Ukrainian media outlet Grunt interviewed German political expert Sergej Sumlenny to gain a better understanding of contemporary Germany, its unique relations with Russia, and the nature of its economic dependence on Russians.
Sumlenny, who resides in Berlin, is the head of the European Resilience Initiative Center. This interview will help you comprehend the reasons why Merkel feels sympathy towards Russia and why Schröder is so devoted to Putin.
- Does Merkel not understand the danger of the “Minsk format” or does she consider this danger justified? Why does she insist on her righteousness despite the fact that it has become clear that it was a mistake?
Sergej: “Oh, I don’t have a simple answer to this question. She should have understood who she was dealing with. She socialized in East Germany and was aware of how Moscow and the Russian special services operate. It’s unlikely that she had any illusions. Maybe [there were illusions] in the first term, but beyond that – it’s hard to believe.
We all argue a lot about Schröder, for example, but Germany has critically increased its dependence on Russian energy carriers precisely during Merkel’s time. It was not under Schröder that “Nord Stream – 2” was initiated.
And of course, one can idealize Russia, not notice threats when they concern others, but to weaken the negotiation position of one’s own country so much – that’s very strange. I have heard many conspiracy theories, I would rather not discuss them because I don’t really believe in them. But it is obvious that Merkel’s actions put at risk the interests of both Germany and our neighbors.”
- Could this just be a matter of friendship? Does Putin’s knowledge of the German language and the Germans facilitate their mutual understanding? Could this simply be about human relationships?
Sergej: You know, ‘human relations’ is not about Merkel. Merkel is not about humanity or empathy at all. I think Putin was looking for ways to press her and what to offer her. In the Kremlin, whole teams of psychologists are working on a particular person to find out what they love and need. Schröder, obviously, was caught on the adoption of children – and Merkel, well, perhaps on art.
- What art? The one that Russians took out of Germany at the end of World War II?
- Did they return it?
Sergej: They promised to return the art, at least. But Merkel doesn’t appreciate or understand Central and Eastern Europe; these countries aren’t on her ‘map.’ She wanted to establish a partnership with Eastern Europe through Russia without personally dealing with these countries.
She envisioned herself as a peace builder with Eastern Europe, somewhat akin to Catherine II. We know that she even had a portrait of Catherine on her desk for a while, this is a role model for her. I think she saw herself in this role and wanted such fame for herself. This, perhaps, was her goal. She was even called “Mutti Merkel” – in analogy with “Mother Catherine”.
At the same time, for example, Ukraine and even Poland were perceived by her as something second-rate, caused disgust. Trade with Poland exceeds trade with Russia ten times per person. But (the speaker continues sarcastically): Russia is our important strategic partner, and Poland – is just something, some savages next door.”
“The experiment, which she has performed a hundred times, has never yielded a result. This, to put it mildly, shows that this person is incapable of science.”
- Recently Merkel said that Putin and Ukraine need new talks, even though past talks failed. Maybe she wants to return to major politics as a negotiator?
Sergej: The biggest mystery to me about Merkel is her inability to acknowledge her mistakes. It’s odd, given that she’s from a scientific background, unlike many of her political peers, and she truly worked on her own dissertation and research project.
You should know that many German politicians simply take a shortcut when it comes to dissertations and academic degrees. When plagiarism checks were introduced, a series of high-profile resignations occurred, including several federal ministers.
But not Merkel. She’s a true scientist. Why she lacks critical thinking and the ability to analyse her own decisions – I don’t understand. She repeats an experiment that has failed a hundred times, expecting a different result the hundred-and-first time. This suggests she isn’t cut out for science.
Her political motto is to ignore a problem until it disappears. And when it does, she can say: see, I was right.
I think after her chancellorship, she planned to lead an organization created specifically for her, like a ‘Russian-German friendship society.’ But the war thwarted that, and now she’s in limbo. She lacks support in her party, the Christian Democratic Union, so no one can back her as a negotiator now.
