Turning point: Why we need to overcome our peace mentality

Russia’s war of aggres­sion against Ukraine is a turning point for Europe and the whole world. What are its policy impli­ca­tions? Are the sanctions imposed so far suffi­cient to contain the Kremlin? We discussed this with prominent politi­cians and diplomats at a joint event organized by the Center for Liberal Modernity (LibMod) and the Munich Security Conference.

In his intro­duc­tion, LibMod founder Ralf Fücks called for urgent action “in the face of a war that increas­ingly resembles a war of anni­hi­la­tion”. Europe is not passive, “but there is that lasting impres­sion of too little too late”. Fücks recalled Nord Stream 2 and the German discus­sions about arms deliv­eries to Ukraine and Russia’s expulsion from SWIFT. “Have we arrived mentally and polit­i­cally in a new era? Are we doing every­thing to make Putin lose this war, or are we still hoping for an arrange­ment with the Kremlin?” he asked.

Ukraine as “Mr. Putin’s backyard”

Michael Roth, a Social Democrat MP and chairman of the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, conceded that the much-touted “turning point” in German foreign and defence policy has not yet reached everybody. “Yes, we are not doing enough for Ukraine,” he said. To many Germans, Eastern Europe was of secondary impor­tance and they saw it as “Mr. Putin’s backyard. “But that is changing now,” he said.

Photo: JET /​ Kranert

Roth admitted that he only decided to support arms shipments to Ukraine after Putin’s “awful speech” on Monday before the war: “The violation of inter­na­tional law implies a duty to assist, and Ukraine only has a chance of survival from a position of strength,” he said.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmer­mann, an MP for the Free Democrats who chairs the Bundestag Defence Committee, argued that the enormous amount of refugees was also part of the war: “This is an attempt to desta­bi­lize neigh­boring countries with human traf­ficking,” she said.

Defending Germany also on the Dniester and Dnipro rivers

Roderich Kiesewetter, a Christian Democrat MP who chairs the Bundestag’s Intel­li­gence Committee, demanded an embargo against Russian energy exports and to step up military aid to Ukraine. “We can’t say that Germany’s security is being defended at the Hindukush, but not at the (rivers) Dniester and Dnipro,” he said. Former German Defense Minister Peter Struck had used the Hindukush reference to defend the deploy­ment of German soldiers to Afghanistan. Kiesewetter also demanded to offer Ukraine a possi­bility to join the EU after the war.

Photo: JET /​ Kranert

Green Party MP Agnieszka Brugger stressed that Germany must speed up its energy tran­si­tion in order to help Ukraine. Brugger said that President Zelenskiy’s video address to the Bundestag on March 17 made a lasting impres­sion on her. In the video, the Ukrainian leader accused Berlin of always saying “economy, economy, economy. “In retro­spect, that was our biggest mistake,” she said.

West stuck in a “peace mentality”

The English-language second part of the evening was moderated by Security Confer­ence Vice Chairman Boris Ruge and began with a video address by Pavlo Klimkin live from Kyiv. The former Ukrainian foreign minister stressed the great disap­point­ment in his country about the hesitant inter­na­tional support. “The problem is, that the West remains in a state of peace, while war is really raging in Ukraine. “The West is doing something, but it is still in a wait-and-see mode: “If this logic persists, the West has already lost,” Klimkin warned.

Dan Fried, a former senior US State Depart­ment official, agreed with Klimkin and called for a change in mentality. “War is here and we have to get ready for it,” he said. Fried rejected the notion that there are no military solutions as a stereo­type : “There is a bad military solution – that is, that Putin wins. And there is a good military solution, which is that Ukraine prevents Putin from winning, he said.

Photo: JET /​ Kranert

Svitlana Zalishchuk, a foreign policy adviser to the Ukrainian govern­ment, appealed to the inter­na­tional community not to under­es­ti­mate the war. “This is an inter­na­tional hybrid war that Russia has started in Ukraine, but it is also waging in other countries,” she said, referring to cyber­at­tacks, election inter­fer­ence and political killings such as the recent shooting of a Georgian citizen in Berlin. She stressed that military failures won’t make Moscow less dangerous. “The war is getting dirtier and more brutal, just look at Mariupol,” she said. Zalishchuk warned against mistaking sanctions as punish­ments. “Sanctions are a weapon to limit Putin’s ability to act,” she stressed.


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