Russia's Gaze Lingers on Germany in its Search for a Western Soul Mate, Russia has--for Better or for Worse--Turned to a Historic Partner
Wines, Michael. "Russia's Gaze Lingers on Germany in its Search for a Western Soul Mate, Russia has--for Better or for Worse--Turned to a Historic Partner." Star Tribune, 3 September 2001, sec. A4.
Those who wonder where Russia's affections turned after its infatuation
with the United States soured should go to Kaliningrad--a Baltic
enclave that was a prize patch of the German heartland until the
Red Army seized it in 1945--and talk to Irina Korobova.
In a three-story factory where Soviet laborers once outfitted fishing
trawlers, Korobova, 27, is the deputy director of Grammer AG Kaliningrad,
a spotless German plant whose 380 workers produce upholstery for
5,000 BMWs, Volkswagens and Audis daily.
She learned German in high school. Grammer trained her in Germany
after college. This year, she completed German business school.
"Just working at these enterprises is a great experience. You
learn the mentality of Germans; you learn their punctuality,"
she said. "And we have the German system of quality control."
Nobody doubts that by virtue of wealth and power, the United States
will preoccupy Russia's foreign policy thinking for decades. But
when Russia seeks a Western soul mate these days, it looks not across
the Atlantic, but 230 miles west, where Poland stops and Germany
It is not just that Russia's nouveau nationalists now think that
the U.S. giant has clay feet. Russians are trying to rekindle a
centuries-old romance. When Germany and Russia were not fighting--often
at the cost of central and eastern Europeans--they carried on a
torrid affair of heart and mind.
`Big, big hopes'
Germany sent Russia its nobility and expertise--Catherine the Great;
the last czarina, Alexandra Fyodorovna; an entire German province
on the Volga (the Germans were lured by Catherine to modernize Russian
farming, then exiled by Stalin). The Slavs lent the Germans their
passion, enticing them with the mystery within Russia's fusion of
Europe and Asia.
The relationship has also caused great destruction. Take Kaliningrad
itself. It was famous before World War II as Konigsberg, the capital
of East Prussia, birthplace of philosopher Immanuel Kant and a center
of German culture. Today, it is a squalid and concrete-faced reminder
of the Soviet legacy.
President Vladimir Putin, a fluent German speaker who worked for
the KGB in the 1980s in Dresden, last year called Germany "Russia's
leading partner in Europe and the world." He has showered Berlin
with bouquets to prove it, from help for industry to his defense
ministry's purchase of hundreds of BMWs.
"Russians today sort of love Germans and hate Americans. A
lot of people tell us that," said Alexander Rahr, a Russia
expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "It
has something to do with big, big hopes. The Russians think that
somehow, in the depths, Germany understands Russia and that Germans
will help them out."
Rahr and others say that that is half right.
Germany understands Russia--so well, courtesy of centuries of military,
cultural and royal intimacy, that it is not ready to help the Russians
any more than it already has.
Schroeder underscored that in April, in an article in the German
journal Die Zeit.
"We exclude any German `special way' in the relationship with
Russia," he wrote. "We want a new normality in the relationship
between the two nations, without illusions, without sentimentality."
He reflects a Western consensus that Russia should not join their
exclusive club until it proves it can play by Western rules--and
that the proof is still lacking, despite Russia's promises of democratic
and economic reform.
This perception leaves Russia as Germany's jilted lover.
Failure to find a home in Europe would leave Russia with two unpleasant
options: isolation or a problematic and precarious alliance with
"This is the historic nightmare of Russia, being isolated
and surrounded by enemies," said Horst Teltschik, a Russia
expert and former national security adviser to Chancellor Helmut
Kohl. "And if Germany is not interested in Russia--in taking
leadership on the vast question of how to handle Russia--then nobody
will do it."
Between the World Wars, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, two diplomatic
pariahs, found solace and power in secret and public alliances.
After the Soviet Union turned a third of Germany into its satellite
at the start of the Cold War, West Germany kept top-level diplomatic
contacts with Moscow, bought vast amounts of Soviet natural gas
and, ultimately, paid the Kremlin billions to defray the cost of
removing the Group of Soviet Forces from East Germany after the
fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
Today Germany is Russia's largest creditor, holding 40 percent
of its $48 million in Paris Club debt, and by far Russia's largest
trading partner. Next to the United States, it is Russia's second-largest
foreign investor, and overall, more German companies have Russian
It sounds impressive, but it's small change compared with German
interests elsewhere: In 1999, German direct investment in Russia--money
spent on factories, equipment and such--totaled $727 million. In
Poland, with one-fourth the population, it totaled $4.87 billion.
What restrains German businesses is what restrains the German government:
"It's the old question," said one former German diplomat
in Russia. "The reform policies are hailed; things have positively
changed. But it's not yet enough. They haven't reached the level
of reform that we need."
Reprinted with permission of Minneapolis Star Tribune.