La crisis de Ucrania y la anexión de Crimea por Rusia destacaron la importancia política, militar y económica de Alemania en el mundo como no lo había hecho ningun otro acontecimiento desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial.  La prestigiada revista Der Spiegel, en su edición virtual, publicó en su último número dos artículos sobre el impacto de la crisis de Ucrania en la opinión  pública alemana y en la política de Alemania en la OTAN que,por su importancia reproducimos aquí.



Essay by Christiane Hoffmann

The only reason my German grandfather survived as a Russian prisoner of war was that he had a beautiful singing voice. He had been drafted into the Volkssturm militia in 1944, during the final phase of the war in which the Nazi party recruited most able-bodied males into the armed forces, regardless of their age. The Russians captured him during the Siege of Breslau and he was taken to a labor camp, where he was forced to work as a logger.

There was barely anything to eat and he said the men died like flies. Every now and then, the camp cook would serve my grandfather an extra portion of the water gruel or an additional bit of bread because he had such a nice voice. At night, when he would sing his songs by the fire, the Russians would sit there as well, passing round the vodka bottle, and his voice would literally bring tears to their eyes — or at least that’s the version of events passed down in the family.

Right up to this day, Germans and Russians maintain a special relationship. There is no other country and no other people with which Germans’ relations are as emotional and as contradictory. The connection reaches deep into German family history, shaped by two world wars and the 40-year existence of East Germany. German families still share stories of cruel, but also kindhearted and soulful Russians. We disdain the Russians’ primitiveness, while treasuring their culture and the Russian soul.

‘Tug-of-War’ of Emotions

Our relationship to the Russians is as ambivalent as our perception of their character. «When it comes to the relations between the Germans and Russians, there is a tug-of-war between profound affection and total aversion,» says German novelist Ingo Schulze, author of the critically acclaimed «Simple Stories,» a novel that deals with East German identity and German reunification. Russians are sometimes perceived as Ivan the Terrible, as foreign entities, as Asians. Russians scare us, but we also see them as hospitable people. They have an enormous territory, a deep soul and culture — their country is the country of Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy.

It’s thus no wonder that the debate about Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis is more polarizing than any other issue in current German politics. For Germany, the Ukraine crisis is not some distant problem like Syria or Iraq — it goes right to the core of the question of German identity. Where do we stand when it comes to Russia? And, relatedly: Who are we as Germans? With the threat of a new East-West conflict, this question has regained prominence in Germany and may ultimately force us to reposition ourselves or, at the very least, reaffirm our position in the West.

In recent weeks, an intense and polemical debate has been waged between those tending to sympathize with Russia and those championing a harder line against Moscow. The positions have been extreme, with one controversy breaking out after the other. The louder the voices on the one side are in condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the louder those become in arguing for a deeper understanding of a humbled and embattled Russia; as the number of voices pillorying Russia for violating international law in Crimea grows, so do those of Germans raising allegations against the West.

One of the main charges is that the European Union and NATO snubbed Moscow with their recent eastward expansion. Everyone seems to be getting into the debate — politicians, writers, former chancellors and scientists. Readers, listeners and viewers are sending letters to the editor, posting on Internet forums or calling in to radio or television shows with their opinions.

«Most Germans want to understand Russia’s side of things,» says Jörg Baberowski, a prominent professor of Eastern European history at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Historian Stefan Plaggenborg of the Ruhr University in Bochum has described the sentimental relationship between Germans and Russians as «doting love.» But how is it that this connection still exists after two world wars?

Perhaps a man who grew up in East Germany can explain what links Germans and Russians: Thomas Brussig, a novelist from the former East Berlin, says he first got to know Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union when he visited during a book tour. During his stay, he recalls being constantly asked which Russian writers influenced him. Brussig didn’t give the obvious answers — Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. He instead named a third-rate Soviet writer, Arkady Gaidar. «I did it to exact a bit of revenge and to remind them what imperialists they had been,» he says.

Brussig says he has no special attachment to the Russians. He says the only Russian figure he actually views positively is Gorbachev. It was «his vision of a Common European Home that cleared the way for the demolition of the Soviet Union.» It was a dream of a Europe without dividing lines. «We shouldn’t act as though the border to Asia starts where Lithuania ends,» says Brussig. «Europe reaches all the way into the Ural Mountains.»

