How will German-Russian relations develop after the end of the Merkel Age?

A few weeks ago, both Germany and Russia went through parliamentary elections, and energy shocks followed only several days later

09:00 | 22 октомври 2021
Обновен: 12:23 | 22 октомври 2021
Снимка: Bloomberg L.P.
Снимка: Bloomberg L.P.

by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Alexander Sivilov,

Head of the Department of New and Contemporary History

A few weeks ago, both Germany and Russia went through parliamentary elections, and energy shocks followed only several days later. Gas prices went crazy on world markets. The reason was said to be the rapid recovery of Asia and the diversion of large quantities to markets there, but the truth is that Moscow was once again trying to use Europe's energy supply as a lever for political change. In this situation, the lengthy negotiations expected during the establishment of the government in Berlin will definitely place the whole of the European Union in a weak position.

Presently, two main coalitions which could lead to the formation of a government are considered possible. In the first place, it is that of the winning Social Democrats. It is called a traffic light after the colors of the main parties, which can lead to the formation of a majority. These are Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats, the Free Democrats (PFD) and the Greens."

At the same time, consultations are already under way in terms of the second largest party, Angela Merkel's conservative bloc, which includes the Christian Democratic Party and the Christian Social Union. The possible union with them is called Jamaica after the colors of the flag of the Caribbean country - black, yellow and green. In that case, the Conservative leader will also seek the support of the Free Democrats and the Greens. According to initial analyses, there are several other options for ruling formations: red - green - red, which, in addition to the Social Democrats and the Greens, also includes the Left.

The search for a grand coalition to unite the Social Democrats and the Conservative bloc is not out of the question. However, a similar scheme was supported by Angela Merkel's government so far. Naturally, such a formation is the least desired by the big players, as it significantly reduces their weight in government and forces them to consider a much stronger partner.

The interesting thing here is that the Free Democrats, often called liberals and the Greens of Analena Burbock are invariably present in the most desirable alliances as a balancing force.

While with the Free Democrats (PFD), policies are much more predictable, Burbock's party can present countless surprises.

Leading topics in the discussions of future coalition agreements will be the issues of foreign policy and partnerships of Germany and the EU. It is likely that, for the first time, problems with international relations will be at the heart of the debate and it is difficult to find a consensus, moreover that the key issue will be contacts with Russia and energy dependence on the eastern giant.

Election winner Olaf Scholz turned out to be a relatively experienced swimmer in this explosive mix of energy issues and international relations. He used to be a finance minister in Angela Merkel's government and had to maneuver between Germany's economic interests and support for the democratic traditions.

Scholz has so far been a defender of the approach used by Angela Merkel - a clear separation of economics and politics. He also supports the completion and commissioning of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. At the same time, his interviews show a firm position regarding Russia's place in international relations. Scholz calls for a new common position of the European Union towards Russia. He has shown support for EU enlargement, which clashes directly with Putin's interests on the Balkans. On the other hand, when journalists try to get Scholz to talk about the Russian president, the German politician always avoids the topic in one way or another. His position on Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea is in line with European diplomacy - there can be no forceful changes of the borders of the old continent.

From all that was said so far, it is clear that in a possible “traffic light” coalition, the leading force will not impose a drastic change in Germany's foreign economic vector. Naturally, Gasprom's circumvention of Ukraine as a transit route will put the future German government between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, there will be political principles and support for change in the Eastern European country, but on the other, there are the internal interests of German consumers who want lower prices for the blue fuel – and what’s more when the market is under pressure from unprecedented price leap.

The second key politician for Germany's future foreign and economic policy is Conservative Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet. Angela Merkel's successor has extensive experience as a member of the European Parliament, and before reaching the top of the Christian Democratic Party he was prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia. Establishing a coalition with the Greens in the form of Jamaica seems more complicated, precisely because of the background of the leader of the CDP. During his rule in the western German state, he encountered environmental movements several times and defended the use of coal in some of the region's major industrial enterprises.

Laschet has often been criticized for being not very critical of the major external factors that influence German policy. This issue was first raised in 2015 in connection with the disclosures about the CIA-organized wiretaps of German politicians and citizens. At that time, Laschet did not react in any way and received criticism from many of his party members. He was also known for his relatively mild attitude toward Vladimir Putin's rule. During discussions on Nord Stream 2, the CDP leader has so far always expressed his support for the project, following Angela Merkel's position. Interestingly, Laschet is also in favor of closer relations with China, criticizing sanctions against the Huawei company.

As mentioned above, the big unknown in the whole equation remains the position of the Greens, who are clearly the most sought-after partner, mostly due to the serious political result they achieved in the elections. So far, they have been Kremlin's main critics of human rights. Here, environmentalists bring to the fore both the case of Alexei Navalny and Moscow's support for the regime in Belarus. Naturally, the Greens are against such "spectacular" infrastructure projects as "North Stream 2" because, according to them, they are destroying the biosphere. At the same time, they see them as a political problem and a lever for pressure on Germany. From this point of view, the most important for the future foreign policy of the country is precisely their positions and especially the opportunity to fully implement their international program.

At the same time, Vladimir Putin announced in a rather instructive tone that since until now European countries did not want to sign long-term contracts, they will now have to pay under the new market prices. The future German government can put the industry in a difficult situation if it does not try to finalize the Nord Stream 2 documentation. On the other hand, the completion of the project will completely isolate Ukraine from gas transit and question Berlin's international position.

BOTTOMLINE: How will the relations between Germany and Russia develop after the end of the Merkel era and against the background of the results of the parliamentary elections in both countries