The Ukrainian crisis has aggravated Russian-German relations. This impacts negatively not only the situation of Russia but also the status of Germany in international politics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the joint news conference at the Moscow Kremlin on May 10, 2015. Photo: RIA Novosti

Among the big anniversary dates of this year, one date went almost unnoticed: the last week's 25-year anniversary of the reunification of Germany. On September 12, 1990, Moscow brought together representatives of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, also known as West Germany), the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or commonly known as East Germany) and the victorious powers of the World War II. They signed the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany.

However, the treaty did not provide a definitive solution to the “German question,” which is concerned with a complete restoration of Germany’s sovereignty and its relations with other countries.

The heritage of the Moscow Treaty determines up to day the character of Russian-German relations, which have been impacted recently by the Ukrainian crisis.

The Moscow compromise on German sovereignty

In the mid-1990s, the situation around the reunification of the two German states was not so simple. There was no unanimity on the “German question” among the four victorious powers. French President François Mitterrand opposed the reunification of the GDR and the FRG.

The British cabinet of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher advocated the “4+2” formula, with the Soviet Union, the U.S., France and the United Kingdom working out conditions for the reunification of the two Germanies. London insisted that it should be a confederation of the GDR and the FRG.

The United States, which did not wish to quarrel with their European allies, kept aloof from solving the “German question.” The White House’s only desire was to preserve the unity of NATO.

The Soviet Union’s interference changed the situation. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev advocated the “2+4” formula, with the two Germanies working out the conditions of their own reunification and the victorious powers joining their decision.

At a meeting in the city of Zheleznovodsk in July 1990, Gorbachev supported German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s position on the reunification of the GDR and the FRG. The U.S. supported readily the Soviet initiatives. Britain and France had to comply with the “2+4” formula.

However, the Sept. 12 Moscow Treaty was essentially a compromise. Moscow, Washington, London and Paris agreed to the reunification of Germany within the boundaries of the GDR and the FRG as of January 1, 1990. The victorious powers agreed to full restoration of Germany’s legal personality in both foreign and domestic affairs, thus relieving it of the vestiges of occupation status.

Also read: "Russian-German relations: A renewed dialogue?"

At the same time, four of the restrictions on Germany’s sovereignty introduced by the Bonn Treaty of 1952 remained in place.

Firstly, some restrictions were imposed on the development of the German armed forces: Bundeswehr. Over the next four years, the FRG’s armed forces were to be reduced to a level of 370,000. Germany reaffirmed its renunciation of the manufacture, possession, and control of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as stated in the Paris protocols of 1954. The use of the German armed forces was allowed by the consent of the UN only.

Secondly, the ban for Germany on holding any referendum on military-political issues was continued. Those obligations introduced in the FRG’s Constitution of 1949 were confirmed, first, by a special letter by Chancellor Kohl to the President of the U.S.S.R. of September 12, 1990; and, secondly, by a special declaration by Kohl of September 12, 1990.

Thirdly, the Moscow Treaty maintained indirectly the mechanism of mandatory consultations of Germany with the victorious powers on foreign policy issues introduced by the Bonn Treaty of 1952. The Bonn Treaty was terminated with the signing of the Moscow Treaty. However, that restriction was imposed on the FRG pending the signing of a peace treaty.

Lacking the legal status of a peace treaty, the Moscow Treaty retained that clause in force. As noted in the preamble, the document was signed “having regard to the rights and responsibilities of the Four Powers relating to Berlin and to Germany as a whole, and the corresponding wartime and post-war agreements and decisions of the Four Powers.”

Fourthly, the ban on the FRG demanding withdrawal of foreign troops from the German territory until the signing of a peace treaty remained in force. That obligation was also introduced by the Bonn Treaty of 1952. However, the Moscow Treaty did not establish any term for the withdrawal of the victorious powers’ troops from Germany; neither it specified a procedure for a possible claim from Germany regarding this problem.The Soviet Union withdrew the Group of Soviet Forces on a voluntary basis. The restrictions introduced referred only to the deployment of the armed forces of the NATO countries within the territory of the former GDR.

The Soviet Union went further than the other victorious states. In the fall of 1990, the Treaty on Good Neighborliness, Partnership, and Cooperation between the FRG and the U.S.S.R. was signed in Bonn.

Such a pro-German position of the Kremlin was not accidental. Judging by openly available publications, Gorbachev realized that after the “velvet revolutions” the days of the Warsaw Pact were numbered. Therefore, along with the reunification of Germany, he tried to launch an all-European process.

The Charter of Paris for a New Europe signed in November made provisions for the creation of a “bloc-free Europe.”

