Chapter 1 COMRADES IN MISFORTUNE: THE USSR AND GERMANY, 1917-1970
History goes in zigzags and makes detours. Today, the Germans not only represent bestial imperialism, but also the principle of discipline, organization, harmonious cooperation in the most advanced industrial country, and strict accounting and control. And it is precisely here that we are deficient.
(V. I. Lenin, May 1918)
The GDR? What does it amount to, this GDR? It's not even a real state. It's only kept in being by Soviet troops, even if we do call it the "German Democratic Republic."
(Lavrentii Beria, 1953)
Russia and Germany before the Revolution
It is impossible to understand current ties between Russia and Germany and the shadow they cast over Central Europe without examining the rich, ambiguous, and compelling mutual historical relationship of the two nations. On the Russian side, the complexity of these ties has been part of a wider ambivalence about whether Russia is part of Europe, whose destiny lies with the secular, post-Enlightenment, materialist West, or whether it is a unique Eurasian country, whose natural allies are to be found in the more spiritual East. This was the classic debate between Slavophiles and Westernizers, a debate that has been revived in post-Soviet Russia and continues to influence relations with the West. Germans, too, have historically shared a similar, although less sharply defined, ambivalence about whether they belong to eastern or western Europe. Some Germans have traditionally felt a kinship with those elements of Slavic culture that reject Western Enlightenment values, viewing Germany as a central or eastern, as opposed to western, European country--part of Mitteleuropa. As Germany's capital moves from Bonn to Berlin--a mere fifty kilometers from Poland--these debates have been revived, and affect contemporary German discussions about united Germany's future place in the world and its preference for integration with the West, rather than the East.
The contours of the twentieth-century Russian-German relationship were in place well before the 1917 Revolution and continued to influence the evolution of their ties throughout the Soviet period. In the prerevolutionary period, Germany was a more important influence on Russia than vice versa, playing both an economic and a political role.
Peter the Great first brought Germans to Russia to assist in developing the economy. But he, like many of his successors, and like some in the current Russian leadership, was ambivalent about whether Russia should remain involved with the West after it had reaped Europe's technical assistance: "We need Europe for a few decades," he said. "Later we must turn our backs on it." Of course, whenever Russia turned its back on the West, it fell behind technologically. Indeed, Catherine the Great was more convinced than Peter of the need to import Germans to modernize Russia; she created a large German immigrant colony on the Volga which developed Russia's agriculture. The future of the descendants of these German immigrants has been an issue between the Russian and German governments.
There were also a significant number of aristocratic Germans who were important in Russian political life. The house of Romanov intermarried with the German nobility. Catherine the Great herself was German, as was the last tsarina, Alexandra Fyodorovna. After Russia acquired the Baltic states in the eighteenth century, the Baltic German nobility played a disproportionately large role in the administration of the Russian empire and in Russian intellectual life compared to the percentage of the population they represented. About one-third of high government officials were of German origin at a time when Germans formed about 1 percent of Russia's population. The Russian minister who negotiated the Franco-Russian entente of 1893, Count Vladimir Lambsdorf, was a Baltic German, one of whose descendants later negotiated major Soviet-West German trade treaties for Bonn and another of whom became the first German ambassador to postcommunist Latvia in 1991.
