May 13, 2016 –
Alexander Tsyganov, Anastasiya Kazimirko-Kirillova, Tsargrad –
Translated by J. Arnoldski
Germany has followed France in attempting to bring the question of abolishing anti-Russian sanctions to the state level. Such an initiative has been made by the deputy Udo Stein from the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Stein has prepared a resolution on cancelling the sanctions against Russia and has sent it for consideration by the government of the Baden-Wurttemberg region. Experts believe that this initiative is but the first step down a long and difficult road as it puts the ruling party in Germany in a difficult position.
Submitting his resolution for consideration to the Landtag, Stein stressed that Germany has suffered losses over Brussel’s decision without any avail in peacefully regulating the conflict in Ukraine. Hundreds of business with ties to Russia have suffered along with whole regions which had good trade and economic relations with Russian partners, one of which is Baden-Wurttemberg.
It should be noted that this is not the first attempt by a party to raise the issue of cancelling sanctions against Russia. Another deputy in the European Parliament from Alternative for Germany, Marcus Pretzell, called for cancelling sanctions a month ago. In late April, a survey was published by the German Forsa Insitute which showed that the majority of Germany support the lifting of sanctions, or at least their weakening. Around 35% of correspondents were in favor of completely lifting sanctions against Russia while 36% believed that restrictive measures should at least be weakened. Only 18% of respondents said that the sanctions must be kept as they are.
Deputy head of the Center for German Studies of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ekaterina Timoshenkova, considers it particularly important that this initiative was brought forth by a party which, despite its successes in elections, is not yet part of the political establishment. The major parties sitting in the Bundestag do not recognize AfD and have tried to either ignore or criticize it, as was the case with AfD’s call to restrict migration.
“Among the Social-Democratic Party of Germany and the Bavarian Christian Social Union, louder voices are being increasingly heard in support of lifting sanctions, and the initiative is also supported by the Left Party of Germany. In the Christian Democratic Union, which heads the coalition, opinion are divided, while the Greens stand in favor of the sanctions,” Timoshenkova commented.
Thus, the expert explains, German parties find themselves in a very curious situation: “This initiative, which many support, was suddenly made by a party which is impossible to support, which [the other parties] dream of tossing from political Olympus. On the one hand, they can’t cooperate with Alternative for Germany, while on the other, it is coming forth with an initiative which many consider to be important and needed. For sanctions to be lifted, they need to ‘officially’ encourage either the CDU leading the big coalition or the social-democrats. Now, someone either needs to seize the initiative and make it legitimate, or it will just be left submitted to criticism, as things were with the previous proposals from Alternative for Germany.”
But the official parties have no time to work out a common position, and criticizing the proposal is unprofitably insofar as it will cause discontent among the electorate, the expert believes. The latest sociological surveys show that around two-thirds, or up to even 80% of Germans, are in favor of normalizing relations with Russia. Despite the fact that they see Russia as a quite problematic partner, Germans expect their government to take steps towards a rapprochement with Russia. And the ruling parties understand the population’s mood.
Timoshenkova believes that a discussion will unfold in the German political community, the result of which will show what common opinion the parties can arrive at and how they will resolve the difficult situation in whichh they’ve found themselves.
Meanwhile, while standing for cancelling sanctions outside of the Bundestag, the German ruling parties officially refer to the need for progress in settling problems with Ukraine and the Minsk Agreements. This means that they are waiting for Russia to fulfill a number of conditions before Germany will have the formal occasion to advocate the lifting of sanctions.
“But a quick solution will likely fail to materialize. Germany is key member of the EU which means that, even despite the opinion of the people, it remains tied to a collective position on the one hand, and to formal criteria in the form of the progress of the Minsk negotiations on the other,” Timoshenkova suggests.
The German journalist and writer Manuel Ochsenreiter, who heads the German Center for Eurasian Studies, expressed confidence during an interview with Tsargrad that the resolution appeared at the right time. He drew attention to the fact that Udo Stein’s initiative was made possible following Alternative for Germany’s great strides in the last elections, in which it immediately gained 23 deputies in the Landtag of Baden-Wurttemberg region.
“We know that the policy of sanctions was launched from above, and not on the level of the Landtags. But now, and this is most important, the opportunity has appeared to include the topic of lifting sanctions on the agenda in an increasing number of Landtags at the city, district, and municipal levels. Thus, support for the lifting of sanctions will grow. It can be said that this is a people’s initiative, an initiative from below, insofar as the federal deputies have hardly dared to speak out against the sanctions,” Ochsenreiter noted.
According to Ochsenreiter, two years of sanctions have seen trade with Russia fall by 25%, with more than 100,000 people losing their jobs in sectors directly or indirectly related to trade with Russia: “It needs to be clearly said that we are not dealing simply with Putin or Merkel, but with key German interests. Germany is an expert country, but we don’t have gas and oil fields or diamond and gold mines. We do, however, produce high quality products with the world-renowned sign of quality – Made in Germany.’”
Thus, the experts agree that Germany has internally matured to the point that, even if sanctions cannot be lifted, now the inclusion of this issue into the political agenda of the day is at least possible. What politicians earlier discussed only in private or unofficial manners has gradually become a reflection of the aspirations and expectations of all of German society and German business. France has already supported the lifting of sanctions on the level of the National Assembly.
“The sanctions were a politically incorrect solution. Over the past two years, the authorities must have been able to see that Russia has not been weakened or broken. The country continues to exist and work, and not much damage is evident. Russia is replacing our goods with their counterparts, albeit of different quality, from China, India, and Taiwan. But it is time for the government to admit: ‘It’d be better if they bought ours.’ It’s time for Germany to abandon the sanctions,” Manuel Ochsenreiter believes.