The Russia-Ukraine Crisis and its Repercussions on Germany
Visiting Germany in the summer of 2022 raises mixed feelings and very many questions. Pandemic has changed the atmosphere of course. But in most places hardly anyone wears a mask nor is any proof of vaccination asked for but the looming pandemic is never far from thought as temperatures fall and fear of spreading coronavirus is in the minds.
Along with this is as yet a latent fear of the consequences of war, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The dominant concern being this war expanding into a World War and even worse a nuclear war. A step worse is that military action around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in the east of Ukraine might turn into a disaster worse than Chernobyl. It is already showing signs in Zaporizhzhia and the IAEA team visiting it is hugely concerned for its fallout and safety of both Ukraine and Europe.
Further, imminence of a looming energy crisis, rising prices at an unheard pace since probably World War II is prevalent. People are buying old fashioned heaters and cutting down timber to face winter. Economic growth has slowed down and curiously there is no sense of unemployment but there are boards and signs of ‘people wanted’. Service people, cashiers, hospitality staff are only some in the missing category, not to of course forget baggage handlers in airports (about 5000 pieces of baggage is still stranded in Frankfurt Airport). Considering all this, the push in Ukraine by Russia can affect a nightmarish situation in Europe and geo-strategically affect the world.
Germany, as yet, is not directly involved in the war. But it is separated from Ukraine and Russia by just a few 100 kilometres of Polish territory. Therefore, it is Poland who is bearing the brunt of the war. Several millions of Ukrainian citizens, mainly women and children have taken refuge in Poland alone. The number of Ukrainian refugees is almost a million and they are there in Germany, almost most places. They have refugee status, are allowed to work and draw social benefits. This of course causes some amount of envy in other immigrant groups.
This apart, besides financial funds, Germany is a major supplier of military hardware, as long as it is defensive. Military aid is mainly channelled through Poland and other East European countries. One can imagine this is not terribly favourable to Russia. On the other hand, United States installations around Kaiserslautern and Ramstein in Rhineland – Pfalz the hub for military aid from the United States. This further angers the Russian high command.
There are a major set of intricate issues which have led to the present seething situation.
Firstly, what amazes the rest of the world is the dependency of Germany on Russia for energy, gas and oil.
The large-scale military build-up of Russia was an unexpected blow when in 2021 Russia began to build up at a huge military scale on the east European border. It shocked Europe and the world. It was a sudden, shocking manoeuvre. On 21 February 2022, President Putin recognized the non-government controlled areas of the Donestsk and Luhansk Oblasts (administrative regions) in Ukraine as independent entities and sent Russian troops into those areas. Following this there was a positive vote by the Russian State Duma (the lower House of the Russian parliament) on 15 February 2022 and on 24 February 2022 Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine.
As one goes through the next phase and there on the point being made is all was so sudden and such a shock as before these relations were good and therefore the dependency on Russia got a major shock. The reasoning was that Russia earned its trade and Germany got its gas. It was mutually beneficial.
The European Union reacted immediately and strongly condemned Putin’s decision to provoke aggression against Ukraine. The question of Ukraine’s territorial integrity was of course put forward along with its sovereignty and independence.
Whatever said and done it was firstly totally unexpected and secondly, had serious ramifications for European Union nations and the western world.
As a condensed explanation, it can be said that to understand European Union meant that states came voluntarily together to protect themselves in a unified way and bring in together economic policies. Essentially there were no red boundaries within European Union nor ‘have to’ principles. But a framework set up for the common good for the European Union countries which has now expanded to 27 nations. Ukraine after the decline of the former Soviet Union strived to be a member of the European Union. It has now attained the status of a candidate for accession to the European Union. But of course, getting membership is a long process. This is probably the major reason of annoyance to Russia. Russia deems it as antipathy to its own territorial influence.
As far as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is concerned, at the June 2021 Brussels summit, NATO leaders, submitted that Ukraine join NATO and that Russia could not interfere with this. Nor veto its decision. But before further actions on NATO membership was taken, Russia launched a full scale of invasion on Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
Moreover, President Putin keeping up with his ‘macho’ image really aimed to bring Ukraine back to the Russia influence and sphere. European Union is committed to continue to show solidarity and provide support to the refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine and countries hosting them. Germany has taken in about a million refugees (not verified but around that number).
