Germany’s great 19th century chancellor Otto von Bismarck was no friend and admirer of Russia.
But he was an absolute pragmatist – the man who personified Realpolitik, meaning politics based on realism, not on idealism. That is a lesson the leaders of the West could sorely use today, who use propagandistic slogans, claimed ideals and “values” as their aegis for every violation of international law and order in the world.
Bismarck understood the political realities of the Europe of his day, and once he had unified Germany, he successfully maintained the peace between the great powers for decades through skillful diplomacy – until it was shattered by World War I and he was long gone.
There is no question Bismarck viewed the colossus of Russia as a long-term threat to Europe. But he was under no illusion that aggressively confronting Russia would be insane. He noted that only internal discord could destroy Russia; no external invader can.
It’s no coincidence that Russo-German relations during Bismarck’s time were the best they have ever been, before or since.
Here are the words of Otto von Bismarck to the German ambassador in Vienna, Heinrich VII Prince of Reuss, in Berlin, 3 May 1888:
…The result of a war (against Russia) would never result in the destruction of the main power of Russia, which rests upon millions of Russians of the Greek [Orthodox] confession. Even if separated by treaty, these would just as soon reunite, like the parts of a splattered drop of Mercury.
This indestructible empire of the Russian nation, made strong through its climate, its vast spaces and its resiliency…would after its defeat remain our sworn opponent thirsting for revenge, exactly like France now is in the West…the “smashing” of a nationality by 3 great powers has not happened in connection with the Poles in 100 years.
The vitality of the Russian will be no less; in my opinion we would do well to treat them as a basic danger against which we maintain protective dikes, but which we cannot eliminate from the world.
By attacking Russia we would only further consolidate it; by waiting we could possibly witness their internal decay and decomposition before we experience their attack, and that even sooner, the less we hinder them by threats from plunging deeper into the Orient.