Summary: Germany is a key EU and NATO member state.  Though traditionally more sceptical about the threat posed by Russia than its eastern neighbours, Germany supported tough EU measures against Russia in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea. Like France, Germany has undergone a significant deterioration of relations, intensified by Russian attempts to spread “fake news” in Germany and influence the country’s internal political affairs. Russia remains Germany’s largest energy supplier, even though Germany was one of the first countries to advocate for a better energy security during Russia’s natural gas disputes with Ukraine in the past decade. However, Russian meddling in Germany’s internal affairs remains a bigger threat than the energy dependence on Russia so far.

I. Relationship Parameters

History: Relationship between Germany and Russia has deep roots and was influenced by the Cold War era and the division of Germany into two states, which encouraged West Germans to adopt a stance of pragmatic cooperation with Russia. After the reunification of Germany, the bilateral relations were influenced by Ostpolitik (the normalization of relations between West and East Germany – therefore with USSR/Russia as well) and cooperation in the energy sphere. During the chancellorship of Gerhard Schroder, Putin’s close friend, the ties between the two countries deepened. The good level of cooperation can be seen in the construction of the Nord Stream pipeline, which was criticised by several EU member states. Overall, German policy during Schroder’s chancellorship was more oriented on national rather than European interests. On the contrary, Angela Merkel has been more critical towards Putin, even though not significantly.[1] After the 2014 Ukraine crisis, the bilateral relations has worsened to a large extent. However, neither the politicians nor the public in Germany share the same attitude towards Russia. Nowadays there are two concepts for Germany’s approach towards Russia – one considers Russia to be Germany’s strategic partner and makes reference to Ostpolitik, the other doubts the significance and sees Russia as a state with a substantial potential for destructive action. Generally speaking, the first concept is popular amongst Social Democrats, the Left Party and Alternative for Germany; while the second amongst Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens.[2]

Energy: Russia is Germany’s largest energy supplier, roughly 22-23% of German’s primary energy comes from Russia. Germany imports nearly 40% of its natural gas from Russia (making it by far the biggest importer of Russian gas) and around a third of its oil and coal as well.[3] [4] The two countries cooperated on the construction of the Nord Stream pipeline, which transfers Russian gas to Western Europe, chiefly Germany. In connection with this project, Germany has been criticized for lack of solidarity with several EU member states in Eastern Europe since these transit countries were bypassed by the pipeline which allows Russia to cut off their gas supplies without affecting the flow to Western Europe.[5] A proposed expansion of the pipelined called Nord Stream 2 has been under a lot of criticism as well.[6]

Trade: In 2014, Russia was Germany’s eleventh biggest export market and Germany was Russia’s seventh biggest buyer of goods and services.[7]  Even though the trade between Russia and Germany was damaged by the sanctions, the bilateral foreign direct investment landscape shows no signs of decline. The investments of German firms in Russia has been increasing significantly in the recent years, Germany being the second-biggest investor in Russia in 2016.[8]

Secret service activity: German foreign intelligence service sees a substantial threat in Russia in connection with the spreading of fake news and cyber-attacks, by which Russia could try to influence the outcome of 2017 general election. “We have evidence that cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty,” said the president of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, Bruno Kahl. According to Hans-Georg, president of the domestic BfV intelligence agency, Russian secret services has been conducting cyber-attacks “aimed at comprehensive strategic data gathering”.[9] How serious can the Russian disinformation efforts in Germany be was well illustrated by the “Lisa case”, one of the major topics in German public discussion in January 2016. The 13-year old Russian-German girl had gone missing for 30 hours and, according to a Russian TV channel, she has been raped by Arab migrants. Even though the German police debunked the story, it was intensively reported in Russian media and ended in diplomatic tensions between Germany and Russia.[10]

View of Russia: According to the latest Eurobarometer, 23% of Germans had a positive view of Russia. Polls conducted by the Körber Foundations shows that 69% of Germans favour lifting the economic sanctions imposed by Russia and the EU.[11]

Number of Russian diplomats: 108 (196 with spouses).[12]

II. Expert Assessment

Power Audit (2007): Strategic partner. Strong economic relations, especially in energy. Political relations remain strong as well, even though Angela Merkel is more critical towards Russia than her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder.

National Perspectives (2013): “Considering its overall weight within the EU and its developed relationship with Russia, Germany is often seen as a potential motor for revitalizing EU-Russia relations. However, the perception of Germany as too inclined to cater to both Russian and its own national interests, fuelled in particular by the Nord Stream project, makes it unlikely that Germany could take on this role alone. Germany’s strong pursuit of its economic interests in its relationship with Russia will likely remain constant, leaving it vulnerable to criticism within the EU. If, though, as appears increasingly possible, Russia becomes weaker internally due to its failure to modernize on a variety of fronts, it may grow less attractive as an economic partner for Germany. This could bring other aspects of Germany’s Russia policy to the fore, ones that are more compatible with broader EU interests. In this scenario, the idea of Germany (together with Poland) as a driver of the EU’s Russia policy appears probable.”

