The German Eastern policy is coming to its end with Berlin and Moscow acting as opponents on the Ukrainian issue. The fact is no news, however, the world Media have been busy speculating on it lately. Harshness of Angela Merkel’s anti-Russian speeches in the Australian Brisbane or the German Bundestag may not be blamed on pressure from the US. It is of Germany’s own interests to curb the Russian influence in Europe. But the understanding of this has come to Berlin only now against a background of the recent Ukrainian events.
It is not just today that Russia and the EU have started competing over Ukraine. The reason for this is in the inability of the Ukrainian political establishment to create a strong state that would be capable of making independent decisions and then adhering to them. Instead, Kiev has chosen the tactic of profiting from foreign powers ensuring their interests in the country.
The Ukrainian events are a part of rivalry for spheres of influence in the zero-sum game both for Germany and Russia, and there may not be two ways about it.
The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was not a public issue, and the negotiations over it were secretly continuing for seven years. The EU leaders – European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule as well as Angela Merkel – had been pressuring President Viktor Yanukovich since 2012, putting special emphasis on the fact that Ukraine cannot be a member of two integration blocs at the same time. Thus, Europe headed for weakening Ukraine’s dependence on Russia.
The Association Agreement is not only about economic integration. The parties to the Agreement commit themselves to coordination in foreign policy ‘with the aim to engage Ukraine in the European security zone’. On the threshold of the last year’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius the EU stopped demanding that Julia Timoshenko must be released immediately, whereas earlier it was stated as a necessary condition for the Association. Stefan Fule’s office called it ‘a smart chess move’.
Ukraine’s refusal to sign the Agreement came as a shock for Berlin and Brussels, turning the expected triumph of the Summit into a complete failure. Consequently, Yanukovich was claimed an authoritarian leader.
It is worth noticing that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who did not postpone, but refused to sign a similar Agreement, did not face a similar amount of criticism. Ukraine clearly means much more for the EU.
Meanwhile, Germany continued insisting – and, possibly, trusting – that it does not compete with Russia in Ukraine. This was mainly because Merkel considers herself a progressive world leader, who refrains from 20th century methods. But the problem is that it is not all 21st century in world politics today.
A whole generation of Germans, especially in the Eastern part of the country, have seen an unprecedented rise in development of Europe. For a long period the EU was the core of the continent, specifically after the Yugoslavian collapse. This resulted in Berlin’s loss of the sense that progress is fragile and reversible or that instability is there to fear. However, the situation used to be different as recently as 20 years ago, and ethnic conflicts in the post-Soviet space did not push Europe to interfere or doubt Russia’s peacekeeping efforts.
In the meantime, with the economic situation in the EU and Russia having significantly improved in the past years, Ukraine has been moving the opposite direction. German GDP per capita is more than 10 times higher than that in Ukraine (44,000 USD and 3,800 USD respectively), and hardly are Germans able to understand Ukrainians, who have witnessed a sharp decline in living standards and a deep political crisis. Economic collapse, mass radical nationalism and the state’s loss of its monopoly on violence – all the conditions favorable for a civilian conflict were there. In such a situation any provocations could have detonated back, and Moscow was constantly urging about this. However, Merkel – ‘a politician of the future’ – failed to discern these disturbing tendencies.
It is possible that the persistence, with which Germany was pushing Ukraine to make wrong decisions, stemmed from the sense of its moral superiority. Germany no longer felt constrained with the 20th century’s legacy. But its newly acquired self-confidence took a US-like shape.
The ‘European values’ resemble the American ‘freedom’, which Washington perceives as a final goal in the world development and therefore all means are justified, in its view. Following the US, Germany abandoned a scholar approach of regional studies and developed a Democratic peace theory perception. And this offensive liberalism, previously untypical for Germany, was directed at Ukraine.
Without making any effort to make a sober assessment of what is happening in the country, Berlin was carried away with protection of rights of a concrete person – Julia Timoshenko, instead. This prevented the German leadership from seeing the lack of difference between Timoshenko and other representatives of the Ukrainian establishment.
The abandonment of the scholar approach of regional studies led to a series of miscalculations in analysis, which can be seen in the arguments for Ukraine’s European choice. For instance, in the basis of the European logical assumptions is a belief that the Soviet Ukraine used to be a self-sufficient economic system, but with a planned economy – like Poland. The fact that Ukraine has been a part of industrial, trade and energy ties for centuries is not taken into account, or simply ignored. The conditions, in which the Ukrainian Soviet Republic was formed it its modern borders, and the fragility of the balance between the regions inside the country are not considered important as well. The magnitude of Germany’s and the EU’s disregard for the real problems in Ukraine became absurd. Preparing the Associating Agreement for signing, the EU did not make its Ukrainian- or Russian-language copy.
Finally, Germany showed serious lack of understanding of Russian interests and the existing interconnections between Russia and Ukraine. The refusal to discuss the Ukrainian issue with Moscow partly stems from the post-Eastern Germany complex, i.e. the necessity of Moscow’s approval of the key decisions in the times of the Socialist camp. In Angela Merkel’s view, this would mean that Russia will have to become a party to discussions on Serbia, the Western Balkans, Moldova and Georgia. However, it is a mistake to put these issues in line. The Russian border with Georgia and Ukraine may look the same, but the bilateral relations follow different logic. In the past 20 years Georgia has ceased the manufacturing cooperation with Russia, whereas Ukraine used to be the core of the united industrial system and continues working with the Russian military industrial complex. Demolition of this interdependency contradicts both Moscow’s and Kiev’s interests. But Germany chose to ignore this circumstance.
Miscalculations that have led to the Ukrainian crisis lay deeply in the German politics. Despite the debates unfolding in Germany on the correctness of the chosen course, Berlin is unlikely to deviate. Not only will Merkel’s Germany continue to keep to the common Western course, but it will also watch the discipline in the EU.
Being among the developed countries that are the main initiators and beneficiaries of globalization, Germany has her natural allies in the West. Russia is in fact a market and an energy supplier, although a strategic one. And in a situation of a serious clash of interests with Moscow it is a natural reaction for Berlin ‘to close ranks’.
Nonetheless, it is not as critical as it could be. Like the US, Germany does not strive to confront Russia. Berlin is confused and is trying to understand how the EU policies could have led to the current crisis. This will demand Merkel’s serious studying of the Ukrainian home politics, economy and the society. And the first step here is to constrain the brewing conflict between President Petro Poroshenko and Prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. This may be a way for Germany to leave some of its illusions behind and obtain a deeper understanding of the nature of the Ukrainian statehood and its interconnection with Russia.
The key question for Russia is whether the Operation Atlantic Resolve will become the start of permanent stationing of American and NATO forces in the countries of former Warsaw Pact and the post-Soviet space. Moscow insists that its security needs be taken into account, whereas the American leadership believes that the motives of Russia stem from “misinterpretations and outdated thinking”.
Although coping with sanctions, plummeting oil prices and a devalued ruble is challenging, it is paramount that Russian leaders continue to spend time and energy to address the economy’s structural problems and give it a new focus. That is the path to creating an economy that is stronger, more efficient and more flexible in the years to come.
Western governments locked up in short electoral cycles are bound to continue same policies towards Russia.
It seems to me that George Friedman’s geopolitical doctrine simplifies both the international reality and the liberal ideas of the American mainstream. Acceptance of the reality of the existing balance of powers, aspiration for preserving stability and guidance by the international law – these are the key ingredients in the realist policies recipe that the US still fail to manage.