German philosophy and political ideas also influenced the Russian intelligentsia, attracting both the right and the left. German idealist philosophy came to Russia in the eighteenth century and influenced the growth of Slavophilism. However, the Slavophiles, even though they admired German philosophy, did not necessarily admire the Germans. As Ivan Kireevsky, a leading Slavophile who studied with Schelling and Hegel, wrote in 1830, "On the entire globe, there is no nation worse, more soulless, dull and vexing than the Germans." There were other meetings of minds between Germans and Russians in the late nineteenth century, particularly between German and Russian anti-Semites. Both the German kaiser and the Russian tsar regarded the Jews as the agents of capitalism and socialism and both were impressed by the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
It was not only the Russian Right that was influenced by German ideas. The Russian revolutionaries' ideology was, of course, shaped by Marx and Engels, although it was also influenced by indigenous Russian populism. One could argue that in his Russification of Marxism, Lenin significantly distorted Marx's ideas; nevertheless, the impact of German revolutionary thought on the Russian revolutionaries was considerable. Moreover, the other major current of nineteenth century German Marxism, social democracy, also had an enduring impact on the Bolsheviks, even though it never took root in prerevolutionary Russia. Lenin and his colleagues viewed German social democracy as their main rival for the loyalty of the international working class and the major threat to the success of world revolution. Stalin's suicidal policy between 1928 and 1934 of encouraging the German Communists to join with the Nazis to combat the Social Democrats was a product of his distorted Bolshevik mentality.
Germany not only influenced Russian domestic policy but was also a major challenge for Russian diplomacy. Russia has confronted a "German question" for centuries, but the problem became more acute after the creation of the Bismarckian Reich. Germany lay in the center of Europe, the Mittellage, with no clearly defined borders, and its growing industrial and military strength fueled expansionist ambitions. Between Russia and Germany lay east-central Europe, sandwiched between two restless powers, both of whom had designs on the lands that separated them. Russia viewed Germany both as a rival in east-central Europe and as a threat to the Russian heartland, perceptions that intensified after it had been attacked twice by Germany in the twentieth century. It pursued a policy of domination of east-central Europe more consistently than did Germany and was more successful--especially after World War II--in achieving its aims. Control of east-central Europe was viewed not only as a means of increasing Soviet power, but also of protecting the USSR from another attack by Germany. Russian and Soviet leaders, therefore, largely perceived their security through a German lens--the weaker Germany was and the further its borders were from Moscow, the better for Russia's stability. The shape and fate of Germany were an Existenzfrage for Russian and Soviet leaders.
In the nineteenth century, Russia and postunification Germany enjoyed periods of both cooperation and conflict. Throughout all these diplomatic maneuvers, Germany became Russia's most important economic partner and remained so irrespective of the vagaries of diplomacy. Their mutual trade was always complementary and remains so today. Russia exported raw materials and imported German machinery. Germany was always more important to Russia than vice versa. From 1858 to 1872, imports from Germany formed 28 percent of Russian imports and exports to Germany 16 percent of Russian exports. From 1868 to 1872, the figures were 44 percent and 24 percent respectively; and in 1913, when they reached their height, 47 and 29 percent. In 1923, they were 25 and 30 percent and in 1932, 47 and 18 percent. Germany was not only Russia's major source of manufactures; it was also its most important technological partner, particularly when Russia began to modernize seriously under Sergei Witte. By the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, therefore, there were few areas of Russian domestic politics or foreign policy where Germany did not have significant impact, even if much of the Russian nobility preferred French language and culture to German.
After the outbreak of World War I the Bolsheviks viewed the German imperial government as both an enemy and a source of help--after all, it enabled Lenin to return to Russia. When the Bolsheviks took over, therefore, the new Russian leaders placed their hopes on Germany, anticipating that a revolution in the country of Marx's birth would ensure their own tenure in power. They were, of course, sorely disappointed by the lack of successful revolutions in Germany.
Russia and Germany before the Cold War
The failure of the German uprisings in 1919 ensured that Bolshevik Russia would have to survive by itself, without international socialist support. Nevertheless, in the 1920s, Germany played a key role in enabling the Soviet Union to become a diplomatic player in Europe and in building up Soviet military strength. The USSR likewise facilitated Germany's rearmament. The two pariahs in the international system, the "comrades in misfortune" as Winston Churchill called them, who had been excluded from the Versailles settlement, began their clandestine military cooperation in 1921 and continued it until Hitler came to power. The Germans were thereby enabled to evade restrictions on their rearmament imposed by the Versailles settlement and the Russians to rebuild their military industry and their armed forces with the assistance of a more technologically advanced country. The official diplomatic breakthrough, of course, came at Rapallo in 1922, when the Soviet commissar of foreign affairs, Georgi Chicherin, managed to persuade the reluctant German Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau to sign a separate German-Soviet treaty instead of an agreement with the Western powers who were negotiating in nearby Locarno.
