Germany's New Ostpolitik

An Old Foreign Policy Doctrine Gets a Makeover

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier attend a news conference in Moscow, February 14, 2014. Maxim Shemetov / Courtesy Reuters

When Frank-Walter Steinmeier was appointed Germany’s foreign minister in December 2013, Europeans wary of Russia took it as an ominous sign. A bookish Social Democrat, Steinmeier was known as one of Germany’s most forceful advocates for close relations between Berlin and Moscow and for a style of realpolitik toward Russian President Vladimir Putin that bracketed human rights concerns in favor of deepening economic ties. Steinmeier’s enthusiasm contrasted with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s skepticism about Putin, but most expected that the chancellery would cede the Russia portfolio to the new foreign minister.

The German government’s reaction to the Ukraine crisis has calmed most of the initial fears. Merkel has offered a tougher than expected response, threatening broad-based sanctions that would do “massive” damage to the Russian economy. But it’s Steinmeier’s response, which has largely matched Merkel’s in forcefulness, that gives an indication that Germany’

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