By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Never has there been more confusion and chaos in the East -West relations as it is the case now – a situation which was caused by the Nawalny case. The known opposition figure, who after a total physical collapse and hospitalization in a hospital in Omsk, had been transferred to the Berlin Charité Hospital to be further treated. The Charité doctors involved in the treatment of Nawalny who since Omsk had been put into an artificial coma, reported that there were indications for poisoning. On September 2nd the German Federal government declared that samples form the Charité hospital, having been investigated by a German Army Laboratory, had found traces of the nerve gas from the “Novichok group.” This finding was corroborated by a Swedish and a French Army Laboratory and the German government has transferred the results of the laboratory test to the OPCW in Den Haag waiting for further investigation. In the meantime Nawalny has been released from hospital to be further treated physio-therapeutically.
German –Russian relations in shambles
The case of Nawalny marks a dramatic turn in the relation between Russia and the West, in particular between Russia and Germany. Within a few weeks there was only one “line” hammered out in the European, German and US press: President Putin from Russia should be blamed to have personally been responsible for the poison attack against Nawalny (which is reminiscent of the London Skripal case two years ago) and Russia will have to face the strategic and economic consequences for this: A wave of harsh sanctions, including the probable cancellation of the prestigious German- Russian Baltic Sea “North Stream II gas pipeline project,” which is demanded from the EU parliament as well as from different German representatives. This means essentially that all established German and European channels of diplomatic dialogue are de facto frozen! 30 Years after the fall of the Berlin Wall (which Germany is going to celebrate on October 3rd 2020), that opened a new and promising era in East-West relations and gave hope that the Cold war had been overcome, European and in particular German -Russian relations are in shambles!
What is shocking, is the “tone” chosen by official political representatives, including at the beginning German Chancellor Merkel who had stated that Nawalny had “undoubtedly” been poisoned, threatening grave consequences, while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in line with several prominent politicians from the CDU and in particular from the Greenie Party called for the cancellation of North Stream II gas pipeline project. The only resistance which was courageously put against this came from the Prime Ministers of the five Eastern German Federal States (Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Mecklenburg- Western Pomerania and Brandenburg) who clearly emphasized that they disagreed with such a strategy and considered it a totally inappropriate response.
Voices of caution and reason in the Russia- bashing chorus
There are however some voices that can be heard from strategic circles as well as from German industry. An example is former foreign policy advisor of Chancellor Kohl, Dr. Horst Teltschik, who in an interview with “Die Welt” (23.09.20) urged France and Germany in particular to engage in mediation efforts toward Putin. In the interview Professor Teltschik warned not to draw too quickly conclusions and to blame all on Putin.
Being asked, who he thought was responsible for the attack with the nerve poison Novichok, Teltschik answered, that he was shocked that such a prominent critic of the Kremlin was supposed to be eliminated. “Whether the order for such action came from the very top, we don’t know. The Russian leadership apparatus is huge; there are several levels within the government and the secret services.” The suspicion that the top was involved, may also include some “oligarchs” or “representatives of the power structures”, for whom Nawalny could have become dangerous with his “revelations.” These could have had a motive. According to Teltschik certainly “this attack is a disaster for the relations between Russia, US, Germany and the Europeans!” He pointed out that President Putin, by avoiding any statement in respect to the attack, may have wanted to “draw a line between him and the case. He doesn’t want to upgrade the Russian opposition which is why he doesn’t name Nawalny by name.”
Being asked how he, who knows President Putin well, thought the German government should act, Teltschik responded: “For some I am called a ‘Putin- understander.’ This formula is meant as criticism and that is absurd. Before stating anything one should indeed understand something about a country and its leading representatives. I was for example involved in the preparation of Putin’s speech which he gave in front of the German Parliament in the year 2001. At that time he called for a close relation between Europe and Russia; he was even open for a NATO membership. In the following years he felt, that he was not taken seriously by the West; that he was humiliated, as he had also stated during a confidential discussion.” At that time especially the statement by President Obama, qualifying Russia as being only a “regional power”, had hurt Russian self- consciousness deeply. “His disappointment was expressed during his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 (Teltschik was chairman of the Munich Security Conference until 2007 E.H.), where he participated after I had invited him.” As Teltschik underlined in the interview, it is easy to accuse him and talk about the evil Russian. “The aim of Germany’s policy must be however despite differences, to search for a partnership dialogue.”
Being asked about the Crimean annexation, war in Eastern Ukraine, the hacking of the German Parliament, interference in elections, assassination of opponents – all actions for which Putin is made responsible – whether all of that is not reason for the West to react with more harshness? Teltschik referred to his personal experience: “During the Cold War we had to construct close relations with political representatives in the Soviet Union that threatened with the Third World War. When Kohl became Chancellor 1982, I advised him to write a letter to Communist Party General Secretary Jury Andropov and demand the establishing of constructive relations. Despite his war threats Chancellor Kohl, German Foreign Minister Genscher and I, we were able to meet him half a year later. Similarly the “ice” between the later Party chairman Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom I am still befriended, had to be broken by “diplomatic skill”. At the end we had the German reunification and world- wide disarmament. In a letter sent to me for my 80ieth birthday in June this year, Gorbachev wrote to me, that he shared my opinion that there is an urgent need for détente.”
