August 19, 2008

How will the Georgian Crisis Impact German Policy

Venemaa-Gruusia konflikt võib osutuda külma sõja järgse maailmakorra lakmustestiks. Konflikti provotseerides soovis Venemaa mitte ainult oma mõjusfääri laiendada, vaid ka testida Lääneriikide valmisolekut senist maailmakorda kaitsta. Täna võib öelda, et kuigi Venemaa saavutas sõjalise võidu, on ta konflikti poliitiliselt juba kaotanud ja Gruusia rahvusvahelised positsioonid hoolimata nende sõjalisest allajäämisest hoopis tugevnesid. Kindlasti aitas sellele kaasa Venemaa ebaadekvaatne poliitiline reaktsioon ja liialdused jõu kasutamises, mis aitasid valdavat osa maailma avalikkusest kallutada Gruusia poole hoolimata venelaste teatavast „algedust”.

Venemaa-Gruusia konflikt võib osutuda külma sõja järgse maailmakorra lakmustestiks. Konflikti provotseerides soovis Venemaa mitte ainult oma mõjusfääri laiendada, vaid ka testida Lääneriikide valmisolekut senist maailmakorda kaitsta. Täna võib öelda, et kuigi Venemaa saavutas sõjalise võidu, on ta konflikti poliitiliselt juba kaotanud ja Gruusia rahvusvahelised positsioonid hoolimata nende sõjalisest allajäämisest hoopis tugevnesid. Kindlasti aitas sellele kaasa Venemaa ebaadekvaatne poliitiline reaktsioon ja liialdused jõu kasutamises, mis aitasid valdavat osa maailma avalikkusest kallutada Gruusia poole hoolimata venelaste teatavast „algedust”.

The question I mean to briefly discuss here concerns the consequences these recent events will have on German policy concerning Russia, the Caucasus and NATO enlargement.

As I have discussed in previous articles Germany has always viewed its own relationship with Russia in a positive light. On the one hand that is historically understandable, for during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century Germany had excellent and profitable relations with Russia. Though the period of the World Wars and the subsequent emergence of the Soviet Union put an end to these relations, Germany still sought a constructive approach to deal with Russia. This was pursued most notably and successfully with Willi Brandt’s Ostpolitik (effort to normalize West Germany’s relations with Eastern Europe and Russia during the 1960’s). Though this initiative was met by harsh criticism from within the Western alliance, it, in the eyes of Germany, eventually made reunification possible and was therefore a success.

On the other hand it seems peculiar, because eastern Germany suffered greatly under the advance of the Red Army and the subsequent occupation that split Germany in two for almost 50 years. It is possibly for that reason that German policy makers today have very divergent views on how to handle a re-emerging Russia. Though it is not necessarily a partisan distinction, the current administration can be viewed in terms of a “containment” faction in the Chancellery, in the hand of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU, and the “engagement” faction in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, controlled by Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s SPD.

Russia’s behavior in recent years, namely the utilization of its energy resources to pressure other states into compliance, has had an impact on German policy-makers, one that has been deepened by Russia’s recent exploits in Georgia. The Schröder days of idolizing Russia’s democratic virtues are certainly gone. Still, the different paradigms of the Chancellery and the MFA are evident.

Chancellor Merkel has been very outspoken in meetings with both President Medvedev and President Sakkashvili of what she expects to happen. In both cases she insisted on Georgian territorial integrity, the quick implementation of all points of the six point agenda signed by both parties and the certainty that Georgia would join NATO one day if it so wishes. At the same time Steinmeier denies that any fundamental rethinking of Germany’s policy vis-à-vis Russia is necessary and argues that any role Germany or the EU will potentially play in the conflict resolution process will require open channels to both Tiflis and Moscow.

The problem is that any concrete action is limited to rhetoric. That fact is a child born of necessity, for there is very little that can be done. Russia is unlikely to face any serious repercussions because the west, including the US, does not have the capabilities to impose them and needs Russia to help solve the crisis in the Middle-East. Germany knows that, the US knows it (despite all the harsh rhetoric) and, most importantly, Russia knows it!

Therefore I believe that the different paradigms held by the Chancellery and the MFA will play an insignificant role in the upcoming adjustment process. The NATO Foreign Ministers are meeting today to discuss possible courses of action. Though the US is pushing and Germany has already hinted that it might not oppose a more concrete accession plan for Georgia and the Ukraine, nothing really substantial will materialize. Firstly, other European states such as France and Italy have expressed concerns and might not vote in favor of such a confrontational course. Secondly, any quickened accession or even instant admission would be no more than a gesture.

Georgia and the Ukraine cannot be protected from a Russian invasion! Western Europe might have the money but not the will to mount a military campaign of the magnitude required to secure a huge country like the Ukraine. Eastern Europe might have the will but not the means. The US would have the means and the will potentially, if it weren’t for the Middle-East and its need of Russia in containing Iran. As Russia knows this as well, the deterring effect NATO accession would have will be minimal. But an unanswered attack on a NATO member would destroy the alliance. Therefore, I think that, though talk might run high in some places, in the end the US and Western Europe will happily do little in terms of a military perspective for Georgia, the Ukraine and all the other states in Russia’s near abroad that are troubled by the implications of the recent events.

Concerning the future of German policy vis-à-vis Russia the upcoming parliamentary elections, where Steinmeier will in all likelihood run as the SPD’s candidate against Merkel, will play a role. The difference between the two will, however, probably turn out to be only one of degree, for neither can easily strip off the fetters reality. But that degree can be all important, for though many hard power options do not exist, Russia and the West are in a reciprocal relationship where each requires something from the other. This reciprocity can be utilized by Germany in the same way Russia utilizes it. In order capitalize on this it is necessary to have an adequate picture of what kind of animal you are dealing with. The fact that Russia will not be a partner in stabilizing the region has been made obvious and Russia is apparently working hard to convince even the “engagement” faction that it will not be partner in any relationship of shared values and democracy.

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