Berlin again divided by Russia: German politicians argue over anti-Moscow measures

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Berlin again divided by Russia: German politicians argue over anti-Moscow measures
A number of German politicians and opinion-makers have lately expressed concerns over the West's reactions to President Putin's policies. Although critical of Russia, more German officials doubt if further sanctions are the right course of action.

While the EU and its leaders - Merkel now included - are mulling over further measures to punish Russia over alleged involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, the sanctions tactics have raised concerns among politicians in Germany. They are worried about the benefits, or rather losses, that the mutual penalties bring to their country.

Germany's Vice Chancellor and the leader of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) - sharing power with Merkel's conservatives, Sigmar Gabriel, who also happens to be Germany's Economy Minister, has criticized NATO actions in the Russia-Ukraine situation and called for a different approach to resolve the issue.

"I think it's totally wrong to react with permanent NATO saber-rattling on the Russian border," Gabriel said in an interview with German TV network ARD. He added that he didn’t believe sanctions will move President Putin or could help the European country "move forward economically." Tougher measures "will only make the situation more difficult," according to the politician.

Although criticizing Putin's actions and policy, the minister was as displeased with the position of Ukraine and the US.

"When Americans insisted we should accept Ukraine into NATO, we said it would not work with Germany, and today we stay true to this stance, at least SPD does. We - for sure - will not approve Ukraine's acceptance into NATO in the federal government, as it will escalate the situation dramatically," Gabriel said.

He admitted there is a conflict not only with Russia, but also inside Ukraine itself, saying, "What happens within Ukraine is bad enough... there is a difficult conflict situation." He also called the EU to join Germany's stance and "try to formulate a new Western policy."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (2ndR) and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit (R) leave after putting roses in a preserved segment of the Berlin Wall during the commemorations to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at the Berlin Wall Memorial in the Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, on November 9, 2014. (AFP Photo / John Macdougall)

The idea was supported by Austria's Chancellor Werner Faymann, who also chairs the Social Democratic Party (SPO).

"In the Austrian government we insist that partnership relations should be built with Russia. Particularly because many world's - and European regions’ - issues can't be solved without a serious dialogue," Faymann said.

Stating that Putin "made a mistake" in Crimea, he admitted that the idea of sanctions did not work, and Europe should "intensify the dialogue" instead.

300,000 German jobs at stake

Germany’s economic growth is an example of financial blowback from the sanctions, with the standoff over Ukraine being a factor in the downfall. Russia is a large export market and 300,000 German jobs depend on trade with it.

In 2014, German exports to Russia have already fallen by over 16 percent, with a full-year decline expected to be some 20 percent, equating to a shortfall of €8 billion compared with the previous year, the Financial Times wrote.

And it's not only firing back economic effects that Germany is worried about. Social connections and civil initiatives, strengthened between the two nations since the fall of the Berlin Wall, are also on the table.

"The relations are pretty stable, stable enough to survive current attempts to disturb them," Eberhard Radczuweit of the Initiative for the contacts for the countries of the former Soviet Union told RT, adding he remained "optimistic" on the matter.

History knows better not to 'wage wars in Europe'

Calling for a "resistance to the war policy," a German MP Sahra Wagenknecht blamed NATO for the current restless Europe, saying Berlin is complicit in the alliance's aggressive strategy towards Moscow and criticizing the grounds upon which her government justifies intervening in other countries.

"We have a Germany that participates in the aggressive NATO strategy against Russia; has started a new Cold War. Tomorrow, the NATO foreign ministers will sit together and want to use a spearhead rapid force and they are discussing how this group is supposed to be deployed in Eastern Europe. My God, 100 years after the start of WWI, they have still not realized that we cannot wage wars in Europe," Wagenknecht, a member of the Bundestag for the Left party (Die Linke), said at a symposium on the centenary of the war in Berlin.

Lithuanian soldiers take part in a field training exercise during the first phase Saber Strike 2014, at the Rukla military base, Lithuania, on June 14, 2014. (AFP Photo / Petras Malukas)

While Merkel thinks otherwise, accusing Russia of putting "Europe’s peaceful order into question," she still could not put aside an economic outcome, having told the German parliament that the country is ready to discuss the trade issues "between the Eurasian Union and the EU."

The US does not seem that eager to intensify Russia's "punishment" either, with President Barack Obama pronouncing himself satisfied with the current level of sanctions at a G20 news conference in Australia. "In fact, the West appears to be tiring of confronting Russia," the Washington Post commented.

And while political voices calling for European respect towards Crimea joining Russia are few - with SPD politician Egon Bahr proposing to "respect" the move in an attempt to "relax the conflict," or Brandenburg's former Prime Minister Matthias Platzeck promoting Crimean legitimization in Europe - it's also public opinion that matters.

In the discussion on Germany's attitude towards Russia, 39 percent of German citizens are in favor of recognizing the Crimean peninsula accessing the Russian Federation, according to a survey quoted by Die Welt newspaper.

"No doubt, Matthias Platzeck has only expressed what many - too many in the political Berlin - think: one should finally stop the unfruitful criticism of Putin and his Ukrainian politics," the paper wrote, saying other means should be found.