On its part, European Union has adopted 6 packages of sanctions in response to the recognition of the non- government-controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and Russia’s unprecedented and unprovoked military attack on Ukraine.
Essentially the measures were designed to weaken Russia economic lease depriving it of critical technologies and markets and significantly curtailing its ability to wage war. As one can see that is not really happening.
Six package of sanctions that were to be launched to weaken Russia were for example: restrictions on Russia’s access to European Union’ capital and financial markets and services (23 February 2022) followed by economic sanctions covering the finance, energy, transport and technology sectors. Also suspension of visa provisions for Russian diplomats and other Russians came also under the sanctions. These sanctions are not detailed but closing of European Union airspace to all Russian aircraft; SWIFT ban for seven Russian banks, prohibition on transactions with the Russian Central Bank.
The above is the framework of sanctions of six packages against Russia (not in detail, of course, but to give an idea of the huge effort to stop Russian invasion).
Apart from this, on the other side the European Union has taken concrete action for incoming refugees and a €348 million aid, European Union civil protection mechanism, macro financial assistance to foster stability; and €2.5 billion to support the Ukrainian armed forces. This becomes a currency of solidarity of the European Union with Ukraine.
The primary concern is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a major disruptive effect on global markets leading to a sharp increase in world prices for key commodities, in particular fuels, which has led to a historically high price rise for energy and fertilisers in 2021.
Secondly, the uncertainty of the energy supply has affected European Union nations especially Germany. This can be detailed later in the article.
This war has aggravated the global food crisis and a prompt comprehensive global response to food security challenges have begun.
So many measures were in place urging Russia to unblock Black Sea ports to permit the free flow of agricultural and food products and humanitarian assistance.
Russian invasion was so unexpected; striking hot and in an absolutely cavalier manner it took the global community by surprise. The motivation for President Putin of Russia was to show his might and desire to be an Emperor. Earlier, it happened with annexation of Crimea. And then the game began in Ukraine. The major reason being, Russia poses the greatest challenge to the European Union’s strategic and foreign policy agenda.
Russia showing a determinedly aggressive front behooves the European Union to set up a framework of foreign and defence policy strategy and the vision of how to address relations with Russia. Distrust came about 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. Dominant narratives from Brussels and Moscow differed significantly of course. A compromise to the Russian invasion could have been negotiated earlier but now the time seems to have passed. At least for the time being. The Mariupol bombing and the attack against Kyiv seems to have done that.
The European Union has to take cognizance of the changing parameters especially of the military dimension of the European Union-Russian relations.
The fault definitely lies with the European Union too. Having seen the NATO propensity of hiring former satellite states of former Soviet Union they have put the Russians back up. Two faultlines appeared regarding this; firstly, the situation regarding Russian invasion of Ukraine encouraged Sweden and Finland to sign the Accession Protocols process to join NATO. Interesting that Sweden and Finland had not joined the military alliance even at the height of the Cold War. However, it jolted them into seeking NATO membership for their own security and national wellbeing.
Secondly, Ukraine itself wanted to hasten membership of both NATO (March 2014) and European Union. This enraged Putin and top leadership int taking further aggression against Ukraine.
Even earlier Putin had objected to what he called luring of states in the Russian influence towards European Union for membership. It was a red rag to the bull. He took it as aggression, and an affront. To say the least, he used this as excuse for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Not to forget that earlier on18 March 2014, he had taken over Crimea without too much of protest declaring it Russian territory.
One has to understand that European Union began more as an economic entity to reach rapid economic growth and politically became a link between the far West i.e., United States and United Kingdom and the East. Russia, the conglomerate thought it was more like them ethnically and though a Communist state with hard ideas and the diktat of the politburo would still want to trade. And those who trade do not fight (sic). While the world knows this is untrue it became the source of dependency of Germany on Russia especially for gas, energy, oil. Oil for pipes deal was the underwritten trade. Russians then did not have the technology to see it through. Germans did. Technology given for oil paid by Russia. So, about 1973 a deal was made handy despite ideological differences.
Two threads were woven at the time. Willy Brandt was keen on Ost politics, moving towards the East. He was popular. People trusted him. On the other side with Gorbachev’s Perestroika and openness, a big leap towards democratic politics, it was the so-called crumbling of the former Soviet State that was taking place.
