GERMANY was a crucial prize for the dictator of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin.
After his armies defeated Hitler’s troops and occupied Eastern Europe in 1945, Stalin signaled that he would not cooperate with the United States or Britain in administering Germany according to -war as a single unit. Instead, he stripped East Germany of everything its economy badly needed to rebuild. Its aim was to communise all of Germany and make it an ally of the USSR.
Today, Vladimir Putin has a similar dream, to take control of a unified Germany and use its industrial might and Russian armies to dominate Europe.
To understand why, a bit of history is in order.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the West faced the threat of Stalin with the US-funded Marshall Plan, which provided economic aid to help rebuild Western European economies. Stalin’s response was the blockade of Berlin, designed to force the Western allies out of their legal presence in Berlin. It failed due to a massive US-British airlift of thousands of pounds of food and fuel for the besieged residents of West Berlin.
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Stalin’s continued belligerence led to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance in 1949. He retaliated with the Warsaw Pact, which included his Eastern European satellite countries, mainly Poland and Hungary.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, his successors – Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev – continued Moscow’s efforts to undermine West Germany’s growing integration into NATO. Moscow promoted neutrality as a new line of propaganda towards Germans in the West.
Khrushchev was ousted as party leader after his disastrous efforts to place missiles in Cuba and President Kennedy threatened war. Brezhnev then served as Moscow’s leader for 18 years.
He was careful not to provoke Washington as it developed Soviet nuclear power and expanded its armed forces. Soviet propaganda sought to convince West Germans that a war would devastate their country. Moscow’s effort was aided by the re-emergence of the German Social Democratic Party which fostered better relations with Moscow.
Until 1969, German coalition governments were led by conservative party leader Conrad Adenauer who had worked closely with Washington.
A new German left-wing coalition government was however elected in 1969, led by Social Democrat leader Willi Brandt. He worked to create good relations with Brezhnev and reduce tensions. This happened as America was absorbed in the Vietnam War. Many Germans concluded that they should not rely on the United States for protection.
Washington’s humiliating withdrawal from Saigon in 1975 gave Moscow even more ammunition to promote neutralism among Germans.
Helmut Kohl, leader of a conservative coalition, was elected German Chancellor in 1982 and worked with conservative US President Ronald Reagan, who had decided to confront Moscow militarily and economically.
Kohl was followed as chancellor by Angela Merkel, another conservative, who remained in office until 2021 and maintained good relations with Washington.
She also wanted good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. One reason was that Germany had become more dependent on natural gas shipments from Russia after dismantling its nuclear power plants under pressure from the German Green Party.
What many outside of Germany do not like is that former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder, a social democrat who served from 1998 to 2005, was hired by Gasprom, the main Russian gas company, shortly after leaving office. Schroeder was the driving force in the construction of Nordstream 2, the gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany.
It will supply a large part of Germany’s energy needs for many years.
When Angela Merkel stepped down as chancellor last fall, she was replaced by a coalition led by Social Democratic Party leader Olaf Scholz. His views on foreign policy are not yet clear, but European leaders are very concerned that Scholz will lead Germany away from its close relationship with NATO.
We could again see Germany being the grand prize that Russia and the United States have been trying to court for 70 years. Undoubtedly, Schroeder is a key factor in facilitating Putin’s goal of bringing Germany closer to Moscow.
Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist who lives near Charlottesville. He served with US forces in Germany in 1946-1947.