Putin's visit to Berlin: Germany's reaction
The visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Berlin left few people indifferent. There is a strong polarization in German society regarding how the country should position itself in relations with Russia. The activists who strongly oppose Russia's policy in Ukraine and Syria staged a symbolic protest with bloodied toys for children, using the topic of bombings of Aleppo, strongly criticized in the West; co-chairman of the 'Left' faction in the Bundestag Sahra Wagenknecht, on the other hand, welcomed the visit of the Russian President, noting that the confrontation course against Russia harms Germany and threatens peace. On the background of intensified confrontation between the US and Russia in Syria, Europe has bigger fear of a new "cold war" with Russia. In this regard, a temporary cessation of bombings of Aleppo and Vladimir Putin's visit to Berlin, of course, somewhat reduced the degree of tension.
Secretary General of the CSU (Bavarian ideological and political allies of Merkel's CDU party), Andreas Scheuer, considers the meeting in Berlin "an incredibly good sign." According to him, Germany must discuss a lot of things with Vladimir Putin. "It is necessary to try to restore the dialogue at different platforms and, above all, to reach a level where we can resolve problems. Progress should form in the atmosphere of dialogue," he hopes. This friendly attitude of Secretary General of the CSU fits the foreign policy line of the party of Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, whose positions on foreign and domestic policy often differ from the position of Angela Merkel.
A much more harsh position is characteristic for the 'Green' party. It was expressed by the chairman of this party Katrin Goring-Eckardt. If bombings of Aleppo won't be stopped after talks with Putin, she wants to introduce more sanctions against Russia. "Putin tests the soil, how far can he go. It's a game of keeping his own power for him. It has bitter consequences for people in Ukraine, Syria and Russia itself," she thinks.
Chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Policy Committee, MP Norbert Rottgen (CDU), who recently spoke for making anti-Russian sanctions stricter, reaffirmed his image of "hard liner" in relations with Moscow. "It is necessary to talk to each other in any case. But we in the West must make our own decisions. Otherwise we will be unable to influence the end of bloodshed, and will continue to have as little influence in the region as we have right now. We must separate two conflicts from each other - in Syria and in Ukraine. However, from analytical point of view, both of these crises are important elements of the new policy of Russia. What we see is a new expansive nationalism, which is based on military power and internal political weakness. It focuses on creating an impression of its own greatness in conditions of economic depression and suppression of the opposition. Vladimir Putin wants Russia to be perceived on the same level as the United States once again," he noted.
Dietmar Bartsch, co-chairman of the 'Left' faction of the Bundestag, said that sanctions rarely harm those who are responsible for political decisions, they mainly harm common people. The OSCE's special representative on the conflict in Ukraine, social democrat Gernot Erler, expressed cautious optimism regarding the results of negotiations in 'Normandy Quartet' format in Berlin. In particular, he believes that the agreement on the OSCE's police mission in Donbass was a huge success, since the presence of military representatives of of the OSCE in the conflict region was one of the important preconditions for holding local elections there.
Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference, welcomes the dialogue between Merkel and Putin. This experienced diplomat said that it is very important to finally overcome silence between the White House and Kremlin. "In the medium term, it will be the most important matter after the elections in the US: for the US and Russia to once again start a dialogue. But holding talks for the sake of holding talks usually doesn't help. And in a situation like this, we can't exclude any option, including the option of making sanctions stricter. We (the West) have a tendency to unselfishly inform the Russian leadership in advance about what we are not going to do. This is our weakness, which Putin uses," Ischinger stressed. Harald Kujat, a retired general of the Bundeswehr, believes that in the conditions when Russia is trying to return the model of a multipolar world and the world faces many new local conflicts and the problem of terrorism, finding a balance of interests between Moscow and Washington would meet the interests of all participants of international relations .
Martin Wansleben, head of the German Chamber of Commerce, pointed out the negative consequences of sanctions for trade relations between Germany and Russia. He recalled that since 2013, the export of German products to Russia has halved. At the same time he noted "the primacy of politics over the economy," reminding that sanctions against Russia may be lifted step by step if the Minsk agreements will be implemented.
Klaus Segbers, professor of international relations at the Free University of Berlin, stated that contrary to popular belief, Russia is primarily driven by geopolitical interests, in fact, economic interests are the priority for it. "Oil prices have dramatically collapsed, interventions in Syria and Crimea cost a lot of money, the state budget is extremely overloaded. In foreign policy, Russia is pursuing a strategy that allows to divert public attention from internal problems - and it's great at that. In this context, the strategy of dialogue with Russia is meaningless, since it assumes that Russia is also interested in a consensus. We have to step aside in the public discourse about Russia. Russia should be ignored by us with cold friendliness. This country is important for Europe, but it has only oil and gas, it does not have any 'soft power', the state of the Russian economy is dramatic and this state is very far from becoming a world power," he believes.
Expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) Sarah Pagung said that it is not appropriate to compare current intensified confrontation between the West and Russia to the "cold war". The current conflict does not have the same range as the previous one. According to Pagung, there are many areas in which the United States and Russia are cooperating - nuclear deal with Iran is a good example. The expert warned the European Union to not lift sanctions too quickly since "political price for the Europeans will be huge." "Right now, the EU is often not taken seriously by Russia, and even considered to be a 'lackey' of the US. From military point of view, it is extremely difficult to help Baltic states because of their geographical position. So the deployment of NATO troops is especially important: this is only way for the alliance to show Russia that it will not accept unilateral change of borders."