Monthly Mind October 2015: "Germany and Russia: From Failure to a New Beginning?"

"When we take stock of 25 years of German-Russian relations, we have to acknowledge that – unfortunately – our vision of a partnership of trust has failed," Wolfgang Ischinger writes in our latest Monthly Mind column and outlines elements of a strategy to bridge the growing gulf between Russia and the West.

Wolfgang Ischinger is chairman of the Munich Security Conference and teaches international politics at the Hertie School of Governance (Photo: Kuhlmann / MSC).

When we take stock of 25 years of German-Russian relations, we have to acknowledge that – unfortunately – our vision of a partnership of trust has failed.

Today we are facing the most dangerous crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Firstly, Europe's neighbourhood strategy has failed: instead of a ring of well-governed states outside the enlarged EU, we are today surrounded by unstable neighbourhoods, to the East and even more the South.

Secondly, the vision of a common European home has failed – of a home that includes a room for Russia as well.

For the EU and NATO, the inviolability of borders and the free choice of alliances, firmly agreed upon in Helsinki (1975) and Paris (1990), are central principles. By contrast, Russia continues to define its own security in a way that requires the insecurity and dependence of some of its neighbors. Thus, the question of the territorial status quo in Europe, which we thought had been answered more than two decades ago, is open once again, and not only as a consequence of Crimea.

The modernization of the Russian economy, society, and infrastructure has unfortunately moved down the Russian government's list of priorities. Russia is failing here, not only because it is hampering economic growth, but societal change and democracy as well. The result is a false stability that can make good use of an external enemy in order to distract from domestic stagnation.

It is here where the core of our mutual alienation lies: not in the West's NATO enlargement decisions, but in Russia itself.

In the following I briefly outline five elements of a Russia strategy seeking to bridge this gulf:

 

First: We most imminently and urgently need measures to reduce the danger of unintentional steps of military escalation between NATO and Russia. This also includes the revival of the NATO-Russia Council, which was never intended to be a fair-weather setup. If at all, it is needed during a crisis.


Second:
Whether our relations can improve in the medium-term will strongly depend on the capacity to overcome the Ukraine crisis. If Moscow's goal is to keep Ukraine permanently unstable, our relations will remain strained. Yet, if the Minsk parameters can lead to a solution – and here we do see some positive developments – perspectives for cooperation could once again open up.

 

Third: We should follow the idea of a dual strategy that dates back to the Harmel report. It includes, on the one hand, the robust defence of the NATO territory, international law, and the Helsinki acquis. On the other hand, we need to keep the door open when and if Moscow decides to turn West again.

 

Fourth: This is the hour of diplomacy: Through a new and robust diplomatic process, we must find out if we, all together, are able to reaffirm and, if necessary, complement the fundamental principles of European security, jointly agreed upon in Helsinki in 1975 and in Paris in 1990.

 

This cannot mean that we are prepared to weaken or compromise on any of these principles. Non-violence, the inviolability of borders and the free choice of alliances are non-negotiable.

 

From January 1, 2016, onwards, Germany will take over the Chairmanship of the OSCE. The suggested diplomatic process could thus be initiated by Berlin and supported by the OSCE Troika. Ideally, the process would culminate in a summit, a second Helsinki. Would Russia be ready to contribute?

 

Fifth: If this process is to be productive, Russia and Germany will have to play a key role – due to the historic experiences of the 20th century, the grand tradition of "Ostpolitik", and the German diplomatic efforts in the Ukraine crisis. No one has a greater interest in a stable and prosperous Russia than Germany.

 

Russia's greatness is not measured by the number of its nuclear warheads or soldiers. In the 21st century, greatness rather stems from economic power, harnessing human potential, a dynamic societal order and an internationally attractive education system. Greatness is measured by the power to shape: to convince is more important than to threaten, to involve is more important than to dominate, to win partners is more important than to contain enemies. We must hope that in the future, Moscow will share this vision of power and ambition.

 

After all, the future does not belong to those who only seek to preserve what has been achieved or to revive the past. The future belongs to dynamic societies that adapt to structural challenges, societies that do not fight against but embrace change. Might this be the common future task for Germany and Russia?

 

Wolfgang Ischinger is chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) and teaches international politics at the Hertie School of Governance. A slightly modified German version of this article appeared on October 22, 2015 on the occasion of the Petersburg Dialogue in the German newpaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung".

26 October 2015, by Wolfgang Ischinger

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