Germany lives in a virtual reality. There, the war in Ukraine – why it’s happening, and what Germany must do about it – is presented not as it is, but as what it is imagined to be.
The common politician in Germany thinks that Russia is waging a war of invasion and it will not stop until it has conquered the whole of Ukraine. That explains, in part (but only in part) why Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock pledged to stand by Ukraine and persist with the sanctions no matter “what her voters think”. The video of Baerbock making this promise (starting at 1:23:04) at the Prague conference on 31 August quickly went viral in Germany. While many lamented the minister’s arrogance, many also felt morally compelled to justify her words, because she was defending the right cause.
In normal times, the statements of a Foreign Minister publicly claiming she cares more about Ukraine than the legitimate interests of the country and citizens she represents should have been subject to unsparing media scrutiny, but instead, the affair was reported as a Kremlin-backed campaign of misinformation, on grounds that her words were taken out of context and the video edited, hyped and circulated by Russian propagandists. To make this point, a report by the ”Disinformation Situation Center” is emphasized, which apparently shows how a series of Russian accounts distributed and promoted the video on social networks.
The fact remains, the Russians may have enjoyed the gaffe but they did not not make up the words of the Foreign Minister. Those were hers, and hers alone. Baerbock said:
“We stand by Ukraine for as long as they need us. And because we all agree on that and that’s nothing to applaud for either, because that’s something normal when you believe in justice and freedom in the world. And I would also like to enter into a discussion about your speech, which I really appreciated, but I disagree on one point when you said that we shouldn’t talk about the fact that this war could drag on for a long time.”
“Because if I, as a politician, make the promise – and fortunately in a democracy there is a possibility that people will contradict me and say in four years: ‘You didn’t tell us the truth but if I make this promise to the Ukrainians : ‘We will be by your side as long as you need us’, then I would like to deliver, no matter what my German voters think, but I would like to deliver for the Ukrainian population. And that’s why it’s important to me to always be very open and clear. This means that every measure I take must last as long as Ukraine needs me. And that’s why it’s so important to be clear. Yes, each of us wishes that the war would stop tomorrow. But if he doesn’t stop tomorrow, I’ll be there in two years.”
“Sometimes this all sounds a bit difficult at EU level, and we don’t always agree on that, because every sanctions package has to be prepared in such a way that it would last for the next two years or so. If we don’t need it for two years, that’s great, but if we do need it, it has to last as long as Ukraine needs us.”
The essential meaning is there: I am going to stand by Ukraine, no matter what my voters think, no matter the consequences of the sanctions for them, no matter how desperate their situation could get.
Because indeed, the sanctions that Germany has placed on Russia have been nothing short of catastrophic for the German economy, creating out of thin air an energy crisis that was by all means perfectly avoidable, business bankruptcies left and right, factories having to stop production because they can no longer pay their energy bills, massive bailouts for energy companies on the brink of insolvency thanks to impossible energy prices. Much more is to come, and the situation is more dramatic than the government would like to let on.
War, What Kind of War?
The reality is that the war in Ukraine is not a war of invasion. It is a war to be sure, but it is a limited war, not to conquer Ukraine, but to force it to come back to the negotiating table for a new peace agreement for the Donbas region. An agreement for this already exists, called the Minsk 2 agreements, which Ukraine has signed but refused to implement. The strategic role of the war is to change the balance of force on the ground so that Ukraine has no choice but to negotiate again, or to implement its existing Minsk 2 commitments.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on 24 February 2022, he called it a “special military operation”, which had two objectives: to demilitarize and de-nazify Ukraine. The reason war broke out is because days before, Ukraine launched a military offensive in the Donbas region against its own Russian-speaking people, in brazen violation of the Minsk 2 agreements. For this operation, Ukraine recruited neo-Nazi paramilitaries to fight alongside the Ukrainian army. That is why Vladimir Putin mentioned the objective of “denazification” when he announced the war.
