For German politicians, alleged damage to Putin is more important than the well-being of their own people — this miscalculation will take revenge.
by Peter Vonnahme Tuesday, July 13, 2022
Germany is running in the wrong direction. It’s no use increasing the speed and determination with which this happens. Our government is practicing the complete opposite of a win-win strategy in the Ukraine crisis. The losers are the German citizens who, in order to “annoy Putin”, will have to contend with the increased cost of living. The losers are probably the Ukrainians, whose war is dragging on with German help. The environment is also a loser, when even green politicians, in their stubbornness, still prefer coal and fracking gas to energy from the „evil empire“. At best, the winner is Russia itself, which has been swimming in money since it has been selling its gas to anyone other than the capricious Europeans. Although the victims of the war in Ukraine are regrettable, Putin is certainly not a moral luminary – but the Ukrainian leadership does not deserve the loyalty of the Germans to the Nibelungen. We must now reverse gear in the impasse and finally head for a negotiated solution that is suitable for reality.
It’s obvious our government has lost the compass. She is looking for a way, but does not know where she actually wants to go. Despite unresolved concerns, Germany is supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons and is also a pioneer in sanctions, which are the most damaging to its own country. The people rightly expect their government to explain their policies. Unfortunately, the disorientation applies even more to the opposition.
Arms shipments and misery
You don’t have to be a military expert to know that the delivery of heavy military equipment will not end the war in Ukraine. These weapons will not lead Ukraine to victory either. That’s what the military says, basing their analysis not on political pipe dreams but on experience. It is therefore to be expected that the war will continue – with more bloodshed, more destruction and more people being forced to flee. The misery will only increase.
Embargo and desperation proposals
The much-heralded energy embargo against Russia is proving to be a shot in the foot. Russia is now making more money from fewer oil exports than ever before. These days show how short-sighted the embargo was from the start. Originally, the intention was to force Russia to end the war with no money payments. Today, people are very happy when Russia returns to larger delivery volumes after completing maintenance work on the pipeline.
Vladimir Putin obviously has the upper hand — at least for now. You should have known that. Because experience teaches that it doesn’t work when the tail wants to wag the dog.
In addition, it is becoming apparent that the lack of Russian gas cannot be replaced by our own regenerative energies. The fact that the use of wind and sun has been obstructed for years by lobbyists from the nuclear, oil and gas industries and their political puppets is taking its toll. The precarious situation of 2022 is due to the short-sightedness of those who today complain most loudly about the expected supply difficulties.
To remedy the situation, long-term campaigners Friedrich Merz, Markus Söder and Christian Lindner are demanding the continued operation of the three nuclear power plants that are still connected to the grid. Feasibility issues aside, that would be a bad throwback to the 2000s. At that time, the planned phase-out of nuclear energy was decided in a social effort, which brought peace and confidence to the country, which had been agitated after Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Since the backward-looking politicians obviously did not themselves believe in the success of their nuclear flash of genius, they propagated the next desperate step: if less gas comes from Russia, more electricity must be generated by burning coal. These people don’t care that the Bundestag and Bundesrat passed a law in 2020 to phase out coal-fired power generation. Every high school student knows today that this about-face is a serious setback for climate protection.
But that is not the end of the climate policy atrocities. In order to avoid the evil Russian gas, Economics Minister Robert Habeck wants to buy the more expensive and environmentally harmful fracking gas (LNG gas) in Qatar and the USA. Climate protection is finally degenerating into an empty phrase. The Americans are rubbing their hands because they have reached their economic goal — thanks to the war in Ukraine! — have finally achieved.
Unfortunately, there are no LNG terminals in Germany so far. It doesn’t matter, then they have to be built in a hasty fashion. However, construction takes between one and four years, depending on how seriously you take the environmental assessment. The terminals are expected to be operational when they are no longer needed. Other voices have recently even demanded that the ban on fracking in Germany for reasons of environmental and drinking water protection should be lifted immediately. In a way, this is the Volkssturm in a lost energy war.
