Between 1992 and 2015 about 1.8 million people left the former territory of the USSR to begin a new life in the Federal Republic of Germany. Life in the succession states of the USSR was full of uncertainties and difficulties. The political and the economic systems were to be rebuilt. Although the expectations for an economic growth after the end of the centrally planned economy were high, the former Soviet States suffered one of the most profound economic crises outside of wartimes. In this context, Germany, a country with stability and a high standard of living, offered residents of German ethnicity a new home as so called „Spätaussiedler“ (=late repatriates). These people received the German citizenship and the state provided free integration courses for them. Being often referred to as Russlanddeutsche (= Russian Germans), they are today very well integrated into the German society.
Still, having grown up in the USSR, their connection and familiarity to the Russian culture and the civilian life there is yet perceptible. Most of the Russian Germans communicate in Russian with their family members, buy groceries in Russian food stores and have ties to their previous homeland. Moreover, they frequently consume Russian media like the TV channels Channel One Russia and Russia-1 and interact with one another on Odnoklassniki, a Russian version of Facebook. This is where the opinion formation happens. Among other things Russian Germans are getting foreign policy explained in a Russian narrative, which happens to be more familiar to them and therefore more comprehensible.
Since the news coverage broadcasted in these channels is produced and supervised in Russia, it only displays a one-sided view of American and European foreign policy. The United States and the European Union are portrayed as unjust and unreasonable aggressors, which want to expand their influence and power disregarding the price others might pay. Thus, Russian Germans share a lot of resentments against the United States and their own German government which appears to be giving in to American interests. Putin, the Russian president, on the other side is illustrated as a reasonable patriot, who is doing his best to de-escalate situations provoked by the US and the EU.
One is inclined to question why the Russian Germans so easily accept this dualistic world view with Russia as the good guys and the Americans and their partners as the bad guys. Certainly, being only informed by a state-loyal Russian media which has a vital interest in not criticizing the own government, but pointing out the flaws of the American and the European actions is one reason. Furthermore, the Russian media gladly points out errors in the news coverage of Western media. Establishing and strengthening the belief that the Western media is clandestinely state-loyal and even willing to lie to achieve certain aims. Another reason may be that Russian Germans get the feeling that Americans and Westerns see them as the bad guys. One matter that supports this sentiment is the fact that Russian protagonists or the Russian government play the role of the bad guys in many Hollywood Action movies, where they must be stopped by the good guys, namely the Americans. Sharing the same cultural background, it is obvious which side the Russian Germans pick.
To improve the opinion the Russian Germans have on the United States and the relationship it cultivates with its partners in Europe, can be desirable for two reasons. First, as citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany and as a well-integrated part of the German society their views and opinions influence the whole society and with their right to vote they can have influence on the foreign policy of Germany and that of the EU. Secondly, having better opinions about the United States could show up in their interactions with relatives and friends in the former USSR territories. Consequently, improving the sentiments of these people towards the US and the EU.
In order to reach this goal, one would have to communicate with the Russian Germans on their preferred channels of interaction. Given that the state-loyal Russian media wouldn’t be that eager to share airtime, the best way would be to try to interact on the Internet, e.g. on Odnoklassniki, the Russian equivalent of Facebook. The interaction should be taking place in the Russian language. The language, where complicated concepts are easiest to be understood, is for most of Russian Germans the Russian language. This is the language they were schooled in. The language they wrote essays in and the language they feel most confident in. The aim of the communication and interaction should not be to show the dependency of the Russian media to its government or its flawed news coverage. This would lead to a loss of trust due to the suspicion of manipulation. It should be trying to point out the motivations behind the actions of the Western countries, their arguments and their goals. It should emphasize the similarities between the American and the Russian population. It should explain which kind of laws the media in the Western hemisphere must abide and which freedoms they are guaranteed. It should give them an understanding of the political system in Germany. Then their view on transatlantic relations could become more realistic and therefore more positive.
All in all, leaving out the group of Russian Germans when trying to improve the transatlantic relations would be a missed opportunity.