It is hard to understand what is going on in Germany. The Ukraine is in an existential crisis as it tries to pivot to the democratic values of the West, but the majority of Germans seem drawn to Putin's authoritarian Machtpolitik.
A majority of Germans, according to two recent opinion polls, are opposed to significant new sanctions. In addition, one poll suggests that a majority of Germans sympathize with Putin’s desire to protect Russian national interests in Crimea.
At the same time, profound skepticism of the United States after spying revelations by Edward Snowden last year has added to the pressure here. For a vocal minority, the breach of trust exposed by U.S. eavesdropping on the German leader has cast doubt on any initiative advocated by Washington.
“A positive image of Russia has grown in Germany, which is a mixture of culturalism and admiration of Putin as the strong man standing up against the U.S.,” said Stefan Meister, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Edward Snowden is worshiped by both the Left and Right in Germany, even after he appeared on Putin's call-in show yesterday in Moscow, revealing himself as Putin's Lord Haw-Haw.
What is behind this admiration of Putin? Is it a longing for the decisive "strong leader" who thumbs his nose at the messy process of democratic governance? This how Spiegel columnist Jan Fleischhauer sees it: ("Warum viele Deutsche Putin bewundern"). I suspect they applaud Putin for his defiance of the United States. Many Germans believe the CIA is behind the unrest in the Ukraine, as if the Ukrainian people have no agency in their own fate. Yes, Putin imprisons his political opponents, has journalists who report on corruption murdered, and has his thugs brutally beat gays and lesbians on the street. But Obama is much worse because of the NSA! Putin, as he assured Edward Snowden in his call-in propoganda-extravaganza, would NEVER spy on the Russian people - much less listen in on the German chancellor's cell phone.
Admiration for Putin is the flip-side of German contempt for the United States. The journalist Sebastian Fischer gets to the heart of the issue:
Es sind antiamerikanische Reflexe, die sich da zeigen. Nur 45 Prozent der Deutschen sehen laut ARD-Deutschlandtrend vom April den Platz Deutschlands "fest im westlichen Bündnis", 49 Prozent dagegen wünschen sich eine "mittlere Position" zwischen dem Westen und Russland. Dass hier eine Mehrheit die Westbindung zur Disposition stellt, die Deutschland Freiheit und Demokratie gebracht hat - also das, was sich andere Völker revolutionär erkämpfen mussten - das ist verstörend.
(Anti-American relexes are manifesting themselves. According to a poll conducted by ARD in April, only 45% of Germans see Germany's place as "securely in the western alliance", while 49% prefer a "middle position" between the west and Russia. The fact that a majority here question the connection to the west, which has brought freedom and democracy to Germany - something that other people are striving for through revolutionary means - that is very disturbing.)
Perplexing. The Poles, the Czechs, the Lithuanians, the Estonians - they all lived for decades under Soviet Russian rule and are under no illusions concerning Putin's goals. Only the Germans, a sizable percentage of whom experienced the same oppression for 40 years, are sympathetic to Putin.