December 22, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9692

Russia Reacts To Unexpectedly Rocky Start In Relations With New German Government

December 22, 2021
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9692

When Angela Merkel stepped down as German Chancellor and was succeeded by Olaf Scholz, Russia was cautiously optimistic. Relations with Germany had gone well under Social Democratic Chancellors Willy Brandt and Gerhard Schroder and Scholz was another SPD chancellor.[1] However, the first weeks of the new SPD-Greens-FDP coalition have brought little joy to Moscow. First came the verdict of a Berlin court that ruled that the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili a former Chechen rebel commander had been the work of Russian operative Vladimir Krasikov aka. Vladimir Sokolov who had received an order from a Russian state agency, and was an act of "state terrorism." On the heels of the verdict, Germany expelled two Russian diplomats. Wednesday after a Berlin court ruled a man had murdered a Chechen dissident on behalf of the Moscow government in what the presiding judge declared was an act of “state terrorism.” Krasikov/Sokolov was given a life sentence.[1]

Russia had braced for trouble from the Greens but had expected the SPD to hold them in check. It was an unpleasant shock for Moscow when the new German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht from the SPD called for harsher sanctions should be imposed on Russian President Vladimir Putin for deploying troops at the Ukrainian border. Lambrecht told the weekly Bild am Sonntag on December 19, 2021 that  Putin should “personally feel the consequences” of his actions and not be allowed to “go shopping on the Champs Elysée in Paris anymore.” [3]

That same day Lambrecht visited the Lithuanian town of Rukla accompanied by her Lithuanian counterpart, Arvydas Anusauskas, Lambrecht while willing to discuss Moscow's calls for guarantees against further NATO expansion asserted that  NATO wouldn't allow Moscow to tell its member states how to “position themselves.”

Lambrecht claimed it was no coincidence that her first foreign visit in her new capacity was to Lithuania. She assured Anusauskas, that Berlin “understands the concerns of its Baltic allies who are feeling threatened.”[4]

Michael Roth, chair of the German Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, and a prominent SPD politician called Russia's demand for a halt to NATO's eastward expansion "unacceptable".

According to Roth, Russia could not claim that Eastern European countries were part of its sphere of influence. "Once again: this is a free choice of these societies to share our values and I will be glad if people and politicians say: ‘Yes, we want what you guarantee to your citizens - democracy, the supremacy of law, the freedom of expression, free and independent courts, effective anti-corruption struggle, a working market-oriented economy, prosperity for many." Roth advocated a common European common response to Russia’s buildup of troops at the border with Ukraine.[5]

Another disappointment for Russia was the news that the certification of the Nord Stream 2 certification was postponed by Berlin The German Federal Network Agency announced that the decision regarding resumption of the certification process won't be made in the first half of 2022, as the agency hasn't yet received the necessary documents.

A third irritant in the relations occurred when, without any explanation, YouTube blocked the "RT auf Sendung" channel, a separate "RT DE" channel that started broadcasting in German round-the-clock. At the end of September, it permanently took down two of the company's German-language channels.

RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan called for Deutsche Welle and other German media to be banned in Russia. For its part, the Roskomnadzor [Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media] demanded that Google remove as soon as possible all restrictions on the German "RT DE" and "Der Fehlende Part" video hosting channels.[6]

Russian reactions to the unpleasant surprises from Berlin essentially took three forms: 1) An admission that relations between Moscow and Berlin had taken a turn for the worse, 2) an attempt to blame the situation on coalition partners and Germany's NATO allies, but expecting that the furor would die down and things would return to normal, 3) an indignant pugnacious stance.

MEMRI's analysis of the downturn in Russian-German relations follows below:

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht in Lithuania with her Lithuanian counterpart Arvydas Anusauskas (Source:

Political Commentator Bovt: Face Reality Relations Will Not Be The Same

Political scientist and commentator George Bovt in a piece titled "Scholz Is not Merkel" believes that the verdict against Krasikov, the postponement of Nordstream 2 certification and the blocking of RT are related and deliberate actions by Germany.

"Russia's relations with the new federal government of Germany started with a scandal. Chancellor Scholz approved the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Germany, after a court sentenced Russian citizen, Vadim Krasikov, aka Vadim Sokolov, accused of killing of former Chechen field commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, to life in prison...