It was a combination and timing of both that lead to German unification. If Moscow had taken a hardline German unification probably was not possible. Of course, the United States basked in glory of a weakened Soviet Union and the new Russia, other nations had to face the increase in oil prices. Arabs became rich and the geopolitics in international relations changed again.
Inequality in Russia increased with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Russia from being a world power became a somewhat worn power and an exporter of raw materials and energy. Hence the relationship between Germany and Russia. Also Russia too realised the advantages of interconnected markets.
It was an interesting alternate source of energy that Germany lead with, wind energy. One was highly impressed with it but lately even its advocates have adopted the principle ‘not in my backyard’ (NIMBY), a pity because some amount of energy source would have been solved.
It is now of course a regret on the part of Germany as to its dependency on Russia. Sweden itself has reported that leakage in Nord Stream I and II are suspicious, maybe one of sabotage. Putin as Russian President definitely wants to put Germany in a clinch so to speak as punishment for opposing Russia’s invasion to Ukraine and now even more so its annexation of parts of Ukraine based on a so called referendum.
As the United Nations Security Council was scheduling a vote on a resolution that would condemn Russia for its “illegal so called referendum” in four Ukrainian regions and declare they have no validity, Russia formally annexed Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Russia in any case had annexed Crimea in 2014. This action of annexation retaliated by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s signing of what he said is an “accelerated” NATO membership application. This has an immediate impact i.e. collision course between the Western nations and Russia. On the other hand, Putin vowed to protect newly annexed regions of Ukraine by “all available means” even with a nuclear threat. How far nuclearization is valid and viable is not perceived but Putin’s nuclear theatrics are scaring most nations, mainly because of his irrational volatile nature. He had repeatedly made clear that if Ukraine had any prospect of joining the world’s largest military alliance would be drawing a red line for Putin and an almost moral justification for invading Ukraine, and for not giving back the annexed land. The tragedy being that as he was mouthing this and the justification was being prepared, a Russian strike on the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia killed 23 people. Ironically, the annexations celebratory meeting would begin after the referendums of four regions of Ukraine would be folded into Russia – Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
As mentioned earlier, leaks in the two Russian pipelines, running under the Baltic Sea near Sweden and Denmark, infrastructure at the heart of an energy crisis since Russia’s invasion has hit European nations hard. Sweden’s Maritime Authority issued a warning about two leaks in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, shortly after a leak on the nearby Nord Stream 2 pipeline was discovered that had prompted Denmark to restrict shipping in a five nautical mile radius.
Of course, both pipelines have been flashpoints in an escalating energy war between Europe and Moscow that has pummelled major Western economies and sent gas price soaring. This has especially affected Germany.
Gazprom declined comment. Basically, Russia blamed choking off of gas onto sanctions by the West for technical difficulties which sounded a bit vengeful. The leaks were located Northeast of the Danish Island Burnholm and it really was not clear what caused the leaks.
Taking into account first partial voting results from four Russian occupied regions of Ukraine showed overwhelming majorities of residents joining Russia. Whether this was due to fear or any other reason it is difficult to premise. Yet the German Ambassador to India Philip Ackermann while not saying he will comment on India’s reaction to Russia did underline the fact that Germany and India shared the same values.
According to him “PM Modi’s remark about this not being the era of war (to Russian President Putin) was very well put. With the partial mobilization and renewed threat of nuclear weapons the situation has changed in the international context. We are seeing a land grab of the crudest nature and now asham referendum. Russia has not been able to achieve what it wanted to and is now going an extra mile” he said.
His theory was that there was violation of international laws and he stressed on the safety of borders even as far as India is concerned (namely China) admitting that Germany was too dependent on Russian gas.
He emphasized that it was not good to be dependent on any country and that diversification is important. Thinking that Russians too needed it, Germany thought they would sell gas anyway. Even during the worst days of the Cold War, they continue to sell energy (as it was the main source of income).
As is expected, there are voices in Germany that claim they had seen things coming: that Germany had been too soft on Russia, especially tying the country to Russian oil and gas. President Putin obviously had expected to impress Ukraine enough to force it into submission, and later maybe other members of the former Soviet Union. It may be safely conjectured that the former U.S. President Mr. Trump had encouraged Putin with his politics of isolationism.
It is for the same reason of having been betrayed that academics and the man on the street, so to speak, thinks of a ‘sea change’ in Germany’s relations with Russia. With a sense of somewhat urgency Germany has been providing money and weapons to Ukraine despite its long-held policy of not supplying weaponry to a conflict zone.
