On the occasion of new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s visit to Moscow, OneWorld is publishing the full text of the interview on Russian-German relations that Andrew Korybko gave last month to Parth Satam, some excerpts of which were published in Financial Express’ article earlier this month titled “Scholz’s Outreach Shows Germany’s Russia-Friendly ‘Russlandversteher’ still have Pull”.
1. The new German govt under Olaf Scholtz seems to continue predecessor Angela Merkel’s policy of engaging Russia by not jumping on the US bandwagon. This is despite new FM Annalena Baerbock herself being hawkish on Russia but Scholtz, his SPD party & the Free Liberals (FDP) having a sizeable lobby that advocates engagement with Russia. A telephone call between Lavrov & Baerbock initiated from the German side indicated that Baerbock might have to adjust to the reality of engaging with Russia & accept her coalition govt’s position on Moscow. Do you see US eventually receiving a cold shoulder from Berlin over Russia?
Just like the US’ permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) are divided between anti-Russian and anti-Chinese factions, so too are Germany’s divided between what can be simplified as Russian-friendly and anti-Russian ones. Merkel’s rule saw the former taking precedence over the latter though it must still be remembered that her government also went along with the US’ anti-Russian sanctions. Nevertheless, Merkel’s support of Nord Stream II and personal diplomacy with President Putin helped to pragmatically manage relations between these Great Powers.
Her exit from the political scene has complicated Germany’s intra-“deep state” dynamics in such a way that the anti-Russian faction has achieved comparative gains as evidenced by Baerbock’s antagonistic statements as of late. The prior balance that Merkel maintained is being destabilized as these factions more intensely compete with one another for influence in the new domestic political environment created by her departure. This will in turn likely make relations with Russia more unpredictable since each faction is extremely passionate about advancing their respective vision.
One probable scenario is that Germany will pursue what might appear to be “contradictory” relations with Russia: on one hand, it might maintain some of Merkel’s legacy, but on the other, it’ll also likely seek to pursue its hegemonic European interests in ways that are contrary to Russia’s and thus by default complement American aims. In practice, this can take the form of delaying but not cancelling Nord Stream II in parallel with strengthening Germany’s strategic influence along the EU’s eastern frontiers, including up to and perhaps even within Ukraine.
The Chinese angle also shouldn’t be omitted from this analysis either. Germany, as the EU’s de facto leader, is crucial for defining the bloc’s relations with the People’s Republic. It clinched the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with it last December yet the US immediately pressured it to delay approval by politicizing the pact via the Uyghur/”human rights”/”democracy” pretexts. The present continuance of this policy by the new German government, which might of course change with time, speaks to its difficulty in independently pursuing relations with non-Western Great Powers.
Nevertheless, if the US and Russia agree to a so-called “non-aggression pact” for responsibly regulating their rivalry in Europe like Presidents Putin and Biden are attempting to do through their last two meetings in just half a year’s time, then Germany might fall in line with its American ally’s vision. The purpose in de-escalating tensions would be for the US to redeploy some of its and its ally’s military assets there to the “Indo-Pacific” in order to more aggressively “contain” China. In such a scenario, the Russian-friendly German “deep state” faction’s vision would complement the US’ anti-Chinese one.
In other words, Germany will continue to struggle to express a sovereign policy when it comes to its relations with those two non-Western Great Powers. Its intra-“deep state” dynamics will be disproportionately influenced by the US’ own with respect to the competition between its presently prevailing anti-Chinese faction and the meddlesome anti-Russian one that’s trying to sabotage the progress that’s been made towards a “non-aggression pact” with Russia. In this context, it’s difficult to predict that Germany will confidently formulate independent policies towards either Russia or China.
2. Is it the Nord Stream 2, the gas lifeline for Germany and Europe, that is forcing Germany’s accommodative stand on Russia or an inherent sentiment of the Russlandversteher (or Russia apologists as they are called in Germany)?
Germany’s ambitions are to remain the most powerful force in Europe, though unlike in the past, this time without firing a single shot. It aims to do so via the export of its liberal-globalist ideology to all the bloc’s members, aggressively enforcing compliance with it upon those wayward members like Poland whose conservative-nationalist governments deviate from this vision on the domestic level, and maintaining its dominant trade relations with the EU’s Central European members. Nord Stream II, despite being an apolitical project, nevertheless has a strategic purpose in this context.
Not only will it significantly bolster the EU’s energy security through reliable imports of Russian resources, but it’ll also make Germany the continent’s most important hub for this too. Neither Moscow nor Berlin plan to “instrumentalize” (“weaponize”) this relationship since each equally depends on the other given their buyer-seller market relationship, but there’s also no denying that Nord Stream II will increase Germany’s influence in Europe due to its role in facilitating the transit of Russian resources to the rest of the bloc’s members.
With this in mind, Nord Stream II does indeed have a certain strategic utility for Germany in the larger EU context, though once again observers must be reminded that Berlin is unlikely to “instrumentalize” (“weaponize”) this. Moreover, Moscow would be against its partner doing such since that would risk politicizing the issue of Russian resource imports and thus discrediting the Kremlin’s consistent claims that this is a strictly apolitical project. In any case, Germany’s indirect energy role over the rest of the EU via Nord Stream II will at the very least reinforce the perception of its leadership over the bloc.
