Ksenia Turkova: Why did the German government take so long to get permission to supply tanks?
Sergei Sumlenny: This is completely in line with German logic. If we look at exactly how the history of Ukraine’s military-technical support for Germany developed, we will see that Germany always supplied weapons sooner or later, but did so after unbearable delays long.
We remember that it all started with a ridiculous five thousand helmets for the Ukrainian army. Then Germany delivered (after all) man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems. Then (again, after all) Germany supplied self-propelled howitzers. Then she joined the supply of MARS artillery missile systems – and so on. There’s a very clear pattern here: he and Olaf Scholz’s government are trying not to get involved first. Germany joins when someone has already tested the ground and developments can no longer be ignored.
All this, of course, negatively affects the German image, and it will not pass without a trace. Everyone is now of course happy that Germany is finally on the right side, but I don’t think anyone will also forget how long Germany has been in this undecided position. It seems to me that this is unworthy of a country which has claimed and still claims leadership at least European, and at most partially global. It would be understandable for such a wait-and-see attitude to be taken by one of the Baltic countries, which does not have much military-technical potential, which borders Russia and could be at the forefront of a possible Russian attack.
In fact, everything turned out to be the opposite: the Baltic countries gave the maximum of their military budget and their GDP to help Ukraine. That is, the countries, in fact, according to some indicators, simply remained naked, giving everything to the Ukrainian partners. And in this regard, Germany’s position looked like an absolute dissonance with the country’s declared role.
KT: Is it possible, given all that has been said, to call Scholz a friend of Ukraine in the full sense? Or is he just not an active friend?
SS: I get asked this question all the time in Ukraine: Is Scholz good or bad? I think he’s just out of place. Sometimes people find themselves in situations where they are objectively not ready and therefore cannot make the right decisions. And it’s happening the other way round: unexpected political leaders suddenly reveal their good side. A vivid example is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Few expected him to be such a tough, resolute, uncompromising, courageous, mobilizing and inspiring leader.
And Scholz, alas, did not reveal himself in this way, he did not even close. Scholz has always been a man at the level of the mayor of Hamburg, and he remains so. Accordingly, all his concerns are legitimate, but they do not match the level of demands made on the Chancellor of the EU’s largest country during the greatest challenge to security and peace in Europe since the Second World War.
KT: A lot of memes and anecdotes have popped up about Scholz’s indecision. And when I posted one on social media, I got this comment (from an American): “How can you joke about this when it’s such a painful subject for Ukrainians!” Nevertheless, everyone knows that Ukrainians joke, and how, and they don’t mind that others joke.
SS: In my opinion, people who criticize these jokes don’t really understand how the Ukrainian information sphere works and how the Ukrainian worldview works. It’s sometimes very harsh humor, and it’s typical of Ukraine. Starting with the expressions in which the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks wrote a letter to the Turkish sultan, and ending with the whole culture of anti-Putin chants, the famous “la-la-la-la”. This is all part of how Ukrainian society experiences trauma and finds the strength to fight under conditions where a genocidal war is being waged against Ukraine.
There is a wonderful story that is passed from mouth to mouth and has already become an urban legend in Kiev: how a barista hands a visitor a cup of coffee and says, they say, sorry, the lid is not very good, but that holds; and the visitor replies: “We are all like this cap.
Here is an approach to understand the terrible reality in which a huge nuclear-armed neighbor wants to destroy the entire nation. There is a famous discussion about the possibility of writing symphonies after Auschwitz. But we know there is an artistic understanding of the Holocaust, and we know it really works, because otherwise if that horror is turned off by an attempt to understand it, including through language and culture , then you can just go crazy.
KT: Speaking of the Holocaust. During this war, it became almost a cliché to compare Putin to Hitler, Russian propaganda to Goebbels, Russia to the Nazi Reich. Do such comparisons appear in the German media?