EU-28 Watch (2015): In general, the relations to Russia are viewed as very important in Germany and are widely discussed. Overall it is seen that after a phase of complementary interests between the EU and Russia, the relations deteriorated until the deep crisis they are in now. When discussing the future relations with Russia, there is a forward-looking approach in Germany going beyond the immediate Ukraine crisis and an overall understanding that Russia is crucial for a peaceful and prosperous Europe. However, it is also becoming increasingly clear that Russia under the present government is an extremely difficult partner to achieve this goal. There is an increasing impression that Putin is untrustworthy and unpredictable. This leads to the continuous debate on how dialogue can be continued with Russia without failing European values.

Views from the capitals (2016):[13] Economically speaking, Germany is actually much less dependent on Russia than generally perceived, and experiencing little blowback from the EU sanctions and counter-sanctions, it will be willing to use them as a tool to contain Moscow. Regarding its role in Europe, Germany has learned through the recent crises that its hegemony will not be tolerated. Without a multilateral framework to accommodate the interests of other European states, Germany alone cannot shape European politics. Therefore, if the role of the EU and NATO is diminished, this would greatly reduce Germany’s influence in practice. As for public opinion, sympathy both for Russia and Putin has plummeted in Germany in recent times, with Russia becoming more nationalistic. These negative attitudes towards Russia will continue and sympathy is likely to fall even further. Russia’s support for far-right forces will cause more unease than its military adventures do, however, these forces will remain an isolated community – for now, at least.

European Foreign Policy Scorecards: Leader on maintaining a strong and united sanctions policy, slacker on commitment to Eastern Partnership countries (2016). Leader on developing sanctions towards Russia (2015). Leader on supporting European Commission in resisting Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership countries; supporting strong European position on rule of law, human rights and press freedom; pressuring Russia to use its leverage to stop conflict in Syria and engage new Iranian government in nuclear negotiations; while slacker on relations with Russia on energy issues (2014). Leader on promoting human rights in Russia; co-operating with Russia to solve protracted conflicts and persuading Moscow to support EU positions on Syria (2013).

III. Policy Documents

Review 2014: A Fresh Look at German Foreign Policy[14]

Annexation of Crimea: Following the address of President Putin, the Kremlin signed the Treaty of Accession of the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to the Russian Federation. This unlawful step has led to the most serious crisis in Europe since the end of the Cold War… Together, as the EU, we have clout in the world – the Ukraine crisis shows how important joint action is.

White Paper on German Security Policy and the Future of the Bundeswehr (2016)[15]

Russia is openly calling the European peace order into question with its willingness to use force to advance its own interests and to unilaterally redraw borders guaranteed under international law, as it has done in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. This has far-reaching implications for security in Europe and thus for the security of Germany.

The crisis in and surrounding Ukraine is the concrete manifestation of long-term internal and external developments. Russia is rejecting a close partnership with the West and placing emphasis on strategic rivalry. Internationally, Russia is presenting itself as an independent power centre with global ambitions.

This is reflected, for example, by an increase in Russia’s military activities along its borders with the EU and NATO. In the course of extensively modernising its armed forces, Russia appears to be prepared to test the limits of existing international agreements. By increasingly using hybrid instruments to purposefully blur the borders between war and peace, Russia is creating un- certainty about the nature of its intentions. This calls for responses from the affected states, but also from the EU and NATO.

Germany continues to support the long-term goal of a strategic partnership between NATO and Russia. For the time being, the Russian Federation’s current policies, which are reflected in the annexation of Crimea and the present doctrine declaring NATO a threat, necessitate a dual approach: credible deterrence and defence capability as well as a willingness to engage in dialogue.

2015 Annual report on the Protection of the Constitution[16]

Now as before the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran are the major players behind espionage activities directed against Germany. Russian espionage continues to be essentially influenced by the conflict between the West and Russia in regard to Ukraine. Not least, the Russian services are also attempting to present their point of view to the public and to use their contacts to exert influence.

The interest of the Russian intelligence services continues to be focused on the traditional target areas: politics, industry, science, the energy industry, technology and the military. The Ukraine conflict has, however, resulted in a clear shift of their priorities: This issue with all its political, economic and military ramifications is increasingly in the focus of their intelligence activities. Russia’s primary interest is to obtain early information on the stance taken on the Ukraine crisis by the Federal Government, the political parties and institutions, on the way they intend to handle it and on their future policy towards Russia.

Apart from intelligence gathering the services also attempt to influence decision-makers and public opinion in Germany according to their interests. In this context it is of particular interest for them to get an insight into decision-making processes and to find out to what extent it is (still) possible to influence them. Also, Russia increasingly disseminates pro-Russian propaganda through various public media (TV and radio stations, the Internet, high-profile events, etc.). For example, in their German-language broadcasts, Russian international broadcasting stations which are close to the Russian government present facts in a way which reflects a pro-Russian view. In most of these cases it is, however, hardly possible to prove a direct involvement of the Russian intelligence services.

Cyber Security Strategy for Germany (2011)[17]

The document does not mention Russia at all.



[1] Stewart, Susan, Germany, Chapter 2 in National Perspectives on Russia.




[5] Stewart, Susan, Germany, Chapter 2 in National Perspectives on Russia.