But the embargo measures have effects far beyond Germany. They lead to major bottlenecks in the supply of energy, food and fertilizer. There are already signs of massive famines in Africa. The world may then remember that Putin is responsible for the war. But she will certainly not forget that the West bears responsibility for the consequences of the war: for the sanctions, for the resulting supply shortfalls, for the unaffordable prices and for the lack of supplies for millions of innocent people. The starving people of Africa and other parts of the world will have little understanding that their misery is due to a war in a distant country whose name they may not have known until now.
We Europeans — and the Americans! — wanted to punish Russia, we ignored the consequences for the rest of the world. We can afford it because we are—always—the good and the just.
Thinking about Ukraine
Sometimes you realize that what was meant well does more harm than good. This applies, for example, to sanctions that do not primarily hit the „opponent“ but rather drive their own economy to the wall. We cannot help but think again about what we are willing to give to Ukraine.
Our commitment to Ukraine is fundamentally correct. However, the justifications for this are wrong. That this country has been unlawfully and brutally invaded is true and sad, but it is — unfortunately — not unique. In the last 30 years, this has happened to many countries, such as Serbia, Iraq and Libya. In none of these cases did we come to the aid of the victim or even supply him with weapons. On the contrary, Germany has sometimes even supported the illegal aggressor militarily or logistically in misunderstood loyalty to the alliance. So Ukraine cannot expect or even demand that Germany — to a certain extent a matter of course — take its side.
Furthermore, it makes a big difference whether an attacked party is an ally or an „other“ country. In the former case we are contractually obliged to provide assistance — for example in the event of an attack on Poland, Lithuania, Hungary or Turkey — but not in the latter case.
Incidentally, for many reasons it makes more sense to provide assistance to a neighboring country that has close cultural ties to us, such as Austria or Switzerland, than to a country that is geographically distant and with which we have less historical ties, such as Moldova, Georgia or the Ukraine. For such states we have no political, legal or moral obligation to engage in military or economic suicide.
In concrete terms, there is no question that all our sympathy is with the Ukrainian people who have been victims of violence. I’m passionate about ensuring that the refugees get whatever help they can — just like those who fled from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq did in the past.
However, as far as the state of Ukraine is concerned, one has to differentiate. First of all, this country cannot claim special rights simply because it was attacked by the system opponent of the so-called “Western community of values”, Russia. That alone does not make Ukraine a “better” state that is particularly worthy of protection.
Even though the victim is closer to you than the perpetrator, you still have to consider how to help.
It is important whether the attacked state is a democratic state based on the rule of law, how great the influence of corrupt oligarchs is on government policy, how the state deals with minorities, whether it adheres to intergovernmental agreements, but above all whether it is responsible for the specific conflict is jointly responsible. Well-known political scientists believe that the war in Ukraine could have been prevented if Ukraine had guaranteed its neutrality and taken Russia’s interests more into account.
Anyone who wants to help Ukraine must not neglect the vital interests of their own people. That would be the case if German politicians were to unconditionally side with the warring party Ukraine, accepting serious social and economic damage – in the extreme case their own demise. You have to keep in mind that supplying an attacked state with more and more and heavier weapons can turn into the opposite. Helping to defend oneself can become an aid to aggression.
My impression is that this undefined limit is currently being tested at high risk. The media-driven Ukraine hype harbors the danger that a limited war will turn into a conflagration. This also increases the risk of nuclear war. With all understanding for the attacked country, the primary goal must be not to endanger world peace, to end the bloodshed as quickly as possible and to prepare the ground for a negotiated peace.
The mantra-like assertion made by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Ambassador Andriy Melnyk that Ukraine is fighting for our freedom is false and serves to create atmosphere. Ukraine is fighting for its interests, not ours. No serious politician, military observer or political scientist seriously believes that Putin will attack Germany or any other NATO country once the war in Ukraine has been won. The price for this would be self-destruction, and not even Vladimir Putin wants that.
At some point the war in Ukraine will be over. Then you will find that Russia, the world’s largest country by area, with its vast reserves of natural resources and with its enormous military power, is still here – with or without Putin. And this Russia will still be our neighbor, whether we like it or not. We will have to live with Russia for better or for worse.
