Ukraine and us: Never again war?
So far, the people of Ukraine have borne the burden of the war all alone. For the German precept of “never again”, this is a reality shock, comments Marieluise Beck.
What does “Never again” mean to you?
That question was posed to members of the German Bundestag by an exhausted and disappointed President Zelensky.
That same “never again” was also at the heart of the debate about military intervention amongst the Greens. The four wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia subjected their party to a stress test with the potential to tear it apart. The first of these was so short, it was easy to turn a blind eye, but then came the atrocities in Vukovar and the bombardment of Dubrovnik, there was no overlooking those, and then, in the final act, the mass killing of Bosnians.
This mass murder was carried out by paramilitary combatants and units of the former Yugoslavian Army, which had secured a weapons stockpile of the latter for use in the war against the Bosnians. The forces defending Bosnia had effectively no access to military equipment.
In trainers in war
In line with the watchword “no weapons to conflict zones”, the Western world laid an embargo on the region. This didn’t bother the Serbian fighters even one tiny bit. The ones it did impact were the victims. They were unable to defend themselves: the embargo prevented them from building up an army that could put up anything approaching a defence. I still remember those young men well, in their gym shoes, without helmets or vests.
The West sat back and watched this going on for quite some time. Until the drama of Srebrenica put an end to the watching. Eight thousand young men, hardly more than children, were delivered into the hands of their murderers in an UN-designated “safe zone”, which wasn’t.
This came as a shocking blast of reality for all those who had thought that the mantra “Never again” alone would be enough to stand up against the evil in the world. It was – and we should not forget this either – Marek Edelman, a Jew who survived the Warsaw Ghetto, who asked the international community to intervene, long before Srebrenica. And then it came: the end of the fundamental “no” to weapons for use in self-defence or the protection of others. NATO’s defence mission went on for ten days. How many lives might have been saved had the decision to act been taken earlier?
Four years later, it was Kosovo’s turn. Again, the OSCE was the first to get involved. Unarmed, and as observers. They counted the military convoys deployed from Belgrade. The first groups of Kosovar refugees set out southwards, on the trek to Macedonia. The first mass graves were discovered. The UN had no mechanism for the prevention of yet another genocide. This obvious paradox was resolved through unilateral action on NATO’s part. Not unequivocally legitimate under international law, justified by the conviction that it is necessary to prevent a possible genocide.
From Yalta to the Maidan
A jump back in time: The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the return of independence to countries that had previously been part of the Soviet empire or separate members of the Warsaw Pact. Countries that had disappeared behind the “Yalta divide” suddenly reappeared on the political map: Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and Ukraine – countries that were seldom seen in the West as separate entities at all while they were still under the umbrella of the Soviet Union. Especially Ukraine. Yet Ukraine made itself noticed, taking its place among the other countries striving for freedom that had once been granted as unwilling vassals to Stalin. 2004, the “Orange Revolution”: a president installed in office in a rigged election is given the boot. A populace buffeted by disappointment returns him to office four years later though.
Maidan 2014: A big public festival. At first. Russian rock bands perform Western politicians’ stream in, cheering the crowds on stage and mingling with them. Did even one of them begin to understand that this encouragement was giving rise to a responsibility? A responsibility to stand with the Ukrainians if the festival were to become an inferno?
It did not stop with Crimea
The annexation of Crimea. A coup de main. Not bloody, but still brutal. At least in the aftermath, when the Crimean Tartars were robbed of their rights and their culture – a second time, after their deportation by Stalin. And with the arrests of those unwilling to bow to the will of the Russian regime.
Placatory words are spoken by many here though: one had to understand how essential Crimea was to the heart and soul of the Russian people. They were way off base. It wasn’t only about Crimea. Putin’s forces crossed the border, prepared by the GRU and assisted by a fifth column of bandits and shady characters.
