Merkel Ally Cites ‘New Realism’ on Russia as Ukraine Crisis Ebbs

An ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel advocated a “new realism” in Europe’s relations with Russia, saying the threat of sanctions helped force President Vladimir Putin to step back from conflict.

Andreas Schockenhoff, a deputy parliamentary caucus leader from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said the European Union would be better able to deal with Putin if it recognized that he has a “fundamentally confrontational” stance. The threat of further sanctions from the Group of Seven and the EU is working, he said.

“The current cautious tone from Moscow is indeed a consequence” of the sanctions threat, Schockenhoff, who was Germany’s coordinator for relations with Russia during Merkel’s previous two terms, said in an interview yesterday. “Putin initially believed that a European Union of 28 member states wouldn’t be able to work together.”

Two months after annexing Crimea, Putin is showing a willingness to work with Ukraine’s new leadership as the Russian military pulls back troops from the country’s eastern border. Ukrainians this week elected billionaire Petro Poroshenko as president, three months after a pro-European protest movement helped topple a Moscow-backed leader.

With G-7 leaders scheduled to meet next week in Brussels, Germany doesn’t see any reason to extend sanctions to broader economic sectors for now, Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, said yesterday.

Georgia War

The threat of intensified measures must be left on the table, said Schockenhoff, 57. “I still expect that we will be prepared for additional sanctions even as the rhetoric is more restrained,” he said.

Merkel, who spent a month rallying voters on the campaign trail ahead of European elections on May 25, progressively eased her tone during speeches, moving from initial threats on sanctions to hopefulness that Russia will cooperate.

Schockenhoff compared the unity of European states over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine with the 2008 war in Georgia, a five-day conflict in which Russia routed forces of the former Soviet republic months after NATO invited the country to join.

In that case, Russia managed to split EU members and prevent the bloc from acting as one to counter Russia, the CDU lawmaker said. Europe has been more effective this time, he said.

“We have to make it clear that we have a political strategy against this confrontational position,” Schockenhoff said.

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