"Another news item appeared promptly: YouTube blocked the new "RT Deutsch" channel, which started broadcasting in German language instead of the previously blocked one. As it was explained in Google, "RT Deutsch" was deleted because it was previously removed for violation of the community rules, in particular for propagating 'misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and false statements about the dangers of vaccines...'

"But there's more! The statements by the President of the Federal Network Agency, regarding temporary suspension of the Nord Stream 2 certification due to registration of a subsidiary of Nord Stream 2 came as unpleasant surprise... It seems to be purely bureaucratic problem, no politics. However, a month ago many people were seriously discussing the prospects of the pipeline's commissioning almost by the end of this year.

"The current delay miraculously coincided with another aggravation surrounding the Ukraine issuer and in Russia-West relations in general. However, the new Chancellor Scholz's hands are absolutely clean. Everything happens strictly according to the rules. When the new certification deadline approaches, the situation around Ukraine may somehow become more clear. If everything goes wrong in this regard, the Nord Stream 2 project may well be curbed under a new sanctions package. All the more so. because the new head of the country's Foreign Ministry, Annalena Baerbock, who is member of the Greens party, was against this project from the start.

"Furthermore, the general economic background of Russo-German relations has deteriorated greatly over the recent years. Moreover, for German elites, geo-economics has traditionally been in the forefront of all geopolitical [disciplines] in recent decades. Now, Russia is not even in the top ten major trading partners of the FRG, with China in first place, the US in third, and European countries, including rather small ones as Austria and the Czech Republic, occupying other places on the list. In terms of trade turnover [between Russia and Germany], which last year declined by about one fifth, we are now about as valuable tor Germany as Hungary, with a little over 50 billion euros of trade turnover. This figure is equivalent to that of 2005, when Angela Merkel became the Chancellor. So now we went through zeroing, as it turns out.

One can't improve these relations thanks to the North Stream 2 alone. All the more so because there may be problems with it as well. In his recent program speech in the Bundestag, Chancellor Scholz said that Germany was ready for a dialogue with Russia. But he made it clear (as if referring back to the first Willy Brandt's "gas-for-pipes" deal with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, when Germany was largely independent of the other Western institutions in pursuing its eastern policy) that this situation will never be repeated. According to Scholz, a new "eastern policy" is only possible as a Pan-European policy, or none at all."[7]

George Bovt (Source:

Scholz Is Under Pressure But The Situation Will Resolve Itself

Other Russian officials and commentators were more sanguine that the relationship would soon return to even keel.

Commenting on the Krasikov/Sokolov verdict, Presidential Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov commented on the possible impact of the Khangoshvili case on the commissioning of the Nord Stream-2 pipeline, and his tone was reassuring. "Both the Russian and German sides are interested in this project. In general, this project, from our point of view, is of great interest for all European consumers (we are convinced that is the case)." Peskov referred to the case as

an unpleasant episode in Russian-German relations, but it should by no means affect the prospects for establishing a dialogue between Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.[8]

Vladimir Dzhabarov, First Deputy Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed his disappointment over the German measures but sought to shield Scholz.: "Even as a candidate for chancellor's office, he declared his readiness to build relations with Russia. His colleagues in the coalition government didn't like it. After his election, they created extremely negative conditions for him... But I believe that sooner or later there will be an epiphany, i.e. without improving Germany-Russia relations, it's hard to understand what the European future will be like." added.

Dzhabarov viewed Nord Stream 2 as a factor that would get Germany to see reason. "Germany is becoming a [energy] hub, but is acting recklessly, to the detriment of its own national interests and the interests of all Europe." [9]

Vladislav Dzhabarov (Source:

When Russian-German relations come up, German political analyst Alexander Rahr is a go-to person. Rahr is hardly a dispassionate observer, given his former positions with a German oil and gas company connected to Russia's Gazprom and his post as senior adviser to the German-Russian chamber of commerce. Rahr believes that the mutual expulsion of diplomats would allow Germany to get the tension in the relations out of its system and from there things would stabilize. Rahr compared this period to the advent of the Schroder government after the long reign of Helmut Kohl. Then as well, the Americans and British put pressure on the Social Democrats to take a tougher line on Russia. The inference being that just as Schroder refused to bow to the Americans, he expected Scholz to do the same.[10]

Kommersant's senior commentator Dmitry Drize in an article titled "Olaf Scholz Starts Out Tough" believed that Germany was hardening its stance towards Russia, but supported the official position of remaining calm, because Scholz could start tough, but that did not mean he would remain tough. He wrote:

"The German Chancellor made its first serious statements concerning Russia and the situation, which is indirectly tied to Moscow. The conclusion can be drawn at once: the new German government starts out tough. The impending mystery is how long this toughness will last?

