18 August, 2008
‘Serious Mistakes by the West’
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder discusses the war in the Caucasus, the possibility of Germany serving as an intermediary in the conflict and his belief in a constructive role for Russia.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Schröder, who is at fault for the Caucasus war?
Gerhard Schröder: The hostilities undoubtedly have their historic causes, as well, and the conflict has had several historic precursors. But the moment that triggered the current armed hostilities was the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. This should not be glossed over.
SPIEGEL: You see no partial fault on Moscow’s part, no lack of proportionality in the actions of the Russian military?
Schröder: That is something I cannot and do not wish to judge. But we know, of course, that military conflicts develop their own dynamics. The crucial issue now is that all parties involved will take advantage of the French president’s six-point plan.
SPIEGEL: Do you believe that the American military advisors stationed in Tbilisi encouraged Georgia to launch its attack?
Schröder: I wouldn’t go that far. But everyone knows that these US military advisors in Georgia exist — a deployment that I’ve never considered particularly intelligent. And it would have been strange if these experts had not had any information. Either they were extremely unprofessional or they were truly fooled, which is hard to imagine.
SPIEGEL: The US government claims that it warned Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili against taking military action. But wasn’t the whole thing only too convenient for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin?
Schröder: These are speculations in which I prefer not to participate. I assume that no one in the Moscow leadership has an interest in military conflicts. There are enough internal problems in Russia that need to be solved. For instance, corruption and abuse of authority must be addressed. Russia has plenty of deficits, an issue I’ve addressed many a time. President (Dmitry) Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are addressing these problems — together, by the way, in friendship and mutual respect, not in competition with one another, as journalistic fortune-tellers often imply.
SPIEGEL: That may well be, but something else is now at stake: Russia has never overcome the loss of its superpower status, and in recent years it has felt cornered and humiliated by NATO. During the wars in the Balkans, the Iraq invasion by the “Coalition of the Willing” under Washington’s leadership, the Kosovo declaration of independence …
Schröder: … don’t forget the development of an American missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic …
SPIEGEL: … the Kremlin has been forced to look on. Isn’t it possible that an economically and militarily strengthened Moscow now sees US friend Saakashvili as the best possible opportunity to retaliate against the West? And that Putin wants to assert imperial claims?
Schröder: In my view, there have indeed been serious mistakes made by the West in its policy toward Russia. Can we conclude that this bears some relationship to the recent events in the Caucasus, as Russia’s response, so to speak, to the Georgian provocation? I think it’s wrong to combine these two notions.
SPIEGEL: You don’t share the newly erupted fear among many in the West of a “Russian threat?”
Schröder: No, not at all. There is a perception of Russia in the West that has very little to do with reality.
SPIEGEL: Could the new, highly self-confident leadership duo in Moscow feel that the West needs them more than they need the West?
Schröder: It is a mutual dependency. There is not a single critical problem in world politics or the global economy that could be solved without Russia — not the nuclear conflict with Iran, the North Korea question and certainly not bringing peace to the Middle East. The set of problems relating to the climate can also only be addressed universally. Incidentally, Moscow ratified the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming, while we are still waiting for Washington to do so. And when it comes to energy policy, only dreamers can pursue the idea that Western Europe could become independent of Russian oil and natural gas. On the other hand, the Russians need reliable buyers for their energy shipments.
SPIEGEL: You see no reason, in light of the harsh actions in the Caucasus, to terminate the special German-Russian “strategic partnership,” or at least to put it on ice?
Schröder: No. I don’t see why this concept should be jeopardized because of Georgia. Mutual dependencies also create mutual securities. I am also opposed to criticism of Russian investments in Germany. Who should have a problem with Mr. (Alexei) Mordashov investing in the (tourism company) TUI, Mr. (Oleg) Deripaska owning 10 percent of (the construction company) Hochtief or another oligarch owning a share of the fashion house Escada? I would like to see more and not less investment in the German economy. Historically speaking, such economic integration has proven to be politically beneficial.
SPIEGEL: Now you sound like (former US Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger. Have you always thought this way?
Schröder: Certainly not in my Young Socialist days. But ever since I became professionally involved in foreign policy as chancellor, this sober approach has always been my preference — and it’s certainly the most reasonable one.
SPIEGEL: With all due respect to cool-headed realpolitik: Don’t we have to draw a red line now, one that Moscow cannot cross if it wants to continue playing a role in international institutions and as a partner of the West? Immediate withdrawal of all troops from Georgia, for example, and recognition of its territorial integrity, as US Secretary of State Rice has vehemently demanded?
Schröder: I do not believe that Russia is pursuing a policy of annexation. And I also do not believe that there can be a return to the status quo ante in South Ossetia or Abkhazia. It’s out of the question. In my opinion, this has less to do with supposed Russian expansionist interests than with the wishes of the civilian population.
