, Volume 92, Number 1

Tuomas Forsberg

 

 

Germany’s relationship with Russia has historically been one of the most crucial in shaping Europe’s fate. Despite radical transformation in the nature of European Great Power politics, it continues to be pertinent from the perspective of today’s world. Germany’s willingness to establish good relations with the Soviet Union in the late 1960s—its emphasis on economic relations and cooperation instead of political disagreements—prepared the ground for the end of the Cold War and German unification twenty years later. Germany’s basic policy towards Russia remained broadly unchanged despite German unification and changes in the domestic political coalitions and leadership, sometimes against political expectations. In the European context, Germany’s attitude towards Russia created the backbone of EU–Russia relations. During 2012–13, however, the continuity in Germany’s policy towards Russia was seen as having come to an end. Political twists came to the fore and the atmosphere was loaded with tensions, made worse by the Ukrainian crisis. This article reviews the recent, alleged changes in Germany’s policy towards Russia during the Merkel era. It asks two basic questions: first, whether Germany’s policy really has changed and if it has, what are the theoretical tools that give us the best potential understanding of these changes? The article argues that the policy has changed, but not as dramatically as made out by some headlines. Moreover, the article suggests that a key element in analysing the degree of change in Germany’s policy towards Russia is neither the external power relations nor domestic politics and related changes in the prevailing interpretation of national interest, though these are important too, but the interaction between the leaders and foreign policy elites.

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