Romanticism and War

There are some obvious explanations for the bond between Germans and Russians: economic interests, a deeply rooted anti-Americanism in both countries on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. But those are only superficial answers — dig a little deeper, and you’ll find two other explanations: Romanticism and the war.

The war explanation is inextricably linked to German guilt. As a country that committed monstrous crimes against the Russians, we sometimes feel the need to be especially generous, even in dealing with Russia’s human rights violations. As a result, many Germans feel that Berlin should temper its criticism of Russia and take a moderate position in the Ukraine crisis. It was Germany, after all, that invaded the Soviet Union, killing 25 million people with its racist war of extermination.

Hans-Henning Schröder, a Russia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs describes this as Russophilia and says it is a way of compensating for Germany’s Nazi past. Noted German historian Heinrich August Winkler fears Germans have adopted a «pathological learning process.»

The question of guilt has created a link between Germans and Russians, but the issue evaporated fairly quickly for the Russians after the war. Unlike the French, Scandinavians and Dutch, the Russians don’t tend to name and shame the Germans for crimes committed during the German occupation.

«Those who suffered the most had the least hate for the Germans,» says Baberowski, as if the issue of German guilt evaporated in the first frenzy of revenge at the end of the war. He believes it dissipated, at the very latest, after the return of the last prisoners of war to Germany. «The Russians told stories that would make your blood freeze in your veins, but they were never accusatory towards us,» says Schulze, who spent several months in St. Petersburg during the 1990s.

Despite the fact that German politicians exploited fears of Russia for many years in the postwar period, the war still connects Germans with Russians today. Our relationship is characterized by the «intimacy of a relationship that arose out of two wars,» says Herfried Münkler, a professor of political theory at Humboldt University. He describes the war as an experience shared by both Germans and Russians. He argues that conflict creates a stronger community dynamic than peace — and that, as a result of the war, Germans learned another thing: to never again attack Russia.

Then, of course, there are Germans’ romantic ideas about Russia. The country has always been idealized by Germans. No other country was as thrilled as Germany when glasnost and perestroika ushered in the de-escalation of the East-West conflict. Finally, they felt, it was acceptable for them to love Russia again. In Gorbachev, the good Russian had returned and the Germans saw no reason to continue living in fear of Russia.

Documentary programs about the remote reaches of Siberia and the banks of the Volga River attracted large viewership numbers. In the preceding decades, works by German-language authors like Heinz Konsalik — whose book «The Doctor of Stalingrad,» dealt with German prisoners of war — and Johannes Simmel — whose novels delved into Cold War themes — had been best-sellers.
«The east is a place of longing for the Germans,» says Münkler. The expanse and seeming infinity of Russian space has always been the subject of a German obsession for a simpler life, closer to nature and liberated from the constraints of civilization. The millions of Germans that were expelled from Eastern Europe and forced to move to the West after 1945 fostered that feeling. To them, it represented unspoiled nature and their lost homeland.

A Tradition of Anti-Western Sentiment

The flipside to Germany’s longing for Russia is its desire to differentiate itself from the West. Fundamental opposition to the West’s putative superficiality is seen as being part of the Russian soul: The perceived busyness and money-grubbing ways of the Western man stand in contrast to the East’s supposed depth of emotion and spirituality. «When something is romanticized, there is always an antidemocratic streak,» says Baberowski. It privileges harmony over conflict, unity over confrontation.

This tradition of anti-Western thinking has a long tradition in Germany. In «Reflections of an Unpolitical Man,» written during the First World War, Thomas Mann sought to strongly differentiate Germany from the West, even citing Dostoyevsky in the process. «Being German,» Mann wrote, «means culture, soul, freedom, art and not civilization, society, the right to vote, literature.» Mann later revised his views, but the essay remains a document for those seeking to locate Germany’s position between East and West.

Winkler points to a battle between the era’s German intellectuals, which pitted the «Ideas of 1914» — propagated by Johann Plenge, and emphasizing the «German values» of duty, discipline, law and order, ideas that would later influence National Socialism — against those of liberté, égalité, fraternité — which were adopted in 1789 during the French Revolution.

When West Germany became politically part of the West after 1945, the Eastern way of thinking was pushed to the wayside. But Russia remained a country of longing for the East Germans. Münkler believes that the longing for Russia is also a symbol of «what we used to think but are no longer supposed to think.»

A Special Role for Germany?