Being asked what he thought about new sanctions against Russia, including even the halt of the North Stream 2 gas pipeline project, Teltschik emphasized “Given my personal political experience, I am very skeptical, whether sanctions are helpful. The US since 60 years has imposed sanctions on Cuba, without any success. …Sanctions in the first place are hitting the citizens, not the responsible ones. And from history we know how sanctions again and again are getting circumvented.”
The alternative which Teltschik suggested is that “German-Russian relations must be intensified” on a socio-political level. This includes the promotion of youth and student exchange, cultural projects as well as city partnerships. Young Russians between 22 and 25 should be able to travel without visa. Of course there should be “economic and scientific technological cooperation.” According to Teltschik, President Putin right now “does not act out of a position of strength, but is facing a fragile domestic situation. I know that he appreciates Merkel very much. She can call him by phone any time.” He suggested that it would be constructive, if the German Chancellor together with French President Macron would look for a discussion with Putin, in order to discuss about the tense relations between Russia and Europe. With Macron’s predecessor President Hollande, Merkel succeeded to negotiate together with Putin and the former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko the Minsk agreement, and bring the Ukraine conflict to an end, he stated.
Teltschik is asked whether Putin was not an autocrat and an enemy of democracy. He pointed to the reality which president Putin has to face: “He apparently thinks that such a huge country like Russia with 89 administrative units can only be directed and kept together by an autocrat. For him the dissolution of the Soviet Union represented the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century. His main concern is that this could also happen with the Russian Federation. On that background Putin fears the so called ‘colored revolutions’, as they occurred in Ukraine or Georgia. The ‘cohesion of the Russian Federation’ is for him a key question. In terms of the future stability and accountability of Russia, a key question is, who could succeed Putin. With the constitutional reform Putin has secured his power far beyond the present term. He could remain president till 2036. What is decisive is not at what time the change occurs, but whether an appropriate successor can be found. Like in the case of his predecessor, Boris Jelzin, his personal security and the one of his political and economic power Clientele will depend from this.”
“Some people in Washington may be gloating and drink Champagne”
In a commentary for the website “Russland- Kontrovers”(22.09.) the well-known German Cremlologist Alexander Rahr hypothesized that may be President Macron, who in the past weeks had pleaded for including Russia more actively into a European Security architecture, would have acted differently than Merkel. Probably he would have argued in favor of a common investigation carried out together with the Russian State Attorney’s Office and he may not have used the same harsh rhetoric as Merkel chose in the beginning. He noted however that also Chancellor Merkel had spoken in favor of a “coexistence” with Russia on the European continent. “As a leading power in Europe, in the last months Germany had tried to get Europe emancipated from the US. Berlin recognized that the US had lost interest in a partnership relation with Europe and to be vassals was not in the interest of Berlin and Paris. “Both Macron and Merkel wanted to shape an independent new European Russia Policy, in order to be able to fight together with Moscow against the new challenges coming from the Middle and Near East. This all is finished now,” according to Rahr and some people in Washington may be gloating and “drink champagne.”
According to Rahr “the Nawalny case will probably lead to a new NATO rearmament along the Russian Western Border, the freezing of the Normandy – Format negotiations and of the Minsk agreement concerning Eastern Ukraine. There is not going to be any progress between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union. The idea of a common space between Lisbon and Vladivostok is far away.” While Russia remains excluded from the G7, sanctions will be tightened even more. And the desire of President Putin that the heads of state from the permanent UN security Council structure, work more closely together in order to “shape a new peaceful world order,” (which he reiterated in his speech at this year’s Annual Assembly of the UN E.H.) is turning into an illusion. While Germany had thought to bind Russia more into Europe under a German EU- council chairmanship, this rather is now becoming a “further stepping stone for confrontation with Russia. Meanwhile Germany is firmly integrated into NATO and the transatlantic solidarity.
Rahr noted that the US looks at the European Union as a “competitor and will force it to submit to America’s security interest,” while GB will become a US junior partner and China, the US and Russia in the future may hope to split Europe for their own advantage. Yet at the same time Rahr expressed hope, that it may be not too late to correct the very negative situation emerging now, in respect to a “new European Security order”, 100 year after the First World War and 80 years after the outbreak of the Second World War. It would be incredibly sad and tragic if the Nawalny case would lead to a historic break in the German- Russian relations. In fact “the special relation between Russia and Germany so far had prevented that Russia and the West would be drawn into a Cold War.”
By Elisabeth Hellenbroich