The Treaty of Rapallo itself was rather innocuous. It provided merely for the resumption of full diplomatic relations, the cancellation of mutual claims, and the granting of most-favored-nation status, and it was separate from the secret military collaboration. Yet it symbolized for the Western powers the ultimate act of perfidy--the Soviet state, in its first diplomatic triumph, making a separate deal with Germany, persuading Germany to reject its western and eastern neighbors and collaborate with Russia to the detriment of European security. Rapallo was subsequently praised by Soviet writers as a model for future cooperation and was criticized by the West as an example of nefarious secret dealing, so much so that when Chancellor Helmut Kohl negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev (without the participation of Germany's allies) the deal that enabled a united Germany to remain in NATO, the specter of Rapallo was once again raised. Rapallo as a metaphor has, therefore, played an important role in shaping the attitudes of Germany's and Russia's neighbors in the twentieth century. It also represented for the postwar Soviet Germanisty (German experts) an ideal model for the future. It has provided a powerful historical image, used by critics and admirers alike to resurrect fears from a bygone era when issues of the future of European security are discussed.
During the Weimar Republic, economic ties between Germany and the USSR were a major factor in the growth of Soviet industrial strength. Germany was a far more important trade partner for the Soviet Union than vice versa, because of the limited market for Soviet raw material exports: imports from Germany, on the other hand, were particularly significant during the first Five Year Plan, when they constituted half of all Russian imports. During this period, the Soviets developed a solid respect for German industrial imports and the German business class developed a continuing interest in the Soviet market that revived after the chilliest days of the Cold War.
When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov declared that there was no reason for change in Soviet policy toward Germany. The Soviet leadership had read Hitler's writings and knew that the essential elements of Nazi ideology included anti-Semitism, anticommunism, a disdain for Slavs, and the belief that Russia was part of Germany's rightful Lebensraum. Yet at this point they failed to appreciate how different Nazism was from other right-wing movements. Moreover, Stalin may well not have realized that the German dictator believed in his ideology more than did the Soviet dictator. When the Soviets finally began to realize the potential danger, they closed down the German military bases, began to pursue a policy of collective security with the West, and in 1934 reversed the previous Comintern line equating Nazis and Social Democrats, urging the formation of popular fronts between communists, Socialists, and other antifascist forces. The history of Soviet relations with the Nazis prior to 1939 involved both attempts to contain the spread of German power and the knowledge that, in order to stay out of a European war, which the USSR was ill-equipped to fight, there were good reasons for once again making a separate deal with the Germans. Moreover, domestic factors played a major role in defining Soviet policy. Between 1936 and 1939 the purges were in full swing, the entire Bolshevik old guard and the top military officers were killed, millions of Soviet citizens perished in camps, and Stalin remained obsessed with destroying any conceivable rival source of power.
As the danger of war mounted, and the Western Powers failed to stop Hitler's expansion, Stalin negotiated both with the British and French and with the Germans in 1938 and 1939. The traditional Soviet argument (and that of some Western revisionist historians) until the Gorbachev era was that Stalin genuinely desired an alliance with the British and the French, but that their dilatory tactics and anticommunism forced him to turn to the Nazis and sign an agreement with them in August 1939. Western scholars largely disagreed, maintaining that, from Stalin's point of view, a nonaggression pact with Germany was clearly preferable. An alliance with France and Britain would have involved the USSR in actual fighting, whereas a nonaggression pact would enable the Soviet Union to stay out of the hostilities altogether or at least buy time until it had to fight. Moreover, the Soviets would be able to take back lost territory from Poland--the "bastard of Versailles" as Molotov called it--and gain new territory.
