On 10 September 2019, together with the Foundation West-Eastern Encounters Berlin, the DOC Research Institute organised a conference on rebuilding confidence and trust in relations between Russia and the West. The occasion of the event was the 25th anniversary of the withdrawal of the Western Group of Forces (WGF) of the Soviet Army from Eastern Germany. The event was hosted by the Permanent Representation of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Berlin.
With the withdrawal of the WGF in 1994, the engagement of Soviet troops in Germany came to an end. Until then, during the Cold War, the WGF was the westernmost and largest concentration of Soviet troops outside the borders of the Soviet Union.
The aim of the conference was both to remember and acknowledge what an achievement the withdrawal of the Western Group of Forces (WGF) was, as well as to explore the lessons learned and their relevance for current efforts of rebuilding confidence and trust, and strengthening cooperation and dialogue towards common peace security in Europe.
The conference heard accounts from historical witnesses who were directly involved in or witnessed the presence or withdrawal of the Soviet troops in Eastern Germany after WWII. The conference brought together former and current members of the German government and parliament, as well as German and Russian experts who explored the meaning of the cooperation between both sides during the withdrawal of the Soviet troops for today’s attempts to build peace and security in Europe. After an assessment of the current state of play, potential scenarios for the further development of German-Russian relations were explored.
‘Knowing the past is key for understanding the presence and shaping the future’, was the guiding idea of the conference. One major lesson from the process of withdrawal of Soviet troops from Germany, which took place in a peaceful and cooperative manner, is that even in politically difficult times and amidst strenuous relations, fruitful cooperation towards a common goal is possible.
“Fixing broken trust, which was once the fundament for cooperation between Russia and the West during the Cold War is indispensable, if we want to build a common and secure future”, said Horst Teltschik, foreign affairs consultant to the late German chancellor Helmut Kohl and the chairman of the Munich Security Conference from 1999 to 2008. The speakers of the conference agreed that rebuilding the lost trust requires new impulses and pragmatic efforts both on the highest political level, as well as on the societal one, including a cultural and academic exchange between both sides. As Peter Schulze, professor at the University of Göttingen and co-founder of the DOC Research Institute, pointed out, the only rational way forward is a pragmatic and moderate policy that is guided by interests rather than morality.
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