I cannot claim, of course, to be able to provide an all-encompassing assessment of Gerhard Schroeder’s multifaceted foreign policy activities. Indeed, the commonly held view is that only with time can we fully and objectively assess the legacy of prominent political figures. But Mr Schroeder’s personal contribution to foreign policy as German Chancellor is so outstanding and his policies so consistent, that it is not out of place to already begin evaluating his legacy today. I am pleased to have the opportunity to express my own point of view, a point of view based on our years of joint work together and on my personal impressions of Mr Schroeder gained through our numerous contacts over this time.
For me, Mr Schroeder’s most outstanding qualities as a politician are his great sense of responsibility, his courage and his reliability. I would add to this list his skill at firmly pursuing his country’s long-term interests. During talks he was always focused on obtaining practical and concrete results that would serve the interests of Germany and its people. But he also always listened and accepted his partners’ arguments and never made it his aim to impose his own point of view at all costs. On the contrary, he was always distinguished by his openness to dialogue and his willingness to look for compromise solutions in the name of a common cause and achieving constructive results.
We did not always share the same views on all the issues in international life today, something that is perfectly natural given the complex and contradictory world of international politics. But there was one key issue on which our views never diverged: we both understood the strategic importance of developing and intensifying long-term cooperation between Russia and Germany.
Over the centuries, the relations between our two countries have been of decisive significance for the political situation in all of Europe. History has shown that confrontation and conflict between Russia and Germany lead to catastrophic consequences for Europe and for the entire world, while fruitful and mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries has always had a stabilising influence and has opened up the road for peace and stability on the European continent.
Right from the start, Mr Schroeder displayed a sincere desire to build on the positive foundation that had already been laid in Russian-German relations. It is no exaggeration to say that not only is he one of the main initiators of our strategic partnership, he is also someone who played a unique role in completing the long and difficult process of bringing about a historical reconciliation between the Russian and German peoples. It is deeply symbolic that this year, as we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II, a war that cost our peoples so many lives and such great suffering, the level of mutual understanding and cooperation between Russia and Germany reached its highest point yet in the history of our relations, and the German Chancellor himself was present at the V.E Day celebration events in Moscow on May 9.
Our countries work together on the international stage today, either united behind a common position or acting in parallel to defend the primacy of international law and promote peaceful conflict resolution. In this regard, I see Mr Schroeder as a successor to the principles formulated by the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Russia’s close relations with Germany are an important component of our country’s cooperation with the European Union in general. In this respect, I would also like to note the positive character of our meetings in trilateral format with French President Jacques Chirac. These trilateral summits began back when Helmut Kohl was German chancellor.
It was under Mr Schroeder’s leadership that Germany, along with the United States and Russia, moved swiftly and resolutely to join the fight against international terrorism as the main threat to global stability. Germany was at the origins of the Bonn process that led to the emergence of a strategy for restoring Afghanistan’s statehood. Be it through its presence in Afghanistan and other ‘hot spots’ or through its consistent work in the United Nations and other multilateral organisations involved in peacekeeping, preventive diplomacy, crisis prevention and settlement and post-conflict management, Germany has proved itself to be a reliable partner that fulfils its commitments to its traditional allies, but that does so with respect for the basic principles of international law, not allowing itself to be drawn into questionable action and not bowing to external pressure of any kind.
Under Mr Schroeder’s leadership, Germany followed an independent foreign policy based on the best traditions of European humanism and national interests, a foreign policy resulting from thorough analysis of the future of international relations, free of past stereotypes and fully conscious of Germany’s role and importance in the modern world.
I would like to note that an independent foreign policy is one of the most important elements of any country’s sovereignty.
We are all well aware that not all countries and their leaders, neither in the past nor today, are able to pursue just such an independent policy, but Mr Schroeder achieved this.
I recall, of course, that when he was in the opposition, Mr Schroeder was critical of certain aspects of his predecessor’s foreign policy regarding Russia. Once he became chancellor himself, he essentially followed the line begun by Mr Kohl in relations with Russia. I see this not as opportunism, not as a departure from his principles, but on the contrary, as an ability to rise above opportunistic thinking, to see the real situation as it is and build a practical policy on this basis.
The reality of today’s world is such that much depends on good relations between Russia and Germany, and not just reliable energy supplies for Europe, not just the creation of new jobs or opportunities for making our economies more competitive, but also global stability and security in the broadest sense of the terms. I hope that the realisation of these basic values will form the foundation for Russian-German relations today and in the future.