Germany’s new Ostpolitik and Russia: from strategic partnership to geopolitical competition?

On September 29th, in Brussels, ACEWA co-hosted a conference with Egmont: Belgium’s Royal Institute for International Relations and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung on the topic: Germany’s new Ostpolitik and Russia: from strategic partnership to geopolitical competition? The conference featured Prof. Hans Joachim Giessmann (Berghof Foundation & University of Hamburg), Dr. Sergey Lagodinsky (Heinrich Böll Stiftung), Prof. Richard Sakwa (University of Kent), and Prof. Stephen Walt (Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University). It was moderated by ACEWA’s European Coordinator and Founding Board Member Dr. Gilbert Doctorow.

According to Dr. Doctorow, under Chancellor Merkel, German policy toward the Ukraine crisis has had a “zig-zag” aspect to it; on the one hand, Chancellor Merkel was widely expected, at the outset of the crisis, to act as the West’s principle ‘go-between’ with Russia’s Vladimir Putin; yet after the MH17 tragedy she began to take a harder line towards Russia which only began to soften at the dawn of 2015, when she emerged as a champion of the Minsk II accords.

Harvard’s Stephen Walt noted that given German’s geography and history, it is still difficult for it to have a genuinely independent foreign policy; Germany always wants to be seen as acting within EU institutions, rendering it incapable of acting in a assertive way. According to Prof. Walt, German policy under Merkel is neither Ostpolitik, nor is it neoconservative, but – importantly –  neither is it a wholly independent foreign policy either.

The University of Kent’s Richard Sakwa concurred with Walt, noting that German policy toward the Ukraine crisis is in a sense the “revenge of geography,” He also noted the EU, which affects to carry out a norm-based foreign policy, often conflicts – as we have seen in the case of Ukraine – within the space in which that foreign policy is being carried out. According to Prof. Sakwa, this tension, between ‘norms and space,’ has profoundly affected German foreign policy and reinforces its tendency to, as Dr. Doctorow noted at the outset, “zig-zag,” in seeming incoherence.
All of the panelists made remarks well worth listing to; the full video of the event can be found at this link to You Tube.
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