The Russian-German Relationship Is in Free Fall

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen meets soldiers during a visit to Kaserne Hochstaufen (mountain infantry military barracks) in Bad Reichenhall, southern German

The vital Germany-Russia relationship is badly adrift and European security is imperiled as a result.

Russians have evidently not quite forgotten that a quarter million Soviet soldiers were lost fighting against the brutal Nazi siege of Sevastopol during the critical months of early 1942. In the month of June 1942 alone, more than twenty thousand tons of Luftwaffe bombs fell on the beleaguered defenders of the Russian fortress—a more intense bombardment than the Germans subjected to London, Rotterdam, or even Warsaw. The sad irony is that the brave defenders of Crimea against the German onslaught actually absorbed the hammer blows that helped to ensure that the Nazi war machine would lack the power to carry the day at Stalingrad just a few months later. Anyone with a remote familiarity with this essential history, which truly decided the fate of the modern world, can perceive the foul odor currently hanging over German foreign policy. Berlin insists on a rules-based order and will brook no compromise with Moscow over Crimea despite the history altering, criminal violence that Hitler visited upon that very place. And this is a place that saw yet another quarter million Russians fall in its defense about a century earlier—as recorded by Count Lev Tolstoy—so the situation is not exactly novel for European diplomats.

Perhaps Germany’s truculence on the issue of Crimea reflects the same bizarre impulse that causes Germans to stand patiently at a crosswalk when there is no vehicular traffic anywhere in sight—a phenomena this author witnessed many times when I lived in Germany myself for a time. But such rigidity is emphatically not a virtue in the practice of complex diplomacy and many countries, not least Germany itself, are now suffering as a result of current policies that fuel ever greater hostility in the vital Germany-Russia relationship. Nor should common sense be drowned out by the howls of the (cashed-up) cyber legions claiming that Russia tried to hack German democracy—it did not. In return for such a practical compromise on Crimea, Moscow could meet Berlin halfway by agreeing to reduce deployment of tactical nuclear weaponry (e.g. Iskander) in Eastern Europe or by readjusting other threatening military deployments. It’s time to look beyond Crimea and Ukraine and develop positive momentum behind a German “peace policy” that it is in full conformity with Germany’s starkly obvious historical responsibilities—a responsibility that Chancellor Willy Brandt fully understood when he first launched Germany’s original Ostpolitik to defuse Cold War tensions. Such a principled policy will not only benefit Germans, but all the peoples of Europe and the Middle East as well.

Lyle J. Goldstein is Research Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. In addition to Chinese, he also speaks Russian and he is also an affiliate of the new Russia Maritime Studies Institute at Naval War College. You can reach him at [email protected]. The opinions in his columns are entirely his own and do not reflect the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.

Image: Reuters