At some point, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will have to admit that her rationale for sanctions (“This will ruin Russia”) was the silly nonsense of an overzealous Atlanticist. Who would benefit if Russia were destroyed? Certainly not the Russian people, not us Europeans either, perhaps the military power USA fighting for world dominance.
There is something even more ominous: All of us, in East and West, have-nots and wealthy, democracies and autocracies, will recognize after the end of the war that the climate crisis has worsened as a result of the war. Hunger in the world, the spread of deserts, the race for raw materials, pollution of the seas, cyber war, the arms race, nuclear weapons, the pandemic, all of this will still be there after the war is over.
However, during the war the screw towards the downfall of human civilization will have continued to turn inexorably. None of the problems mentioned can be solved by a world power, not even by NATO, least of all by atomic bombs. We will have to understand that the competition that has flared up between the G7 states and the BRICS states is based on antiquated models of thought. If hope is to live on, the world needs a concerted effort, cross-bloc, radical and immediate. Because one thing is certain: You can’t negotiate with the laws of nature, but you can with Russia.
This requires a sustainable bridge to Russia. The notion that this country could be permanently sidelined is unrealistic and unhistorical. Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its exceptional resilience. When Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on the fringes of the G7 meeting that relations with Russia would never go back to the days before the attack, he was wrong. The best counter-example is his own country. The unspeakable German crimes before and during the Second World War outweigh the Russian crimes under Putin. Nevertheless, a few years after the end of the war, the world shook hands with the Germans again, not least the sorrowful Soviet Union – with at least 24 million war dead.
As a reminder: Germany became a member of the EC in 1952, NATO in 1955 and the UN in 1973. A few years later, Germany was the export world champion, reconciled with the other countries of the world. What younger people often don’t know: in 1955 the last German prisoners of war returned from Russia, in 1990 Russia agreed to German reunification and also agreed that NATO troops could also be on the territory of the former GDR, in 1994 the last Russian soldiers left Germany away. This multiple Soviet/Russian accommodation was not rewarded. On the contrary, in recent years a pronounced Russophobia has been bred by Cold Warriors.
However, it is important to realize that time can heal wounds. Why should something similar not be possible after the Ukraine war?
Negotiating does not mean surrendering
Politics must think ahead. That is why efforts by Western politicians, including German politicians, to inflict the greatest possible damage on Russia are not a sign of statesmanship. You are blind to the future. It’s time to finally face the existential problems of this world. Specifically, this means, for example:
- Not only can we say that talking is better than shooting, we have to believe in it ourselves.
- We must rid ourselves of the misconception that opening negotiations is justifying crimes or even surrendering to the aggressor.
- We have to make it credible that the West has no interest in continuing the war.
- We need to talk more about the Earth’s climate and renewable energy than about sophisticated ways of weakening a competitor.
- We must assure the representatives of Ukraine that they alone can decide whether or not to accept the outcome of the negotiations.
- But we also have to make it clear that the supporters are the ones who can decide whether and how help will be given in the future.
- We must demand a sense of reality from all negotiating partners. That would require the Ukrainian side to realize that the return of Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts cannot be a condition for the start of negotiations, especially since the current military situation does not support this requirement. In the most favorable case, for example if Russian security interests are adequately protected, returns could be the result of negotiations. That would require the Russian side to realize that an immediate ceasefire is necessary. Furthermore, Russia would have to show understanding that for climatological reasons the further purchase of fossil Russian energies can only be considered to a very limited extent,
- We must make it absolutely clear to all negotiating partners that a common future is only possible on the basis of the rules of international law.
In short: Russia must be able to trust that the goal of Western policy is not weakening, but rather cooperation with Russia. And Ukraine needs to know that it will be helped to rebuild the devastated country.
It all sounds easier than it is.
But if we are not able to hold such talks, it could be that in the end not only Ukraine is lost, but our homeland, planet Earth.
Peter Vonnahme was a judge at the Bavarian Administrative Court in Munich from 1982 to 2007 and a member of the German section of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). From 1995 to 2001 he was on the national board of the New Judges‘ Association. He has been a journalist with a focus on the rule of law and politics since 2007.
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