History overshadows Germany’s relations with Russia, greatly complicating Berlin’s efforts to design effective policies to manage the challenge posed by Russia to Europe’s stability.
After 1991, Germany focused heavily on ‘soft’ power by promoting people-to-people contacts and encouraging trade. Grateful for Moscow’s blessing of reunification and anxious to avoid confrontation, German policymakers ignored Russia’s drift to authoritarianism, the latter’s growing confidence fuelled by high commodity prices and its gradual alienation from Europe.
Confrontation was inevitable once Russia no longer felt bound by the security principles that ended the Cold War. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a deep shock to the German elites. It caused a sharp shift in Russia policy as Chancellor Merkel led a European response to stabilize Ukraine that included imposing economic sanctions on Russia.
However, true to its old instincts, Germany continued to promote energy co-operation with Russia. Its support for the expansion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline damaged relations with Ukraine and several EU and NATO member states that saw Germany disregarding broader European interests.
Angela Merkel is the European leader with the greatest experience of dealing with Moscow and arguably the best understanding of Russia thanks to her East German background and her knowledge of Russian.
The speakers also discuss John Lough’s new book Germany’s Russia Problem (Manchester University Press, July 2021).
John Lough, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House
Ralf Fücks, Managing Director, Center for Liberal Modernity
Orysia Lutsevych, Head and Research Fellow, Ukraine Forum, Russia and Eurasia Programme