Gerhard Schroeder, the former chancellor of Germany (before Merkel), earned his first gold star in my book when he strongly opposed Bush 2's 2003 invasion of Iraq, standing up to most German politicians, even in his own party, who were anxious to fall in line despite the questionable grounds for war, which subsequently proved to be lies. He deserves a second star now for supporting Foreign Minister Steinmeier's opposition to NATO "saber-rattling" in Eastern Europe and to the EU's continuing economic sanctions against Russia.
The participation of German troops in the current NATO maneuvers in Poland is a mistake, Schroeder said in an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung this weekend, a summary of which is posted on Schroeder's website. "The anxiety of the Eastern European states is historically understandable, but their sovereignty and security is guaranteed by their membership in NATO, and the idea that anyone in the Russian leadership might be contemplating intervention in the NATO countries has nothing to do with reality."
As for the economic sanctions against Russia, Schroeder says Steinmeier's (and SPD leader and Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel's) call for cutting back the sanctions is "correct and should be supported."
Current official German policy does not (yet?) reflect these eminently reasonable opinions, as there is opposition to them not only from Chancellor Merkel's CDU but even within the SPD (Social Democrats, the party of Schroeder, Steinmeier, and Gabriel). But even the New York Times reports (passing on the Reuters article -- hopefully also in the NYT print editions?) that "cracks" are appearing in the European consensus on Russia, due mainly to "Russia-friendly members of her own government" and "skeptical EU states like Slovakia, Hungary and Italy."
Reuters quotes Ulrich Speck, a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington: "People are tired of confrontation with Russia. They don't like the tensions and they see that Ukraine is not delivering enough on the reform front." The recent economic forum in St. Petersburg was attended by top-level European and American CEOs (against the explicit recommendation of the US government), and it has been clear for some time that the sanctions are hurting the German and European economies at least as much as Russia's.
Noah Barkin, the author of the Reuters articles, opines that "Gabriel is the presumptive challenger to Merkel in next year's election and is scrambling for issues that can lift the struggling SPD in the polls and differentiate them from the chancellor's conservatives." Gabriel is going to meet with Putin next week and has even changed his mind about a possible coalition with the Left Party as well as with the (Greens) in next year's federal election. An SPD-Green-Left coalition would be the best way for Germany to grow more backbone in opposing Washington's reckless and domineering policies.