Expansive Ambitions

KIEV/BERLIN | | ukraine

KIEV/BERLIN (Own report) - An influential publicist and former Head of the German Defense Ministry's Planning Staff is criticizing the "expansive ambitions" of Germany's current policies toward the Ukraine. The power struggle over Kiev, bombastically presented to the western public as a struggle "for self-determination," is "in reality" nothing more than a "big geopolitical game," writes Theo Sommer, longtime "Editor at Large" of the German weekly "Die Zeit." The EU Association Agreements - one of which is supposed to be signed by the Ukraine - are "reeking of expansive ambitions." Sommer's reference to "geopolitics" brings to mind Germany's more than a century old power struggle over the Ukraine - a country "interposed" between the two poles of power, Berlin and Moscow - in the course of Berlin's ongoing eastward expansion. The German Reich succeeded for only a short time in incorporating the Ukraine into its hegemonic sphere - during the spring and summer of 1918. Following Germany's defeat in WW I, German strategists continued to pursue their efforts and the objective is being sought by the Federal Republic of Germany still today.

A Geopolitical Game

According to Theo Sommer, "Editor at Large" of the weekly "Die Zeit," the current conflict over the Ukraine is of "utmost importance" - in geopolitical terms. "There are two fundamental questions," Sommer writes, "where are the EU's eastern boundaries and where are the western boundaries of Russia's sphere of influence?" The power struggle led by the West under the banner of "self-determination" is "in reality" nothing more than a "new and big geopolitical game." Not concealing his scepticism toward Berlin's official policy, Sommer, asks if "the EU should really stretch all the way to Armenia and Georgia?" "Would a free-trade agreement that does not reek of expansive ambitions, be not better than association?" Sommer sees the Ukraine, "the country interposed" as the "biggest bone of contention," considered by both, Russia as well as Germany / the EU as their "proximate neighbor." Sommer, the former Head of the Defense Ministry's Planning Staff, - in clear contrast to Berlin's official foreign policy - promotes consensual agreements between the EU, Russia and the Ukraine.[1]

Between Moscow and Berlin

Sommer's reference to the "geopolitical" character of the current conflicts over the Ukraine, brings to mind that that particular country has long played a special role in German foreign policy concepts - since about one hundred years. It has always been a question of how Europe's powers would stake out their spheres of influence. For centuries, Kiev has traditionally been under Russian influence, and since 1793 even constituted part of Russian territory. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Berlin began developing plans to extend its sphere of influence eastward, and fixed its eye on the Ukraine. By the beginning of the First World War, at the latest, it was obvious that Russia's existing influence and Germany's aspiring influence were clashing at the Ukrainian border. When the war began in 1914, German strategists had developed plans for opening the way for Berlin's eastward expansion of influence. They thought to use the fact that Russia united population groups of various native languages. The German strategists' basic idea was to split up the czarist empire into various linguistic groups.

The Orange Theory

One of the first to promote this plan was Paul Rohrbach, an influential publicist in Berlin's foreign policy establishment. As one of his associates later recalled, Rohrbach repeatedly compared Russia to an orange. "This fruit consists of individual, easily separable segments, like the Russian empire with its various regional elements, the Baltic provinces the Ukraine, Poland, etc." It would suffice "to detach these elements one from another and give them a modicum of autonomy," and it would "be easy to put an end to the Great Russian Empire." At the time, some pompously referred to this as "decomposition," while others called it the "orange theory."[2] The centrist politician, Matthias Erzberger, supported a similar policy. In September 1914, in an exposé on the objectives of the war, he called for the "liberation of the non-Russian peoples from the yoke of the Muscovites and the establishment of autonomy within the individual population groups" - naturally "under German military sovereignty."[3] That concept influenced the operative policies. As a "means of struggle against Russia," the "rebellion of not only Poland, but also of the Ukraine" was sought, according to the decree handed down August 11, 1914 by the Chancellor of the German Reich.[4]