Since the flowering of glasnost under Gorbachev and the opening of previously secret archives, Soviet historians have convincingly argued the mainstream Western case. They have shown that Stalin quite clearly preferred the German option to an alliance with Britain and France against the Nazis. Talks on improving bilateral trade ties began in earnest in 1937 and were at first a surrogate for political dialogue. When the political dialogue picked up in 1939, Stalin was able to ensure that the Soviet Union not only stayed out of the war but also, by the secret protocols that were only very reluctantly released by Gorbachev toward the end of his tenure, acquired the Baltic states and parts of Poland and Rumania. The forced return to Germany of German communists, who had taken refuge in the USSR and who were subsequently to perish at the hands of the Nazis, was a small price to pay for this increase of territory and noninvolvement in the war.
Stalin's refusal to heed the warnings of American, British, and even his own officials that a German attack was imminent was the ultimate testimony to his failure to understand Hitler and Nazism. Despite this, as well as the generally cooperative Soviet-German ties of the interwar years, once the invasion took place, Stalin managed to tap a deep reservoir of anti-German and nationalist feeling amongst the Soviet population. It is quite remarkable that, after over a decade of social upheaval, famine, economic dislocation, and purges, Stalin was able to rally his people to fight and ultimately defeat the Germans. When "Death to the German Invader!" replaced "Proletarians of the World Unite!" on the masthead of Pravda, it was a sign that the Soviet leaders realized that the fear of the Germans, so deep in traditional Russian political culture, would come to their aid.
During the "Great Patriotic War," as the Soviets called it, the full force of the Soviet propaganda machine was unleashed on reinforcing the enemy image of Germany, as was the Nazi propaganda apparatus targeted on demonizing Russians. With 27 million Soviet citizens killed in the war and millions more who experienced great privations during the Nazi occupation, and with German memories of the brutal way in which the victorious Soviet soldiers treated them in 1945, the experiences of the period between 1941 and 1945 left deep scars on both sides. The image of the bad West German, successor to the Nazis, was a constant in Soviet media and popular culture right through the Brezhnev era, although officially East Germans were portrayed as "good" Germans who had had nothing to do with fascism. East Germans likewise portrayed the Soviets officially as liberators and benefactors. The reality, of course, was quite different.
The USSR and the Two Germanies
After the division of Germany, the USSR's German problem became much more complex. Between 1949 and 1990, the Kremlin's major challenge was calibrating its policies toward the two German states in such a way as to enhance Soviet security in both parts of Europe. The Federal Republic was the most important country in Western Europe, the key to Soviet strategy--the greatest challenge, but also the greatest prize. Despite periodic Soviet warnings about the dangers of German revanchism, the FRG did not present a physical threat to the USSR. The USSR was immeasurably more powerful militarily than was the FRG, and there were Soviet troops on West Germany's borders, and not vice versa. Nevertheless, West Germany challenged Soviet security for two reasons: it was the United States' key NATO ally and therefore central to the effectiveness of the Western alliance; and it was the only western country that maintained a persistent interest in a close relationship with an Eastern-bloc country, the German Democratic Republic. Its stated aim from 1949 to 1989 was to overcome the division of Germany, so it represented a potential threat to Moscow's sphere of influence in Europe. But West Germany also held some attraction for Moscow. If the dual Soviet strategy of containing German influence in Eastern Europe and wooing the FRG away from the United States had succeeded and the NATO alliance had been seriously weakened, the potential military and political threat from Europe to the Soviet heartland would have significantly diminished. No other European country affected Soviet security so directly.
