It was a very self- assured Russian President Putin who presented himself to the Russian governing bodies and people as well as to the world public in his address on March 18th. What the President signaled is that Russia is no longer willing to “react” to what has been perceived as continuous “Russia bashing” and “humiliation”, but that it will “act” instead. Putin used a metaphor in order to describe Russia’s reaction. He made reference to the “infamous strategy of containment” which was led against Russia in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and is still continuing today. “They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner because we have an independent position.” Putin accused the West for having “crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsible and unprofessionally, putting Russia in a position which it could not retreat from: “If you compress the spring all the way to its limit, it will snap back hard. You must always remember this.”
Despite the harsh rhetoric expressed from the side of the US and the EU who decided upon a series of sanctions (including a blacklist for Russian decision makers and people allegedly close to Putin, including Russian railroad minister Yakunin, as well as Ria Novosti editor Kisseljov) a lot of caution has been expressed by German industry representatives as well as senior foreign politicians, including acting German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier. One should remember that if economic sanctions were applied, German industry as well as the World economy would suffer. German exports to Russia are worth $ 36 billion and vice versa from Russia to Germany $ 44 billion.
Senior German politician demands “common European security space”
In an address given in front of the German-Russian Forum (whose chairman has been up to now former German Ambassador to Moscow H.J. von Studnitz) in Berlin, March 19th, German Foreign Minister F. W. Steinmeier in a frank way expressed his personal disappointment over the renewed crisis in German- Russian relations, presenting the main principles of Germany’s actual foreign policy in respect to Russia. Steinmeier warned that the “correction of borders” 70 years after world war II could open a “box of Pandora” in particular for Russia – a nation with 120 different ethnic peoples- and he expressed the concern that all kinds of ethnic minorities could feel encouraged and put into question existing borders. Hence his strong demand to follow the “spirit of Helsinki” according to which no nation has the right to act as “protective military power” for minorities (including Russia). Steinmeier called for a mission of OSCE delegates to the Ukraine and appealed to Russia to refrain from further military actions and keep the unity of the Ukrainian country. At the same time he expressed the hope that Russia together with the EU will act to solve the crisis in Ukraine.
Similarly senior German politicians, former German Foreign Minister H. D. Genscher – one of the main architects of German Reunification- in a TV debate (20.03.14) with Russian Ambassador to Berlin, Wladimir M. Grinin as well as EU Parliament President Martin Schulz stressed that was needed now is an effort from both the EU and Russia to realize a “common European energy, economic and security space.” He was echoed by the Russian Ambassador to Berlin, who stated that Russia had no interest to escalate militarily further in the Ukraine and that indeed a dialogue between EU and Russia is desirable.
Some key aspects in the Russian President’s speech
In his speech the President Putin qualified events in the Ukraine as being only a “mirror” for what is going and for what was happening in the world over the past two decades. Exemplary are the Balkan wars in the beginning 1990ies, in particular the Kosovo war, preceded by Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia. The Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, the colored revolutions in Eastern Europe, NATO’s expansion toward the East and the continuous debate on missile defense, where Russia has been denied any cooperation; he also added the failed Arab spring, the Libya invasion and lastly the Ukraine crisis, which after the agreement negotiated between 3 EU Foreign ministers and leading representatives from the Ukraine opposition (Febr.21) had been declared null and void, followed by events which took a dynamic on its own that turned virtually within a few weeks “into a strategic crisis”, as result of which a referendum was held on the Crimea. According to the Russian President the referendum in Crimea in which 96% spoke out in favor of reuniting with Russia, was held in full compliance with democratic procedures and international norms.
Putin expressed his solidarity with the people in Ukraine. He stated that he was in sympathy with those Ukraine citizens who came out on the Majdan with peaceful slogans against corruption, inefficient state management and poverty. Citizens, as he put it (…) “who are disillusioned by the corrupt generations of politicians who fought among themselves for power, assets and cash flows and did not care about the ordinary people. They did not wonder why it was that millions of Ukrainian citizens saw no prospects at home and went to other countries to work as day laborers.” He emphasized that last year alone almost 3 Mio people found such jobs in Russia.
Interesting were also the remarks made by former foreign policy advisor of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, as well as former chairman of the prestigious Munich security Conference, Dr. Horst Teltschik, who during a TV debate some days ago emphasized that “you cannot conduct a dialogue if you principally believe that everything which is said is a lie.” Teltschik stated further that “historical comparisons” are unnecessary since they don’t lead us any further.