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24 September, 2013 18:18   ▪  

European experts comment on Germany’s policy towards Russia and Ukraine after the parliamentary election

Andrey Makarychev, Professor at the Institute of Government and Politics in Estonia, presents the European expert insight into Germany’s policy towards Russia and Ukraine after the 22 September parliamentary election at PONARS Eurasia.

According to Joerg Forbrig, Director of the Fund for Belarus Democracy at the German Marshall Fund, “relationships with Russia did not figure at all in the debates, although most major parties make reference to Russia in their detailed programmes.” He expects these references to become more pronounced as parties will end up in government or opposition based on the election outcome and coalition negotiations. “Impulses for political actors to define their positions more clearly will likely stem from a number of sources. One, for several months now, Germany has seen a heated debate about its foreign policy strategy. The two broad poles of this debate are an explicit commitment to a value-based foreign policy on the one hand, and a sort of Realpolitik that puts German economic interests above all. The latter position appears to weaken, and the former to strengthen, with likely effects for German-Russian relations. Two, an important task for the next government will be initiatives to rebuild Europe in a way that makes the EU more functional and sustainable. An item of this agenda is further enlargement and engagement with the EU neighbourhood, both South and East. Here, Russian plans for Eurasian integration are on a direct collision course with the European perspective for Eastern neighbours. The pressure that is increasingly exerted on its near abroad by the Kremlin will likely force Brussels, and Berlin with it, to become more proactive,” the expert comments for PONARS Eurasia.

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Inna Melnykovska from the Berlin-based University of Giessen/Freie Universität says that the “upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit of the EU in Vilnius made Berlin broaden the scope of its Ostpolitik.” The rhetoric of German officials on the readiness of Ukrainian authorities to sign the Association Agreement (AA) was values-loaded, with reforms in Ukraine’s juridical system as the key condition where the German government saw no room for compromise, Melnykova says as quoted by Andrey Makarychev for PONARS Eurasia. However, “Berlin’s values-loaded Ostpolitik suffers from low credibility. Ukrainian authorities interpret the values-loaded rhetoric as such that is more directed to the German population than to Ukrainian authorities. Ukrainian officials regard Germany (apart from Poland) as a strong supporter of the AA with Ukraine. Some Ukrainian observers even speculate that leaving Tymoshenko’s case unsolved a few weeks before the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius is a strategic maneuver, as Ukrainian authorities expect Berlin to be more ready to compromise and be satisfied with any sign of reform progress after the parliamentary elections in Germany are hold. Russia’s recent trade wars against Ukraine, Moldova, and Latvia, as well as Russia’s pressure on Armenia, are expected to further support German (and the EU’s) readiness to compromise values for the sake of geopolitical considerations,” she notes. Even though the Ukrainian government has only recently pressed the bulk of the pro-EU laws necessary to sign the AA, the most sensitive issues to Yanukovych’s regime are not (yet) discussed in the parliament, the expert comments. “Ukrainian authorities provided some signs of reform progress to European politicians, possibly calculating that these signs might be enough to sign the AA in the face of Russia’s geopolitical pressure. Furthermore, the fast-track adoption of pro-EU legislature does not guarantee that Ukraine’s practice of making declaration without implementation could be eliminated. Ukrainian authorities could keep the room for maneuver even after the AA would be potentially signed.” Berlin’s “beyond-Russia values-loaded Ostpolitik” has a chance to become more credible and eventually more effective only if it is long-term and not limited to election campaigning, Melnykova concludes.

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According to Barbara von Freitag, adviser to German MP Andreas Schockenhoff, “this electoral campaign had no foreign policy focus at all...” The speech on Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership countries by EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle went unnoticed in German media, she adds. However, according to Stefan Meister from the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, “the campaign had at least one effect: Merkel became more critical and consistent about Putin’s Russia - something than would not have been possible without public pressure. Yet for Merkel (like for Obama) being more consequent on human right issues toward Russia brings little benefit, if any. By the same token, all foreign policy issues played only a limited role in the campaign - even Syria was not a big issue, let alone Russia.”

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