Irri­ta­tions about Germany

Foto: Imago Images

Chan­cel­lor Scholz sup­ports Ukraine only to the extent that it can defend itself with dif­fi­culty, but not go on the coun­ter­at­tack. But those who want peace for Europe cannot spare Russia the defeat.

Russia’s war against Ukraine is enter­ing its 21st week. What was hor­ri­fy­ing at the begin­ning is begin­ning to become habit­ual: the bombing of res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods and the attacks against hos­pi­tals, the tar­geted destruc­tion of vital infra­struc­ture, the block­ade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, the mass exe­cu­tions and rapes in the ter­ri­to­ries con­quered by Russia, the depor­ta­tion of more than one million Ukraini­ans to Russia, a refugee pop­u­la­tion in the tens of mil­lions, the growing losses of the Ukrain­ian army under a hail of fire from Russian artillery, mis­siles and tanks.

Other, domes­tic worries are super­im­posed on the horror news from Ukraine — infla­tion, sky­rock­et­ing energy prices and the threat of reces­sion. The prospect of the Kremlin cutting its gas sup­plies to zero is prompt­ing the federal gov­ern­ment to ask Canada to suspend export sanc­tions against Russia and release the deliv­ery of a turbine for the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline. In prin­ci­ple, we are in favour of sanc­tions against Russia’s war economy, but unfor­tu­nately we have will­ingly become depen­dent on Russian fossil fuels. Since the begin­ning of the war, the EU has imported nearly a hundred billion euros worth of Russian oil and gas; the shirt is closer than the skirt.

In the Foreign Affairs Com­mit­tee, Chan­cel­lor Scholz rejects the demand for the deliv­ery of Marder infantry fight­ing vehi­cles for Ukraine with the remark “That would be a ter­ri­ble esca­la­tion.” Defence Min­is­ter Lam­brecht responds to the Union’s request to give 200 of 825 armoured Fuchs trans­ports to Ukraine with a cat­e­gor­i­cal “We will not let the Bun­deswehr be plun­dered.” More cold­ness and dis­tance towards Ukraine is hardly pos­si­ble. One would like to know what acute threat sce­nario the min­is­ter is assum­ing that does not allow Ukraine to be sup­ported from the Bundeswehr’s stocks? Is an attack on the Baltic States or Poland immi­nent — or is it not rather the case that every tank shot down, every missile launcher destroyed, every company of the Russian army routed increases our secu­rity? If we want to keep Russia out of NATO, we must do every­thing we can to make Putin fail in Ukraine.

Russia’s strate­gists of con­fronta­tion are count­ing on the West’s con­flict aver­sion, short-sight­ed­ness and indif­fer­ence. They are con­vinced that they are in the driver’s seat, even though Europe and the USA are vastly supe­rior eco­nom­i­cally and also have the greater mil­i­tary poten­tial. Putin con­sid­ers Europe — Germany first of all — to be fearful and spoiled by pros­per­ity. Why make sac­ri­fices for Ukraine or even risk a war with Russia? He may be right.

Appease­ment will not stop Putin

The call for Ukraine to stop stand­ing in the way of an end to the war and give Putin what he wants is gaining ground. Clause­witz put this inver­sion of per­pe­tra­tor and victim in the ironic for­mu­la­tion that ulti­mately the defender is to blame for the war because he stands in the way of the aggres­sor: the aggres­sor would like to invade quite peace­fully. Our sub­ju­ga­tion paci­fists are fully serious. They agree with Lavrov that the West is unnec­es­sar­ily pro­long­ing the war with its arms deliv­er­ies. In their view, the Ukraine has no chance of stop­ping the Russian advance anyway. This not only makes a mockery of the deter­mi­na­tion of Ukraini­ans — men and women alike — to fight for their inde­pen­dence and freedom. The call for a com­pro­mise with Putin also fails to recog­nise the nature of the Russian campaign.

Russia is waging a war of exter­mi­na­tion against Ukraine as a nation. Anyone who does not joy­fully welcome the Russian “lib­er­a­tors” is a “fascist” and at the mercy of the conqueror’s vio­lence. The cession of south­ern and eastern Ukraine to Russia would not bring peace, but a wave of liq­ui­da­tions, arrests and depor­ta­tions. Butcha and Mar­i­upol have taught Ukraini­ans that there can be no arrange­ment with Russia. And why should Putin be sat­is­fied with another big bite out of Ukraine’s ter­ri­tory? The annex­a­tion of Crimea and the de facto annex­a­tion of the puppet republics in the Donbas have only increased his appetite. We should finally take note that he is con­cerned about the whole of Ukraine — and not just Ukraine.