The Self-Determination of the Ukraine

Berlin achieved its first breakthrough in its Ukraine policy in 1918. Using Moscow's weakness, in the aftermath of the October Revolution, the Ukrainian central parliament proclaimed its independence - and entered a treaty for its security with the German Reich on February 9, 1918. Subsequently, "calls for help" reached Berlin from Kiev asking for support against Moscow - and soon the German Reich could actually take over control of the feeble Ukraine. The German general Wilhelm Groener, who, as Chief of the General Staff of the Eichhorn/Kiev Army Group was the strong man in the Ukrainian capital from March 28 to October 26 1918, dispatched the message that though one would "continue upholding the fiction" that "the Ukrainian Rada was governing," de facto, it was the German Reich "by means of our authority and power."[5] Groener, at the time had sufficiently circumscribed Ukrainian "self-determination," as merely a transfer from one hegemonic sphere to another. Even the character of the rule remained repressive. April 29, 1918, following social rebellions, the Germans put the large landowner Poavlo Skoropadski at the reins in Kiev, quasi as a proconsul. His brutal regime provoked strong protests from the poor peasants. According to one analysis of that period's German East Policy, "formally speaking" the government was "a dictatorship, however, in the substance, (...) a German General Government."[6]

Nazi Collaborators

The German Reich's defeat in the war opened the road for Moscow to reintegrate the Ukraine back into its territory. However, Berlin has never accepted defeat in this power struggle. Already in 1918, the "orange theoretician," Paul Rohrbach, founded the German-Ukrainian Society, to promote the destruction of the Soviet Union - and simultaneously provide Ukrainian exiles a meeting point, since it could be assumed that, for another German attempt to break off the Ukraine, activists of the Skoropadski regime could come in handy. Berlin's foreign policy establishment pursued these plans throughout the 1920s and '30s, until Ukrainian Nazi collaborators led by the fascist Stepan Bandera invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 with the German Army. Today, Bandera is seen as a national hero in West Ukraine. Last year, german-foreign-policy.com described the main aspects of this development.[7]

Long Lines

No one personifies the long line of German policy toward the Ukraine as clearly as its pioneer Paul Rohrbach. Just as he had done in the aftermath of World War I, following the Second World War, Rohrbach again promoted the application of his "orange theory." When, in 1952, he was named President of Honor of the re-established German-Ukrainian Society, he wrote - in the context of the confrontation of the systems - if one wants to vanquish the socialist countries, one must promote "the unleashing of the centrifugal forces within the Soviet Union." The "strongest of these centrifugal forces" is "the national self-consciousness of the Ukrainian people, with its will to obtain national sovereignty." By supporting Ukrainian nationalism, one can perspectively achieve "a continuing internal agitation of Soviet power" and "perhaps, one day, with other advantageous circumstances, its collapse."[8] The collapse came in 1991. Since then Berlin has been systematically working to bring the Ukraine into its hegemonic sphere of influence on an exclusive and permanent basis. The current "geopolitical game" around the EU Association Agreement is - with all its "expansive ambitions" (Theo Sommer) - the most recent step in the old power struggle over the "Ukraine, the country interposed" between the poles of power in Moscow and Berlin.

[1] Theo Sommer: Ein neuer Eiserner Vorhang? www.zeit.de 25.11.2013
[2] Walter Mogk: Paul Rohrbach und das "Größere Deutschland". Ethischer Imperialismus im Wilhelminischen Zeitalter, München 1972
[3], [4] zitiert nach: Fritz Fischer: Griff nach der Weltmacht. Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914/18, Düsseldorf 1961
[5] Winfried Baumgart: General Groener und die deutsche Besatzungspolitik in der Ukraine 1918, in: Geschichte 6/1970, S. 325-340
[6] Winfried Baumgart: Deutsche Ostpolitik 1918. Von Brest-Litowsk bis zum Ende des Ersten Weltkrieges, Wien 1966
[7] see also Zwischen Moskau und Berlin (II), Between Moscow and Berlin (III), Zwischen Moskau und Berlin (IV) and Zwischen Moskau und Berlin (V)
[8] Paul Rohrbach: Die ukrainische Frage; Ukraine in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart 3/1952