"The main news is the life imprisonment sentence for Russian citizen, Vadim Krasikov, who was found guilty of killing former Chechen field commander, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili. By today's Western standards, this is a serious verdict. It was followed by the expulsion of two Russian diplomats as a sort of direct signal to Russia: we understand everything and won't tolerate nothing of the sort. The Federal Chancellor welcomed the decision of the German Foreign Ministry, led by Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock.

"Let's draw attention to the fact that the court verdict was announced almost immediately after Angela Merkel left her office. The latter, apparently, wanted to go into history on a positive note, without complications. Now it is safe to argue that the time for concessions and compromises towards Moscow has ended or was put on pause. A second important aspect is that the Nord Stream 2 commissioning has been deferred indefinitely. At the same time there are no doubts that the reasons for it are not of a technical nature. To commission the project now, at the background of talks about the war in Ukraine, is akin to political suicide.

"Finally, Mr. Scholz supported Poland and the Baltic states, calling the situation [with the migrants] at the eastern border [of the EU] a hybrid attack from Belarus. He noted that all measures would be deployed to repel this attack and to ensure the failure of the other side's plans.

"It seems that prospects for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko getting calls from Germany [as he did under Merkel in the near future are miniscule. The main issue is Ukraine again. Apparently, Berlin has no intentions to hurry. However, it seems that its position won't be soft.

"Moscow's tactic is patience. The Kremlin has no time limits and has gas, unlike Germany. Therefore, Russia is ready to wait for its partners to face reality, and for their warlike ardor to fade away. This has happened before and, there is high chance that it will happen now. A reaction to the Zelimkhan Khangoshvili case was low-key, i.e. let's turn the page, whatever happened, happened.

"As a response, German diplomats will be expelled too. This is, however, a familiar phenomenon; the main thing for the conflict to not escalate further. Reductions in embassy staff, visa problems (as it the case in relation with America) are unpleasant things. This will affect business and will be detriment to the interests of ordinary citizens, considering the close ties between the countries.

One could say that Mr. Scholz is in a difficult position, i.e. he became chancellor in turbulent times. The main thing here is not to blow it, which is very possible in the current situation... "[11]


The Russian Foreign Ministry sought to argue that the real crime was Germany's giving asylum to a terrorist rather than his murder.

"We firmly reject the unfounded and completely divorced from reality accusations of the involvement of Russian state structures in the murder of the terrorist Z. Khangoshvili, who lived in Germany with the knowledge of the FRG authorities, manipulated with the assistance of foreign special services and structures affiliated with them." The German court's verdict was  “extremely biased” and "bears the character of an explicit political order."[12]

Russia's Civic Chamber (CC) promised to hold Google and YouTube responsible for blocking the RT channels. Alexander Malkevich, a CC member, threatened " From January 1, Google must open a normal representation office in Russia and start complying with our laws. After that the nature of our questions to it will change completely... "Furthermore, Google representatives should explain promptly, in detail and clearly all the restrictive measures introduced on our media, and justify them. But most importantly, we must consistently fight for the digital rights of our citizens, we must be ready to deploy all possible measures, so it will be clear to everyone, that should we draw the sword from the sheath, we will use it." [13]


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9668, Russia Expects More Of The Same From The New German Government, December 7, 2021.

[2] December 15, 2021.

[3] December 20, 2021

[4] December 19, 2021.

[5], December 19, 2021.

[6], December 17, 2021.

[7], December 17, 2021.

[8], December 16, 2021.

[9], December 17, 2021.

[10], December 17, 2021.

[11], December 16, 2021.

[12], December 16, 2021.

[13], December 17, 2021.

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