Has the time for a new ‘Eastern Policy’ arrived? Not yet. (FAZ)
"Russia and Europe" – a topic that continues to be of crucial importance when considering the security of our continent. And it is understandable that people have a desire to find a positive – rather than negative – solution to this most sensitive of topics. In Germany, in particular, voices are regularly heard discussing the potential of a return to the traditions of the Ostpolitik (or "Eastern Policy") – referencing a rapprochement between the West and Russia. It may sound like a good idea – but it is not. Not now.
Any parallels between the current situation and the times of Willie Brandt and Egon Bahr are false. At the time the original ‘Eastern policy’ was first conceived, the world was a very different place. That policy marked a point in time when both sides, for their own reasons, converged on the need to maintain the status quo that existed on the continent. This facilitated a relatively peaceful and stable coexistence.
At that time, the Soviet Union controlled a significant part of the world. It was a superpower, to which, according to the Yalta system, part of the ‘global pie’ was guaranteed by default. However, since the Soviet economy increasingly depended on the profits from its oil trade, the USSR needed a functioning relationship with the West.
So the West was reconciled to a de facto division of the continent. This in turn gave the Soviet Union the status it was looking for and in exchange for peace and stability – there existed an unspoken agreement that the West would not seek to interfere with the human rights situation in the USSR.
Looking at the current situation today, the first question to ask is – does the current criteria meet today's realities? Yes and no. To a certain extent, this is because the current confrontation with Russia, for the West, feels a little like Groundhog Day: we’ve been here before.
As for Russia, there is no correlation whatsoever with the past. Russia is not seeking the consolidation of the status quo, but instead it seeks a radical change. Russia wants to reclaim its piece of the ‘pie’ – starting with Ukraine.
This is why I urge my Western colleagues in the strongest terms to not allow themselves to be deceived: Russia can speak about Helsinki-2, but in fact it means Yalta-2. All of Russia’s thinking, aspirations and calculations over the last few decades are aimed at one goal and one goal only – the restoration of their status as a superpower. In their opinion, this goal is now in sight.
Since the illegal occupation of Crimea five years ago, Russia is in a state of dangerous ecstasy: our time has come, we will reclaim what is ‘rightfully’ ours. To feel it, you just need to be able to speak the Russian language and tune into a couple of Russian political shows.
Many in the West – for whatever reason – refuse to acknowledge the scale of the danger. Some are even ready to consider giving back to Russia part of the ‘pie’ which would start, as mentioned, with Ukraine. As a Minister and as a Ukrainian, I will say as clearly as it is possible to do so: Ukraine will not return to the dark days of its enslavement under the Russian empire. Our people will not be re-subsumed into a new Soviet Union - not today, not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
Of course it is important that Russia has a future with Europe. It is important to talk to Russia as an equal state. Nevertheless, this is achievable under one condition only: if Russia speaks to Europe as an equal. Unfortunately this is not the case as Russia has removed itself from the international rules-based system. Russia seeks to elevate itself above Europe because it has chosen to operate outside the norms of international law. This has been witnessed time and time again.
This is why the time for rapprochement has not come. As long as Russia is in this dangerous state of ecstasy, any convergence will come with enormous cost and with a clear sell-out of Europe’s espoused values of freedom, democracy, solidarity and unity.
All that Ukraine needs is enshrined in the first three words of the German anthem: "unity, law and freedom". Had we been content to sell out on these three things, we would have had peace a long time ago. Peace at the cost of a cruel, humiliating enslavement. But we do not want this and the Ukrainian people will never accept it.
And let us not forget that today Europe is being offered a new form of enslavement – well disguised and to most people, seemingly imperceptible and off the radar. This new enslavement is called Nordstream-2. Why is it a bad thing to buy gas from Russia using different gas pipelines? Why should one worry that Putin, with the help of the EU, punishes Ukraine for its desire to be a sovereign European state?
Solidarity is not a form of coercion, but a choice, a matter of principles and values. If Putin, after the annexation, after the bloody wars, after years of talking Europe down on television channels at every opportunity, gets the chance to ‘reset’ the relationship via Nordstream-2 – then you are simply rewarding him, giving him money and a de facto green-light to fund his next expansionist foray on European soil. Most of all, Putin seeks revenge for the times of Gorbachev and you are, unwittingly, playing directly into his hands.
In light of the above, here is my humble request: let us remain solid and honest. The time for rapprochement between the West and Russia will come. But it cannot come before Russia starts adhering to international law.