Ukraine is right to snub Germany
Whatever their protestations to the contrary, the German ruling classes don’t genuinely feel remorse for the way they’ve conducted their Russia policy over the past two decades.
Politicians like Frank-Walter Steinmeier might show contrition for the “mistakes” they made in placing too much trust in Putin. They might protest that all they really wanted was to keep talking in the name of peace. How were they to know that Putin would turn into a madman who’d throw all economic reason out of the window?
We are supposed to believe that these politicians were too trusting, too kind hearted.
This is baloney.
Real German policy was always much more cynical. It was based upon an unstated strategy of carving up eastern Europe into two spheres of influence. As far as Berlin saw it, this was the natural order of things. A great power like Russia had a right to “a backyard.” And of course Germany would dominate central Europe through the EU.
Berlin was happy for Moscow to keep Ukraine and Belarus under its yoke as long as it got cheap labour from Poland, Romanian and Bulgaria. That the people of Ukraine didn’t think much of being subjugated to their “Brudervolk” was a nuisance that had to be dealt with through protracted negotiations that left Russia with the whip hand.
In this informal non-aggression pact, Russia provided German industry with the cheap energy it needed to have a competitive advantage on world markets. Meanwhile consumer prices could be suppressed enough to keep Max Mustermann happy even if his employer paid him a shoddy wage.
In return, Germany acted as a brake on all efforts in the West to take action against the Kremlin’s tyranny.
In 2008 Berlin blocked Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO. When the US wanted to provide weapons to Ukraine after Russia had marched its troops onto the Crimea, Germany dissuaded them from doing so.
Government ministers would openly complain of unwanted “interference” from eastern Europe, as they dreamed of pumping gas directly under the Baltic, thus castrating Poland and Ukraine for good. And of course, German and Russian industry were more than happy to reward compliant politicians with generously remunerated “jobs” once they’d left office.
Every German party was cut through with Putinversteher who would parrot the Kremlin’s lines after the FSB assassinated a critic abroad. If you switched on German television after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, you were sure to hear a politician reminding the public of the UK’s “lies” before the invasion of Iraq. Any discussion of Russia’s wars had to be placed in the context of NATO’s “sabre rattling” on Russia’s doorstep.
The German press were just as complicit. On their foreign pages, they spent most of their time publishing articles about the latest crazy Tweet that Donald Trump has written or Boris Johnson’s most recent gaffe. Articles about everyday brutality in Russia, the war crimes of Russian mercenaries, or the fact that Germany was making itself blackmail-able through its energy policies were few and far between.
Have things now changed? Have the scales truly fallen from their eyes, as Steinmeier, Sigmar Gabriel, Wolfgang Schäuble and other Putin-enablers would have us to believe? I’ll only believe that if I hear them admit the real reason why they wanted to wind down sanctions just a year after Russia annexed the Crimea.
Perhaps we would be wiser to listen to the men of that era who aren’t now expected to flagellate themselves publicly.
Theo Sommer, the long-time editor of Die Zeit, the establishment newspaper, gave a revealing insight this week into how the Berlin elite still think. He said that none of those responsible for Berlin’s non-aggression policy should feel guilty, let alone apologise.
What Sommer euphemistically calls Entspannungspolitik (de-escalation policies) was “a success story,” he insists. The main problem was that the West ignored the olive branches offered by Putin. For him, the tragedy is that Putin has embarked on a “Bruderkrieg” (civil war) instead of treating Ukraine like Germany treats Austria. His wording drips with the same ethno-nationalist paternalism that Putin has used to claim that Ukraine is not a real country.
Meanwhile Sommer’s contempt for Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin reveals the sense of superiority which the German establishment have over the states that lie in between. Ambassador Andrij Melnyk is a man of “brazen shamelessness” who should “at last be put in his place,” Sommer seethes, presumably angered that Melnyk dares to show emotion while his country is being systematically flattened.
The Ukrainians have long seen through the sham of German moral posturing. While President Zelensky warmly greeted Boris Johnson in Kyiv this week, President Steinmeier had to cancel a visit after the Ukrainian leader made clear that he wasn’t welcome. It was just the latest humiliation for Germany’s head of state, who is resented in Ukraine due to his “mediation efforts” after 2014.
The bitter truth is that, if Russia had quickly toppled Zelensky and installed a puppet regime, Germany would have found a way to limit western sanctions. They would have made the right noises about breaches of international law and then quietly pushed for Entspannung once the story had dropped off the front pages.
It is only the mess that Russia has made of its invasion and the increasing brutality of its tactics that has made such a strategy politically impossible… for now.
I don’t need to tell you that Germany and Russia have form when it comes to dividing up eastern Europe. We should hardly be surprised that the Ukrainians are bitter at the German establishment - they don’t deserve any better.