SPIEGEL: Should Germany participate militarily in a peacekeeping force in the Caucasus?
Schröder: The German foreign minister has long been involved in the search for political solutions through his shuttle diplomacy, and he has astutely said that if the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were to play a role in coordination with the parties to the conflict, Germany could not be uninvolved. However, if there is a mission without express Russian consent, I do not want to see any German soldiers stationed there. This is simply a matter of our shared history.
SPIEGEL: Does Georgia belong in NATO?
Schröder: I thought that the German government — and I certainly wish to compliment Ms. Merkel and Mr. Steinmeier in this regard — together with the French government, took the smart approach at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April …
SPIEGEL: … because they opposed the Americans’ and the Eastern Europeans’ desire for fast acceptance of Georgia and Ukraine, and instead shelved the issue with what amounted to vague promises.
Schröder: Imagine if we were forced to intervene militarily on behalf of Georgia as a NATO country, on behalf of an obvious gambler, which is clearly the way one ought to characterize Saakashvili. Georgia and Ukraine must first resolve their domestic political problems, and they are still a long way off. I see the chances of Georgian accession becoming even more remote as a result of the recent events in the Caucasus and, in this connection, I have great difficulties following the rather ostentatious promises made by the NATO secretary general a few days ago.
SPIEGEL: The Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, followed up by saying: “Today we’re all Georgians.”
Schröder: I am not.
‘Those in Washington Have also Understood that One Can Win Wars Alone, but not the Peace.
SPIEGEL: Robert Kagan, an idol of the neoconservatives and still the Republicans’ leading foreign policy thinker, has defined the day of Russia’s invasion of Georgia as the beginning of renewed territorial conflicts between the major powers and “as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell.”
Schröder: I read that, but it too means nothing to me. Kagan, after all, was one of the men who strongly advised intervening in Iraq. The consequences were not pleasant, neither for America nor Europe. Perhaps one should simply not listen to his advice.
SPIEGEL: In an article in Die Zeit a few weeks ago, you wrote that the “transitional phase of American dominance” is now coming to an end. What exactly did you mean by that? And does this automatically lead to the conclusion of a multipolar, better world?
Schröder: The end of unipolar America is not just evident in the rise of a Democratic presidential candidate, Obama, but also in the policies of rationally thinking Republicans. If you read the nonpartisan Baker-Hamilton report on the future of Iraq, you will find it difficult not to recognize that the next US president will hardly have any other choice but to act in a multipolar way — no matter what one politician or another says in the US election campaign.
SPIEGEL: Regardless of whether the next man in charge at the White House is Barack Obama or John McCain?
Schröder: Of course that will make a difference. But I believe that even a Republican administration, which I certainly am not hoping for, could not avoid taking a more multipolar approach once again, involving allies and working together with international organizations. Apparently those in Washington have also understood that one can win wars alone, but not the peace.
SPIEGEL: What role should Europe play in this multipolar world? Isn’t there a sharp division between countries like Germany, France and Italy, who are unwilling, especially now, to allow cooperation with Moscow to come to an end, and the Baltic states, Poland and the Czech Republic, all characterized by their fear of Russia?
Schröder: The process of European unification on foreign and security policy certainly has not become easier since I left office as chancellor in 2005. This also has something to do with the integration of the newly added states. This unification process must be understood as a historic opportunity, even if it has its price.
SPIEGEL: It is dragging on.
Schröder: That is precisely the price. Europe will only be able to play a true role in the context between America, on the one side, and Asia, on the other, if it manages to establish and maintain a strong relationship with Russia. I see Russia as part of Europe, more than as part of any other constellation.
SPIEGEL: And is that how Russia sees itself?
Schröder: At least it is the way the current leadership sees it. And we in Germany and Europe should interpret this as an opportunity. Russia has an Asian alternative, but Europe does not. Besides, such a constellation does not necessarily have to lead to Europe distancing itself from the United States.
SPIEGEL: This sounds very optimistic. You don’t see a remake of the Cold War developing?
Schröder: No. At least it would not be in the Russian leadership’s interest. I am completely opposed to demonizing Russia. And I believe that Moscow will soon see the need, once again, for greater integration into the international community.
SPIEGEL: And Washington will refrain from punishing the Kremlin leadership and forcing Russia out of organizations like the G-8?
Schröder: This narrow view, which McCain, for example, holds, will not prevail — that’s what I hope and expect.
SPIEGEL: Are you speaking in your capacity as former chancellor or as an employee of the Russian state-owned company Gazprom?
Schröder: SPIEGEL should not participate in the spreading of misinformation. I am not anyone’s employee, but rather the chairman of the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream, a Dutch-German-Russian joint venture, whose sole purpose is to build a pipeline through the Baltic Sea that will make Germany’s and Europe’s gas supply significantly more secure.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Schröder, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Erich Follath and Gerhard Spörl.