on American hypocrisy from Europeans.

  4. Regarding the map with pipelines and natural resources…

    The EU policy that is emerging on this is (at least in the short term) one of acting as a consumers’ cartel and trying to prevent disaggregation, as well as signing up transit states (see the energy community agreement in the Balkans) so the Russians cannot play them off against the consumers. The Germans, though, seem to be at one remove from this.

  5. Yes. Well, here is a mail (in German and Swedish) I received today. People are being arrested, among them the publicist and essayist Andrej Dynko.

    In the face of that I can’t really care much about the history of German-Russian friendship. If the EU doesn’t take a stand now, what’s the point in talking about Europe?

    http://salongen.de/notiser/?p=405

  6. Not only is Russia no longer a world power, but it is getting weaker, not stronger, over time.

    So is every European country. How does it change relative importance?

    How much more blatant lying from German politicians do we have to put up with: “Putin is a democrat”, “Russia is free”, etc.

    Who takes this at face value? It simply means: “We want gas, oil, and above all, peace. Democracy is secondary.” Political correctness makes it impossible today to flatly state that democracy is not something to be sought at all costs.

    acting as a consumers’ cartel and trying to prevent disaggregation, as well as signing up transit states

    That is sensible while negotiating prices and influence. But what when the stuff really is running out, as it will in the forseable future? Exporting gas while people are jobless due to gas shortages is unpopular, while they are cold at home, almost unthinkable.

    I don’t want to hear any more lectures on American hypocrisy from Europeans.

    This is indeed a reasonable request.

  7. The pipelines to China may be longer, but investment funds from China carry less conditions than those from the EU. So if Russia has to choose how to fund pipelines or production plant it may well take Chinese funds.

  8. The EU is no longer French, Dutch or German only (old members). Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and others have a different view on Belarussia. And some of their politicians were in Minsk this week. The same in Kiev 2004.

  9. “It would seem that a tension is emerging.”
    Not necessarily.
    In the case of Russia, there is no point to denying the fact that the slow emergence of Russian democracy is the result of the Soviet Union´s defeat in the Cold war – rather similar to the Weimar Republic´s origins in Germany´s defeat in WWI. Russia´s problem doesn´t appear to be that a freedom-loving majority is being suppressed against its own will – just as German political culture after WWI wasn´t one of undisputed popular allegiance to democracy among all strata of society.
    There are Anglo-Saxon voices sharing the views AFOE attributes to the German foreign-policy establishment – among them Bill Browder, currently expelled from Russia (and probably noticing that the value of his fund´s investments in Russia rose by more than 40% during hus enforced absence).
    So who is AFOE´s Russia watcher? Looking out for fault lines in the EU isn´t half as interesting as presenting a really convincing analysis of where Russia is headed in the future (which I find extremely hard to do).
    The idea that the gas deal with China is compatible with the notion that Russia is “getting weaker” and has ceased to be a global power is just hilarious – about as ridiculous as assuming that Iraq and Iran have just been sweeped off the map into some ethereal posthistoire or are at least about to be transformed into candidates for admission as the 53rd and 54th state of the U.S. resp.

    It is not utterly unthinkable that some in the German foreign policy establishment do realize that there is a parallel between Russia and Weimar Germany. What would the correct attitude towards Weimar Germany have been? The EU could ultimately come to conceive of itself as literally being the union of all European states – which would include Russia. Even if it didn´t, reducing the question of the best European strategy towards Russia to an oil-and-gas issue is an absolute non-starter. I would vouch for the majority of German policymakers to have enough of a sense of history to not see Russia as being just another energy exporter like Saudi-Arabia.
    Some Anglo-Saxons appear to think that since they won WWII anyway, any thoughts about how it might have been prevented couldn´t possibly result in any useful insights. Germans don´t think in terms of wars they can´t possibly lose any longer. The question of how to keep Russia from crossing the line is not just worth serious consideration – it requires the attention of people with historical imagination. At a first approximation, the best policy toward Russia would be one that abstains from obstructing a government that manages to raise Russians´ living standards and thus creates the sociological base for truly democratic parties to take over at some point in the future. This doesn´t mean that there should be no criticism of human rights violations – it does mean, however, that Russia should be shown a path of convergence. The special status vis-á-vis the EU that many European conservatives wanted to attribute to Turkey would be a possible starting point in the case of Russia.
    Should the government decide to follow policies that destroy Russians´ living standards – as the IMF-inspired response to the Russian bond crisis did -, the deal would be off. Progress towards real democracy would be required for any level of cooperation going beyond mainly economic issues like trade, enhancing prospects of WTO membership etc.

    This is no mere fantasy. Currently the EU and Russia are working towards establishing a so-called Common Economic Space, which – as an official communique put it – “should contribute to anchor Russia in Europe and to enable it to fully benefit from the recent EU enlargement”.

  10. The problem with that, Herr Wenck, is that a current or near-future Russia is not something you’d want to bring into the European space. There’s a lot of dangerous undemocratic muck that needs reprocessing, and I don’t see the Russians as being interested in the enlargement process as hitherto perceived – they would rather alter the EU to suit them, essentially diluting its nature as a union of democratic states.

  11. The parallels?
    1) Losing a hot/cold war
    2) Losing colonies/territories/satellites
    3) Having to cope with massively reduced standards of living (Post-WWI German national income fell by 50%; Russian life expectancy fell by 7 years – both to a significant part due to external intervention)
    4) Having large minorities among the electorate that fondly remember the preceding autocratic regime
    (Obviously the chronology in the cases of Germany and Russia is not 100% identical, but that doesn´t detract from the similarity of circumstances)

    The point is whether there is a fifth parallel: a majority among the elite that is willing to commit treason in that they resolve to not just slow down the march to real democracy, but to turn the tide and eliminate the hope for change.

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