The Kremlin sought to use the German problem to further its goals in east-central Europe. The West German danger initially served as a pretext for legitimizing Moscow's hegemony. After all, if there were no Germany to contain and no West German "revanchism," there would be no need for the Warsaw Pact. But playing up the German danger ultimately was counterproductive to Soviet interests in Europe after 1970. The Soviets had created and sustained an enemy image of Germany that made it difficult to accept the FRG as a reliable partner without diluting an important control mechanism both domestically and in Eastern Europe.
By the mid-1970s, most of east-central Europe had a favorable view of West Germany. The experience of thirty years of Soviet domination and the desire to find an alternative to Moscow-style communism dimmed memories of German behavior during the Second World War and led East Europeans to emphasize their common links with European--as opposed to Eurasian--culture. The intelligentsia in these countries revisited their links with German civilization and liberal traditions, contrasting these with Russia's lack of experience with the Enlightenment, Reformation, or other modern "civilizing" movements. Just as the demonization of Germany, based on the Nazi experience, had initially facilitated Soviet control over east-central Europe, the de-demonization of West Germany after 1970 was a major factor contributing toward the unraveling of that control.
Moscow's German Problem before Detente
The Federal Republic
In 1945, the major Soviet preoccupation was to prevent any future German attack; hence the imposition of Soviet-controlled governments in a ring of buffer states between Germany and the USSR. But did Moscow favor the division of Germany ab initio? Most Soviet writers and officials denied that they ever wanted Germany divided and blamed the West for the division. As veteran Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko wrote in his memoirs, "All Germans, wherever they live, should remember that the Soviet Union never wanted the dismemberment of Germany. It was the USA and Britain who at the three-power Allied conferences proposed tearing Germany apart." Stalin was at least ambivalent about the future of Germany. Newly released documents suggest that from the beginning he favored a united, neutral, communist Germany. But, failing that, he insisted on partition. It is unlikely that in 1945, the USSR would have agreed to a solution to the German problem that denied the Soviets control over some part of Germany and access to what remained of its economic resources.
After the creation of the FRG and GDR in 1949, the major Soviet goal was to retain control over the GDR and create a viable government there. The main German problem was an East German problem. But there was also a West German problem, because Moscow unsuccessfully tried to prevent the FRG from joining NATO, and offered a reunification deal in 1952 to forestall West German military integration into the West. Once the Soviet offer was rejected, Stalin told his East German comrades to "Organize your own state. The line of demarcation between East and West Germany must be seen as a frontier and not as a simple border but as a dangerous one."
For the first twenty years of its existence, West Germany was a revisionist country. It refused to recognize the post war boundaries of Europe, including the incorporation of former German territories into the USSR, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. And it refused to recognize East Germany or to have diplomatic relations with any country that did (except the USSR), although it developed a significant economic relationship with the GDR. This was the essence of what the Soviets termed "revanchism." Although the specter of revanchism was useful to Moscow in justifying the need for the Warsaw Pact, it also challenged the weak legitimacy of the GDR by denying it international recognition. Moscow therefore sought to gain West German recognition of Eastern Europe as a means of enhancing the GDR's stability. In addition, from the late 1950s onwards, the USSR's political goals regarding West Germany were supplemented by a consistent economic goal: to gain as much as possible from its economic ties with Bonn and to separate bilateral economic from political ties. Moscow sought to reverse the post-1945 freeze on trade ties and restore the profitable pre-World War II links involving the exchange of German manufactures and technology for Russian raw materials.
Nevertheless, from 1949 to 1969, Soviet policy toward the Federal Republic was largely confrontational. The Soviets accused the West Germans of being heirs to the Nazi state, and a satellite of the imperialist United States. Of course, West German policy toward the Soviet Union was largely confrontational too. Adenauer, the Rhineland Catholic who was suspicious of Prussia and its traditional links with the East, was more interested in Westpolitik (integration with the West) than Ostpolitik (rapprochement with the East). His major goal was to secure West Germany's full membership in the Western alliance.