Henrich August Winkler argues that Germany has now arrived at the end of a «long journey to the West.» But with the Ukraine crisis and the threat of a revival of the East-West conflict, that arrival now seems less final. Suddenly old questions about a special role for Germany have resurfaced. Of course, no one would throw our membership in the EU or NATO into question, but Germany’s special ties to Russia — which differentiate it from other Western European countries — have a justifiable effect on our politics.

«The ideology of taking the position in the middle has exhausted itself,» Winkler told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper in a 2011 interview. That was easy to say at a time when the East-West rivalry seemed to have disappeared. Nowadays, that’s no longer the case.
If the EU manages to speak with a single voice, it remains possible that the West will be able to achieve something close to a consensus position. But if the conflict with Russia escalates and decisions have to be made about economic sanctions or the stationing of troops, the situation could get very tricky for Germany. It may also force Germans to confront the crucial question of where they stand in their relationship with Russia. It would be a tough question for Germans to dodge, given Germany’s current — voluntary or not — de facto leadership role in Europe.
In the Ukraine crisis, the stakes for Germany are higher than for perhaps any other country in Europe.

So far, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have managed, with difficulty, to maintain a unified position, but cracks are already showing. Leaders of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which implemented Ostpolitik policies of detente with the East under Chancellor Willy Brandt, are far less inclined to assume the role of adversary to Russia than Merkel’s conservatives. The Social Democrats have now adopted the same strategy with Putin’s authoritarian regime as they did in the 1970s, when they sought a better understanding of the Communists. Their approach — to seek a better understanding of Russia’s positions — has been a successful political model for the party.

Germans Divided over Affiliation with West

Still, a divide is growing between the political elite and those in Germany who are sympathetic towards Russia. A recent survey conducted by pollster Infratest dimap showed that almost half of all Germans want the country to adopt the middle ground between Russia and the West. In the states that belonged to the former East Germany, twice as many people as in western German states believe that Germany should adopt a special role. But even in the western states, there is only a narrow majority which believes Germany should stand firmly on the side of NATO and the EU in the conflict with Russia. It’s fair to say that when it comes to question of its affiliation with the West, Germany is a divided land.

Old anti-American sentiments, intensified by the NSA spying scandal, could very well be playing a role, along with fear of an escalation in the conflict with Russia. It’s unlikely that the majority of Germans want to revive the former East-West order.

As a child in West Germany, I personally feared the Russians. I couldn’t sleep at night because we had, technically at least, only reached a cease-fire agreement with the Soviet Union and it sounded like the shooting would resume again after a short pause. Fortunately, there was a lot of singing in my family. Perhaps it had to do my grandfather. Maybe they wanted to provide us with an important tool for survival later in life — just in case the Russians came. In any case, my grandfather, who had sung for years for his very survival, never spared a nasty word about the Russians.



Frank-Walter Steinmeier wasted little time after returning to Berlin from the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels last week. He went straight to parliament to inform German lawmakers of the decisions reached. And he did so in the manner which he would like to be perceived as he negotiates the ongoing Crimea crisis: calm, reserved and to-the-point. Indeed, the only time he showed any emotion at all during last Wednesday’s meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee was when he spoke of NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Earlier, Rasmussen had published an op-ed in the German daily Die Welt saying that the path to NATO membership was fundamentally open to Ukraine. «The right of sovereign states to determine their own way forward is one of the foundations of modern Europe,» he wrote. That, though, marked a significant departure from Germany’s own focus on de-escalating the burgeoning confrontation with Russia. «NATO membership for Ukraine is not pending,» Steinmeier huffed. He said that foreign policy was in danger of becoming militarized, adding that it was about time for political leaders to regain the upper hand.

Steinmeier, though, is fully aware that the course Rasmussen is charting won’t disappear any time soon. Already, preparations have begun for the next NATO summit of alliance heads of state and government in September. Thus far, there is only one item on the agenda: a new strategy for NATO.

Berlin is skeptical. And concerned.

The alliance’s cooperation with Russia — which took years to build up — has been on ice since last week. And Moscow is no longer seen as a partner, but as an adversary. The logical next step is clear: How does military deterrence function in the year 2014?

It is a term that hasn’t been heard in Western Europe for some time. Prior to the fall of communism and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, deterrence was based on the destructive potential of atomic weapons, hundreds of thousands of soldiers posted in Europe, heavy weaponry and tanks. The West German army alone had some 495,000 troops, 4,100 Leopard battle tanks and 600 warplanes. The soldiers were the core of an Allied defensive force defending the border between the two power blocks — a frontier that ran right through Germany.

