Opinion: Peace in Europe Must Now Be Defended Against Putin’s Russia

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The horrific crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Vladimir Putin’s war of extermination shows that a return to the old status quo will not be possible with this Russia. Germany should be doing everything in its power to back Ukraine.
A burned-out car in Bucha

A burned-out car in Bucha


Johanna Maria Fritz / Agentur Ostkreuz / DER SPIEGEL

It is high time for those in Germany who still believe this war is only a temporary annoyance – after which, and hopefully soon, we can return to the status quo – to finally wake up. Some of the people who adhere to such ideas sit in editorial offices, others hold professorships or seats in parliament, and there may even be some in the government cabinet. Some of them actually hope that Ukraine will lose as quickly as possible or, even better: That the country will surrender so that everything can go back to the way it was before.

But there will be no return to the status quo that existed before the war. Not for Russia, not for Europe – and certainly not for Ukraine. This has to be clear following the images from Bucha. In the northern suburbs of Kyiv, it appears that large numbers of civilians have been shot indiscriminately in the streets by Russian troops, some of them still carrying their groceries on bicycles, others executed with their hands tied. Mass graves have been found in the Kyiv suburbs.

These are war crimes of staggering dimensions. Acts of barbarism of the kind last seen in Europe during the Balkan wars. Acts of barbarism that were never supposed to happen in Europe again. Russian soldiers are now committing them in Ukraine before our very eyes: undeniably, even if the Russian regime, as always, tries to brazenly deny it.

Putin Feels Threatened By Ukraine

This war that Vladimir Putin has unleashed in Ukraine, and which is largely supported by his people, is a war of extermination against Ukraine: against Ukraine as a state, as a nation and as an identity. Ukraine shouldn’t be allowed to live, it shouldn’t be allowed to exist because, in Putin’s paranoid worldview, its very existence threatens Russia’s existence.

The crimes of Bucha are proof of the true meaning of the Russian invasion: Putin’s soldiers have not only invaded a sovereign country, and they are not only shelling civilian neighborhoods with heavy artillery – no, they are also executing civilians in the streets.

Bodies on the street of the Kyiv suburb Bucha

Bodies on the street of the Kyiv suburb Bucha


Mikhail Palinchak / REUTERS

And such atrocities are by no means limited to the northern suburbs of Kyiv. A Human Rights Watch report lists brutal Russia war crimes from across Ukraine, including harrowing reports of massive cases of sexual violence, including the rape of women by Russian soldiers. The truth also includes the mass pillaging and looting of homes by soldiers, who take the stolen goods out of the country and hawk them.

Initial reports focused on Putin’s soldiers being sent to war without warning, clueless and poorly equipped. But it turns out that many of them very quickly became perpetrators along the way. There is no other way of putting it: Vladimir Putin’s army is a gang of robbers, rapists and murderers equipped with heavy military equipment.

Russia’s War Has Brought Death and Destruction

It must be clear to all: What happened in Bucha may has also have happened, will probably also happen, in other places. We have to anticipate that similar horrific news will soon be coming out of Chernihiv, Izyum, Mariupol and the Donbas. Because what Vladimir Putin is fond of calling a “special operation” is in fact a gruesome campaign that is bringing death and destruction to a hitherto peaceful country and its people, the vast majority of whom dreamed of a European future.

A woman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha.

A woman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha.

Foto: Rodrigo Abd / AP

There will not be and cannot be a return to the previous status quo. Not for Russia, not for Europe. This war has irreversibly changed some things on the Continent: It has finally become clear that peace in Europe can only exist if we defend ourselves against Russia. The knowledge that Russia is a destructive geopolitical actor rather than a partner isn’t really new. It has been obvious at least since 2014.

Since the annexation of Crimea, the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 and the war in the Donbas started by Putin, it should have been clear that there can be no “business as usual” with this Russia. But the ruling politicians in Europe and Germany still tried to do both: On the one hand, they punished Putin with sanctions, but at the same time, they continued conducting business as usual with him. The applies especially to the German government, which continued to push the Nord Stream 2 pipeline with all its might, even after 2014, and then allowed Germany’s gas storage facilities to be sold to Gazprom – a move that is coming back to haunt the country.

Denial Returns To Germany

In Germany these days, despite the fact that what is happening in Ukraine right now is indisputable, we’re once again hearing a fair amount of cynicism: The initial shock, the clear-sightedness and the understanding about what Putin’s war in Europe means for us is giving way, as in 2014, to denial and a desire to play things down.

On Sunday, supporters of Moscow in Berlin drove in a convoy of cars with Russian flags.

On Sunday, supporters of Moscow in Berlin drove in a convoy of cars with Russian flags.

Foto: Carsten Koall / dpa

Some are even going so far as to say that urgent calls to oppose Putin’s war with everything in our power is just self-important moralism. There’s a “Who the fuck cares” attitude toward Ukraine at play in some German political circles that poses as a foreign policy view – which goes to show how deeply rooted a certain colonial view of Eastern Europe is in this country: Only Russia and its needs are taken seriously by many.

