SPD leader Lars Klingbeil has admitted several misjudgments by his party in Russia policy over the past few decades. “In our search for common ground, we often overlooked what separated us. That was a mistake,” said Klingbeil on Tuesday evening in a speech at a party event in Berlin. After the end of the Cold War, the SPD believed that relations with Russia would simply keep getting better. “This has created blind spots in our dealings with Russia. And that has led to mistakes in dealing with Russia.”
Klingbeil advocated a fundamental change in attitude towards Russia. The statement that security and stability in Europe can only exist with and not against Russia is no longer valid. “Today it’s about organizing security against Russia,” said the SPD leader. “Russia has left the system of common security and the common system of values. Our security must work without Russia.”
Sharp criticism of the SPD’s Russia policy
The SPD’s earlier Russia policy had been sharply criticized in recent months. In the party’s 2007 basic program, which is still valid, the strategic partnership with Russia is described as “essential” for Germany and the European Union. “The opening of Russia ensures peace and stability on our continent,” it says. The SPD’s 2021 election manifesto includes the sentence: “Peace in Europe cannot exist against, but only with, Russia.”
The SPD wants to reorganize its foreign and security policy at its party congress at the end of 2023. The party’s international policy commission is currently working on proposals for this.
In his speech, Klingbeil specifically named four misjudgments by the SPD in the period after the end of the Cold War: People believed that history obligated both countries to one another. The SPD failed to recognize that Russian President Vladimir Putin saw things differently and was using history for autocratic consolidation internally and his great power politics externally.
In addition, according to Klingbeil, the paradigm of change through rapprochement did not work. Ever closer economic ties would not have contributed to a more stable European order. Germany has also made itself dependent on Russia with its energy policy. “Such a one-sided dependency must never happen again.”
Another mistake that Klingbeil named was that the interests of the Eastern and Central European partners had not been adequately taken into account. This led to a massive loss of trust.
There are certainly other mistakes that have been made, said Klingbeil. It is important to him to name them and to draw the right lessons for the future from them. The SPD leader emphasized that he cannot imagine normalizing relations with Russia in the long term. “There can and will not be a return to the status quo with Russia before the war against Ukraine.”