I am struck by the bizarre statement by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier about his disappointment with "NATO's provocation of Russia" because of the recent military exercise in Poland. I would totally discard it as a non-issue if it had not come from the foreign minister of the self-proclaimed leader of Europe [please be honest and admit] which also poses as America's foremost ally in Europe. It is upsetting and smacks of appeasement, which is not a great recipe for success as we have learned in the past. It is not only confusing, but is also very damaging. These are the kind of statements Russian President Putin has been waiting for. He must be popping Russkoe Igristoe [Russian Champagne].
Of course Putin seeing an opening to further split the west blasted the United States immediately demanding that the U.S. stop "interfering in its internal affairs". What is truly appalling is that Putin is quite comfortable calling a NATO exercise in Poland, "Russia's internal affair," knowing full well that though it sounds ridiculous, there are some lining up in Berlin, Brussels and else-where to support him. Recent visists by European leaders to St.Petersburg and their ensuing statements are achieving just one thing: the weakening of Western cohesion precisely at a time the West can ill-afford it. Their statements could have been crafted by the Kremlin. Have these people not been following Russia's disruptive efforts to intrude upon our societies, the corruption and division it sews, the weaponizing of the migrant crisis, the use of soft power tools as crazy as the football-ultras to create a mess, and the illiberal and extremist attitudes it spreads. Or am I living on a different planet?
I have a very long family history linking us to German social-democracy. My grandmother was a devoted Kautskyist in the early decades of the 20th century. She suffered physical abuse, imprisonment and discrimination, even forced emigration for her stance as an Austro-German Social-Democrat. But in Kautsky she also saw the man who was among the first to reveal the brutality of the Soviet regime, Lenin's real goal of suppression of dissent, and of the dark Russian future.
There is something especially disturbing about the comment by the German Foreign Minister. Europe is edging away from the firmness which is required if we want to withstand and push back on the Russian pressure to drive a wedge between Western Allies. This statement is even more suspect considering the former leader of the German Social Democrats and former Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, is a top official at the Russian state gas company Gazprom, the primary supplier of gas to Europe including Germany. One can hardly imagine that the conversation between Schröder and Putin is limited to the future of energy and the friendship between the German and Russian people. One would be hard pressed in this context to believe that Steinmeier's statement is just a throwaway. Maybe he has not heard the saying "You stop dancing with the Bear when the Bear is tired, not when you are tired". Obviously Mr.Steinmeier is tired.
In my office hang two reminders of Russia. One is the November 3 issue of the Baltimore Sun with the pictures of the Russian occupation of Budapest in November 1956. But the other is a picture of me standing next to Jurij Gagarin in 1962, my hero who has inspired me to do things in my own life. It is a reminder of the darker as well as the brighter side of Russia, the incredible achievements of the Russian people. Gagarin makes me think every day of how Russia could be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Great things are being lost because of a kleptocratic system intent on stealing from its people and making the disrupting of democracies as its number one priority.
Russia is intensively trying to impose its corrupt and repressive model on members of the European Union, infiltrating and corrupting the political and economic elites of Europe. The naïveté of Western governments is striking. Why isn't the German foreign minister just as worried about the health of democracy within the European Union and the destructive intrusion by Russia into our midst? Germany needs to listen to others and first and foremost those who are the most vulnerable within the European Union and NATO. Germany feels safe, others don't. In a comment to a leading American analyst on why Germany does not push back on the decline of de-mocracy in Hungary, a Merkel aid quipped that "Hungary is irrelevant". Wrong. No member of NATO or the European Union is irrelevant.Hungarians cared about the desire of East Germans to live in freedom in 1989. It is time to remember.
NATO, the U.S. and its allies don't need Russian permission to conduct exercises; Russia doesn't get a vote and Germany, a NATO ally implying that it should, is a bad idea. Perhaps Putin believes that these exercises are like his own; precursors to invasions of Georgia and Ukraine. This is not provocation. On the contrary, as the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevicius famously said "Sometimes inaction is provocation".
Mr. Steinmeier should listen carefully to those countries that he rather not hear instead of focusing on short-term German interests that will harm our ability to create a strong and united Europe. His statement damages western cohesion. We must take a strong stance and remain unified as democracies in the face of attacks on our democratic way of life, whether by Russia or extremist Islam. The foundation of solid long-term relationship with Russia can only be based on strength, clarity and transatlantic unity. Wishy-washy positions, dialogue for the sake of dialogue is unac-eptable. It is pure cynicism to preach openness, tolerance, equality, freedom and the rule of law at home, but put all that on the back-burner abroad.
Germans need to remember: they bear a huge responsibility for the world order which kept nations like mine behind the Iron Curtain for almost fifty years. They have a shared responsibility to help the countries of Eastern Europe catch up with lost time. Appeasing Mr.Putin is not the way to do it.
Mr.Steinmeier should know better.