Ukraine Standoff

Don't Poke the Russian Bear

Matthias Platzeck. Source: Werner Schuering / imagetrust
Matthias Platzeck.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If Russia is not placated, it may cut off natural gas supplies to the West and increase its military adventurism in Europe.

  • Facts


    • The German-Russian relationship deteriorated swiftly over the summer after the E.U. imposed sanctions.
    • Russians in general think the U.S. and E.U. have exploited the Ukraine crisis for their own territorial agendas.
    • Germany and the E.U. need to re-engage with Russia in forums such as the OSCE, Mr. Platzeck said.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

Handelsblatt: Mr. Platzeck, when you became the new director of the German-Russian Forum in March, you said there was a solid foundation between the two countries. Today, the relationship is more tense than it has been in decades. What is your reaction to this drastic change?

Matthias Platzeck: I could never have dreamed that so severe a crisis could develop as quickly as it has. In spite of all cultural and historical differences, I assumed that what we have developed together over the last 20 years in economic and interpersonal relations would be more resistant to crisis.

How could the basically positive relationship between Russia and Germany worsen so rapidly?

Apparently we don’t know each other as well as we thought. The annexation of Crimea, which the West considers to be a violation of international law, and the warlike situation in Ukraine have changed the mood dramatically.

During your visits to Russia, what is the mood in the country?

People have the feeling of being treated unfairly by the United States and Europe. That’s what I hear from Russian citizens and politicians, regardless of their feelings toward (President Vladimir) Putin. Many Russians think, “The West is against us, we have to defend ourselves.” These are words and reactions that I never experienced a few years back.

What is causing these fears?

The basic mistake that both sides are making is to blame the other 100 percent. We in the West say Putin alone is responsible for the escalation. Moscow, on the other hand, believes it is taking the right path and has made no mistakes. This is a situation that requires diplomacy of the highest caliber to avoid worsening the crisis.

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.