Prof. Zbigniew Rau

 

In his article in Die Zeit, Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, has once again presented his own vision of World War II. The Soviet Union appears in it only as a victim of the aggression of the Third Reich, which after repelling the invasion transformed itself into “the Savior of Europe".

 

Putin, of course, is not an amateur historian, but the leader of a state whose modern identity is shaped on the glorification of imperial traditions.

 

Putin's offer to Germany is as follows: the European Union, dominated by Germany, would become a constituent part of the great community formed by the union with the Eurasian Union, which in turn is dominated by Russia.

 

President Putin's proposal is deeply rooted in his vision of World War II, in which an affirmative attitude to the Hitler-Stalin Pact plays a key role. It made it easier for Hitler to unleash war in Europe. In return, Stalin was given a free hand to enslave the people of Central and Eastern Europe.

 

It is no coincidence that in recent years Russia has resorted to the same methods of territorial annexation and occupation that Stalin used to enslave Central Europe and the Baltic States between 1939 and 1989.

 

Thanks to the great blood sacrifice of all the peoples of the USSR, especially Ukrainians, Belorussians and Russians, Stalin was able to defend and expand the sphere of influence he received from Hitler at Yalta. As a result, "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic" an Iron Curtain divided Europe. Russia has a long practice of luring democratic leaders into an imperial trap.

 

The Iron Curtain also divided Germany. Therefore, overcoming the division of Germany was tantamount to overthrowing the Yalta order and regaining freedom by the nations of Eastern Europe. Freedom, on the other hand, means the ability to make sovereign decisions about the model of development and the ways of fulfilling social aspirations, it means victory over keeping people in concentration camps and gulags, it means the ability to apply for membership in the EU and NATO. The construction of Europe whole, free and at peace, launched by US President George H. Bush in 1989, was based on a rejection of the model based on a Concert of Powers in favour of the idea of freedom and democratisation of international relations. This is the alternative to the model proposed by Putin.

 

The German concept of Wandel durch Handel plays an important role in this vision of President Putin. Putin has effectively stopped this concept and, as befits an experienced judo fighter, is using the German’s willingness to talk to change that country and make it more like Russia. With the gas from Nord Stream, Germany is to import the idea of a Concert of Powers and a kleptocratic development model based on the interdependence of politics, business and the criminal world.

 

That is why Germany should reject Putin's proposal and opt for the model of a Europe of freedom, overcoming antagonisms not by means of covert deals between world powers, but by supporting an order based on international law and the democratic principle of respecting the sovereign equality of all states, according to the motto "the free with the free, the equal with the equal".

 

The launch of the NS 2 pipeline will be a moment for Germany to try and choose between the two models. For Putin has set an imperial trap for Germany in which some of the German elite have bought a stake. One of my predecessors as Polish foreign minister once said in Berlin that he feared German passivity more than strength. Today, I am concerned about the German lack of responsibility for the consequences of cooperating with Putin's Russia.

 

The completion of Nord Stream 2 will create a huge security deficit for the entire eastern flank of NATO. In turn, Ukraine will find itself in a security void. I, therefore, call on the Germans to take responsibility for their own choices in launching NS2 and to make a real, not a sham, contribution to offsetting security deficits. Putin did not go to the enormous expense of building NS 2 to not use this instrument. It is, therefore, necessary to strengthen the deterrent potential of both NATO's eastern flank and Ukraine, which, as a victim of Russian aggression, should receive appropriately high compensation, both in the form of political support and an increase in defence potential. Poland is ready to participate in compensating the arising deficits.

 

The test of the truth of the German elites' declared sense of responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich can only be the assumption of real responsibility for peace and the democratic shape of European politics here and now, especially after the launch of Nord Stream 2.