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Germany and Russia (March 13, 2006)

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Despite the manifold encounters and cooperative efforts that bring Russians and Germans together, there is no uniform image of Russia in Germany. At economic conferences and high-level meetings, the good relations are emphasized, but in the media Russia is often viewed very critically. This criticism is not provoked by problems in the two countries’ direct relations, but rather by the Russian state’s treatment of its citizens and its western neighbors. For one thing, there is the dismantling of democracy, the weakening of parliamentarianism, the restrictions put on freedom of the press, the use of excessive force in Chechnya, and the pressure put on the CIS states of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, which want to distance themselves from Moscow. In addition, there is support for the totalitarian Lukashenko regime in Belarus and for separatist forces in Transnistria, North Ossetia, and Abkhazia.* For their part, Russians react very sensitively to reproaches of this kind; they accuse critics of not understanding the situation, and they feel misunderstood and patronized. This can be seen in exemplary fashion in the issue of Chechnya, where the Russian side sees itself as fighting international terrorism in alliance with the West and demands recognition for this in vain, without wanting to acknowledge the negative effects of the presence of Russian troops in Chechnya and the North Caucasus and [the negative effects] of the regime that Moscow installed there.** Although German-Russian talks rest on a broad foundation [of shared views], a rapprochement on these particular issues is not foreseeable.

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Values and Interests

One consequence of the complex German-Russian relationship is that no simple formula can do it justice. The cliché of “friendship among peoples” [Völkerfreundschaft] was fundamentally debased by GDR practices, which is probably why Chancellor Angela Merkel refrained from using it during her first official visit with President [Vladimir] Putin in Moscow in January 2006. Instead, she reemphasized the “strategic partnership” with Russia that then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Putin had already agreed upon at the first German-Russian summit meeting in June 2000 in Berlin.***

In Russia, however, people can’t understand why they rank below [Germany’s] “American friends” and are offered “only” a partnership instead of a “friendship.” In Russia, the term “strategic partnership” is understood as an alliance based on common interests, and this leads to Russian-German misunderstandings. In Russian politics, strategic partners are those with whom goals are shared and important projects of mutual benefit are carried out. For this reason, Russia’s list of strategic partners is very long, and virtually every country on earth could appear on it. However, ever since the term “strategic partnership” was introduced into the EU Common Strategy on Russia in 1999, it has been understood in EU foreign policy discourse as both an alliance based on common interests and a partnership based on shared values.**** It is significant that the corresponding Russian Mid-Term Strategy (1999) on relations with the EU is limited to the formulation of common interests and makes no reference to shared values.

* On criticism of “Putin’s System,” see also Heinrich Vogel, “Rußland ohne Demokratie,” SWP-Studie 38/2004, (1. February 2006); Eberhard Schneider, “Putins zweite Amtszeit,” SWP-Studie 1/2006, (1. February 2006).
** See Uwe Halbach, “Gewalt in Tschetschenien. Ein gemiedenes Problem internationaler Politik,” SWP-Studie 4/2004, (1. February 2006).
*** See Christian Meier and Heinz Timmermann, “Nach dem 11. September: Ein neues deutsch-russisches Verhältnis?” SWP-Aktuell 22/2001, p. 5, (1. February 2006).
**** See Rolf Schuette, “Interest and Values: A European Perspective,” Carnegie Paper 54/2004, (1. February 2006). Text of the Common Strategy of the European Union on Russia: (1. February 2006). The EU also occasionally refers to “strategic partnerships” in a limited sense, for example when it refers to strategic partnerships with the Mediterranean region, China, or all of Africa.

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