A Third Path?

Since then, Germany’s defense budget has shrunk from 3 percent of gross social product to just 1.2 percent. The country’s army, the Bundeswehr, now has 185,000 soldiers — a number that is set to fall even further — and is focused less on defending Germany than it is on participating in select foreign missions. Instead of tanks and howitzers stationed at the Fulda Gap, the emphasis is now on paratroopers and helicopters for places like Kosovo, Afghanistan or Africa.

Nobody is interested in reversing the trend. And arming for both scenarios would cost billions of euros that aren’t available. But is there a third path?

The new debate within NATO is no doubt music to the ears of aging cold warriors who have always felt that integrating Moscow into alliance structures was dangerously naive. But it is also the logical consequence of a reconsideration of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long-term goals. If Russia is now planning its future against the West rather than with the West, then the question regarding a «modern deterrence» must be posed, a senior Defense Ministry official told SPIEGEL.

Prior to the Ukraine crisis, there were many asking what purpose NATO would serve once the alliance’s troops had withdrawn from Afghanistan. But now that Putin has taken over the Crimea — leading countries on the alliance’s eastern edge to feel threatened — the mood in NATO’s Brussels headquarters has changed dramatically. General Secretary Rasmussen, one NATO source said, has «positively blossomed.» And the US, Britain and most Eastern European member states support him.
Senior officers within NATO are demanding internally that the readiness of Western ground troops and air forces be increased. Currently, it would take 180 days for the requisite forces to be moved into place ahead of any operation. That time lag, argue military leaders, needs to be shortened, a proposition that would also affect up to 10,000 German troops. In addition, say military leaders, tank units should be strengthened and munition depots filled. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski even proposed stationing two NATO brigades (up to 10,000 troops) in his country. That, however, would require the construction of barracks, depots and equipment storage facilities to house them.
The Chancellery in Berlin is wary of such proposals. «We shouldn’t give the Russians any cause for accusing us of breaching treaties,» officials there say. In 1997, NATO committed itself to refrain from stationing large numbers of troops in former Warsaw Pact member states. Doing so now would be a provocation of a new dimension.

A Military Aspect

As such, Foreign Minister Steinmeier is focusing exclusively on diplomacy. His ministry is currently developing an «Action Plan for Ukraine,» which is to elucidate all of Berlin’s support for the new Ukrainian government. All of the ministries involved in that support are taking part in creating the action plan, the Foreign Ministry says. But the Ministry of Defense is not one of them. Steinmeier also provided the impetus for last week’s trip of several state secretaries to Ukraine, one for each ministry involved in Berlin’s support for Kiev. Again, the Ministry of Defense was not represented.
Yet there is certainly a military aspect to the issue. Already, Ukraine has sent a request to NATO headquarters for the delivery of radios, weapons and munitions from alliance stores. At the same time, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has asked senior German generals to examine what the alliance could do to provide additional support to NATO member states in Eastern Europe. NATO has asked alliance members to make additional contributions over and above the already agreed to increase to air-policing sorties and AWACS surveillance flights. Proposals are to be submitted to NATO headquarters by mid-April. Von der Leyen is likely to propose joint military maneuvers involving Germany, Poland and the Baltic states. A NATO maneuver planned for 2015 in Southern Europe could also be moved up and shifted to the east. But the minister has rejected sending heavy equipment or troops for an extended period.

Poland, for its part, would like to see even more shows of NATO solidarity. Not to put too fine a point on it, Poland is afraid of Russia, as are its Baltic neighbors. Some of that fear stems from the Soviet era. But Russia’s recent show of power on Ukraine’s eastern border — and Putin’s evident refusal to withdraw forces as he recently promised — has also raised concern in Warsaw.

The West long snickered at the dilapidated state of Russia’s military. But it has since been dramatically modernized and analysts in Western armies and intelligence services are concerned about the capabilities Russia has put on display in recent maneuvers. Operation Sapad 2013 is a particularly stark example. Sapad is the Russian word for West and the exercise could certainly be understood as a threat pointed in that direction. Officially, fewer than 13,000 soldiers took part in the exercise, falling below the threshold that would have required observation by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). But part of the exercise took place in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that shares borders with Poland and Lithuania. Special forces were involved as were officers from the FSB, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency. It total, Western military leaders estimate, some 60,000 people took part in the maneuver — one which even interfered with a NATO radar facility in the Baltics. The Russian military also fired a short-range «Iskander» missile. It was armed with nothing more than a practice warhead, but drills for arming such missiles with nuclear warheads were also apparently carried out.

