April 04, 2018
On the SPD’s U-turn on Russia
FAZ’ resident SPD watcher Majid Sattar makes the observation that all the pro-Russian big beasts in the SPD are now gone. Gerhard Schröder has become Vladimir Putin’s chief lobbyist. Frank-Walter Steinmeier is president. Sigmar Gabriel just lost a power battle and sits on the back benches. The most pro-Russian of them all is the former SPD chief Matthias Platzeck, who is now chairman of the German-Russian forum, which opposes sanctions and naturally the most recent diplomatic expulsions. Platzeck is really yesterday’s man but, as Sattar points out, he is also a typical representative of the SPD’s old Ostpolitik. Its proponents are constitutionally incapable of criticising Russia, no matter what Russia does. The central tenet of Ostpolitik has been a special relationship between Germany and Russia. Steinmeier used to talk about Russia as the "indispensable partner". The new foreign minister, Heiko Maas is now shifting this position, an interesting political experiment. Not everybody in the SPD agrees with the shift. Sattar argues that the pro-Russian sentiment within the SPD is also an expression of a deep unease within the party about Germany’s anchoring in the western military alliance, and also an expression of distaste for Anglo-Saxon culture in general. The test of these internal conflicts is yet to come. We note that it will be interesting to see whether the new Italian government will shift its policies on Russia, too, and how this will affect the debate in Germany.