Talks with Russia: Germany must take a clear stance

MTalk to Moscow, but how – that is a constant topic of German foreign policy. The important thing is that the question is never whether to speak, but how and, in particular, with what attitude. Even in the midst of the current crisis, it is good that we talk. We have to be aware of our risks: Firstly, our willingness to engage in dialogue must not reward Putin’s escalation tactics. Second, we must not fall into spheres of influence through the dialogue, because the citizens of Eastern Europe want to decide for themselves about their own future.

In spite of all the risks and stylish ultimatums of the Kremlin, the new talks also offer opportunities. It is right that we should give Moscow back the role that Barack Obama denied it when he demoted the country to a “regional power”. The Kremlin’s new role as a global interlocutor has been blackmailed and enforced. But it corresponds to its disruptive potential. From a European perspective, Russia deserves eye-level because it can create facts in Europe and Asia, whether in Syria, Crimea or Kazakhstan.

But the fundamental question does not concern Russia, but rather ourselves: do we, Germany and the EU, see ourselves as effective international actors? Germany and the EU must say goodbye to their cherished role as mediating middle power and soothing soft power. If we do not leave the foreign policy comfort zone of a mediator, we are in danger of slipping once and for all into international irrelevance.

The fixation on mediation is morally wrong

Germany in particular confuses size as a middle power with a fixation as a middle power. We like ourselves too much in the role of mediators hovering over European and global sensitivities. It is true that, as the largest European country, we have to hold the EU together. But neither Germany nor the EU can only mediate. If you want to be taken seriously internationally, you have to take a stand. Constantly muddling through the ambitions of others devalues ​​one’s own claim to global relevance. In addition, the self-inflating fixation on mediation is morally wrong: Anyone who mediates “neutrally” between a victim and a perpetrator inevitably shifts the balance towards the attacker and makes attacks worthwhile.

It is difficult to explain why a country that, like Ukraine, suffers from occupation and dismemberment, cannot be given even the slightest amount of support for self-defense, why we are adopting Russia’s narrative and primarily assigning a debt to Ukraine in Normandy format. Of course, it cannot be about arming to the teeth, but certainly about balanced, intelligent support against attacks from outside.

The only understandable reason for denying the country this support would be to provide credible guarantees for the integrity of Ukraine. But rightly nobody in Europe is talking about going to war against Russia when Russia attacks Ukraine. The hope is for the effect of the threatening backdrop, which is of course hypothetical. But if we are rightly not ready to go to war for Ukraine, we still cannot leave the country to its own fate.

Fear of escalation is not always rational

The fear of taking a position stems from another pattern in German foreign policy: the unconditional and not always rational fear of escalation. De-escalation and constant getting out of the way are the model. In the world of new complexities, however, only both go together: on the one hand, systematically practicing massive conflict and crisis prevention, but at the same time not being afraid of intelligent conflict management. De-escalation must always be the top priority, but we cannot counter some escalations with flight into de-escalation alone.

We have to become aware of the hard resources that we already have in the areas of economy, trade and technology, and build up those that we do not yet have. Soft power as a panacea is no longer enough. We have to prioritize them, but at the same time have credible levers ready. We rely on multilateralism, the strengthening of international organizations and the attraction of democracy. But all of this against the background of realpolitical action potential: in terms of security policy, economic policy and technology.

Ultimately, it is essential that we restore European decision-making ability. Without a repositioning of the EU’s foreign policy and diplomatic capacities, such crises will occur again and again. When the US is no longer ready to protect Europe, it becomes existential. The long overdue abolition of the unanimity rule in the EU and the creation of a real European foreign minister would be the obvious steps. In this way, and through systematic political investments in our global security, development and economic role, we can escape the impending foreign policy insignificance of Europe.

The author belongs to the European Parliament for the Greens.

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