Interviewer: Germany’s policy toward Russia seems to be very divisive among Germans. Opinion polls show that many Germans don’t want to take such a hard line on Russia; they don’t want to be so involved in the Ukraine crisis. Former German Chancellors Gerhard Schroeder and Helmut Schmidt have called for a policy that's more cooperative with Russia, more in line with Ostpolitik. What’s the view in Moscow of this split?I think this is very astute. Many European feel completely detached from actions taken in Brussels and not the least bit inclined to sacrifice on behalf of EU policy, and we are starting to see some nationalist politicians step up and speak for these sentiments. Leaders with a European outlook want Europe to have a strong foreign policy and speak with a united voice and so on, but many voters don't feel that the EU speaks for them. This sentiment is strongest in the south, but even in Germany and France the feeling that the people have no control over Brussels is widespread.
Lukyanov: That’s been of very low interest, until recently. When Germany took a [harder-line] position, as it took last year, the explanations [in Moscow] were very simplistic. We wanted to believe that this change was entirely because of American pressure on Germany. I spent two months in Germany earlier this year, and I can say American pressure is there, of course. But in fact it’s much deeper. This is really about Germany repositioning as the European power.
As for public opinion, it’s a very interesting phenomenon that deserves to be studied in depth. On the one hand you see, according to opinion polls, perception of Putin and of Russia is very low. Seventy-plus percent of Germans believe Putin is a bad guy, Russia is going the wrong way. . . At the same time, if you speak to people and seek more detail, the problem is not with Russia — the problem is the population's growing mistrust of the political leadership in Germany and in Europe at large.
I had a very interesting conversation with the head of the foreign policy committee with the [German] Bundestag. His staffer told me, "You know, it’s such a big problem here in Germany with Putin’s Russian propaganda undermining everything." I was really surprised to hear it, because I didn’t see it, frankly. She said, "We received a lot of emails criticizing our chairman for his policies criticizing Russia on Ukraine, for being too tough, and so on." I said, "Wait a minute, you see people criticizing him as a product of Putin’s propaganda?" She said, "Yes, of course." But don’t you think they might just be disagreeing with him? It’s a democratic society!
She was a bit confused by this, but this shows a key problem. The population increasingly doesn’t trust [Germany's leadership], not because of Russia or because of Ukraine, but because they've lost an understanding of what is going on in the European Union. This is a deep problem with the integration of the European Union. If Putin’s propaganda were smarter, this could be used [in Europe]. "If they tell us all the time that Russia is so bad, maybe it’s actually that something is wrong with them."
Ukraine became a very interesting phenomenon because on the one hand it consolidated establishments [in Europe against Russia], because establishments see an external threat, and an external threat is always a good thing to further certain policies. At the same time, many of the citizens — in Germany, not even to speak of Southern Europe, where they don’t care about Ukraine at all — they don’t understand; they asked, "Why should we suffer for this?" The Russian counter-sanctions hit some areas [in those economies]. People ask, "Why should we suffer for something we don’t want?"
Is it an illusion, or is it really true that citizens trust their governments much less now than they did 50 or 70 years ago? It seems to me that in Europe, the US and Japan distrust of the government, even disgust at the government, is at epidemic levels. I go back and forth in my head about whether this is dangerous or just a stylistic matter, but on some days it worries me.