Furthermore, I’m convinced that even if such an offer is made from the German side, the Ukrainians will not support it. So I don’t see her as a negotiator in Russian-Ukrainian negotiations.
- What’s Merkel’s secret? How has she managed to stay in power for such a long time? It’s an incredible term for a democratic country.
Sergej: In Germany, this is normal. [Konrad] Adenauer had three and a half terms, [Helmut] Kohl – four. So, there are three heads of government who were elected four times: Adenauer, Kohl, Merkel. All of them were from CDU. So, this is not surprising.
The chancellor is elected by the parliament, which is formed by direct elections. So, there is not such a direct link with the manifestation of will.
What was special about Merkel’s four terms? In three of her four terms, she sat in a so-called grand coalition. It’s important to understand that a grand coalition is a powerful blow to German democracy. There are two major parties in Germany that fight each other at the federal level – the conservative Christian Democrats, or CDU, and the more left Social Democrats – Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD. They make various alliances, and even if someone gets the majority, as it happened once in the 1950s, they still make agreements with other parties to create a larger coalition.
When Merkel became Chancellor in 2005, the CDU didn’t have enough votes even with their traditional allies – the Liberal Party, and they formed a coalition with the SPD. For her second term, Merkel had a coalition again only with liberals, and the third and fourth terms – again a grand coalition.
From the voter’s perspective, what happens? We don’t like what’s happening in the country, we don’t vote for the CDU and Merkel, but no matter how we vote, we get Merkel again because the two largest parties in parliament have agreed so. And this, in fact, breaks the election system. And by the way, it played very well on the rhetoric of marginal parties, who talked about the absence of democracy, conspiracy and usurpation of power. In such a situation, it is quite understandable why people prone to radical views believe in this.
He adopted a little girl from Russia. And then another one. In Germany, he couldn’t have taken a child because the law doesn’t allow it at his age.
- Recently, Poland announced that it is opening a case to investigate Schroeder’s role in preparing Russia for invasion. What could be his involvement and the evidence?
Sergej: It’s not news that Schroeder worked to make Europe more dependent on Russian gas. Ukrainians have repeatedly warned of a large-scale invasion once the Nord Stream is completed. Yet, German responses often downplayed these concerns. However, is this enough to hold Schroeder criminally responsible? I’m not sure.
- Do you think he did it consciously? Maybe he truly thought it was just an investment or did he understand there would be a real large-scale war?
Sergej: I think that none of the Germans – I mean Putin’s friends—believed that anything like this would happen. Yes, For years, they consciously supported Russian aggression. But bombings, tortures, mass murders – I don’t think they expected that.
They only saw Russia in the conference halls of expensive hotels and lounge bars. They thought it would be something like the EU, just poorer. Well, there will be the Russian language, yes, common document circulation, some common education system, more Russian business in Ukraine. So what? Isn’t that bad? That was the logic, in general. The fact that consent is required from all participants for unification was somehow not taken into account. Plus, anti-Americanism.
This is actually similar to the position of the Russian opposition. What is their claim against Putin? “Why did you, fool, start this war when everything could be done peacefully and just buy everything there? It was possible to just open Dostoevsky institutes, offer young people scholarships, buy out the press, and everything would be fine.” That’s approximately how they thought in Germany
- And tell me, please, what kind of strange story is this about Schroeder and Russian children?
Sergej: This was in the early 2000s, during his first term. He was married for the fourth time to Doris Schröder-Kopf, and they adopted a girl from Russia. And then another one. In Germany, he would never have been able to adopt a child because at his age the law in Germany does not allow it – he was 60 and 62 years old.
- So, did Putin actually gift him a kid?
Sergej: It looks like it. By the way, a similar story happened with Günther Jauch – he is a television producer and host of one of the biggest, and at that time, perhaps the biggest, political show in the country. He also adopted two girls from Russia.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a conscious strategy of Russian special services. It’s so easy – you give people what they can’t obtain in Germany, and it doesn’t even cost anything. And people owe you for the rest of their life.