Putin is on a revan­chist trip. He wants to collect the lost provinces of the Russian Empire, regain dom­i­nance over Central-Eastern Europe and control the Black Sea. If the West does not have the strength to stop him in Ukraine, the next advance is only a matter of time. The Kremlin has made it suf­fi­ciently clear that for it an end to the war is only an option if Ukraine accepts Russian demands. Such a “nego­ti­ated peace” would not only be a third-class funeral for any value-based Euro­pean order. Appease­ment towards an aggres­sor does not create sus­tain­able peace. If Putin walks off the bat­tle­field with even a partial victory, we will see a long period of war risk and insta­bil­ity on Europe’s eastern flank. Last but not least, horse-trading with Russia will cause massive dis­lo­ca­tion within the EU and NATO. Already today, our allies in Central Eastern Europe are looking at Germany with growing irri­ta­tion. In their eyes, Berlin’s hes­i­tant policy is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the German Son­der­weg towards Russia.

The ques­tion of the motives and goals of Germany’s policy does not come out of the blue. So far, the Chan­cel­lor has delib­er­ately left the answer vague. His con­stantly repeated formula “Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must not lose it” leaves it open which outcome of the con­flict he is heading for. The asser­tion that “Ukraine must endure” also leaves open the ques­tion of its future borders. Olaf Scholz likes to justify this strate­gic ambi­gu­ity by saying that he does not want to pre­judge the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment: whether it wants to make con­ces­sions, and if so, which ones, is its sov­er­eign deci­sion. That sounds good, but it ignores the fact that the outcome of this war also depends on us. Ukraine’s will­ing­ness to fight is not lacking. What is lacking are “heavy weapons” — long-range artillery, rocket launch­ers, air defence systems, armoured vehi­cles — to break the Russian supe­ri­or­ity. This is not a hope­less endeav­our. Russia has suf­fered massive losses of men and mate­r­ial. The Kremlin’s reserves are large, but not unlim­ited, espe­cially since the pro­duc­tion of sup­plies is fal­ter­ing due to Western tech­nol­ogy sanctions.

Three sce­nar­ios

After the failure of its blitzkrieg in the first weeks of the war, the Russian lead­er­ship is now betting on a classic mate­r­ial battle in which the sheer supe­ri­or­ity of weapons and ammu­ni­tion should bring the deci­sion. In this sit­u­a­tion, there are three pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios for an end to the war:

(1) Ukraine grad­u­ally bleeds out and has to submit to a Russian dic­ta­to­r­ial peace, which means the end of its sovereignty.

(2) The West sup­ports Ukraine to such an extent that it can slow down the Russian advance at heavy losses until the war even­tu­ally comes to a halt and turns into a pre­car­i­ous cease­fire. Where the new demar­ca­tion line will be is open — can Kharkiv and Odessa be defended or will they be part of the Russian-occu­pied zone in the future?

(3) Europe and the USA enable Ukraine to repel the Russian offen­sive and to coun­ter­at­tack itself in order to push the attack­ers back at least to the borders of 24 Feb­ru­ary, and perhaps beyond in the Donbass. For this, it is not enough to help Ukraine out with a handful of artillery systems here and there. If we want it to win this war, it needs massive, rapid and con­tin­u­ous arms deliv­er­ies. The old Soviet weapon systems must be suc­ces­sively replaced by modern Western equip­ment, includ­ing battle tanks. This requires the early train­ing of Ukrain­ian sol­diers on these weapons. In the short term, deliv­er­ies must be made from exist­ing stocks, while at the same time arms pro­duc­tion in Europe must be ramped up.

If we look at the policy of the German gov­ern­ment so far — more pre­cisely: of the chan­cel­lor and his defence min­is­ter — it amounts to the second sce­nario: Ukraine should not lose, but not win either, Putin should not triumph, but not lose either. If one rejects the assump­tion that Berlin is ulti­mately aiming at horse-trading with Moscow, two expla­na­tions remain. The first is eco­nomic: Scholz doesn’t want to get too close to Putin for fear that he might cut off our gas supply com­pletely in return. The other expla­na­tion is pro­vided by the chan­cel­lor himself when he repeat­edly stresses his concern about an esca­la­tion of the war and reit­er­ates his firm resolve that Germany must not become a party to the war. Behind this is the fear that Putin will run amok if he is faced with a mil­i­tary defeat in Ukraine.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, this fear is par­tic­u­larly pro­nounced in Germany. It does not play an action-guiding role in Poland, the Baltic and Scan­di­na­vian states, which are on the front line with Russia. In Germany, the lesson from the lost Second World War is: never again war, cer­tainly not with Russia. Our neigh­bours have learned a dif­fer­ent lesson from this cat­a­stro­phe: Never again appease­ment. They know better which Russia we are dealing with and what is at stake in Ukraine. And they are better realpoli­tik­ers when they insist that Russia must be stopped in Ukraine to prevent even greater disaster.

The West has many times greater eco­nomic reserves and mil­i­tary poten­tial than the Putin regime. What is lacking is the polit­i­cal will to put a stop to Russian neo-impe­ri­al­ism. The Bun­destag has voted over­whelm­ingly in favour of sup­ply­ing heavy weapons to Ukraine, without restric­tions. The German gov­ern­ment should follow this deci­sion. Oth­er­wise, we will once again have to answer the ques­tion why we did not do more to stop a war of extermination.

* English trans­la­tion of an essay pub­lished by SPIEGEL Online July 13th

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