Germany, it may be recalled, has some experience of militaristic kleptocracies with a penchant for invading their peaceable neighbours, especially when the pretext is to ‘liberate’ foreign citizens who satisfy particular ethno-linguistic criteria. Nor is Germany unacquainted with autocrats, whether styled as Kaiser or Führer, who have a propensity for sacking their most experienced generals and personally assuming micro-management of offensive operations. Moreover, Germany possesses some historic familiarity with dictators whose solemn international commitments are worth less than the papers they have signed recording their treaty obligations; for whom no atrocities are beyond the pale, including war crimes and even ethnic cleansing.
So it may seem surprising that modern Germany has not been more astute in its response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Nobody has ever suggested that being thin-skinned or oversensitive is one of the defining traits of the Teutonic peoples, but there was a point at which a more perspicacious nation might perhaps have taken the hint. This point was reached just after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Kyiv, and was preparing a reception for Polish President Andrzej Duda. Duda suggested that German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier might also participate in the state visit. However, Ukraine informed Germany, in no uncertain terms, that Steinmeier would not be welcome on Ukrainian soil – a rebuff prompted by Steinmeier’s having previously proposed a formula for Ukraine’s voluntary surrender of the Donbass region to Russia.
Despite this, Germany has been more than generous with promises of military aid to Ukraine. From the German standpoint, it may seem somewhat churlish for Ukraine to complain, merely because the promised arms and munitions have not turned up, either timeously or at all. Poland has only made matters worse, by pointing out that Germany also reneged on a promise to replace, with modern German tanks, the Soviet-era tanks which Poland has already donated to Ukraine. But surely, as with any gift, it is the thought that counts.
Comparisons with the timelines of support from Ukraine’s other allies – Poland, France, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the Baltic States, the UK and USA, Canada, even Australia and New Zealand – are unnecessarily hurtful. It is hardly to the point that Australia was able to send twenty world-class Bushmaster all-terrain protected mobility vehicles halfway around the world, within a week of Ukraine’s request, and is even now sending a second shipment of a further twenty Bushmasters, throwing in fourteen M113 armoured personnel carriers for good measure.
Meanwhile, Germany’s promise of Gepard (‘Cheetah’) anti-aircraft tanks is currently scheduled to supply fifteen by the end of July, with another fifteen by the end of August; but, even then, German is uncertain if it can also provide the necessary ammunition. This may seem dilatory: 80 years ago, Germany was able to get tanks to Ukraine in a matter of weeks, not months, and with full stocks of ammunition (at least when they reached Kyiv); though it may be difficult to replicate this feat without the use of Panzerschokolade (‘tank chocolate’), the crystal methamphetamine pills supplied to the Wehrmacht under the trade name Pervitin. It is not as if Germany has a long-standing or well-deserved reputation for efficiency; yet, given the way that the Ukrainians are complaining about Germany’s tardiness, one might imagine that Germany actually invented the concept of Blitzkrieg.
Ukraine also complains about German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s bizarre attempts to broker a ceasefire deal with Russia, at what was probably the worst imaginable moment for Ukraine, when Ukraine was facing almost complete occupation of the Luhansk Oblast and the likelihood that Donetsk Oblast would be Russia’s next target.
Scholz, personally, may take much of the credit for this state of affairs. Although Ukraine’s armed forces are roughly at parity with (if they do not outnumber) the invaders, and are immeasurably more competent and committed, this means nothing when Russia’s military hardware so far exceeds that which has been supplied to Ukraine.
Take, as an example, just one category of heavy armaments. Ukraine has received no more than a few dozen self-propelled howitzers: eighteen AHS (‘Krab’) 155 mm self-propelled tracked gun-howitzer vehicles, from Poland; twelve Caesar (CAmion Équipé d’un Système d’ARtillerie) truck-mounted 155 mm howitzers, from France; and an unknown quantity of M109A6 ‘Paladin’ self-propelled howitzers, from the United States. Germany has supplied none. These are lined up against an estimated 750 self-propelled 152 mm howitzers fielded by Russia, mostly variants of the 2S19 ‘Msta’ design, with fewer of the more recent 2S35 ‘Koalitsiya’ design. Even allowing that the Msta is probably outclassed by the Krab and the Caesar, less than 100 units is no match for over 750.
The situation is even worse when it comes to longer-range missile systems. Ukraine has been sent none. One can understand Nato’s reluctance to accept responsibility for supplying Ukraine with armaments which, at least in theory, could be used to attack targets on Russian soil. But, whilst Russia hurls cruise missiles from Russian territory and the Black Sea against Ukrainian hospitals, schools, kindergartens and accommodation blocks, Nato is effectively prohibiting Ukraine from reaching across the border to destroy enemy munitions dumps, weapons stores, and command and control facilities.
We have all seen those horrific images from the Bucha massacre, showing Ukrainian civilians shot by Russian invaders at close range, with their hands tied behind their backs. That, in microcosm, is the fate threatening Ukraine as a whole.
Pending the receipt of further armaments from the US and its Nato allies, Ukraine is quite possibly at its lowest ebb. What better time for Putin to offer a ceasefire? This would not only create a new ‘status quo’. It would also enable Russia to consolidate its gains, and commence the process of indoctrinating inhabitants of the captured areas, whilst planning and mustering resources for its next attack. As long as the cease-fire holds, moral rectitude will prevent the Ukrainians from attempting to recover lost ground. But when the Russians are good and ready, nothing will prevent Putin from recommencing hostilities.
On 9 February 1941, when the UK was likewise at its lowest ebb, Winston Churchill explained to a British audience the message which he would convey to the United States:
What is the answer that I shall give, in your name, to this great man, the thrice-chosen head of a nation of a hundred and thirty millions? Here is the answer which I will give to President Roosevelt: Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.
Perhaps the urgency and simplicity of such a message only makes sense to an Anglo-Saxon audience. Not only Herr Scholz, but others as well – Monsieur Emmanuel Macron of France, Signor Mario Draghi of Italy, even the superannuated relic which once was Doktor Henry Kissinger – seek to encourage peace with dishonour, to pressure Ukraine into trading sovereign territory for a cessation of hostilities. That might even be a good deal, if anyone believed that Russia would keep its side of any bargain.
On 5 December 1994 – at a time when Ukraine held the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, including some 1,900 strategic warheads, 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 44 strategic bombers – Russia, the US, the UK and Ukraine executed the ‘Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances’. This formed the basis of Ukraine’s agreement to surrender its nuclear weapons. Russia (along with the US and UK) agreed to ‘reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine’, to ‘respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine’, to ‘refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine’, that ‘none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations’, and to ‘refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind’.
After Russia breached every term of that treaty, both in 2014 and again in 2022, what scope remains for further negotiation? Nothing proposed by Scholz, Macron, Draghi, even Kissinger, can guarantee future peace. A fresh treaty with Putin would provide Ukraine with as much security as the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact of 1939 provided to Russia. Having surrendered the means to defend itself against its powerful neighbour in return for a promise to respect its existing (1994) borders, by what logic should Ukraine now surrender part of that territory in return for a promise to respect whatever remains?
Like his near namesake the bumbling Oberfeldwebel (Sergeant) Hans Shultz of the television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, Olaf Scholz’s motto seems to be, ‘In war, I do not like to take sides!’ So if – in spite of his promises – Scholz will not give Ukraine the tools to finish the job, the least that any German Chancellor can do is climb back into his Führerbunker and stop making things worse. And that means, first and foremost, no more parley with Putin which even hints that Ukraine’s (ostensible) allies would support a grubby ‘land for peace’ deal.
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