The countries that lie geographically between Berlin and St. Petersburg, on the other hand, are treated by many as not fully independent. Whatever these countries, who joined NATO and the EU of their own wish, want for themselves is ignored. Astonishingly, this is also true of many German leftists who otherwise like to fight American imperialism. Russia’s bloody newfound imperialism, on the other hand, elicits nothing more than a yawn from some of them.

More on Ukraine

In the eyes of those who like to downplay Putin’s war, only those who continue to do business with Russia right to the bitter end are rational – and those who have their relativizations ready, trivializing the monstrosity of war crimes, hastily pointing out that United States is also has “mud on its hands.” Where does this desire come from to try to argue away the monstrous things that are happening at our backdoor with false comparisons and such intellectual laziness?

Offended by the Ukrainian Ambassador

Isn’t it a bit odd that more German politicians are more outraged by a Ukrainian ambassador speaking out toughly in the face of existential threats to his country than are criticizing the Russian Embassy’s continued policy of disinformation in Germany? And what about the pro-Russian convoy of cars recently seen driving through Berlin? Or even the very real horrors of the Russian war?

Military equipment from the French army is unloaded at the NATO air base near Constanța, Romania.

Military equipment from the French army is unloaded at the NATO air base near Constanța, Romania.

Foto: Daniel Mihailescu / AFP

It is striking that terms like “morals” or “values” have actually degenerated into dirty words for some. Yet it is the value- and rules-based world order that the global community agreed upon after 1945 that made our lives in peace and freedom possible in the first place. That order is now in question, but it is worth defending.

Ukraine is not about morality as an end in itself; that’s absurd. The issue is whether we want to tolerate another war of aggression in Europe. It is about whether we allow the horror of killings, murders and rapes to return to Europe. This is not something distant. It threatens us directly.

If Putin can wage war against Ukraine, then he can do the same against the Baltic states, Moldova or Poland – and then, very soon, the war will be even closer. We must stop Putin’s criminal war because it is a threat to our lives of freedom and self-determination in Europe. Putin himself already declared his claim to power over additional countries in Eastern Europe even before the war broke out. He wants to destroy the prosperous and peaceful Europe that emerged after 1989. Putin is a warmonger against whom we must defend our lives and freedoms. This is in our own vital interest.

Europe also Has To Be Able To Defend Itself Militarily Against Russia

That’s why we, as Europeans, must once again put ourselves in a position to be able to defend ourselves militarily against this aggressive power. That is why it is so important that Germany’s Bundeswehr is now reformed and equipped to the point that it can even function as an army. It is significant how on this issue, too, hostile old conceptions have returned and sentiment is being stirred up against “rearmament,” as if it weren’t simply a given that a country has to be able to defend itself against a militarily aggressive Russia. Which will take time.

Protesters in Vilnius, Lithuania, hold up a sign reading "St. Javelin - the protector of Ukraine." It shows a figure holding a Javelin anti-tank missile of the kind that has been delivered to the country.

Protesters in Vilnius, Lithuania, hold up a sign reading “St. Javelin – the protector of Ukraine.” It shows a figure holding a Javelin anti-tank missile of the kind that has been delivered to the country.

Foto: Petras Malukas / AFP

In the short term, however, there can be only one response to the war crimes in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine: We must supply Ukraine with all the weapons it can use, especially heavy weapons, and quickly. We must support Ukraine with all our strength. Because it is not only defending itself – it is defending us and all of Europe. And it is paying the price for that.

If Putin’s troops fail in Ukraine, it will also be a blow to his imperialism. Russia cannot be allowed to win this war. If Putin loses, he will be weakened for the time being. If he wins, his thinking will be bolstered.

Is the German Government Trying to Keep a Backdoor Open?

That’s why it is so disastrous that the impression is created repeatedly that Germany is only supporting Ukraine with the brakes on. It is true that the German government is supplying weapons and that it is doing a lot, but it is not doing everything that could be done. It is hard to shake off the impression that Berlin wants to leave some back doors open, and that it perhaps does hope that a return to the old status quo will be possible at some point. Indeed, there are more reports about what Germany refuses to supply in terms of military aid than about what it is willing to supply.

The landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has not gone into operation, in Lubmin, Germany

The landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has not gone into operation, in Lubmin, Germany

Foto: Hannibal Hanschke / REUTERS

Time and again, the impression is created that Germany is the country at the European level that is doing the most to apply the brakes on sanctions. This is incomprehensible and it is damaging Germany’s image in Eastern Europe – most importantly, though, it is wrong politically. We have to say goodbye to the idea that with Putin, everything can one day go back to the way it was. It was already wrong to continue buying oil and gas from Russia after 2014, and it is even more so now.

If Germany forgoes oil from Russia and if it boycotts Russian gas, that will have economic consequences, but they also have to be weighed against what is truly at stake here: our freedom.

The war crimes in Bucha and elsewhere need to serve as a reminder to us that this war is horrific, it is close and it affects us directly. And it is not only morally imperative that we respond – it is also in our own interest to stop Putin. We must do everything in our power to prevent his war from succeeding or even spreading. For that, greater support for Ukraine is urgently needed.

DER SPIEGEL – International

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