SS: From the perspective of German society, of course, comparing anything with the Holocaust is already very thin, because you can consciously or unconsciously start to question the uniqueness of the Holocaust. On the other hand, if we put the Holocaust out of the scope of everything and we say that nothing can be compared to it, then we are in fact isolating this memory, we are making a museum exhibition of this memory. And here we can agree that a certain country will just build extermination camps, kill people there, and we’ll all say, “No, no, we can’t compare that, the Holocaust is different.” Thus, comparisons between modern Russia and Nazi Germany are rather rare and are treated with caution. But that doesn’t mean you can’t compare.
I once wrote a thesis on propaganda in Nazi Germany. And when I found myself in Moscow in 2014, I suddenly realized that I was on the pages of my thesis – everything was so parallel. Of course, in order to assess the development of events, we must use certain historical parallels. Remember Hitler’s appeasement policy in the 1930s, when they said in the West that there was no need to quarrel with him, that supposedly Germany had legitimate fears, they were offended, you have to understand them, they have a German minority in Czechoslovakia, which is “oppressed”. Obviously, what are the parallels here!
Or, for example, when Hitler constantly supported his seizures in the early years, even before the start of the Second World War, by the fact that these were supposedly their “ancestral lands”, they say, we do not We’ll just take it back, but we won’t go any further, we’ll stop. After all, the same logic was behind Putin’s argument when he took over Crimea, invaded Donbass. In my opinion, these parallels are worth mentioning, because our German responsibility towards Ukraine derives mainly from what the German army did on Ukrainian territory during the Second World War.
KT: And how is the possible outcome of this war discussed in Germany? We know exactly what victory means for Ukraine. And what does this mean for Germany?
SS: Different people see it differently. For Scholz, for example, it is still impossible to pronounce the words “Ukrainian victory”. He constantly uses the phrase “Ukraine must not lose the war” in his rhetoric. What does “not lose” mean? Not very clear. Undoubtedly, for part of the community of experts and politicians, Ukraine’s victory looks like the restoration of sovereignty and control over the entire sovereign territory of Ukraine. But I’m afraid there is still no discussion in Germany about how it will look like. I’m afraid that the story of how Ukrainian troops will start to liberate Crimea will surprise the Germans, and a lot of pro-Russian things will come out, saying, “this can’t be allowed, we can’t allow our tanks drive into “Russian” land.
And then it’s not clear at all. The defeat of Russia and its collapse are not at all on the radar of German political debate. We don’t talk about it at all in Germany. Yes, it would be nice if Navalny was released, then everything would work out one way or another. Do not settle, and it is obvious! A serious change in the map of Russia awaits us, and Germany is not ready for it: just as the “collective West” was not ready for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
KT: How does Germany assess the situation in Russia in terms of protest, anti-war potential? Does Germany understand the level of support for this war by ordinary Russians?
SS: I don’t think they understand. The German establishment and ordinary people believe that this war is unpopular in Russia. And this is understandable: it is impossible to imagine, living in the united post-war Europe, that some people could massively support such a genocidal war. It is very frightening even to imagine that there is a whole political community that has a normal attitude towards this war. And if she were victorious, she would be generally welcome.
Recognizing this means accepting that there are communities around the world with which it is impossible to conduct normal diplomatic negotiations, simply because there is no common basis for negotiations.
So many people just believe that Putin is so terrible, but if he is replaced, everything will be back to normal. After all, at one time Putin was perceived by Berlin as a pro-Western politician, and Medvedev was considered liberal and advanced, and Yeltsin was remarkably perceived, and Gorbachev – as “the human face of the USSR”. That is, there has always been the idea that it is enough for a good person with a beautiful face to come to the Kremlin, who will say the right thing and everything will be fine.
Most Germans don’t know Russia. They like the myth of Russia, but they don’t understand it at all. For them, Russia is the Arab Middle East of the Aladdin cartoon. But you will not make political decisions based on this caricature. And German society makes such decisions about Russia. They think: well, there’s a villain, just take him out. And in this sense, it is almost impossible to explain to the average German that a Russian soldier brings to Ukraine not Stravinsky’s ballets or Shostakovich’s music, but a completely different Russian “culture” – a culture of hatred , humiliation and violence.
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