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Germany Must Take Practical Approach in Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Chancellor Merkel, Defense Minster Von der Leyen and Foreign Minister need to shape an effective policy.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If peaceful solution isn’t found, Germany, Russia and Ukraine all lose.

  • Facts


    • Today, Berlin decisively sets the tone in the European Union’s Russian policies
    • Both military and diplomatic tools are available.
    • The German economy is more globally linked than any other on Earth.
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There is more to a crisis than just sending German troops to foreign conflict countries, hoping that they can fix things. This is best demonstrated by the recent Russia-Ukraine crisis. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, and Chancellor Angela Merkel – who has long opposed arms deliveries to Iraqi Kurds, but was overruled by her ministers – have corralled the hawks and foot-draggers in the European Union and United States and set realpolitik as the standard.

And this is why, despite all the rancor and fears, they will engage in talks with Russia. Top level representatives of the European Union, Russia’s customs union, and Ukraine are scheduled to meet in the Belarus’ capital of Minsk to discuss trade and energy issues, despite the fact that the E.U. imposed sanctions on Belarus’ dictator, President Alexander Lukashenko. It is important, Ms. Merkel said, to avoid friction with Russia. A further tightening of sanctions without the prospect of further talks, is damaging to all sides.

The creed of Mr. Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, is that Germany must play a bigger role in the world. Today, Berlin decisively sets the tone in the European Union’s response to the crisis in Russia and Ukraine. But this is not popular in Germany. According to a poll taken by the Körber Foundation in the city of Hamburg, over two-thirds of all Germans don’t want the country to become more engaged in the world politics. The stances of Ms. Merkel and Mr. Steinmeier are at odds, but it shows courage to do the necessary  despite the polls.

That’s because Germany’s business and economy, which is more globally linked than any other economy in the world, urgently needs more political engagement by Berlin. Not necessarily by sending soldiers and weapons, but by initiating talks.

Far-sighted foreign policy, particularly in crisis regions, must encourage German companies to invest there and also more aggressively offer federal export credit guarantees to assume risks. Where people have jobs, they don’t have the time, let alone the desire, to take up weapons and destroy what they’ve built up.

Today, Berlin decisively sets the tone in the European Union’s response to the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

In the case of Russia and Ukraine, the German approach involves an enormous risk. In the end, everything is hanging on one thread: What does Russian President Vladimir Putin want? Is he willing to back down in Ukraine? If not, we are careening toward a political and economic ice age.

It can neither be accepted nor tolerated in the 21st century that borders are unilaterally shifted. That would be a dangerous invitation to all separatists in Europe  which doesn’t lack for crazies. Or, to quote Germany’s former defence minister, Peter Struck: Europe’s security will be defended on the banks of the Dnieper River – not first in the Hindu Kush mountain range.

This article was translated by David Andersen. To contact the author:

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