Ukraine knew Russia would react to the offensive, but that was the point: to bait Russia into a war, and then to punish it with a package of sanctions that would bring it to its knees. The Ukrainian army has been extensively prepared for this operation since 2014 by the US and the UK in the name of providing “military aid”. Before all that happened, President Zelensky was a very different man, with a very different view about the civil war in the Donbass, and Russia. Back then, he said on TV that the people of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine “just want to speak Russian”, and Ukraine should “just leave them alone”.
“Russia and Ukraine are brotherly people – I know many millions, thousands of people, who live in Russia and who are wonderful. We are one color, one blood. We understand each other, irrespective of language”, he added.
Zelensky changed when he became President and the Americans convinced him he could take on the Russians, and it would be a rather quick operation because a sanctions package had been prepared in advance by the US and NATO allies to break Russia fast. And when Russia would fall, Ukraine would get its entry ticket to NATO. But that is not what is happening. The sanctions are not working as expected, because Russia was able to turn to the other half of the world – India, China, Africa – to cushion the blow, with even more energy exports, and new trade deals worth billons. Russia is hurt, but she will recover.
The public debate about the war is so polarized in Germany that any attempt to lift the veils of distortion is immediately misconstrued as being a “Putin understander” or a “Putin party”. When the somewhat open-minded magazine Die Weltwoche tried to do that, one of its columnists, Henryk Broder announced he would no longer write for the magazine. Even the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) has paid a price for taking a nuanced view (see ***1) of the reasons for the war – its members and voters remain vehemently divided about Russia.
To keep the party united, the AfD leadership prefers to be clear about at least this much: the war is “Putin’s war of aggression”.
What is the War About?
The reason why it is so important to know what kind of war this is – a war of total invasion, or a limited war to neutralize the Ukrainian army’s military offensive in the Donbas and to force peace negotiations, is to know what Germany can do about it. Will the sanctions and heavy arms indeed help Ukraine win the war against Russia?
The reality on the ground says no. The sanctions have merely prolonged the conflict and dragged Ukraine in combats and counter-attacks for which it was not prepared to fight, because it expected the war would be short. Ukraine (and the US) calculated that sanctions would be so damaging to Russia that it would simply collapse, and lose the war by default. That explains why President Zelensky has asked again and again for tough sanctions on Russia, because he has basically depended on the sanctions to win the war for him. The then French Minister of Economy Bruno Lemaire confirmed this, saying the sanctions are intended “to provoke collapse of the Russian economy”.
“We want to target the heart of the Russian system”, said Lemaire in an interview with France TV Info.
“We are targeting Vladimir Putin, we are targeting the oligarchs, but we are also targeting the entire Russian economy. And the Russian people will also pay the consequences. can’t do otherwise,”
Lemaire outlined the logic of the sanctions: “Sanctions are extremely effective. We are going to wage a total economic and financial war on Russia”.
“We are going to cause the collapse of the Russian economy,”, he assured.
Lemaire said “the sanctions must strike quickly, strike hard and we can already see the effects”, pointing out that “the ruble has collapsed by 30% ” and that “foreign exchange reserves Russian are melting like snow in the sun”.
“Vladimir Putin’s famous war chest is already reduced to almost nothing. We will therefore cause the collapse of the Russian economy”.
In his book, The Art of Sanctions, Richard Nephew, former Head of Sanctions under the Obama administration, outlined how the US uses sanctions to effect political change. Sanctions must hit the adversary so hard so that its people suffer and revolt against its leaders – what Chinese military general Sun Tzu called “to win without the fighting.” This has been the US strategy for Russia since the end of the Cold War. The US cannot be number one if Russia is doing well.
The German Foreign Minister insists that Germany is doing the right thing for Ukraine “because that’s something normal when you believe in justice and freedom in the world”. Commendable, if true. But what is this war really about?
Did the War Fall from the Sky?