There was one curious episode suggesting a possible change in Soviet policy, and that was Khrushchev's proposed visit to West Germany in 1964. After bullying and blustering during the 1958-61 Berlin crisis, when the USSR tried to force West Berlin into becoming an independent entity, cut off from ties to Bonn, the Kremlin changed its tune in 1964. Khrushchev let it be known that he would visit the Federal Republic and there were rumors of Soviet-FRG deals in the making that were partly inspired by the obvious animosity between Khrushchev and Walter Ulbricht, the veteran East German leader. The latter, a staunch supporter of the Stalinist system ever since his years conspiring in the corridors of the Comintern Hotel Lux in Moscow in the 1930s and 1940s, was, aghast at the undisciplined reformer in the Kremlin and his interest in talking to Bonn, which would not even recognize East Berlin. We shall never know what Khrushchev's real plans were, because he was ousted a few days before his visit. There was a critical debate within the foreign policy elite over whether to adopt new initiatives toward West Germany, but the Soviet leadership decided that this was premature.
By 1969, all that had changed. With growing economic problems at home and a realization of the benefits offered by a rapprochement with the West, Brezhnev decided to embark on detente. He was eager to deal with the two Western leaders who held the key to an East-West rapprochement, Richard Nixon and Willy Brandt. These two men, one who made his name as an anticommunist investigator while a congressman, the other a long-time socialist and opponent of Nazism, both outsiders in their respective societies, came to power just as the Soviets were reorienting their policies. Vietnam and the growing Sino-Soviet split provided the impetus for the Americans and the Russians to begin talks. For the Germans, it was a question of movement and rehabilitation. The confrontational Ostpolitik of the CDU had brought few concrete gains. It was time to change German policy.
The German Democratic Republic
The GDR was created by the Soviet Union and owed its entire existence to it. When Moscow decided in 1989 not to prop up the regime any more, it quickly collapsed. Nevertheless, it served three main functions for the Soviets: as the most important buffer state guaranteeing Soviet security; as a vital source of economic and technological assistance to the Soviet economy; and as one of the most loyal replicas of the Soviet political system, offering ideological and institutional legitimacy for the Soviet model.
The Kremlin pursued two major goals toward the GDR, one connected with Soviet Blokpolitik (policy toward Eastern Europe) and one connected with its Westpolitik (policy toward the Western alliance). Control of the GDR was a vital component of Soviet Blokpolitik, yet the Soviet attitude toward the GDR was from the outset ambivalent. Although the GDR was viewed as the linchpin of the Soviet security system in Europe, the Kremlin realized from the beginning that the GDR was an artificial state, dependent on Moscow for its continued survival. This gave Moscow considerable leverage over the GDR leadership, but also induced it to make concessions to East Berlin which it would not have made to Prague or Warsaw. According to Yuli Kvitsinsky, who began his long political career in the Soviet embassy in East Berlin, "Moscow mothered [the GDR] like a small child--most GDR functionaries were convinced that they could permit themselves any mistake in politics without fearing a loss of power. Moscow would rush to their assistance at the decisive moment and use every means possible to keep the GDR, because without it, all the Soviet positions in Europe would be lost."
But East Germany also presented opportunities for Soviet Westpolitik. Moscow dangled the prospect of closer intra-German ties both to manipulate the GDR and to entice the FRG into developing a special relationship with the Soviet Union that might distance Bonn from the United States. In this asymmetrical relationship, the USSR had more to offer the two German states than either had to offer the Soviet Union, but the danger of this dual policy--which became apparent in the 1980s--was that Soviet encouragement of the intra-German relationship might lead to an intra-German rapprochement that destabilized the GDR and lessened the Kremlin's control over it.
