A German Churchill or a Coalition of the Willing?

Photos: Tobias Kunz /​ LibMod

Germany’s foot-dragging over military aid to Ukraine and the half-hearted imple­men­ta­tion of Chan­cellor Scholz’ Zeit­en­wende were subjected to sharp criticism at the Center for Liberal Modernity’s recent public discus­sion “Russia and the West – What is at Stake”. Partic­i­pants disagreed over if and how poli­cy­makers in Berlin can turn the tide and make a Ukrainian victory possible. Some put their hopes in a Coalition of the Willing that would prompt Germany to follow suit.

This discus­sion took place after the annual LibMod-confer­ence Russia and the West, the flagship event of our Expert Network Russia. Find out more about the network here.

Read this text in German.

The German government’s now long-running hesi­ta­tion to provide adequate military support to Ukraine is cause for consid­er­able frus­tra­tion among some of its allies. The fact that this is caused by fears of an esca­la­tion of the war and a possible decom­po­si­tion of the Russian lead­er­ship does not make this any better, according to Swedish expert Charlotta Rodhe and Lithuanian MEP Andrius Kubilius. “These are the wrong fears”, Rodhe said, adding that everybody should really fear a defeat of Ukraine. This would trigger massive refugee flows and force NATO to increase military spending manyfold in the face of an embold­ened and aggres­sive Russia – to perhaps 2 trillion euros (in 2023 it was around 1.2 trillion).

At the opening we showed the video interview with oppo­si­tion politi­cian and political prisoner Vladimir Kara-Murza, recorded at the 2022 confer­ence, one month before he was detained in Moscow.

Kubilius called for a ‘bold dual strategy’: A military one to help Ukraine achieve victory, and a political one to create clearer prospects for regime change in Russia. He argued that it is in everybody’s interest that Russia becomes a “normal country” that poses no threat to its neigh­bours: “We have an oblig­a­tion to support Russia in becoming different,” he said. Kubilius, who was Lithuanian Prime Minister from 2008 to 2012, expressed hope that Berlin would take on more lead­er­ship, even saying that he would be “happy if Germany produced a second Churchill”.

Russia has crossed all red lines 

Malgo­rzata Kosiura-Kazmierska, who heads the eastern depart­ment in the Polish Foreign Ministry, refrained from addressing Germany directly, but argued that Western poli­cy­makers need to generally change their mindset, given that Russia sees itself at war with the West: “Russia has crossed all red lines, so we should also overcome the red lines in our thinking,” she said.

Mikhail Khodor­kovsky also did not address Germany directly, but put forward a dras­ti­cally bleak scenario for Ukraine. The Russian busi­nessman turned Putin critic argued that without a massive increase in foreign aid Ukraine’s military expen­di­ture was simply too small: While Russia had spent 120 billion US dollars or 5.4 per cent of its GDP on the war in 2023, the EU was spending just 0.25 per cent of GDP on supporting Ukraine.

Khodor­kovsky warned that under these circum­stances Kyiv would lose the city of Kharkiv this year and Odesa next year. By 2026, Ukraine may just be able to wage a guerrilla war. He then sarcas­ti­cally lambasted the idea of nego­ti­ating with Putin. “Then we must honestly say to the Ukrainians: We have betrayed you, stop the pointless resis­tance,” he said.

The three Bundestag MPs, who spoke during the debate’s second half, agreed on the urgency but differed on how to implement it.

Germany’s political elites are wasting the oppor­tu­nity to rally everyone behind freedom 

Diemtar Nietan of the Social Democrats made a very emotional call for a cross-party effort to unite a majority of the popu­la­tion behind more support for Ukraine. “We cannot impose this, we must win over the people,” he said. Nietan, who is not standing for re-election in 2025, added that this was only possible if the demo­c­ratic camps showed more unity. He lamented that ingrained ritu­al­istic party politics prevents this and warned that Germany’s political elites “are wasting the oppor­tu­nity to rally everyone behind freedom”.

However, Nietan’s colleague Jürgen Hardt from the oppo­si­tional Christian Democrats imme­di­ately reverted to party politics by blaming parts of the SPD and Chan­cellor Olaf Scholz for the fact that the Zeit­en­wende was not being imple­mented. Hardt, who is foreign policy spokesman for the CDU/​CSU parlia­men­tary group, argued that the FDP, Greens and CDU/​CSU were behind Kyiv: “We have a clear demo­c­ratic majority in favour of more aid for Ukraine, but .. a group in the coalition, led by the Chan­cellor, is preventing this,”, he said.

Robin Wagener from the Greens agreed with Nietan that foreign policy too often falls back to domestic political debates and that a strong demo­c­ratic alliance was badly needed. Wagener also called for lifting the austerity “debt brake” and pleaded for the use of Russia’s frozen Central Bank assets to support Ukraine.

Can a Coalition of the Willing entice Germany?

At the end of the evening, LibMod-cofounder Marieluise Beck expressed hope that a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ formed from countries like Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic could drive Germany to change its policy. “Given the urgency for Ukraine, I think this is a strategic possi­bility,” she said.



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