By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
During a recent interview given to the German TV station Phoenix vor Ort former Chancellor Angela Merkel for the first time spoke to a public audience. Being asked about the Ukraine war she judged that she had done everything in her power to prevent such a war from happening, by fervently pushing for the realization of the Minsk settlement procedures. Even last summer 2021 when there were sabre rattling military maneuvers from Russia, Merkel and French President Macron had urged the EU to go for a renewed Minsk initiative, which as Merkel underlined, was however “not” accepted by all EU members.
Merkel used the word “tragedy” in order to describe what is going on in Ukraine. “I think Putin’s decision is a fatal and tragic mistake,” she stated. She was still fascinated by Russian culture and its literature and remembered the many discussions she has had with President Putin in those last years as chancellor, when they talked for example about the challenges arising from Permafrost soil for the global climate. “The tragedy becomes bigger, since I like the country Russia. I don’t think forbidding Russian literature and culture could help.”
The former chancellor was quite frank concerning her decision in favor of constructing the North Stream II gas pipeline. She recalled that in late summer 2021 she had met President Biden in order to discuss with him about this project and the possibility to convince the US government to give up its tremendous resistance against that Project. “I was angry that the Americans had sanctioned our companies in respect to the North Stream II project. You can’t do this!” Merkel stated. As result of their discussion, President Biden at that time suggested a common declaration including the conditio sine qua non that gas would go through the transit country Ukraine. If gas would be used as weapon the project would end however, merkel stated in the interview, adding further, that tragically as of now Minsk and North Stream II have become history and diplomacy is not on the agenda.
On the background of this interview it is worthwhile to have a look at different assessments that were given by military historians as well as by the senior top diplomat Henry Kissinger. What is common to them is, that while they harshly criticized the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, from a real political standpoint they urgently call for an “exit strategy”.
An example is military historian Erich Vad (21. May in Deuschlandfunk) who stated in the interview that the Russians determine when, where and with what military power they will hit in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. He underlined that militarily they deploy their forces in a broad way, with Russia having the aerial dominance, which the Ukraine lacks. The Ukraine depends on weapon deliveries from the West .But these must be transported over 1000 ds of kilometers that often are under aerial attack from the Russian side, Vad said. He observed that after the capitulation of Mariupol the Russians could increase their military forces contrary to what happened at the beginning of the war where many things didn’t go as the Russians had planned and where they obviously had “miscalculated”.
Vad was in high appreciation of the recent proposal from Italy calling for peace dialogue at the right moment. He also valued positively that for the first time since the beginning of the war the two Chiefs of Staffs from both the US and Russia had talked to each other over the phone. Vad concluded that a “long lasting war cannot be our aim.”
Very similar was the Austrian military historian Dr..Markus Reisner (from the Vienna Military academy) who had been interviewed on “ntv” (German TV channel) on Day 96 of the war, speaking in detail about the military tactical operations of the Russians in Donbass, which he qualified like a classical pincer movement, along the factors: terrain, area, time and information and military power. Most battles occur in the east around Kramatorsk, Slowjansk and Sjeverodonezk, he said. The Question is how to close the 40km wide encirclement. According to him attrition within time is a factor with the Russians massively using artillery: and that this had an effect on the fighting capability of the Ukrainian soldiers.
A game changer in this whole area could be “Kamikaze” Drones Switchblade 300. At the moment there is panic. Reisner said. “We see more and more destroyed bridges and the Ukrainian army suffers from attrition, while there is reinforcement from Russia deployed. If there is no quick supply with multiple rocket launchers MLRS for Ukraine from the US, then Russia will have decided the fight in Donbass in its own favor,” Reisner stated. What US president Biden so far promised is according to him purely “symbolic”. He further mentioned the fact that Ukraine President Selenzky speaks about 100 dead soldiers and 500 wounded per day: i.e. 3000 dead and 6000 wounded in one month. “That’s enormous, sanitation is precarious. In the hospitals of Bakhmut Sljowjansk and Kramatorsk there are only amputations, no rebuilding surgery. Most soldiers die on the way to the hospitals or at the front. (…) Dr. Reisner emphasized that at the moment 95% of the area of Cherson was conquered by Russians, Saporischja approximately 70%, in Donetzk 60%, and Luhansk 97%.
He recalled that since the seventh week of the war the Russians have concentrated their forces on the Donbass, having relocated to the east within ten days, which was a “logistical master piece” under the Command of General Alexander Dwornikow. “He makes decisions along the old soviet military doctrine, whereby each attack is prepared by massive artillery fire. Since then the Ukrainians in Donbass are under massive artillery fire. “The Russians, while also having suffered a lot of losses, have military air superiority attacking with cruise missiles and tactical missiles fuel storages, infrastructure, such as bridges and army barracks.
