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Germany’s 300-year Russia problem

Catherine II in the TV series The Great: once an “obscure German princess”

The German establishment is suffering “a full-scale nervous breakdown” over its ties to Russia, says Daniel Johnson in The Sunday Telegraph. Those links stretch back hundreds of years. In the 18th century, an “obscure German princess” rose to become Russia’s Catherine the Great. The first German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, said the secret of politics was to “make a good treaty with Russia”. Many of his successors interpreted that “with the utmost cynicism”. It was the Germans who smuggled Lenin across Europe to “unleash his Bolshevik revolution” on Russia. Hitler cooked up the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Stalin in 1939, which “carved up Poland” and helped usher in the Second World War.

In the late 1960s, Ostpolitik – “eastern policy” – was brought in by chancellor Willy Brandt, who set about improving relations with Moscow to try and build bridges between East and West Germany. The policy laid the groundwork for Germany and Russia’s deep economic links: in 1988, I remember interviewing the head of Deutsche Bank during a visit to Moscow. He saw the role of German “high finance and trade” in idealistic terms: “By bankrolling the Russians, he was acting as the vanguard of democracy.” No one foresaw that Ostpolitik would be continued “in a way that would prove disastrous”.