“The far-right and far-left love Russia very much because it is a powerful player in the field of anti-Americanism”
- Are there any modern German politicians we can call are most pro-Ukrainian?
Sergej: If we’re talking about influential politicians, it’s definitely the Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen). Among them are Robert Habeck (German politician and writer, Vice Chancellor in Scholz’s government), Annalena Baerbock (Foreign Minister). Also – Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (representative of the Liberal Party, Ph.D., head of the Bundestag committee on defense issues). In the SPD – Michael Roth. For his party, he is a direct defender of Ukraine, it’s even surprising how they haven’t kicked him out yet. And even Boris Pistorius (Minister of Defense in Scholz’s government) He is doing everything very correctly in his position. As for the CDU, it is difficult to assess how much of their pro-Ukrainian rhetoric is sincere and how much is situational.
- Europe has been swept by a wave of espionage scandals linked to Russia. Russian diplomats are being expelled from everywhere. What about Germany?
Sergej: Recently, Germany has expelled over twenty diplomats. However, it’s officially not due to activities incompatible with diplomatic status, but due to reducing the number of staff. They are simply too many. It’s logical as they indeed have bloated embassies with hundreds of people working there.
For comparison, take the case when a Chechen refugee was killed in Berlin. This was done by Russian agents in broad daylight in the capital’s center; it was proven to be an operation by Russian special services. At that time, only two diplomats were expelled. Now it’s over twenty.
This is a noticeable cooling off. But, of course, this is not enough. All of their consulates could have been closed; they have six in total: Berlin, Dresden, Bonn, Hamburg, Munich, and Frankfurt. It’s 150 kilometers from Bonn to Frankfurt – why do they need two consulates there? Berlin and Dresden – the same story. Everyone understands the real purpose of these establishments. Of course, they justify this by having many Russians living in Germany. But it’s a digital era – everything can be done via the Internet.
- By the way, this post-Soviet community in Germany is huge. How influential is it?
Sergej: I estimate based on mass actions, and I see that they can no longer mobilize many people. They look disgusting, of course, with their flags, slogans, and singing “Katyusha”… But, well, there are fewer than a hundred of them. It’s a very marginal movement. And the fact that they come out once a year with flags is not the worst.
For example, recently in Cologne airport, they fired an employee who worked on security issues. He was a former Russian and a reservist of the Russian army. It turned out that he was raising money for the Russian army and even traveled to the occupied Donbas, transporting military equipment there. It’s difficult to say how many such people there are in total.
- In Germany, the far-right and the far-left have united in a strange way. This is particularly noticeable in Germany. How does this happen? What are their prospects?
Sergej: They share some common traits. Firstly, there is a hatred for the democratic parliamentary system and a very aggressive anti-Americanism. And anti-Semitism. Many on the left hate Jews because they see them as the main capitalists who are destroying Palestine. Well, that’s the traditional set of slogans. On the other hand, the right hates Jews because they associate them with transatlantic capitalism, which they believe is eroding traditional German identity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, all these conspiracy theories gained momentum, of course.
Both the far-right and far-left have a strong affinity for Russia because it is a powerful player in the field of anti-Americanism. Therefore, they are willing to support Russia even under existing conditions (such as the large-scale war against Ukraine). They have different approaches to internal security issues, but both are against NATO.
The Alternative for Germany (a far-right party) has 14% of the seats in parliament; the far-left barely made it there. The face of the far left is Sahra Wagenknecht. She has already started her solo career, so to speak, as she has outgrown the party. Wagenknecht is a well-known figure and very wealthy. She earned over a million dollars last year solely through her appearances. She is charismatic, artistic, and currently attracts all the frustrated and sophisticated people who don’t understand what is happening in this world.