Prof. Zbigniew Rau’s article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, has once again presented an original vision of the Second World War in a recent article for Die Zeit. In his version, the Soviet Union appears solely as a victim of the Third Reich’s aggression, before – having fended off the invasion – transforming itself into ”the Saviour of Europe”.
Obviously, Putin is no mere amateur historian but the head of a state which glorifies its imperial tradition to shape its contemporary identity.
Putin’s offer to Germany is for a German-dominated European Union to become part of a broader community together with the Russian-dominated Eurasian Union.
President Putin’s proposal is deeply rooted in his own vision of the Second World War, in which a positive attitude towards the Hitler–Stalin Pact plays the key role. The Pact encouraged Hitler to unleash the war in Europe. In return, Stalin was given a free hand to enslave the nations of Central and Eastern Europe.
It is no accident that over the past few years, during a series of annexations and occupations, Russia has resorted to the same methods that Stalin and his successors used in 1939-1989 to trample on Central Europe and the Baltic states.
At Yalta, thanks to the blood sacrifice shed by all nations of the USSR – in particular Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians – Stalin was able to preserve and expand the sphere of influence he obtained from Hitler. As a result, the Iron Curtain split Europe “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”. Russia has long practice in luring democratic leaders into an imperial trap.
The Iron Curtain split Germany as well. Overcoming the division of Germany entailed the fall of the Yalta order and the regaining of freedom by Eastern European nations. Freedom is the ability to make sovereign decisions on which development model to follow and how to fulfil social aspirations, it is a victory over keeping people in concentration camps and gulags, it is the opportunity to apply for EU and NATO membership. Building Europe whole, free and at peace, as proclaimed by US President George H. Bush in 1989, was about rejecting a model based on the Concert of Powers and embracing the idea of freedom and the democratisation of international relations. This is the alternative to the model proposed by Putin.
The linchpin of President Putin’s vision is the German concept of Wandel durch Handel. Putin effectively put a halt to this idea and, as befits a seasoned judo fighter, uses Germany’s willingness to talk to change that country, and make it resemble Russia. Along with Nord Stream gas, Germany is expected to import Russia’s idea of the Concert of Powers and its kleptocratic model of development, based on an interdependence between the worlds of politics, business and crime.
Therefore, Germany should reject Putin’s offer and opt for the model of a free Europe where antagonisms are overcome not by covert deals between world powers but through an order founded on international law and democratic principle of respecting the sovereign equality of all states, in line with the motto “the free with the free, the equal with the equal”.
Once the NS2 pipeline opens, Germany will face a test and a choice between these two models. The imperial trap set by Putin is one in which part of Germany’s elite has bought a stake. One of my predecessors as Polish foreign minister once said in Berlin that he was more afraid of German inaction than German power. Today, I am more afraid of Germany’s lack of responsibility for the consequences of its cooperation with Putin’s Russia.
The completion of Nord Steam 2 will create a great security deficit on NATO’s eastern flank and Ukraine will find itself in a security void. Therefore, I call on Germany to take responsibility for its decision to open NS2 and to make a real – and not pretended – contribution to offsetting the security deficits. Putin did not bear the immense cost of building NS2 in order not to use this instrument. Hence the necessity of strengthening the deterrent potential of both NATO’s eastern flank and Ukraine, which, as the victim of Russian aggression, should receive a suitably high compensation both in the form of political support and increased defence potential. Poland is ready to do its part to make up these security deficits.
The time has come to verify the German elite’s declarations of their sense of responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich. They can show good faith by taking true responsibility for peace and democratic shape of European policy here and now, but especially after Nord Stream 2 opens.