20.06.23 Review

From the Triumph of Ostpolitik to the Collapse of Russlandpolitik: How Germany is saying goodbye to its former strategy towards Russia and what will replace it, an article by Alex Yusupov for Re: Russia

Why did Ostpolitik, Germany's 'eastern policy,' prove successful in its relations with the communist USSR and establish a foundation of trust for decades, while its successor Russlandpolitik, considered an extension of its principles, led to the blindness of the German political class, the critical dependence of the German economy on Russian energy resources, and the complete unpreparedness of Germany and its military machine for the revisionist turn in the Kremlin’s politics? Alex Yusupov, a German political scientist, director of Russian programmes at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, member of the SPD and host of the podcast on German politics, 'Chancellor and Berghain,' addresses this question for Re: Russia.

In reality, the successes and failures of Ostpolitik and its successor Russlandpolitik are based on the same notion that internal social processes in authoritarian systems can develop without external interference, and that the interpenetration of economic interests ensures cooperative coexistence and the gradual convergence of political regimes, Yusupov argues. In the case of the USSR, this assumption proved correct, as prolonged economic cooperation paved the way for the transformation of the Soviet regime and the loyal attitude of Soviet leadership towards the process of German reunification. In the case of Russia, similar expectations ended in failure. The logic of the evolution of Russian authoritarianism has turned out to be directly opposite.

Moreover, Alex Yusupov notes that the fixation on the concept of a 'special relationship' with an 'equal' Russia resulted in Germany overlooking the process of independent state formation in the space between Berlin and Moscow, remaining deaf to their concerns about Russian expansionism, and only now realising its historical responsibility for Ukraine's survival.

Today, the German political system, which resembles a super-heavy tanker, is attempting to make a sharp turn. Its outcome will be, firstly, the reform of the Bundeswehr and the military sector, with a drastic increase in defence spending that will match Russia's in absolute terms. In foreign policy and relations with Russia, Germany will act more as a leader and guarantor of European unity than a mere expression of German interests, concurrently building a system of 'European security without Russia.'

Such a strategy has a long-term trajectory and entails a profound revision of previous principles. The level of economic cooperation will regress several decades. Nevertheless, Yusupov believes that 'German society, with its mixed historical identity of perpetrator and victim, has an interest in remaining an ally of Russian society in its future attempts at emancipation and democratisation,' even though the timeline of such expectations remains entirely uncertain at present. 

Alex Yusupov. From Triumph to Collapse: How Germany is parting with Ostpolitik and what comes next