The war in Ukraine did not just happen one fine day on 25 February 2022, just like that. It happened because Ukraine has signed but persistently refused to implement the Minsk 2 agreements. Among other things, the Minsk 2 agreements requires Ukraine to implement an “immediate and comprehensive ceasefire”, and to allow autonomous government (not independence) for the Russian speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas.
With the Minsk 2 agreements, the way for Germany to help Ukraine and the cause of justice and freedom already existed since 2015, and that was to press Ukraine to implement its commitments. That is where Germany could have played a remarkable historical role. But where it really counted, Germany decided it must do nothing. As one of the guarantors of the Minsk 2 agreements, Germany along with France preferred to stand idle than risk the wrath of the United States. The American plan is to make sure Ukraine never implements Minsk 2 agreements, because that is how the US can use the crisis in the Donbas to make Ukraine fight a proxy war against Russia on its behalf. It’s a chess play for the Americans, with Ukraine as pawn, and collateral damage.
It will also be news to the Germans that in March 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky told Russia he was ready to stop the war and discuss the terms to recognize Russian sovereignty in certain parts of Ukraine. Considering that the war started in late February 2022, the plea for peace from the Ukrainians came relatively quickly. Russia was favourable to it and things could have been sorted out right there and then. This, however, did not suit the EU and the UK who intervened on April 2, and days later, on April 9, Zelensky withdrew his proposal.
In Germany’s virtual reality, the war in Ukraine has been mounted as some kind of grand battle for democracy and freedom which must be won at all costs. Questions are taboo, because they express doubt, and there can be no doubt about this war. Ukraine – the good David – must win gloriously, and the Russians – evil Goliath – must get the good thrashing they deserve.
Germany is also the only European country in which the war has almost completely monopolized the public imagination, determining what gets printed in the news, what gets discussed in the public place, and what gets done in the Bundestag – a phenomenon which resembles more the workings of a psychological operation by a foreign government than simple solidarity with a democracy under attack.
According to the definition provided by the US Department of Defense, psychological operations, or PSYOP, aim to “convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behaviour favourable to the originator’s objectives.”
Who could possibly wish the Germans ill? The Russians? Who else? Because none of what Germany has imposed on herself for the sake of Ukraine – the sanctions, the debts, the bankruptcies, the social and economic hardships, the coming mass protests – will have the slightest impact in winning the war for Ukraine. The reality is that Ukraine was ready to end the war quite early on, and so were the Russians. Do the Germans know that? And if Ukraine already knew early on it was best to sue for peace, why is the German government saying there is no other way out of this but more sanctions, more arms, more ruin?
According to the European Union, the objective of the sanctions on Russia is to reduce its capacity to finance the war in Ukraine from its energy revenues. In reality, because oil and gas are basic commodities and not value-added commodities, this has only increased the global demand for them. What Europe and Germany have refused to buy in the name of punishing Russia has quickly found other buyers from India and China. The result is that, in June 2022, Russia reaped an additional 6.4 billion dollars in energy imports. A key aim of the sanctions is not to reduce Russia’s military capacity in Ukraine by striking at its energy revenues, but to decouple the German economy from the Russian economy – the single biggest threat to American hegemony in Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin touched on this essential truth in his speech to the German Bundestag in September 2011, saying that while “no one doubts the great value of Europe’s relationship with the United States”, he believed “that Europe will only strengthen its reputation as a powerful and independent centre of world politics in the long term if it combines its own potential with Russia’s human, territorial and natural resources, as well as with Russia’s economic, cultural and defence potential.”
What about the money and the arms that Germany is sending to Ukraine? A recent CBS documentary published on 4 August 2022 showed that only 30 percent of the weapons sent by Western governments (worth billions) actually make it to the frontlines in Ukraine. Testimonies in the report said corruption was systemic in Ukraine due to “powerlords” and “oligarchs”, and the weapons were being siphoned off in the black market for re-sale.