It was not NATO that encircled Russia. Russia encircled Ukraine
Putin does not bother with trying to disguise his intentions. Ukraine, he says, is an inalienable part of the common history, culture, of the “spiritual space”. For those willing to look, it was plain to see: Putin was not going to let it rest at that. The inalienable part that had strayed, the “brother people”, must return to the empire. Like the Erl-King: … boy, if you are unwilling, then force I’ll employ.
Slowly but surely, this force took shape around Ukraine, according to a systematic and strategically consistent plan.
Quiet Tones from Berlin
It was not NATO that encircled Russia. Russia encircled Ukraine. To the north, in Belarus, to the east along the border with southern Russia, to the south over the Black Sea.
These preparations for war, only flimsily disguised as manoeuvres, were accepted. The second pipeline through the Baltic Sea continued to be presented through a rose-tinted lens as purely a business project. The foreign-policy experts were monitoring the troop deployments “with concern”. A statement is issued describing an attack on Ukraine as unacceptable. It remains unclear what that was supposed to mean.
It was the USA that began to voice the opinion, in increasingly clear language, that Putin was going to order the attack on Ukraine. A flurry of shuttle diplomacy, with little effect. They all made the pilgrimage to him – one at a time, needless to say. Audiences were granted in tsarist style. Everyone returned from Moscow with empty hands. Bottom line: Putin couldn’t have cared less about what was being offered to him in the way of dialogue. He wanted Ukraine. Ukraine is not part of NATO, so NATO assistance was out of the question, and weapons were not to be supplied to crisis zones – or so said the German doctrine, and others.
The terror should be visible
What happened after that is well known. The events in Mariupol, for instance. According to an initial expert legal opinion by Prof. Otto Luchterhandt, they meet the legal definition of genocide. For over two weeks now, 350,000 people have been living under siege, deprived of electricity, heat, food and water. Bombs are being deliberately aimed at civilian targets. The Russian shelling makes flight impossible.
A reign of terror has descended over the country. There is no attempt to hide it: it is supposed to be visible. The aim is to wear down the population’s resolve and morale. A paediatric clinic in Lviv has to resort to triaging because medical resources are in such short supply: just for one minute, imagine what that must be like.
There is no doubt: since the Maidan, the Ukrainian army has grown from a small group of experienced soldiers who had international deployments under their belts into a regular army. A regular army that is poorly equipped, though, and nowhere near a match for the Russian army.
The German Government stuck to its principle of not sending weapons to crisis zones for far too long. Now, we are watching a desperate defensive war being fought by inadequately equipped men and women, unexpectedly stubborn men and women paying a bloody toll to hold the Russian troops at bay but who are doing it – so far. How much longer can they keep this up?
It’s time for a down payment
The Jewish president of Ukraine begs the world for modern military equipment. Because the less well-equipped his fighters are, the more of them will die. The less they can do to hinder the butchers, the more civilians will lose their lives. It sounds histrionic when the Ukrainians insist that they are fighting for our freedom, too. But the Georgians, Moldovans, the people of the Baltic countries and the Poles know full well what they mean.
Ukraine’s defeat would bring the Russian military to Poland’s border. Iskander missiles with nuclear warheads would draw even closer to us. And what happens if Ukraine isn’t enough to satiate Putin? What if he keeps wanting more? Georgia and Moldavia are a given, a Republika Srpska and Serbia in the Balkans, and then perhaps he’ll decide to take the Baltics after all? The corridor connecting these vulnerable countries to other EU and NATO members is only 65-kilometres wide.
Is this truly only the Ukrainians’ fight? What happened to “Never again”?
The “watershed moment” is here. The chancellor speaks of necessary defence, of military precautions. Apparently, the threat of war and the notion that Russia poses a genuine danger are no longer being dismissed as unrealistic. The reality is already here for Ukrainians. Should they manage to win, our security will be assured. A hundred billion euros to invest in a new Bundeswehr. It is time to pay an instalment to those who are bearing the burden of the war for us. Give them what they need in order to do so. Our own security is also at stake.
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