Monthly Mind February 2014: "It's not going to work without Russia"

At an event of the "Ost-Ausschuss der Deutschen Wirtschaft" (German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations) in Berlin, Wolfgang Ischinger addressed the current state of German and European relations with Russia. "I am opposed to sugercoating Russian policies", he said. But "we are unable to create European security in opposition to Russia just as we are unable to resolve crises such as the Syrian one without or in opposition to Russia."

Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference (Photo: Kuhlmann).

ministers, state secretaries, members of the German Bundestag,
esteemed members and guests of the Ost-Ausschuss der Deutschen Wirtschaft (German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations),
ladies and gentlemen,

we are only 50 meters from the Brandenburg Gate. There is no greater symbol for the separation and the reunification of Germany and Europe than this gate. And there is hardly a  German institution which dedicated itself so wholeheartedly to the creation of "a Europe whole and free" as the Ost-Ausschuss.

I regret, ladies and gentlemen, that we have as yet been unable to reach this target of a genuinely unified Europe and a genuine Euro-Atlantic security community. I regret that, at the beginning of 2014, we were forced to note that it has not yet been possible to overcome the mentality patterns and clichés that date back to the Cold War - on both sides of the divide. Indeed we continue to regard one another - in spite of diverse and often rather formal proclamations of partnership - as opponents rather than as genuine partners. I regret that mistrust still has the upper hand. Unfortunately, in both Moscow and Washington, strategists continue to think of one another in military "zero sum" categories. Regrettably, strategic nuclear weapons, as well as tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Europe, continue to be directed against one another, with brief warning signals, as though the Cold War were not over yet. All to often, we still work against one another instead of with one another - in spite of the many obvious common geostrategic, political and economic interests.

So there is still a lot to be done.

Why is the Ukraine in such dire straits? Why have we all continued to look on - helpless and perplexed - for almost three years now, while the Syrian tragedy continues to infect the entire Middle East? With by now just under 150,000 dead and millions of refugees? What has become of the much-praised international "responsibility to protect"? Why do we experience all these frozen situations, all these crises and relapses - in Bosnia, Georgia, Transnistria? In Nagorno-Karabakh?


Naturally we can identify multiple factors and causal chains for all crises. But all these examples have one thing in common: the lack of a common strategic approach agreed by East and West, by Europe, the US and Russia. And the lack of a basic level of mutual trust.

Just to be clear: it is certainly not our fault that the situation is the way it is. But it would also be a mistake to hold Moscow alone responsible for the blatant failure of the partnership between Russia and the EU that had been so beautifully conceived.
I am opposed to sugercoating Russian policies and Putin's decisions - but I am also against bashing Russia and against finger-pointing and lecturing Russia from a moral high ground. We have not forgotten the history of the first half of the 20th century - and we do not want and must not ignore it, especially as far as our relationship with Russia is concerned.

Let me formulate two simple guiding principles from my many years as German diplomatic negotiator in crises between East and West.

1. It’s not going to work without Russia. We are unable to create European security in opposition to Russia just as we are unable to resolve crises such as the Syrian one without or in opposition to Russia. A year ago I wrote in a newspaper article that "the road to Damascus leads via Moscow" and was much criticized for this. I nevertheless feel that I was right. A current example is the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

2. Developing a joint strategic approach together with Russia is by no means an impossibility: just think of the Iranian crisis where Moscow has been proven to be a good, constructive partner in the "3+3" group, and this over many years. Just think of Afghanistan, where Russia is also providing assistance with the withdrawal operations. Or just think of the terrible Balkan Wars - Bosnia, Kosovo - where a solution became possible as soon as Moscow joined the Contact Group at the negotiating table. This may not have been the solution we had wished for, but it was one that was practicable. Why, may I ask, do we still not have a Contact Group for Syria? Because one wanted to keep Moscow out in the cold? Here, just as for the Ukrainian question, a workable solution can be found, even if it may not be our ideal one. I, for one, am convinced that in foreign policy there is nothing that can't be done - as long as we have the right strategy at the right time, as well as the necessary drive. Then, things can be done.

In this vein I would like to wish the Ost-Ausschuss the necessary drive in pushing for and implementing such important and appropriate goals as the free trade zone, visa waivers, the EU association, the European Economic Area and so on.
After all, one doesn't necessarily need to see the doctor if one has a vision - as Helmut Schmidt used to say. The vision of "a Europe whole and free" continues to remain a right one, just as the vision of a pan-European free trade zone and a Euro-Atlantic Security Community. And we will see it happen. With your help: It’s not going to work without Russia - just as I am certain that it’s not going to work without the Ost-Ausschuss.


Wolfgang Ischinger was State Secretary of the German Federal Foreign Office and German Ambassador in Washington and London. He is Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Global Head of Governmental Relations at Allianz SE.

27 February 2014, by Wolfgang Ischinger