Yet, of course, any dispersing of weapons will be within the European Union rules and compliance.
Ideally speaking, Ukraine as a sovereign state since Boris Yeltsin dissolved USSR in 1991 has the right to choose its associations but this is unlikely in the face of recent invasion and developments.
Yet asking for membership in NATO, lines are now clearly drawn with Ukraine on one side and Russia on the other.
In the face of this, the danger to nuclear war threatened by Putin comes closer to reality. And not to forget this was pretty much the situation Germany faced during the Cold War in the 60s. Wandering around in the pretty city of Heidelberg, the symbol of romanticism in the early 1800s and seat of Germany’s oldest and arguably internationally most famous university, one does not observe this as the centre of the 7th U.S. Army, the seat of a four star general,and of CIA, CIC, CID, of a NATO command and many other services. People living here joked that any nuclear conflict would be shortest for them.
Logically from here on was a massive effort by Willy Brandt to push his Ostpolitik framework – Wandeldurch Annäherung (change by nearing each other) that lead to the pipes-for-oil deal: Germany building the oil pipeline from Russia to Germany,paid for by the Russians with their oil. Even in the most icydays of the Cold War under President Brezhnev, the oil was flowing. It never stopped. Some of these policies helped make German unification possible. This is mainly attributed to the diplomacy and determinedness of Presidents Gorbachev and Bush.
In today’s scenarioUkraine’s fighting back has astounded the world. Russian military vehicles littering the road to Izyum, in Ukraine’s North Eastern Kharkhiv province serves as signposts to Ukraine’s counter offensive strategy begun on September 5. The heavy armour, tanks, military pieces and remains of a TOS-1A heavy flamethrower with its rocket pod sheared off appears along with a dozen military vehicles. These are more signs of a Russian panic withdrawal, abandoning their vehicles and kits to the advancing enemy and fleeing.
Ukrainian troops arrived on the outskirts of the town on September 8, three days later after the start of a lightning operation that overwhelmed Russia’s north eastern flank. There seemed to be a domino effect and within 24 hours Ukraine’s army add encircled Balakliya, a town close to the frontline. Two days later it seized Kupyansk, a critical rail hub connected to Moscow. At dawn on September 10, Ukrainian units entered the center of Izyum itself.
The Kharkiv offensive is the most consequential military action of the war since Russia abandoned Northern Ukraine in late March. According to Zelensky, Ukraine’s President and liberator, over 6000 square kilometers of territory. “After the US”, Russia is the main provider of the vehicles for the Ukrainian army”, quipped Mr. Arestovych, adviser to President Zelensky. Significantly, the loss of Izyum probably now makes it impossible for Putin to meet his stated aim of conquering the entire Doubas region to the South.
This has several ramifications to be discussed a little later in the present-day context.
All this showed Ukraine capable of being fast, complex, executing daily attacks. Western weaponry, of course, helped. But high motivation and the will to deter the huge monolithic Russian state, armory, air power was amazing in its resonance.
The curious aspect is while all this was being done, the international media was reluctant to verify these claims. One of the points being, Russians had taken so much territory that the push back from the Ukrainians was quite minimal and therefore taken as quite unbelievable.
Yet, one must acknowledge that personal ideology, patriotism was very different in the Ukrainian army. They wanted to fight back. Whereas Russian soldiers, being compulsorily conscripted fled to countries like Finland, Denmark etc. Visual media bears this fact. Moreover, decision making in the Ukrainian army was pushed to low levels while the Russian army needed to the reverting back and top for important decisions which ought to be executed fast.
The above is to only show the crisis is not coming to an end in a hurry. In a parallel way, Russia is trying to choke off supplies to Europe to punish Europe for its support to Ukraine. Measure are being discussed but in the meanwhile it will be a winter of crisis of energy. In Europe, now the gas prices are about ten times their average over the past decade.
There is even talk of European voters demand their governments to drop sanctions on Russia in the hope of getting cheaper energy. This is just a wisp of hope. Europe, especially Germany does not want to give in. they have the confidence they have dealt with terrible situations post World War I and World War II. Institutions and public buildings gave dialed down energy intake. Homes are still left to do so eventually.