«It is clear what the Russians showed us with the maneuver,» says one Western military leader with knowledge of the exercise. «They can escalate a conflict on their western border and then contain it again.» Nobody doubts today that Russia would be able to overrun and occupy eastern Ukraine. The German government believes that preventing such an eventuality is the task of diplomacy. In any case, the erstwhile Western military deterrent has been weakened considerably. It was thought to be superfluous.

Adjusted for Peace

The number of warplanes possessed by Germany’s military has been more than halved since the fall of communism and hundreds of battle tanks were either mothballed or sold off. Instead, the Bundeswehr has built up a widely praised force that can be quickly deployed internationally and which is currently active on three continents. Now, some are viewing that strategy in a new light.
«Defense policy has been adjusted for peace missions under relatively favorable conditions, but the current crisis strongly illustrates that may have been too unidirectional and naive,» says Joachim Krause, head of the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University. «The Defense Ministry needs to conduct a fundamental review of its procurement plans.» Rainer Arnold, the defense policy coordinator for the center-left Social Democrats, who share power in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government, views the situation similarly. «We need to reflect on whether the uncontrolled reduction of the NATO tank fleet was the right thing to do,» he says. «We should move toward developing a joint drone in Europe as quickly as possible. The decision on the ‘EuroHawk’ drones should also be reconsidered, he argues. All the alternatives appear to be a lot more expensive than it would be to just make a renewed and concentrated effort to get it certified,» he says. Germany’s former defense minister came under intense fire last year after he moved to cancel a contract for the surveillance drone after spending more than €500 million on it.

Volker Kauder, the head of the parliamentary group for Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, opposes such ideas. «The current situation with the Crimean crisis has absolutely zero influence on the Bundeswehr’s defense projects,» he claims. So far, that’s an opinion that has been shared by Defense Minister von der Leyen.

Newfound Optimism

Nevertheless, defense firms are already preparing for the possibility of new orders. They sense an opportunity to bring some shelved defense projects back to life. Three procurement plans are of particular interest to them.

The Eurofighter, for example, was long considered to be superfluous for the new Bundeswehr, which is largely an intervention army intended for foreign deployments. The German air force is already in possession of around 100 of the fighter jets; in total, it is planning the purchase of 143 at a cost of around €17 billion ($23.3 billion). However, the last tranche of deliveries was cancelled in 2013. At the time, manufacturer Airbus Defense promptly sent a €874.53 million bill demanding that the government pay for the cancellation. Today it appears to be less adamant about collecting that money though. Instead officials believe that the Defense Ministry could pour that money into other development projects with the company. «Losing the capacity to develop military aircraft in our own country,» Airbus sources say, «would be a serious strategic setback for Germany.»

Another defense project that Airbus executives are promoting, together with CEO Tom Enders, himself a paratrooper with the Germany army reserves, is the «Tiger» combat helicopter. Originally, the German army ordered 80 of the aircraft. Then the figure was reduced because the Tiger was designed technically to address outmoded scenarios conceived during the Cold War-era. It includes, for example, a roof-mounted device similar to the periscope on a submarine that enables the pilots to target and fire on approaching enemy tanks even as the helicopter itself is camouflaged.

Executives at the defense firm MBDA in Bavaria are also optimistic. The company is part of an international consortium that has been developing the MEADS missile defense system in recent years. Germany alone has already spent close to €1 billion on the project. The system is intended to replace the Bundeswehr’s aging Patriot antiballistic missiles, but the ministry has been hesitant in placing a final order. «If a contract doesn’t come together with the Defense Ministry in the coming months, then our engineers are going to quit,» MBDA management sources say off the record. Many argue that MEADS would be ideal for defending the Baltic states against a possible Russian attack.

Despite their newfound optimism, defense industry executives have been careful not to be too open about promoting their projects. Still, overtures are definitely being made. «In terms of security policy, Germany has become a copycat country,» one industry source said. «We have forgotten the language of deterrence.» Lines like that almost sound like they come from the Cold War-era — or at least one of the recent NATO Council meetings.


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