Two hundred-fifty people attending a think-tank event in Berlin in the middle of the week is undeniably a success. Indeed, the organizers of "Russia and Germany in 2030: Scenarios for a Bilateral Relationship," did not expect that the largest hall in their building would be completely full.
The high interest in the outcome of this project shows that Germany is not tired of the endless debates about Russia, as explained by former German Foreign Minister Walter-Frank Steinmeier who chaired the discussion.
Perhaps, people are fed up with the purely academic discourses that abound yet lack in explanatory force. Against this background the very genre of scenario planning looks advantageous mostly due to the brevity of the final product and its focusing on key possible eventualities.
The contents of the report, released by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung foundation, are not a prediction, as the foundation's Reinhard Krumm reiterated, rather it is an overview of four different options that might or might not come true within the next 17 years.
The panel of co-authors – ten Russians and ten Germans – gathered twice in recent months, in Yekaterinburg and Frankfurt/Oder, to discuss the scenarios. Being one of those twenty experts, I can attest that we discussed all possible options and their correlations.
Of course the leading issues were well covered, such as how a decrease in Russia’s oil and gas revenues would lead to a weakening of the stability of the ruling regime, and how less German dependence on Russia in energy the more freedom it would have to criticize the Kremlin.
Numerous critical uncertainties were raised, such as the future of the China-Russia relationship and whether the "Core of Europe" would be more Russia-critical than today's EU.
In my view, two scenarios were particularly interesting – perhaps, because they are diametrically opposite. According to one outlook, Moscow has firmly chosen an explicitly undemocratic type of political regime, while Berlin has ceased to pursue a policy of accommodation with an un-Western Russia. The Kremlin responds to the growing domestic protests with increasing repression and nationalist policies, which crosses out the perspective for a modernization partnership. Russia, in alliance with its Eurasian Union neighbors, reorients its economic relations toward Asian markets. Germany, succeeds in diversifying its energy supplies and thus decreases its dependence on Russia, making German Ostpolitik less Russia-centric. In spite of its turn to the East, Russia resists EU's and NATO's growing activity in regions of common neighborhood.
In other words, a growing domestic nationalism within the Russian society and the increasing perception of attractiveness of Asian markets are two preconditions for this scenario. Putin’s regime becomes weaker, makes more mistakes and disintegrates, giving way to a more nationalist (Rogozin-style or even more radical) type of regime. In fact, Putin understands that he unleashed the most conservative and illiberal forces aimed at closing Russia from the West, but can do nothing about this. The Orthodox Church becomes increasingly transgressive and intolerant; education gradually becomes more and more nationalist (a single “patriotic” textbook for history, literature, and even biology; the decreasing of foreign language teaching, etc.). Anti-feminist and anti-gay propaganda blossoms, as does the search for “internal enemies” and “fifth columns.”
Against this background, alienation between Russia and the EU in general (and Germany in particular) becomes inevitable. Russia and major European powers fail to find common solutions for visa issues and for financial rescue plans for EU members where Russia has its economic interests. As the scenario unfolds, German foundations in Russia feel themselves under permanent pressure from the Kremlin and ultimately have to leave the country. Then, no German political leaders show up for the Sochi Olympics in 2014 or the World Football Cup in 2018. German businesses go increasingly public with complaints about the informal rules of the market and the red tape barriers of Russia’s markets, which leads to less and less interest in Russia from the German corporate sector, especially against the background of increasing perspectives in Chinese and other Asian markets. The DAAD, the German national agency for the support of international academic cooperation, scales down its programs after a number of its alumni get persecuted by the Russians as “foreign agents.” Finally, German media also loses its interest in Russia and closes its offices in Moscow one after another.
Now, in the opposite scenario, two key words are central: cooperation and rapprochement. Its key preconditions are domestic transformations within Russia and increasing foreign policy failures.
Domestically, according to the scenario, the Putin regime demonstrates its inefficacy – there are ever-expanding corruption scandals, fewer professional cadres in key sectors, mass-scale foreign property acquisitions by the ruling group, etc. The Sochi Olympics and the World Football Cup are largely considered as examples of financial misconduct and sportive failures. In the meantime, the mega-events (along with the World Expo in Yekaterinburg, Perm, as the European Capital of Culture etc.) strengthen the negotiating positions of regional elites in the most ambitious Russian cities vis-à-vis the weakening federal center. For Moscow it becomes more and more costly to control subnational units – known as subjects of federation – by old and obsolete administrative measures.
In foreign policy according to this scenario, Russia faces a number of sensitive troubles that question the very core of Russia’s international positioning. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are steadfastly drifting from Russia’s sphere of influence, largely due to mass-scale Western assistance programs. The same happens to Transniestria which gradually finds Europeanization more attractive. Russia fails to hook Ukraine into the ailing Eurasian Union, which after Lukashenko’s and Nazarbaev’s presidencies lose its momentum and turns into a purely symbolic organization. What is more, Russia has to face deteriorating relations with China, basically due to the burgeoning activism of Peking in protecting their compatriots residing in Russia’s Far East and Siberia against local nationalism and corrupt officials.
All these developments, thenceforth, made the liberals in the government consolidate and form tactical alliances with liberal-minded opposition figures who ultimately were incorporated into the ruling elite. The growth of their positions was to a large extent explained by the widely spread understanding of the futility of confrontation with European partners where many Russian top-level officials keep their savings. Besides, Germany was the key source of technical help to Russia in a series of technological disasters caused by obsolete infrastructure in the housing and industrial sectors, thus giving a new impetus to the modernization dialogue
As a result, through the scenario, Moscow and Berlin succeed in finding common financial solutions for the crisis-ridden EU member states where Russian capital plays an important role (like Cyprus). Further, both were instrumental in implementing a common financial management process of the Ukrainian gas system. Germany, with support from Turkey, succeeds in strengthening Russian-Azeri economic and security relations, with the perspective of jointly using the Gabala military installation for Russian-NATO defense projects. Using a great-power-management type of relations, Russia on the one hand, and Turkey and Germany on the other, effectively prevent the possible outbreak of the Azeri-Armenian war over Nagormo-Karabakh, a practice widely appreciated across the rest of Eurasia.
Against this backdrop, the concept of the German-Polish-Russian “trialogue” is reinvigorated. Germany mediates Russian-Polish and Russian-Lithuanian negotiations on extended visa-free travel for residents of Kaliningrad, which then fosters an EU-Russia visa-free agreement. Using its soft power, Germany then succeeds in extending an encouraging example of the Russian-Polish rapprochement to other Central European countries, which ends up in normalization their relations with Moscow.
And thus, the Russia debate in Germany goes on. What remains to be seen is whether there is a comparable interest from the Russian side to continue exploring the future of two key European powers.
Andrey Makarychev is a professor at the Institute of Government and Politics, University of Tartu, blogging for PONARS Eurasia on the Russia-EU neighborhood.