The foreign policy of the Federal Republic of Germany is drafted and pursued in Berlin. When Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer spoke up from Dresden in July and demanded that the war in Ukraine be “frozen”, many federal politicians raised their eyebrows. The head of the foreign office, Annalena Baerbock, said she didn't know what Kretschmer's statement was supposed to mean. And the head of the CSU state group in the Bundestag, Alexander Dobrindt, coolly made it clear that Kretschmer “does not represent the position of the CDU and CSU”.
Kretschmer, deputy party leader of the CDU, was downright dismissed. The man is more likely to be pursuing Saxon domestic politics than serious foreign policy, it was said, annoyed, from the ranks of the Union. However, German foreign and domestic policy in times of war are now so intertwined that no Prime Minister of the Republic can overlook this. Especially not in Dresden, which is only a nine-hour drive from Lviv.
But what did Michael Kretschmer actually mean with his request? And who was it addressed to? As things stand, only the aggressor can freeze the conflict, and he makes no move to do so.
In order to clarify this and other questions, the 47-year-old head of government will meet with his deputy, the Saxon Economics Minister Martin Dulig (SPD), on Tuesday evening for a debate in the Schauburg film theater in Dresden. The two debated for two hours, exchanging arguments energetically and politely. The title of the event organized by the Friedrich-Ebert- and the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation: "Germany and Saxony at the turning point, what needs to be done now". Of course, many questions remain unanswered.
At the beginning, Kretschmer felt the need to clarify. Putin is a warmonger, the attack on Ukraine a "huge crime". He welcomes the provision of 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr's special assets, pleads for Germany to fulfill its obligations in the NATO alliance, for the republic to become self-sufficient and to be able to build on its "own strength". An attack on a member of NATO or an EU country must have "strong consequences", the western alliance is our life insurance.
So far Kretschmer is on the Berlin line. Then it becomes clear where he cannot or does not want to call.
There are reasons why Ukraine is not in the EU and NATO. Russia is such a huge country that you cannot influence it from outside. Then the sentence: "If we make every conflict in the world our own, that will be our downfall." Above all, Kretschmer has repeatedly criticized the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine. If the prevailing attitude in Berlin is that Ukraine must win the war, “I say no. The war must be stopped."
Martin Dulig would also like that. He's just wondering how it's supposed to go. Above all, he has the role of asking Kretschmer again and again how a negotiated peace can be achieved. That shouldn't happen at Kiev's expense: "Sacrificing Ukraine, that's not possible!"
Kretschmer doesn't really seem to believe in the effectiveness of the sanctions, especially since Russia now earns more money from energy revenues than it did before the war, as he emphasizes. When asked by Dulig and the moderators how "freezing" could work, Kretschmer remained vague.
Germany has always done well with its role as a negotiating power. That shouldn't be confused with neutrality, he warns against criticism. However, the Federal Republic, as the largest country in the EU, should explore diplomatic options, and Kretschmer names China and Turkey as possible partners. He countered Dulig's criticism with the remark that he was not counting on a military victory. In the end there will be a negotiated peace that is as certain as Amen in church. A permanent war harbors "huge dangers, that's not my way". But it's difficult to negotiate when you're delivering heavy weapons at the same time. All that's missing now is for German soldiers to be deployed in Ukraine, a "huge problem". You have already moved "very far on a sloping level".
On this point, the debate is going in circles, no wonder nobody in Brussels, Washington and Berlin knows exactly how the war can be ended. Kretschmer's topic is: Is that at least being tried at the moment? Perhaps there has long been talk behind closed doors and "we just don't know".
Above all, Kretschmer is concerned that the Federal Republic will not be able to cope with the immense economic consequences of the war in the long term. He fears that his Saxons will fly apart even more socially than is already the case. The dimension of the crisis is "enormous". Such states of emergency – high energy prices, inflation – are certainly bearable for a few months. But the thought that you can wear it for years is a “dangerous illusion. It's all temporary, but it's not permanent, that's my main point."
Dulig replied that freezing the war at the expense of Ukraine would not bring stability, but at most a short breather in Europe. The social democrat does not want to accept that Putin just shot the European peace order overboard. As Economics Minister, he knows very well how much the war is now also affecting the Free State.
The Economics Minister wants to contain the galloping energy prices with a basic supply, a "basic consumption at a socially acceptable price, the additional demand then above market prices". In case of doubt, one must secure "social peace with new debts". Interesting that Kretschmer does not contradict here. In crisis management, the opponents, who have known each other for decades, find each other again. Longer running times of nuclear power plants and fracking in Germany? Neither tends to be taboo for both of them in need.
Kretschmer hopes that the debate will continue, that in this deadlocked war "there will be a point where things are possible again". A "negotiated solution must be possible" - he says this sentence often, each time there is applause. That reflects the mood in the country. The willingness to support Ukraine in the long term, even if it has disadvantages for itself, and to uphold sanctions against Russia is far more pronounced in the west than in the east. The AfD, which is particularly strong in Saxony, has already recognized this and made it its topic. You have to "oppose radical populism," says Kretschmer. But he can probably freeze this populism just as little as he can the war in Ukraine. At best, he can go surfing on this populist wave, to the chagrin of many party members.
What remains at the end of the debate is the promise to “guide people safely through hard times,” as Dulig puts it. Kretschmer agrees. Is it still possible to talk to Putin? For Dulig this is unimaginable. Kretschmer says that when in doubt, you can't choose. He rules it out for himself personally. But Michael Kretschmer is also not in demand as a conversation partner for the Kremlin.
He is not the German foreign minister, nor the chancellor. But the Prime Minister of Saxony, who has repeatedly experienced outbursts from parts of the population on various occasions in recent years. And who is now looking for a way through a crisis between his own fears, skepticism and responsibility, which he suspects could become more brutal than any other before.
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