Germany Plays Key Role in Ukraine Crisis
- By Alexander Sambuk
- Oct. 01 2014 00:00
Germany has played an active role as an intermediary during the Ukraine crisis. The country's feelings towards Russia are intricate and complex, as independent analyst Alexander Sambuk explains.
Since the conflict was originally rooted in the issue of the association treaty with the European Union, it is logical that Germany offered itself, alongside France and Poland, as a go-between.
But soon after President Yanukovych was ousted from his office, Germany faced a new challenge posed by Russia's increasing influence upon Ukrainian affairs. This became more obvious through the annexation of Crimea and the support from Moscow for the secessionist forces in southeast Ukraine.
As for the German government, it was fully aware of the possible consequences for its bilateral relations with Russia. It was clear that Moscow might confront Berlin with reciprocal measures, which as major economic partners might be powerful enough to damage the German economy. Gas and oil imports come to mind.
Berlin, for its part, pointed out from the start that the aim of economic sanctions was not to damage the functioning of the Russian economy as a whole or to endanger the standard of living of Russian people but to target certain individuals and companies.
It is well known that the West initiated sanctions cautiously. But the further development of the crisis prompts questions about whether the West's strategy may have been based on wrong perceptions from the very beginning.
The perceptions of politicians in part reflect the views of public opinion. It is legitimate to focus on how particular sections of German society have reacted to the Ukraine crisis.
For example, many leading figures of German industry regarded the annexation of Crimea as a politically unacceptable act but at the same time, as a one-off affair that did not prevent them from doing business as usual. This sentiment prevailed among the German business community until the loss of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 over the territory controlled by the separatists when it conceded to tougher action against Russia.
Calls for a cautious approach were partly driven by fears of the negative effects on the German economy. This was just one point on a list of arguments advanced by a loose yet influential group of opinion leaders, called by the German media Russlandversteher for their desire to accommodate Russia's "legitimate interests". This segment of the German public points to the historically legitimate character of the Russian special interest in Ukraine. At the same time it demands that Berlin adopt its own political course towards Russia in the Ukraine crisis, distinct from that of Washington. It would be wrong to assume that such Russlandversteher come mostly from the left segment of the German political spectrum, because one can identify echoes of the 19th century national Romanticism in the perception of Russia as an enigmatic, but valuable and desirable partner to Germany in its geopolitical endeavours.
It is hard to say to what extent public and social debate has influenced German strategy in the Ukrainian crisis. However one can question whether sanctions have brought about the result desired in Brussels. Increasingly the West is forced to reconsider key elements of its policy towards Russia. It is possible that the approach of the West will go beyond the formula of gradually stepping up sanctions if the Ukraine crisis continues to develop in unexpected ways.