mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
East vs West
Germany Takes a Harder Line against Russia

As Russian troops conduct drills barely a kilometer away from the border with Ukraine, Western leaders are growing angrier with Moscow. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been taking an increasingly hard line on the Kremlin’s recent behavior, as the FT reports:

Until now, Ms Merkel had been signalling that Germany would support bigger penalties on Moscow only in the event of direct Russian aggression.

Now the Chancellor has expressed her displeasure more clearly:

Ms Merkel publicly warned Russia that it faced imminent sanctions because it had failed to rein in separatist groups that have occupied government buildings in eastern cities, part of the agreement reached in last week’s Geneva agreement to calm rapidly escalating tensions.

Germany’s tougher stance on Russian aggression is an important development in European international relations. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Jakob Mischke and Andreas Umland call it “more than just a temporary shift”—indeed, a “new era” for German foreign policy.

Previously, Germany’s Russia policy (called “Neue Ostpolitik” or new eastern policy) was one of cooperation and non-interference. As a result, Mischke and Umland write, “tensions between Germany and the communist bloc diminished, and economic ties grew.” Recently, and especially during the Ukraine crisis, Merkel’s administration grown more willing to confront Moscow. In his inaugural speech last December, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former champion of close relations with Russia, condemned in no uncertain terms “the violence perpetrated by the Ukrainian security forces against peaceful demonstrators on Maidan Square.” He accused Russia of taking “advantage of Ukraine’s desperate economic situation to block the EU association agreement.”

Russia’s ongoing support of separatist unrest in east Ukraine has irritated Merkel, and she has been frank about it. In a recent speech, she lamented, “Russia has the power, or could have the power, to bring the separatists on to a peaceful path of discussions about the constitution and preparations for elections, but such signals are unfortunately lacking.”

Not everyone in Berlin is willing to confront Moscow, however, including some members of Merkel’s coalition. Members of her own party have criticized the government’s angry response to the Ukraine crisis, with one prominent leader calling it “highly problematic.” If Merkel grows increasingly confrontational toward Russia, as she seems to be doing, it will be interesting to see how both Germany’s politicians and its public react to this apparent shift in the country’s foreign policy.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Bretzky1

    Merkel can huff and puff all she wants, but unless Russia actually marches troops into Poland, the German electorate won’t let her do anything of real substance about Russia. For all practical purposes, the German people now see themselves as a neutral third party between the West and Russia.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service