CBS faced intense pressure for the report, reportedly from the Ukrainian government. On 7 August, CBS retracted its own documentary, changing the title of the attached article from “Why military aid to Ukraine doesn’t always get to the front lines: ‘Like 30% of it reaches its final destination.” to “Why military aid in Ukraine may not always get to the front lines.”
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba commented on Twitter: “Welcome first step, but it is not enough”.
What Goes on in Ukraine Stays in Ukraine?
It will also be interesting for the Germans to know that Ukrainian President Zelensky was elected in April 2019 on a program of coming to an agreement with Russia. But the US, alongside the UK, torpedoed that program.
President Zelensky has also been personally threatened with death by neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine if he were to seek peace with Russia. In May 2019, Dmitry Yarosh, commander of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, said Zelensky would be hanged if agreements were made. The reality of the situation in Ukraine is not all that complex, but it is not the epic tale of right and wrong that it is being imagined in Germany. And so when Germany sends weapons to Ukraine, hopefully out of the noblest intentions, and not by supervision from the United States, it is purely adding fuel to a fire which Ukraine, if left to its own very modest devices, could never sustain.
In June 2022, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded that the Minsk 2 agreements were in fact a way for Ukraine to buy time to “become what it is today”. In other words, Ukraine never intended to implement the Minsk 2 agreements, and Germany as one of the guarantors of the agreements, never intended of pressing Ukraine to implement them. The point is, the role which the German federal government has accepted to play regarding Ukraine has never been about brokering a peace solution with Russia, or helping Ukraine win the war, because it could have already done that by pressuring Ukraine to implement its commitments under the Minsk 2 agreements.
Tell the Truth?
Rather, the actual role of the German federal government in the war in Ukraine is about something it can never openly admit, and to which it is quietly resigned: to help the United States wage an economic war against Russia with a coordinated package of hard-hitting sanctions intended to provoke its economic collapse. The only way the German public can be made to go along with this is that if they are made to believe Russia has invaded Ukraine and the sanctions, package after package, are the only way to punish Russia for its aggression.
The average, well-meaning German thinks exactly this. But it is a fiction, which is beginning to blow up.
In a speech to the Bundestag on 8 Sep 2022, German politician Sahra Wagenknecht (Die Linke) called the sanctions against Russia an “unprecedented economic war against our most important energy supplier”. She knows what is going on.
But that is only half of the story. The other half of the story is that Germany cannot possibly punish Russia with energy sanctions without also punishing herself, because Germany obtains most of her energy from Russia. So, whoever presented Germany with the fait accompli that she must punish Russia with energy sanctions knew what would happen: it would also punish Germany. This is Divination 101.
Germany is the only country in the whole world that has had to come with a “relief package” to mitigate the devastating impact that the sanctions on Russia have had on her own economy. But this is just the beginning; there will be many more such packages, as Germany reckons with its deepest crisis since the founding of the federal republic.
What are the sanctions about then? Were they ever only about collapsing the Russian economy, or the German economy as well?
Who in the world would like to see Germany down? Russia? Who else?
In her speech to the Bundestag days after the war broke out, AfD parliamentary co-leader Alice Weidel pointed out the “fatal mistake” of “teasing Ukraine with impossible promises” (EU and NATO membership) and the many missed opportunities of persuading Ukraine to become a neutral state.
“The fact that NATO membership is a red line to Russia and Russia will not allow this as she previously accepted these expansions to the East. Russia has been talking about this for 20 years now. And how many opportunities has there been since then to give Ukraine neutral security. This was only a plus for all sides, thus Ukraine could become for everyone instead of an object of quarrels. A country that could serve as bridge between East and West,” Weidel said.
“Instead, hardliners who still live by the logic of cold war continued to firmly promise Ukraine membership of NATO and thus arrogantly informed them Russia is nothing, that Russia is not a great power. And it is a historical failure of the West that they humiliated Russia.”
“Of course, this does not change the wrongness of Russia’s invasion. But to find a solution we must first understand the reasons.”