Rapprochement with Russia brought dividends to Germany

Since that time, two essential foreign policy parties formed in the German establishment. The first of those (to which Kohl and Gerhard Schröder loosely belonged) advocated extension of cooperation with Russia. That process should lead finally to the revision of the Moscow Treaty and full restoration of Germany’s sovereignty. However, even failing that, the model of “privileged partnership” with Russia brought Germany considerable dividends.

Firstly, a privileged dialogue with Russia automatically raised the status of Germany in the system of European international relations.

The Balkan crisis, the export of Caspian energy resources, Iran’s nuclear program each of these problems Berlin discussed as an equal with a nuclear superpower and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Germany started being perceived as ranking with Russia and the U.S. rather than with Italy and Sweden, although those were “more sovereign” that the FRG.

Secondly, that dialogue widened the area of Germany’s economic influence. German companies invested in the development of Russian industry. Germany stands as Gazprom’s leading partner in the domain of transit and distribution of gas for consumers in the EU countries.

Each Russian-German agreement on the construction of a pipeline or a gas storage facility gives Berlin instruments for influencing the other EU members. Germany’s energy policy fell in the same weight category as the energy policy of Russia or the whole of the European Union.

Thirdly, the special relations with Moscow enhanced the role of Germany in the context of transatlantic relations. A majority of the NATO countries are valuable to Washington for their territories and political support, while German diplomacy made available to the U.S. its experience of constructive work with Russia.

Fourthly, the dialogue with Russia helped Germany become a major military power. After 1991, the German armed forces have participated in wars outside Germany. As a victorious power, Russia could have pointed out the inconsistency of such actions with the Moscow Treaty. Instead, Russia always emphasized that it was glad to see Germany a participant of the global anti-terrorist coalition.

Estrangement from Russia weakens Germany’s global role

In contrast, the other party maintained the precedence of the economic development of Eastern Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who came to power in 2005, loosely belonged to that party. The stepping up of German economic expansion into Eastern Europe became the priority of her policy.

Germany was establishing itself as the leader of the new EU countries, a process that fortified its position within the European Union. However, such a strategy led Berlin automatically to a conflict with Russia about dividing the Baltic-Black Sea region.

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That strategy was embodied in the EU’s program, the “Eastern Partnership.” Its proclaimed goal was to sign treaties on the association of EU with six former Soviet republics: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Such a prospect opened wide opportunities for German business. But it also necessitated drawing a real boundary between the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the partners of the EU.

At the same time, the problem of the status of the unrecognized states that did not seek association with the European Union aggravated. It is no accident that already in the summer of 2010 the Merkel Cabinet tied up the talks with Russia on European security with the solution of the Transnistria question.

The problems aggravated in the fall of 2012 when Germany’s Parliament Bundestag carried a resolution criticizing the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chancellor Merkel criticized Russia’s domestic policy at a session of the “St. Petersburg Dialogue” on November 16, 2012 and during Putin’s visit to Hannover in April 2013.

All through 2013, the proponents of a tougher policy towards Russia in the German elite were gaining ground. Suffice it to recall Federal President Joachim Gauck calling for leaving Germany’s “comfort zone” in relations with Russia and ex-Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer urging not to fall out with other NATO countries over Moscow.

The Ukrainian crisis and the EU’s sanctions war against the Kremlin was the point beyond which Berlin started countering Moscow’s policy with its own line in the post-Soviet space.

Against that background, a new round of rapprochement between Germany and the U.S. occurred. Already during his visit to Berlin on June 19, 2013, President Obama declared his intention to improve U.S.-German relations.

Still, the main sensation was caused by the Munich conference on security in February 2014. Federal President Joachim Gauck, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke of “the new role of Germany” brought on, among other things, by the inability of Washington to solve all international problems.

The representatives of the U.S., Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Minister Chuck Hagel, have supported such a trend in the German leadership. The problem is that turning Germany into a privileged junior partner of the U.S. weakens, rather than strengthens, its positions in Europe.

The Ukrainian crisis highlighted a new line in American policy — that of eroding the system of a Russian-German partnership. A falling out with Russia will deprive Germany of its privileged position within NATO as a mediator country in talks with Moscow. France has started assuming gradually that role.

Russia is becoming more stringent in regard to Berlin’s attempts to create precedents of broadened interpretation of the Moscow Treaty of 1990. Germany’s role as the energy center of the European Union is in the balance, too.

The situation is all the more disagreeable to Germany because in 2010, a “French-British tandem” (a system of privileged military-political partnership between London and Paris) formed in Western Europe.

Also read: "Why Germany and France are taking on new roles in the Ukraine crisis"

The Ukrainian crisis eroded the system of Russian-German partnership. When on amicable terms with Russia, Germany was perceived as a great power, a mediator between Russia and the U.S. In contrast, a Germany leading an anti-Kremlin policy will be perceived as just another “ever-aggrieved” country of Eastern Europe.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.