As was explained, this strategy is driven by that country’s national interests as its leadership understands them to be and isn’t influenced by the Russlandversteher, though that so-called “lobbying force” also plays a role in attempting to shape Germany’s relations with Russia. In particular, this term is usually applied to those business communities whose interests suffered as a result of their government complying with the US’ anti-Russian sanctions demands. Although they have self-interested reasons in lobbying for their removal, this policy is also objectively in Germany’s national interests as well.
German companies lost plenty of revenue due to those sanctions, which in turn also adversely affected the government’s tax revenues. Furthermore, the externally influenced worsening of German-Russian economic relations due to American pressure reversed the prior diversification of their relations and resulted in them becoming largely energy-centric through Nord Stream II. This in turn reduced the strength of bilateral ties, which thus made it less likely for them to comprehensively negotiate understandings on other issues of mutual concern such as Ukraine.
Had German-Russian economic ties remained strong without American meddling, then it’s more probable that the situation in that third country would have stabilized much sooner through those two Great Powers working to reach a pragmatic understanding on resolving its ongoing civil war. This insight suggests that while critics accuse the Russlandversteher of being driven by purely self-interested economic motives, their lobbying efforts actually advance Germany’s national interests, which in the Ukrainian context would have also advanced the EU’s.
The bigger picture is that so-called Russlandversteher are German national assets whose pragmatic efforts to improve bilateral relations with Russia in the economic dimension have been regrettably politicized and subsequently discredited by that country’s anti-Russian “deep state” faction as part of the US’ larger Hybrid War on Russia via its EU proxies. It’s objectively in German, and thus also EU, national interests for those two to repair their US-damaged economic ties in order for Berlin to restore its balancing act between Washington and Moscow and thus stabilize the EU’s eastern periphery.
3. Germany is balancing between Russia and US where it asks for sanctions relief on Nord Stream 2 while also allowing US missiles as a part of NATO to be kept on its eastern front. Does Russia understand Germany’s position or will it protest the placement of these weapons as Ukraine hikes tension with Russia and protests NATO’s eastward expansion?
Russia has no problem with any of its partners independently cultivating any manner of relations with third countries so long as they’re not driven by any intention to harm its interests, not to mention the outcome of their relations resulting in such. The example provided indisputably harms Russia’s national security interests and has thus been vehemently criticized by the Kremlin on multiple occasions. That’s actually why President Putin publicly proposed reaching a legal agreement with NATO for halting the bloc’s eastward expansion, including its informal expansion through military deployments in Ukraine.
Moscow seems to acutely understand Berlin’s geostrategic predicament of struggling to formulate truly independent policies towards non-Western Great Powers such as Russia considering Washington’s predominant influence over the EU’s de facto leader, but it’s also not going to keep quiet when its national interests are threatened as a result of Germany’s imperfect balancing act. Russia has no delusions of US troops leaving Germany, but it also doesn’t want that country’s influence there to continue shifting its host state’s intra-“deep state” dynamics in favor of its anti-Russian faction.
Germany must prove its Great Power credentials by responsibly managing these dynamics in order to improve its balancing act between the US and Russia so that it doesn’t continue shifting in the former’s favor at the latter’s expense as has been hinted by the new Foreign Minister’s hostile statements against Moscow as of late. Only by proverbially getting its own house (in this case, “deep state”) in order can Germany regain its geopolitical composure and thus more effectively advance its continental agenda of maintaining its indisputable leadership over the bloc’s many members.
The current confusion in German foreign policy has given space for France to once again compete with it as the EU’s leader, not to mention emboldening countries like Poland to continue carving out their own “sphere of influence” within the bloc’s Central European members via the Warsaw-led “Three Seas Initiative” (3SI) that unofficially serves as America’s divide-and-rule platform for keeping Germany and Russia apart. Put another way, post-Merkel EU has become unstable since Germany’s “deep state” divisions returned to the fore and created space for France and Poland to rise.
This has consequently complicated other Great Powers’ relations with the EU as a whole since they’d hitherto taken for granted that they can manage relations with its many countries via Germany, which is no longer as easily the case as it once was due to the new French and Polish factors that became more self-evident ahead of the inevitable post-Merkel reality that everyone is now operating in. Russia and China find it more difficult to interact with the EU due to the US’ divide-and-rule strategy comparatively succeeding through the aforementioned means of gradually diversifying the bloc’s leaders.
In practice, what’s happened is that the recent emboldening of Germany’s anti-Russian “deep state” by Merkel’s departure occurred concurrently with France’s attempt to challenge that country for leadership of the EU while Poland opportunistically saw the chance to advance its regional aims in partial coordination with the US. All of this has led to more political uncertainty, which in turn is contributing to the continent’s destabilization. As a result, it’s become much more likely that the only solution is for the US and Russia to successfully clinch a “non-aggression pact” for restoring stability.
Some excerpts from this interview were included in Parth Satam’s article for Financial Express titled “Scholz’s Outreach Shows Germany’s Russia-Friendly ‘Russlandversteher’ still have Pull”.