His prognosis was that if on the battlefield not some real “surprise” happens (swarms of “Kamikaze” drones or 100 multiple rocket launchers from the US emerge) “Russia will decide the fight in Donbass in his own advantage”, i.e. “if the Ukrainians have no effective military capabilities to proceed against Russian artillery, Russian troops in late summer or autumn will have taken over the Donbass piece by piece and the Russians could then say that they have “liberated” the “people’s republics” (the two separatist areas), the Ukrainian side could say victory is ours, but we will not reach our maximal demands on battle field or in negotiations, we opt for a spring offensive. Yet he also added that in the coming winter the European populations will be hit by rampant inflation, price hikes and that also has to be taken into account if one wants to give a sober assessment.
Henry Kissinger calls for negotiations at Davos
At this year’s Davos “World Economic Forum”, Henry Kissinger gave an address, calling for rapid dialogue between the partners of war. His Davos address was very similar to the interview Kissinger had at the FT Weekend Festival in Washington seminar with Edward Luce (May 9 2022).
In essence Dr Kissinger called for “negotiations” as quick as possible and warned that the West should not try to impose a smashing defeat on Russia. “In my view, movement toward negotiations on peace needs to begin in the next 2 months or so. The outcome of the war should be outlined, before it creates upheavals and tensions; and particularly the relations of Russia toward Europe and of Ukraine toward Europe. Ideally the dividing line should be the return to the status quo ante. But if the plan was to extend, it would turn into a new war against Russia, which would be a new dividing line that is judged impossible.”
According to Kissinger the outcome of the war in Ukraine in military and political terms will affect the relations between groupings of countries. The outcome of any war or peace will determine whether the country remains a permanent adversary or whether its interests can be put within a frame. “When two years ago the membership of Ukraine in NATO was discussed, I wrote an article stating that the Ukraine should be a neutral bridge between Russia and Europa. That opportunity does not exist now but it could still be conceived as an ultimate objective.”
He also strongly emphasized that “one has to look toward relations between Russia and Europe over a longer period. For 400 years Russia was part of the history of Europe. The European assessment of the role of Russia in Europe, by which the European balance could be reestablished – the restoration of this goal is important.”
While China and the US over the next years will have to define how to conduct their long term relationship, a relationship that while being adversarial could be eased by diplomacy, he warned that there are many unsettled issues around the world with new nuclear powers arising such as Iran and new divisions in the Middle East. And there would be in addition the “effect of the war on the world economy. This all must be overcome if we are not to live in a chaotic situation. “A humiliating defeat of Russia would be dangerous for Europe.”
Kissinger on the Global Order
On May 12th Kissinger was invited for an interview by US FT Director Edward Luce (US national editor). Kissinger was asked, whether we are in a New Cold War with China?
Kissinger reiterated that there is the danger of an alliance between Russia and China against the West. For the US it’s not an option, to have to fight two adversaries at the same time. He generally underlined that the geopolitical situation will undergo significant changes, when the Ukraine war is over. There are not identical China / Russia interests. After the Ukrainian war Russia will have to reassess it relations towards Europe and NATO. So will the US and Europe have to do, when the lessons of this period sink in. It’s unwise to take an adversarial position to have two adversaries and drive them together, he stated.
He warned of a new era of new weapons “multiplying” around the world, nuclear and automated weapons. Asked about the danger of a nuclear war if Russia feels existentially threatened and where he saw Putin’s red line, he said: “I met Putin as a student of International Affairs all in all 25 times. I thought that he had basic convictions and faith in the Russian history. He felt offended by the huge gap that opened between Europe and the East when the security lines were remodified from the Elbe to an undefined future. He was offended and threatened by the absorption of this whole area by NATO. This does not excuse an attitude of taking over a country. He miscalculated the situation he faced and intentionally attacked. (…)When time for settlement comes, all parties will have to sit down. Relations with Russia will be different as result that they produced this (the war and the mess).”
He further stated that if he had met Putin 6 months ago he would not have thought that he would start a war on that scale. He underlined that Putin has to decide how much strain can be put on his society and on the future role of it. If he would escalate beyond that and “use weapons that in 70 years have not been used, this would be extraordinary event. And we would have to react.” Also this event with Kissinger made clear that geopolitical turbulences like the present, from the standpoint of Realpolitik have to be answered with an “exit strategy”.
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