Vladimir Putin is making an historical intellectual error: He tries to succeed in the 21st century by applying the thinking of the 19th century with the power of the 20th century. But he will fail, because his politics do not fit into a globalized world and Russia can’t afford to act like this, economically or politically.
When it comes to the Ukraine crisis, everybody, including the United States, Europe and Russia, is looking to Germany as the influential power. This is for two reasons: Firstly, Germany is the economic and political heavyweight within the European Union. Secondly, Moscow seems to think that it can influence Europe via German public opinion.
As a result, it came as no surprise when the Russian president mentioned his country’s positive attitude towards German reunification in 1990 during his annexation speech about the “return” of Crimea to Russia. There was little room for coincidence.
The European Union has guaranteed that Europe, which also used to be a continent of war, has had a long and unprecedented period of peace.
Moscow seems to be hoping that Germany’s pro-western outlook is not secure because of its energy dependence on Russia and prospective trade options with other raw materials, which would result from a functioning German-Russian economic relationship. But this is an incorrect conclusion.
In both crises it is all about Germany’s basic orientation and the central question of whether Germany will keep honoring its responsibility within the European Union and use its power to support European interests and further strengthen its power. And the answer to that must be: It will. Everything else would be a historical foolishness par excellence. The crisis in Ukraine is actually a historical regression that throws us back into the previous century or even into the 19th century, but at the same time, it is a crisis that is real and dangerous.
But this century is actually about different crises: the shift of power and wealth from West to East, a huge requirement for growth and justice in emerging countries and the lack of a global environment and pollution management. Europe can contribute to this with its soft power, its intelligence, its capital, its technology, its businesses, employees and their experiences and turn challenges into global progress – which it already does.
Europe is an important player and model on a global scale thanks to its shared economic market, its development cooperation, its climate protection, its green technology, its education, training, science and research and a model in almost all areas concerning social stability, democracy, national law and modern civil society. This is even more true for the peace project which is the European Union. Together with NATO, the European Union has guaranteed that Europe, which also used to be a continent of war, has had a long and unprecedented period of peace.
But Europe has not yet succeeded to apply hard power, because it clings to its old structure of small- and medium-sized national states.
To contact the author: Gastautor@handelsblatt.com