Germany, Relations with
- The modern era of Russo-German relations began during the partition of Poland in the late 18th century. First as Prussia and then as the Hohenzollern Empire, the two states shared a common border until World War I (1914–1918). After the cessation of hostilities, Weimar Germany and Soviet Russia were separated by a band of new states hostile to both countries; the two found common cause in the 1920s and signed the Treaty of Rappallo. The rise of Nazism created an ideological dilemma for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); however, the two parties did agree on spheres of interest during the interwar period, realized in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939). However, mutual vilification, ideological opposition, and Rassenkampf (racial conflict) characterized the relationship between the two countries during World War II.A victorious Joseph Stalin stripped Germany of its territory east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, dividing it between Poland and the Kaliningrad Oblast of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Stalin’s postwar worldview involved either a crippled, neutral German state or a dismembered Germany. With the merger of the American, British, and French zones of occupation in 1949, he was forced to settle for the latter and oversaw the creation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). East Germany was subjected to Soviet occupation and heavy reparations during the early Cold War, and eventually fell far behind its Western counterpart in terms of economic output. The GDR, after an anti-Stalinist uprising in 1953, proved to be a dependable Soviet ally within the Eastern Bloc. West German inclusion into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its subsequent rearmament were ill-received by Moscow, while millions of West German Vertriebenen (German: “expellees” from Eastern Europe) turned the Federal Republic of Germany (FDR) into an anti-Soviet firebrand in the 1950s. However, relations between West Germany and the Soviet Bloc improved markedly with the advent of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s (1969–1974) Ostpolitik (Eastern Policy), a policy of rapprochement based on cultural and economic collaboration.During the fateful year of 1989, East German leader Erich Honecker began to crack down ever more violently on dissidents and all East Germans who tried to flee to the West. His refusal to implement policies complementary with Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost further caused his popularity to plummet. His removal on 18 October 1989 and the enunciation of the so-called Sinatra Doctrine by the Kremlin several days later signaled the end of Soviet domination over its Warsaw Pact allies. After initially hedging on a unified Germany’s membership in NATO, Gorbachev ultimately removed all barriers to the abolition of East Germany and incorporation of its territory into the FDR in the summer of 1990. The Soviet military withdrew from the region in 1991.German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982–1998) oversaw the process of German unification and worked to develop strong relations with an independent Russia after 1991, including backing Russia’s admission to the Group of Eight (G8). His personal relationship with Russian President Boris Yeltsin was particularly strong; however, the Russian ruble crisis of 1998 and Kohl’s difficult (and ultimately unsuccessful) reelection campaign in the late 1990s caused the “strategic partnership” to stagnate, though the period saw the implementation of annual bilateral meetings known as the German-Russian Governmental Consultations. Angered by NATO’s eastward expansion, Yeltsin tried to cobble together a Moscow-Bonn-Paris axis to counteract American hegemony during this period, to no avail.When Gerhard Schröder came to power in 1998, he quickly moved to establish contacts with a wider array of Russian elites, effectively ignoring Yeltsin as a lame duck. While Schröder openly criticized the personalization of Russo-German relations during the Yeltsin-Kohl years (derisively called the “sauna friendship”), he eventually became very close to Vladimir Putin. Schröder actively engaged Russia as an arbiter of the conflict in Yugoslavia (however, Schröder, unlike his predecessor, adamantly condemned Russian actions during the second Chechen War), and worked to create a new era of diplomatic and economic relations bereft of the long-standing enmity that characterized the Cold War.In 2001, Putin, a former KGB officer who had been stationed in Dresden, made history by addressing the Bundestag in German. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Russo-German cooperation on counterterrorism increased rapidly. Expanding trade between the two countries (Germany is Russia’s biggest trading partner, topping $50 billion in 2007) has continued to ensure that serious friction between the two states is averted. Germany—attracted to Russian markets in the Putin-era boom years and dependent on Russian energy to drive its own economy—pursued ever closer ties with Moscow, particularly after the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 (which was strongly condemned in both Berlin and Moscow). The next year, Germany was instrumental in bringing Russia on board with the Kyoto Protocol. However, relations were complicated by Putin’s poor record on democracy and freedom of the press, as well as the Kremlin’s worsening relationship with the European Union. As chancellor, Schröder strongly backed the proposed Nord Stream natural gas pipeline linking Russia directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea (Russia supplies nearly half of Germany’s natural gas). This move infuriated Poland and the Baltic States, which viewed the route as an attempt to marginalize their positions within the EU’s energy security regime. Chancellor Angela Merkel (2005– ), who grew up in the GDR as the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, has taken a harder line with the Kremlin on democratization, human rights issues, and the country’s dealings with its neighbors in the near abroad. Furthermore, Merkel reversed Schröder’s neglect of the American relationship, somewhat tempering the Berlin-Moscow bond of the early years of the new millennium. Despite the slight vector change, Germany’s energy dependence demands a continuation of the strategic partnership between the former enemies. Dmitry Medvyedev’s decision to visit China on his first trip abroad as Russia’s new president was viewed as a slight to Germany; however, Germany’s top-tier role in Russia’s diplomatic relations was assured when Chancellor Merkel became the first foreign head of state to visit President Medvyedev in Moscow.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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