Moscow's opportunities for initiatives in its triangular German policy were limited by its concerns about the GDR's legitimacy. Given the inherent instability of the GDR, the Soviets sought to strengthen its domestic legitimacy and promote a socialist German identity. They also realized that strengthening the GDR's international legitimacy might reinforce its domestic legitimacy, and therefore pressed for international recognition of the GDR. Thus, securing West German recognition of East Germany was a major goal for the Soviets. But in fact the achievement of international legitimacy undermined the GDR's domestic legitimacy because, in the process of normalizing German-German relations, the GDR became more vulnerable to West German influence. This was a general phenomenon throughout the Eastern bloc: during the height of the Cold War, communist states were virtually isolated from the West, thus facilitating Soviet control, whereas detente ultimately undermined that control.
Once Stalin had decided that the creation of a loyal East German state took precedence over experiments with a united Germany whose future political orientation would be uncertain, Soviet policy toward the GDR became more consistent. In 1953, after Stalin's death, the German question became an issue in the ensuing power struggle. Soviet leaders blamed the ruling SED for provoking the unrest that led to the June 1953 uprising by trying to build socialism too quickly. In a conversation with the SED leadership shortly before the uprising, Soviet leaders said that they would strengthen their military presence in the GDR and would continue to fight Adenauer's "bourgeois clique," possibly utilizing the West German SPD in this endeavor. But Lavrentii Beria, Stalin's last secret police chief, disagreed with his colleagues about the need to strengthen East Germany and is alleged to have suggested renouncing the GDR. Beria was subsequently tried in secret and shot. But in any case, after the uprising Moscow had little choice but to keep the loyal through unpopular Walter Ulbricht in power to prevent the GDR from disintegrating. Although the USSR continued to discuss German unification with the Western Powers, the emphasis had shifted: until the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, the preservation of East Germany, not the wooing of West Germany, determined Soviet policy.
The growing instability in the GDR prompted Khrushchev to take more drastic measures to secure East Germany's continuing viability, this time using Berlin as a pressure point. With its open borders providing an easy means of escape for the rising tide of refugees from East to West, the city dramatically symbolized the GDR's lack of legitimacy. Moscow's 1958 Berlin ultimatum, largely Khrushchev's initiative, demanded that West Berlin become an independent, demilitarized city, severing its links to Bonn. Documents from the archives show that Khrushchev played a major role in drafting the ultimatum and giving detailed instructions to the East Germans as to how the demands were to be carded out. However, Khrushchev's gambit failed and, with the resumption in 1960 of the forced collectivization drive, the emigration situation assumed catastrophic proportions, reaching a peak of two thousand East German refugees arriving in West Berlin per day. Because this spelled near-term economic and ultimate political disaster for the GDR regime, the Soviets opted, as they had in 1953, for supporting Ulbricht, and they built the Wall. This marked an important turning point in Soviet-German relations: by saving the Ulbricht regime, and hence the GDR, the Wall ultimately enabled the Soviets to pursue a more flexible policy toward both Germanies.
By 1970, the USSR had achieved its main goals toward the GDR. It had created a loyal, dependent buffer state whose economy was a constant source of support for the USSR, whose army played an important role in the Warsaw Pact, and which identified itself ideologically with the Soviet Union. It was a staunch supporter of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, because Alexander Dubcek's government represented a double threat: reform socialism domestically which, Ulbricht felt, would undermine his power, and a willingness to deal with "realistic" forces in West Germany, at a time when Ulbricht insisted that no socialist country should deal with the FRG before it was willing to recognize the GDR. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia, however, the Soviet Union's interests diverged from those of the GDR. Having made clear through the invasion that Moscow could control the pace of political reform in Eastern Europe, the Kremlin now felt able to pursue broader interests and sell accommodation with the West on its own terms--policies that ultimately threatened Ulbricht's position because they fell short of his demand for full international recognition of the GDR by all countries, including the Federal Republic.
The Legacies of the Past
The contradictory history of Russo-German and Soviet-German relations has left three major legacies, all of which continue to play a role in the postcommunist period. The first is a powerful one and, even in the nuclear age, as relevant as in the nineteenth century. It is the legacy of geography and resources and their impact on both countries' national identities and national interests. The lack of natural frontiers and complementarity of their economies inevitably produced both cooperation and confrontation.
