Gregory Feifer wrote a detailed and illuminating essay on German-Russian relations over at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty a couple of weeks ago. Germany has been Russia’s closest ally and trading partner in Europe over the past 15 years or so, largely thanks to the efforts of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Feifer points out that Schroeder and his wife have adopted two Russian orphans and that the German leader felt a strong personal connection to Vladimir Putin. Germany’s primary interest in Russia obviously revolves around energy, specifically securing a reliable supply of Russian gas to heat German homes in the winter.
Schroeder was heavily criticized for his role in the negotiations over the Nord Stream pipeline, which will carry gas directly from Russian field to northern Germany through the Baltic Sea, thereby bypassing Central and Eastern European countries. The final terms of the project were announced shortly after Schroeder stepped down as Chancellor in late 2005, and more scandalously, it was announced that he would become a managing director of the Nord Stream project, financed largely by the Russian state-controlled gas company Gazprom. A Washington Post editorial referred to Schroeder’s career move as a “sellout.” Many of the central European countries that had been bypassed by Nord Stream felt betrayed, with Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski comparing the deal to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that divided Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. For the Germans, a route that bypasses places such as Ukraine and Belarus is ideal, as Russia has frequently disrupted supplies following political disputes with those countries.
Germany has also been one of the staunchest opponents within NATO of accepting Ukraine and Georgia into the organization, fearing the repercussions that such an expansion would have on their relations with Russia. There has been a bit of a cooling off between the two countries under current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, yet the German government still touts the benefits of engagement as a means to influence Russian behavior. For example, Schroeder and Putin instituted an annual meeting, the St. Petersburg Dialogue, intended to promote civil society. Feifer quotes journalist Gemma Poerzgen, who called the meeting “ridiculous” and said it was dominated by Gazprom officials.
Feifer concludes by pointing out that some of the fears of the Central European countries who had initially been outraged by Nord Stream have been allayed, as Germany’s economic relations and trade ties with its eastern neighbors have grown substantially. In fact, while Germany may be Russia’s most important economic partner, the reverse is not remotely true, as Germany’s exports to and imports from countries like Poland and the Czech Republic are far larger than the figures for Russia. The Nabucco pipeline, which would move oil from the Caspian Sea to Austria while bypassing Russia, has received strong backing from the European Union. In other news, Putin received a bit of a rebuke after a prize he had originally been awarded by a German organization was rescinded. He had been awarded the Quadriga Prize for improving German-Russian relations, but it was revoked after public outcry over his dubious human rights record.