Read the German version of the article here
Mikhail Gorbachev knew what he was talking about when he commented in the late 1990s that if the Soviet Union had broken up in the same way as the former Yugoslavia had, then the wars raging there would seem like a "Flea Waltz."
One year after the annexation of Crimea, executed with military precision, and the unleashing of a war of secession in the Donbass that is being militarily and politically nourished by Russia, there is little doubt that Vladimir Putin is determined to correct the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," as he called the breakup of the USSR in 2005. In 2012, during his inauguration speech for what was (de facto) his fourth term in office as Russia’s president, he set his goal even higher. The "life of our future generations," he said, depends on Russians’ "ability to become a leader … for the whole of Eurasia." In other words, this is the historical project with which he wants to enter the history books: as the restorer of Russia, as the leader of Eurasia.
This is challenging the contractually fixed order of states of this post-Soviet region of the world while also lending the character of an imperial re-establishment to the project of an inherently sensible Eurasian Union. And Ukraine is the indispensable core in this, the choicest piece.
Thus, the agreement signed in Minsk to respect the territorial integrity of the neighboring country (minus Crimea) will initially boil down to an attempt to paralyze and sow disorder throughout this fragile state – precisely with the help of the separatists for whose "people’s republic" Moscow doesn’t plan to provide any reconstruction assistance or to assume any responsibility. These heavily armed mini-states have proclaimed themselves the Piedmont of a new state brought into play by Putin, called "New Russia," with its own flag and its own parliament. And the fact that "historical maps" showing the borders of this neighboring kingdom stretching from Kharkiv to Dnipropetrovsk to Mariupol to Odessa, where they are supposed to connect with the Russian military protectorate Transnistria, are circulating online can at a minimum serve as a constant threat and catalyst of a "hybrid" stealth warfare in these cities and areas. In any case, one thing is certain: Moscow is not willing or able to accept even a "Finlandized" Ukraine that has a democratic constitution, is associated with the EU and is possibly even a prospering state.
Contrary to all claims, and with grave consequences, the United States is not interested in this conflict because it views Russia as a regional power and already has its hands full in the Middle East and East Asia. The EU and NATO have remarkably held together so far, but the cracks and fractures are easy to discern under the pressure of many crises. At any rate, testing them is the additional, parallel goal of the power struggle with global policies that Putin is currently aiming at.
In this situation, the Merkel/Steinmeier government has combined a remarkable steadfastness with well-nigh heroic efforts to serve whenever possible as intermediaries and interpreters, most recently in the marathon of Minsk, which at least provided a chance to catch one’s breath. While one doesn’t want to let these lines of communications (the historical "wire to Moscow") be severed completely, attempts are simultaneously being made to draw red lines (before Mariupol or near the Estonian city of Narva), and observations of all kinds are being made about how one could sate Russia with new and further-reaching offers as well as perhaps even reintegrate it with some new kind of "Ostpolitik."
But the real test of Germany’s steadfastness is yet to come. Regardless of how broad the majorities in the Bundestag and the ruling coalition are, and no matter how unflinchingly the bulk of journalists have been doing their jobs, it is impossible to miss that, on this issue, there is a grave and partially shrill dissonance between political parties and the media, on the one hand, and a significant segment of the German public, on the other. It is also impossible to miss that these dissonances are being fomented in a professional manner like the one we became familiar with during the Cold War era. The only thing is that the pattern of the war of information that Putin’s Russia is aggressively waging has become much more ingenious than the pattern of Soviet propaganda was, and the keyboard of motives, emotions, resentments, interests and attitudes he is playing has a much broader range. But, as always, we are supplying the tool ourselves: the democratic public forums of the West, which are being put at the disposal of the virtuosos of Moscow, including cover stories, talk-show sets and websites – things that are givens in democracies, but that the Kremlin won’t allow its critics for even a minute.
Still, it’s no use bemoaning this. Indeed, if this propaganda achieves its desired effect, it will only be because Moscow’s new, hybrid global policies can latch on to many emotions, mentalities and experiences of its target group, whether rooted in the past or the present. And, for that, Germany continues to be potentially fertile soil.