Between Germany's first and second unification, from 1871 to 1990, its struggle to develop its own national identity and international role had a major effect on its neighbors in Europe. The European continent suffered two devastating wars in this century as Germany pursued its quest for a national and international role commensurate with its perceived power. Indeed, Germany was only able to finally emerge as a status quo state with a democratic, European identity after it was unified and Soviet power collapsed.
Russia's current and future search for a viable national identity and international role may well become the twenty-first century's counterpart to Germany's twentieth-century search. Its unresolved relationship with its neighbors and uncertain domestic politics have the potential to engulf Europe in more insecurities, even if its intentions, unlike those of Germany in an earlier age, are not malevolent. As an English observer wrote of Germany in 1906 (and the same might be said of Russia today), "Suspicious of all sentimentalities in foreign affairs, we have always acknowledged that from the German point of view the aims of German foreign policy are entirely justified. The only objection to them is that in no point of the world can they be realized without threatening the security and independence of existing states or destroying their present order. That is not the fault of the German nation, it is its misfortune."
Russia's security, like Germany's, cannot be separated from Europe's security, precisely because of its geographic location and its resources. Russia is indeed a European power and will inevitably influence European developments, as it has for centuries. Germany's role will be much greater than it was in its period of limited sovereignty during the Cold War because it is now free to pursue its interests in the East in a way that was impossible while east-central Europe was communist.
The second legacy is that of cooperation between Russia and Germany. This partnership has had a positive impact both on Russia and on its neighbors, in particular in the economic, scientific, and cultural fields. The positive aspects of historic Russo-German ties have encouraged Germans and Russians in the postcommunist period to anticipate much more intense economic, political, and technological cooperation as a major factor guaranteeing the successful outcome of Russia's transition.
But other aspects of Russo-German cooperation have also historically had less benign effects. Rapallo, the secret military cooperation during the 1920s, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and Soviet-East German intelligence and military collaboration in repressing their own populations and those in other countries show that Russo-German collaboration has sometimes been a product of cynicism and purely instrumental need, of shared pragmatic interests that overrode other differences and were destructive of their populations' and neighbors' security. This historical legacy continues to raise concerns in Europe and in the United States that, despite major differences in the German and Russian domestic systems, they might be tempted to join forces in the pursuit of national interests to the detriment of their neighbors. These fears may well be unfounded, but they are a reminder of the power of historical analogies.
The third legacy is that of German-Russian enmity, which has produced two world wars in this century and which made the divided city of Berlin the most tense outpost of the Cold War. Soviet-West German relations prior to 1970 were also characterized by confrontation and tension and created fears among both populations about the other side's aggressive intentions. Russian concerns today, however, focus more on German abandonment than on German attack. Likewise, Germany fears not Russia's military might, but its weakness. Thus, of all the legacies, that of German-Russian antagonism seems the least important today. Nevertheless, it also reminds Europe that conflict between Russia and Germany can be even more devastating than cynical collaboration.
In an age when we are witnessing the rebirth of history in every postcommunist country, with its negative and violent aspects as well as its more benign ones, the ghosts of the past inevitably haunt the German-Russian relationship. Will an economically strong, politically united Germany achieve through economic means in the twenty-first century what it was unable to achieve through military means in the twentieth century, namely the domination of Europe? Will it reopen the territorial questions that the Second World War resolved? Will a new Drang nach Osten inevitably arise from the power vacuum created by a weak central Europe, a disorganized Russia, and a retreating United States? Will Russia, despite its weakness, revive its expansionist ambitions and seek to reincorporate the states of the former Soviet Union? Domestic developments within Germany and Russia, plus the evolution of postcommunist central Europe, will largely determine which legacy predominates in the next century.
Return to Book Description
File created: 8/7/2007
Questions and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Princeton University Press