Analysis: Poland may miss Merkel if Laschet becomes Chancellor

Poland’s ruling party will be concerned over the new CDU leader’s preference of pursuing better relations with Russia. They will hope that the Greens, likely coalition partners of the CDU/CSU alliance, will offset Armin Laschet’s sympathies towards Russia.

Vladimir Putin is likely to be content that the CDU is to be led by the centrist Armin Laschet and will hope that he succeeds Angela Merkel as German Chancellor. The Kremlin’s German watchers such as Artem Sokolov from MGIMO feel that the election of Laschet is the best possible outcome for German-Russian relations.

It is paradoxical that after years of criticism of Angela Merkel Poland may soon miss her presence. But it is also ironic that Poland’s hopes for keeping Germany away from Russia are now vested in the Greens, a party of the left.

Warsaw will remember that “Die Welt” in 2014 listed Laschet as a politician who was most sympathetic to Mr Putin beside figures such as former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and the radical right AfD’s Alexander Gauland. Laschet has consistently defended companies trading with Russia and welcomed German gas imports from that country.

Nord Stream 2 defender

The new CDU leader has also defended the Nord Stream 2 project. Unlike his opponents for the leadership of CDU this weekend, Friedrich Merz and Norbert Roettgen, he did not support freezing the NS2 pipeline venture. Like Angela Merkel he argues that the project is economic and not political.

Mr Laschet is therefore unlikely to make any moves to alter Germany’s energy policies. He is in favour of reliance on gas and wants to see more of it imported from Russia. The business before politics will make him popular with the German business community.

Sympathy towards Russia’s geopolitical moves

During the Crimean annexation crisis Laschet criticised German policy as being too emotional and of succumbing to “anti-Putin populism”. He also criticised London for demanding European solidarity over the Skripal poisoning case and warned against “demonising” Russia.

CDU’s new chief in 2018 told DPA that the political climate in Germany was one in which anyone calling for cooperation with Russia was labelled as a Putin supporter or a sell-out to Gazprom. In a speech during the 2019 Dialogue Forum in Saint Petersburg Laschet not only acknowledged full German responsibility for the outbreak of WWII. He also praised Willy Brandt’s détente stance, even though it came just a few years after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and defended Russia’s policy of combating terrorism in Syria. The message was clear. Despite Crimea and the Donbas better relations were possible.

Pragmatism first and foremost

This does not mean that Laschet will want to warm relations with Russia at any price. He first has to become Chancellor. That job is being eyed by the CSU’s leader Markus Soder. CSU leaders have stood for Chancellor before, albeit unsuccessfully. Laschet won the post of CDU leader as a pro-Merkel moderate. Even if he becomes Chancellor he will in all likelihood have to form a coalition with the Greens, who are far more sceptical about Russia than the current coalition partners from the SPD.

However, it is likely that Maschet would be more accommodating to President Macron’s desire to accentuate European sovereignty in relations with the USA by making partnership with Russia a reality. That will also be unwelcome in Warsaw. Poland’s current administration is a strong advocate of Euro-atlanticism and of prioritising the strengthening of NATO.