The New Strategy toward Russia

Berlin calls for new sanctions against Moscow. Debate in Germany on policy toward Russia and new military operations.

BERLIN/MOSCOW (Own report) - The German government is calling for new sanctions against Russia. In Brussels, "proposals" will be submitted for sanctions against individuals, "deemed responsible" for the poisoning of Alexey Navalny "based on their official function," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian declared in a joint statement published yesterday. "No credible explanation has been provided by Russia so far," the statement continues. For Berlin, which, for its part, has presented no evidence for Navalny's having been poisoned by Russian officials, this is sufficient to justify sanctions. These measures come in den midst of a fierce debate in Berlin over a change of course in German policy toward Russia, motivated by the fact that, for quite some time, the German government made no headway in its power struggle with Moscow. Demands for new military interventions - such as an EU operation in Libya - are being raised. Curiously enough, US plans to have Julian Assange poisoned have recently been confirmed.

Sanctions on Suspicion

The German government is pushing for new sanctions against Moscow, using the allegation that the Russian dissident Alexey Navalny had been poisoned in Russia with the nerve agent from the “Novichok" family. Evidence, as to how and by whom, this was supposedly committed, has yet to be presented. Just a few days ago, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder pointed out that these are basically pure "speculations."[1] Over the weekend, Russian government authorities have reiterated that Berlin has refused to answer several requests for legal aid and demands for information.[2] In their joint statement published yesterday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian declared, that "no credible explanation" regarding Berlin's accusation, "has been provided by Russia so far." They "consider that there is no other plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning than a Russian involvement and responsibility."[3] "Drawing the necessary conclusions from these facts" - for which, as mentioned above, they have not presented any evidence - they will "share with European partners proposals for additional sanctions." The sanctions will "target individuals deemed responsible for this crime and breach of international norms, based on their official function." The formulation ("deemed") shows again that Berlin wants to impose sanctions based on suspicion.

No Breakthrough Yet

The plans for sanctions arise as a result of a change of course in Germany's policy toward Russia, which currently is being heavily debated in Berlin, due to the realization that in its concrete power struggles with Moscow, Berlin has yet to achieve a breakthrough. Simultaneously, even in the areas of conflict, where cooperation with Russia could be helpful, Berlin does not make headway. A recent analysis not only makes reference to Eastern Ukraine, where the German government has been unable to impose its concept of pacification, but also to Syria, where Berlin has been calling in vain, for President Bashar al Assad's removal from power, whereas Moscow sees "itself as the winner" and expects, "Germany and the EU to provide" Assad "financial aid for reconstruction."[4] In Libya too, the two sides are pursuing opposite objectives. According to the analysis, Germany is seeking a negotiated settlement, while Russia is still backing the East Libyan warlord, Khalifa Haftar. To put these conflicts on hold, for example, to implement the nuclear agreement with Iran against US obstacles, is not worth the effort. As has been shown, "Moscow and Berlin are too weak" to do that, concludes the analysis.

"Robust EU Mission to East Ukraine"

To be able to at least make progress in individual conflicts, calls for a massive intensification of the aggression against Russia are being raised, for example, by Stefan Meister, who had worked at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) until March 2019, and heads the South Caucasus Bureau of the Green-affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation in Tbilisi, since July 2019. He explained that the EU's system of sanctions against Russia are "too inflexible and too weak, to really build up pressure on the Russian government" and force concessions, for example "in light of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements to Donbas."[5] "Germany and the EU," therefore have "a weak negotiating position." Meister advances several possible measures for intensifying pressure on Moscow. The "dependence on the supply of Russian raw materials should be reduced," for this "Nord Stream 2 ... should be put to the test, and if the Russian side is unwilling to cooperate, be halted." In addition, sanctions should be imposed on Russians guilty of "corruption" or "disinformation." It is "necessary" to cooperate with Russian artists and intellectuals in exile within the EU, to "influence the Russian domestic political discourse, also via social media." And finally, "without military pressure ... it will prove impossible to negotiate on an equal footing over conflicts when Russia is involved." Therefore, perhaps an EU or a NATO intervention in Libya, the imposition of "safe areas for civilians" in Syria, and a robust EU mission, with German participation, to Eastern Ukraine should be considered.

With Moscow Against Beijing?

Others advise against an immediate transition to such sharp aggressions. Indeed, regarding "Ukraine, Syria, Libya," one must pose the question: "Can Moscow remain a partner, or must Germany and Europe insulate themselves from Moscow?" asked former ambassador Rolf Nikel, Vice President of DGAP.[6] However, overriding factors must be considered. In light of the power struggle between the West and Beijing, for example, "a strategic integration of Russia against China" cannot be ruled out. "The deeper" the People's Republic penetrates "into Russia's backyard," with its new Silk Road, "the sooner" Moscow will be prepared to accept western "proposals for cooperation." To pull out of Nord Stream 2 would not only be expensive, it would provoke countermeasures and undermine trust in the reliability of investments in Germany. Therefore, Nikel warns, "a fundamental revision of Europe's strategy toward Russia would be premature." "We should, at least, wait for the US election results." Moreover, "an eventual halt of construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline" should "first be decided within the context of a comprehensive European strategy." DGAP's Vice President pleads, quasi as a compromise, for "EU sanctions to be imposed on individuals," which "are deemed responsible for the use of the neurotoxin (Novichok, editor's note)." Of course, "court-proof evidence, implicating that person in the attack, will be necessary."

"Poison Assange"

Curiously enough, just a few days before Maas' demand to impose sanctions, US plans to poison Julian Assange were confirmed. Witnesses during the extradition hearings in London against the WikiLeaks activist testified on Wednesday of last week that they - as employees of the Spanish security company under contract of US agencies - had not only illegally installed bugging devices in the British capital's Ecuadorian Embassy, to spy on Assange during the seven years he had spent in the building. Their contractor was demanding that "more extreme measures" be taken. For example, "there was a suggestion that the door of the embassy should be left open allowing people to enter from the outside and kidnap or poison Assange."[7] Why he had not been poisoned, remains unknown.


[1] Schröder glaubt nicht an Nowitschok-These. 30.09.2020.

[2] German Foreign Ministry denies Russian Embassy consular access to Navalny. 03.10.2020.

[3] Gemeinsame Erklärung der Außenminister von Frankreich und Deutschland zum Fall Nawalny. 07.10.2020.

[4], [5] Stefan Meister: Das Ende der Ostpolitik. Wie ein Strategiewandel deutscher Russlandpolitik aussehen könnte. DGAP Policy Brief Nr. 19. Berlin, September 2020.

[6] Rolf Nikel: Europäische Ostpolitik mit Augenmaß. Warum derzeit personengebundene Sanktionen gegen Russland und Belarus besser sind als ein Strategiewechsel. DGAP Policy Brief Nr. 24. Berlin, Oktober 2020.

[7] Ben Quinn: US intelligence sources discussed poisoning Julian Assange, court told. 30.09.2020.