Dispute over russia sanctions: europe minister on the wrong track

Brandenburg’s SPD Minister Katrin Lange finds sanctions against Russia pointless – and earns clear criticism.

Provokes with her statements on Russia sanctions: Brandenburg’s Minister for Europe Katrin Lange Photo: Soren Stache, dpa

When state politicians comment on foreign policy, it can sometimes cause irritation. The most recent example is Brandenburg’s Finance and European Affairs Minister Katrin Lange (SPD). Her pro-Kremlin position has been met with criticism not only from her coalition partner, the CDU.

Lange had published a greeting in May to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war and Europe Day on May 9. In it, she took issue with the sanctions imposed on Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine. It is "a fact that the imposed sanctions are harming Russia and Germany, but on the other hand they are not helping Crimea. What sense does that make anymore?" A stable European order, he said, includes a resilient and predictable relationship with Russia. "That applies even while acknowledging all the differences and disagreements with the current Russian leadership," Lange said.

That did not go down well. In an interview with Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten, Ukrainian Ambassador Andrij Melnyk called Lange’s demand a "slap in the face for thousands of victims of the Russian campaign in the Donbas as well as for the two million inhabitants of Crimea." The sanctions "spoil Putin’s appetite for new wars and raise the price of his occupation policy, which violates international law." Several researchers on Eastern Europe also criticized the minister.

Lange, however, followed up. The sanctions policy had failed in terms of its own goals, and its supporters were spreading baseless speculation. She received support from Russian Ambassador Sergei Netsheyev: Lange had expressed an opinion that was shared by many. The sanctions could not affect Russia’s position.

Coalition squabble in Brandenburg

This is not the end of the matter. The CDU, with which the SPD governs in Brandenburg in a coalition with the Greens, is disturbed by Lange’s statements. She should not confuse cause and effect, the CDU state parliamentary group’s European policy spokeswoman, Barbara Richstein, told the taz. "Russia has broken international law." As Europe minister, Lange must also keep an eye on partner countries in the EU such as Poland and the Baltic states, where there are major security concerns about Russia, she said.

FDP Secretary General Linda Teuteberg also intervenes. The economic sanctions are an important political signal that Europe will not simply stand idly by and watch Russia’s continuous violation of international law in Ukraine, said Teuteberg, who also leads the Brandenburg state association. "Not to take into account at all that the political signal of European unity as well as the prevention of a further escalation are successes of the sanctions is an expression of a richly simple and under-complex view," Teuteberg told the taz.

The FDP politician continued: "Germany’s historical responsibility applies not only to Russia, but also to Poland and the Baltic states, our close allies in the region, and to Ukraine, which suffered particularly from the Second World War." In view of this history as well as the Hitler-Stalin Pact, he said, it is downright cynical to instrumentalize historical responsibility in the present as justification for giving up Ukraine’s sovereignty today.

Ex-Prime Minister Platzeck also wants to be close to Russia

With her view, however, Lange is not an exotic figure in the SPD. Brandenburg’s ex-Prime Minister Matthias Platzeck never tires of calling for a better relationship with Russia. The former SPD chairman likes to talk about childhood memories of Soviet soldiers in Potsdam and sauna sessions with the ex-head of the Russian railroad company. He published a long version of it as a book in the spring. The title is "We need a new Ostpolitik – Russia as a partner.