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Putin on Russia’s Role in Europe

Will Russia eventually find its place in a democratic Europe?

October 13, 2001

Will Russia eventually find its place in a democratic Europe?

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was not only the first Russian head of state ever to address Germany’s Parliament. He also delivered his speech in fluent German. He picked up his language skills while posted in East Germany during his time with the KGB. In his speech, he stressed the importance of strengthening Russia’s place among Europe’s democracies and traced the key role of the Russian-German relationship. Here are the most important excerpts from his speech.

It is my firm conviction that in today’s rapidly changing world, in a world witnessing truly dramatic demographic changes and an exceptionally high economic growth in some regions, Europe also has an immediate interest in promoting relations with Russia.

No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent center of world politics soundly and for a long time, if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential.

Today, thank God, Russia is talked about in Europe not only in the context of oligarchs, corruption and Mafia. However, there still is a substantial lack of objective information about Russia. I can say with absolute confidence that the key goal of Russia’s domestic policy is first and foremost to ensure democratic rights and freedoms, decent living standards and safety for the people of the country.
Facing difficulties However, let us look back at some events of the recent past. Russia took the painful road of reform. The scope of the tasks we had to address is without parallel in history. Naturally, mistakes were made. Not all the problems have been resolved, but today Russia is a quite dynamic part of the European continent. Moreover, it is dynamic not only politically, but also economically, which is especially encouraging.

My conviction is that only large-scale and equal pan-European cooperation will make it possible to achieve qualitative progress in resolving such problems as unemployment, environmental pollution and many others.

Russian-German relations are as old as our nations. The first German tribes appeared on Russian territory in the late first century. In the late 19th century, Germans were the ninth most numerous ethnic group in Russia. But what is important is not just the numbers, but the role played by these people in the development of the country and in Russian-German relations. They were peasants and merchants, intellectuals, military men and politicians.

The German historian Michael Stürmer observed: “Russia and America are divided by oceans, while Russia and Germany are divided by a great history.” I would say that history, just like oceans, not only divides, but also unites. The important thing is to correctly interpret this history.

As a good neighbor in the West, Germany often symbolized Europe for the Russians, European culture, technical intellect and entrepreneurial wit. Small wonder that in the past all Europeans were known as Germans in Russia, and the Europeans’ settlement in Moscow was known as the German Village.

Naturally, the cultural influences of the two peoples were reciprocal. Many generations of Germans and Russians studied and continue to enjoy works by Goethe, Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy.

There are different pages in our history, some of them rather painful, especially those relating to the 20th century. But in the past, we often acted as allies.

The relations between the two European nations were every now and then reinforced by marital unions between dynasties.

Generally, women had a special role to play in our history. Let us recall, for example, the daughter of the Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hessen-Darmstadt, known in Russia as Princess Elizabeth. Following the assassination of her husband, she founded a nunnery. And during World War I she nursed wounded soldiers, both Russians and Germans.

In 1918, she was executed by the Bolsheviks, but recently she was rehabilitated and sanctified for everyone to honor. A monument to her stands in the heart of Moscow today.

Nor should we forget Princess Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst, who made a unique contribution to Russian history. Ordinary Russians called her Mother, but she went down in history as Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

Today’s Germany is Russia’s leading economic partner, our most important creditor, one of the principal investors — and a key interlocutor in discussing international politics.

I am convinced that today we are turning over a new page in our bilateral relations, thereby making our joint contribution to building a common European home.

In conclusion, I would like to say the words that were once used to characterize Germany and its capital. I would like to apply this idea to Russia and say: of course, we are at the beginning of the road to building a democratic society and a market economy. There are barriers and obstacles on that road that we are to surmount.

However, if we leave aside objective problems and occasional ineptness of our own, we will see the beat of Russia’s strong, live heart. And this heart is open to true cooperation and partnership.

This Globalist Document is adapted from a speech President Putin gave before the German Bundestag on September 25, 2001.