Germany’s Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, came onto duty at his present post a Russian hardliner. Russia was the evil empire, and everything wrong with Germany, the EU, or anywhere else in the universe somehow went back to Moscow.
It was the Crimean annexation, it was the Skripal poisoning, it was some computer hacking, etc. But then Trump pulled America out of the Iran nuclear deal and suddenly Germany’s foreign policy with Russia was headed in a completely different trajectory.
Now, he found himself on a mission to go to Moscow and hobnob with those very Russians, say some nice things, and try to get them to help convince the Iranians to stick to the deal even though Trump was out. And then the economic factor came to the fore.
Now, Germany was even more committed to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, and found itself in a position where relying on the Americans wasn’t all that reliable of a plan. So now, the plan is to incrementally build up ties with the East as fast as possible, either in case Trump takes some other radical and damaging action, thereby hurting the Europeans, particularly the Germans, or over economic concerns brought about by Trump’s renewal of sanctions on Iran, which is to be read, Trump’s sanctions to be punitively applied to the Germans for still doing business with the bad guys and defying Washington’s will.
But that’s not all. The German Social Democrats party are also pushing a policy of rapproachment with the Russians, and Maas’s heated rhetoric over the course of his tenure, to be considered pre-Trump Iran deal pull-out, isn’t sitting all that well for them. Now he’s taking the heat for those remarks and being urged to take a more reasonable approach towards Moscow.
Deutsche Welle reports:
Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have pushed for a common policy on relations with Russia. Several center-left lawmakers have voiced their irritation over Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ harsh criticism of Moscow.
Frictions among Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) were brought to the fore on Monday, as the party’s federal executive committee met in Berlin on Monday to discuss the party’s policy line on Russia.
Ahead of the meeting, several senior SPD lawmakers voiced their irritation over Germany’s top diplomat and SPD lawmaker Heiko Maas and his chiding rhetoric on Russia.
SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil stressed that relations between the two countries were “of the highest importance” for the party.
“We want dialogue with Russia, we are seeking dialogue with Russia and we want that dialogue to strengthen,” he said.
Several lawmakers in the SPD continue to subscribe to former Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy of rapprochement with the former Soviet Union, otherwise known as “Ostpolitik.” The center-left party still enjoys relatively strong levels of support in the former East German states, where strong ties to Russia continue to be felt to this day.
Maas: a Russia hardliner?
Since taking over the reigns of the Foreign Ministry some 10 weeks ago, Maas has accused Moscow of “increasingly hostile behavior,” particularly over its actions in Syria where it continues to prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Maas was also quick to point the finger at Moscow for alleged interference in western elections, last year’s cyber attack on the German government’s computer network, and the poison attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England.
Maas’ chiding rhetoric marks a major shift from his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel, who before leaving office had called for sanctions on Russia to be eased, provided Moscow worked towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Maas attended the meeting on Monday but declined to comment afterwards. Klingbeil said that the party had given the foreign minister “clear support to step up efforts to pursue dialogue with Russia.”
Saxony’s state chairman Martin Dulig, who was one of the critics of the Maas stance on Russia, said after the meeting: “I am satisfied that Heiko Maas is taking these steps to push forward the dialogue, and I hope that this dialogue really will move forward.”
Moscow visit a starting point
Russia’s ambassador to Berlin, Sergey Nechayev, told the DPA news agency on Monday that, despite Maas’ earlier remarks on Moscow, Germany’s top diplomat was now paving the way for better relations.
Nechayev pointed to Maas’ first official visit to Moscow earlier this month, where he and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov both called for the nuclear deal with Iran to be upheld.
Maas and Lavrov made a number of agreements that “followed the best traditions of our bilateral relations,” Russia’s ambassador stressed. “As for the visit, I can say quite clearly that it was constructive and substantial and no terms such as hostility or opposition were used.”
The Germans realize that they need to get a move on and get some deals rolling with its Eastern partners, because Trump’s policies are dismantling international trade right and left and siding with the Americans isn’t as reliable of a business plan as it was under previous administrations. Now Maas has to swallow his russophobia and do his job in accordance with the new foreign policy approach as well as what a good number of the Germans want, and that is better relations with the Russians.