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Germany and Russia (March 13, 2006)

In the following piece, the director of the Russia/CIS research group at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (which advises the federal government on foreign policy issues) points to the close relationship that Germany and Russia have shared since 1990. Russia is an important energy supplier for Germany, and Germany, in turn, is Russia’s most important European partner. German-Russian relations, however, are by no means problem-free.

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Germany and Russia – “Strategic Partners”?

The two largest nations in Europe could never manage to be entirely indifferent toward each other, if only because of their dominant roles on the Eurasian continent. German-Russian relations were always shaped by contradictory feelings, whereby admiration, antipathy, fear, and romantic attraction mixed more than they alternated.*

Germans and Russians fought together against Napoleon, divided Poland between themselves time and again, and then found themselves, in the wake of diplomatic intricacies, on opposing sides in the First World War, only to end up conspiring against the Western victors in the Rapallo Pact. Blinded by Hitler’s blood and soil ideology, the Germans soon waged a war of annihilation against the Soviet Union and ultimately had to be liberated from their own regime by the Red Army – with atrocities on both sides. Victor’s pride took the place of anti-German hatred. For many members of the Soviet armed forces, the GDR became the symbol of a friendly, new Germany. The Russian people, however, perceived the division of Germany as unnatural, and so, from a Russian perspective, German reunification was a conciliatory conclusion to a misguided development in relations between the two countries, a development that had been unfathomable not only to Germans but to Russians as well.

Fortunately, since 1990, these relations have developed in a pragmatic way. German-Russian relations distinguish themselves today by their considerable breadth. There is tradition in this – just remember the German immigration to Russia and the numerous German businessmen and industrialists who operated in Russia before the First World War.** Based on the turnover of goods, Germany is Russia’s most important trading partner and will remain as such until China surpasses it, presumably in a few years. Like Holland and Italy, Germany imports mostly crude oil and natural gas from Russia. As far as imports to Russia are concerned, Germany takes first place, with a generous margin, over all other European and non-European countries, and it is also Russia’s main supplier of capital goods. For Germany, whose economic ties are primarily with the EU countries, Russia was tenth on the list for imports in the first half of 2005 and fourteenth for exports.***

[ . . . ]

German-Russian relations have developed in such a dynamic fashion because many factors that can potentially disrupt relations between countries fail to apply in the case of Germany and Russia. There are no unresolved border issues, no ethnic-religious conflicts, and no rivalry for world domination on the international stage. The final resolution of the “looted art” question still lingers as a remnant of the Second World War – a tough issue but certainly not a “great conflict.” Kaliningrad/Königsberg isn’t a bone of contention between Germany and Russia either; rather, both countries share a common concern for the development of this region, whose peripheral location puts it at a disadvantage.

* See Gerd Koenen, Der Russland-Komplex. Munich, 2005, p. 15ff.
** See also Dittmar Dahlmann and Carmen Scheide, eds., “... das einzige Land in Europa, das eine große Zukunft hat.” Deutsche Unternehmen und Unternehmer im Russischen Reich im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert. Essen, 1998.
*** See Statistisches Bundesamt [German Federal Office of Statistics], Rangfolge der Handelspartner im Außenhandel 2004, (1. February 2006).

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