Today it looks as if the days of the [pro-Kremlin] Russlandverstehers’ unchallenged dominion in explaining Russia to Germany are over, at least on the expert level and in public opinion, analyst Lilia Shevtsova* writes for the American Interest:
The majority of German experts and intellectuals appear inclined to revise Germany’s position on Putin’s Russia. “One should differentiate between the aggressor and the victim,” said a letter by a hundred German experts writing on their country’s role in the Ukraine crisis. This could represent a turning point for German political thinkers and analysts, who generally avoided such sharp statements in the past, particularly in reference to Russia. Of course, this evolution would not have been possible without the evolution of Angela Merkel’s position.
Joschka Fischer wrote that “Angela Merkel has undergone a remarkable transformation.” In many ways, her transformation has given an impetus to the new interpretation of politics, including policies toward Russia, in Germany. Today one would have real trouble finding an active group of old Russlandversteher on the German intellectual scene or in the media. They find refuge mainly in Valdai club corridors. “It took Russia’s armed support of the ‘separatists’ in eastern Ukraine to make them understand why the Balts are afraid. Now Merkel is holding together a European coalition against Putin,” says Constanze Stelzenmueller, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“When Washington is looking for ways to step back, Germany is destined—whether it likes it or not—to play a leading role in forming the European posture toward Russia and Eurasia,” adds Shevtsova. “One way or another it will shape the West’s stance toward Global Illiberalism.”
*Shevtsova, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, delivered the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2014 Lipset Lecture on Russia’s Political System: The Drama of Decay.