An important counter is the internal debate as to whether to send arms and battle tanks to Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is against sending contrary to some opinions within Germany. It is mainly not to escalate the war but find a compromise, a solution and to avoid direct NATO-Russia clash. He did in the early days announce a rearmament programme worth around $100 billion and overturned a ban on arms exports to conflict zones, breaking with decades of German pacificism. He was applauded by some, criticized by others.
So far Berlin pledged $678 million to Ukraine including a modern air defense system. Germany also has sent multiple rocket launchers, sophisticated artillery and dozens of anti-aircraft guns, which contributed to Ukraine’s stunning recent advance on the battlefield, when in the space of six days its forces took back more territory than Russia had grabbed in six months. After which it has drawn back even though Ukraine needs much more. This is definitely not to aggravate the crisis but find a peaceful situation.
Yet as he is now known as Emperor Putin is threatening Europe with nuclear war; this scares Germany more than the energy crisis. With the reputation acquired by Putin and his derring-do this may be a veritable scenario he is pursuing.
As this article is being penned, a powerful explosion damaged Russia’s road and rail bridge to Crimea hitting a prestige symbol of Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula and the key supplier route to Russian forces battling to hold territory captured in South Ukraine. This resulted in the change of the general. This also resulted in even more nuclear rattling. Earlier, the world was afraid of another front being opened. That fear was the Lithuania would be involved and Germany had already sent its troops there.
On the one hand, Germany is trying to induce NATO to protect itself but since Putin’s delusion of grandeur is not really fathomed and no one knows how far he can go. Most recently, his posture is that if Ukraine is allowed to join NATO it will turn into a dire situation potentially leading to World War III. This is reinforced by the fact that 50 countries condemned Russian President Putin’s deadly missile attacks against “targets with no military purpose” across Ukraine. These attacks crippled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
It’s the latest Russian missile and drone attacks (11 October 2022) about which the Ukrainians expressed more anger than grief and fear. This has led to a renewed determination among the Ukrainians to fight on, as a General pointed out.
Russia had demanded that the voting on the proposed United Nations General Assembly condemning its annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine should be held through a secret ballot. It was rejected by 193 members (including India).
Russia is getting excluded by the comity of nations for its unnecessary civilian deaths and destruction of infrastructure.
It is not just Germany’s problems that are at stake in the cataclysmic of contemporary change in world order but the epiphenomenon that nations cannot go to war to change democratic structures and create a new world order.
Germany’s fears are valid. An overwhelming, spiralingenergy crisis, swirling into recession is envisaged. The idea of nuclearization in its own neighbourhood and its loss as the most prolific economic state in the European Union is endangered. All these are enough to heighten fears and insecurities. Russia will not win and Ukraine cannot lose. Germany caught in the crisis not of its own making has to find a way to regain stability and order and of course economic growth.
In conclusion, it should be considered as to what impact this situation will have on India and how India needs to work with Germany and the European Union to manage the fallout from our collective dependencies on a ‘rogue’ Russia. India having been a supporter of Russia but a pacifist is caught between a rock and a hard place so to speak. India will have to walk the diplomatic tight rope to avoid ruining relations with its supporter, Russia. Secondly, the issue of nuclearization being a highly delicate one, India as a nation will need to persuade Russia to dial back its threats. Thirdly, this situation affects India in that there has been a tumultuous change in the geo-political dynamics in international politics with regards to the global economy, , unemployment, fear of recession, inflation, rising energy and food prices.
India now more than before, needs to up its game in being more self sufficient on the one hand, and exploring and strengthening alternative sources from the West to reduce its dependence on Russia.
For instance, while India is the world’s biggest importer of edible oils spending tens of billions of dollars a year on imports including from Ukraine and Russia, can it potentially cut out dependence on Russia and the import bills?
India’s desire to diversify its supply of weapons and develop its own defense industry has resulted in declining Russian arms deliveries to India in recent years. Also considering Russia’s closer ties to China, India needs to strengthen its diplomatic relations with Germany and the European Union.
The world itself needs to change course. The pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, climate change phenomenon and threat of nuclearization along with other factors has changed the semantics of international politics. Indian foreign policy needs to re-invent its goal posts.
Inputs from interviews with:
Peter Zingel, University of Heidelberg, Department of South Asian Studies
Clemens Jurgenmeyer, Arnold Bergmaster Institute, Freiburg
Margaret Boehme (has written about Ukraine, and is the wife of Mayor of Freiburg)
And two others from Ukraine, whose identity cannot be revealed for their own protection