“Hey”, squeaked one furry lemming to another (in lemming-lingo, of course). “I saw you trying to slip away from the crowd! Do you want to betray us good lemmings. Maybe you’re a fox-lover, even a wolf-lover. You’d better keep in line till we reach our proper goal.” As lemming-lovers sadly know, that goal could be over the cliff into the sea. And I don’t think lemmings can swim!
Is such a cliff perhaps near the Black Sea? Or along the Dnieper? And are there any today who – like lemmings – keep in the crowd?
No, Germany’s foreign minister, Annelina Baerbock, is no lemming! She must see herself more like a leader of those African buffalos who join horns and hooves to repulse a predator’s attack. “We are not fighting against each other,” she told European deputies, and then declared openly what the media, less directly, has been plugging for years: “We are fighting a war against Russia!” But this all too truthful taboo-breaker had to be diluted; her deputy quickly corrected: “We support Ukraine, but under international law. Germany is not a party to the war.”
No German foreign minister since 1945 has been so openly bellistic as this Green party leader. And she has been one of the loudest in pushing for tougher European Union sanctions: “We are hitting the Putin system where it needs to be hit, not just economically and financially but in its center of power.“ – “That will ruin Russia. ”
Four main trends in Germany affect policy towards Russia and the Ukraine. The Baerbock blusterers seem eager to oblige the Boeing-Northrup-Lockheed-Raytheon herd, aptly symbolized by the bronze Wall Street bull, seeking ever bigger fork loads of that $800-900 billion “Defense Authorization” hay, over ten times the size of Russia’s military budget. It’s not easy to grasp what is defensive about it; of over 200 conflicts since 1945, the great majority by far were led by the USA and all of them (except for Cuba) were far distant from US shores. This bellicose German trend group is also chummy with the US monopolies who have pressured Germany for years to stop buying Russian oil or gas instead of their own ocean-crossing fracking products. When years of pressure and even the Ukraine war failed to totally sever Russian imports, some skillful underwater experts mysteriously blasted the pipeline under the Baltic Sea. After weak attempts to blame Russia for destroying its own pipeline such clumsy stabbing around in this murky but not all too opaque sea-bottom whodunnit was abruptly abandoned; even President Biden, well in advance, had boasted of its elimination!
A second trend in Germany fully applauds all USA-NATO policies and actions to keep this war going until Russia is beaten but differs insofar as it opposes a role as subservient junior partner to Washington or Wall Street. It wants more German power to be felt, at least in Europe but hopefully further! The tone of its advocates (even, I sometimes feel, their steely eyes) bring back fearful old memories I still recall with a shudder. In those days it was not Leopards but Panther and Tiger tanks lumbering out to defeat the Russians, as in the 900-day siege of Leningrad, with an estimated million and a half deaths, mostly civilians, mostly from starvation and extreme cold – more deaths in one city than in the bombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Somehow the tank-makers like to misuse the names of predators, also Puma, Gepard (Cheetah), Luchs (Lynx). The names of their predatory manufacturers remain the same; Krupp, Rheinmetall, Maffei-Kraus are now amassing not Reich-Marks but euros. Of course, motivations and strategies have changed greatly, yet for many advocates of this trend, I fear, basic expansive intentions may not be so totally different. These forces are strong in both “Christian parties,” now in opposition, but also in the Free Democratic Party, a member of the government coalition.
A third, more complicated trend is based in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Many of its leaders are just as bellicose as their coalition partners. Party Chairman Lars Klingbeil, after praising the Ukrainians’ great military successes, boasted that they were due in part to military equipment supplied by Europe, also Germany, which had “broken with its decades-long taboo against sending any weapons into conflict areas.” The aid would be continued, he stressed, while praising the Howitzer 2000, supplied by Germany, as “one of the most successful weapon systems thus far deployed in the Ukraine.“ It would also supply missile launchers and the Gepard anti-aircraft gun tank. “That must be continued. That will be continued,” Klingbeil pledged. “We will consistently continue to support the Ukraine.”
But while including the accepted formula, ”Putin is a war criminal, he started a brutal war of aggression,” he also stated, ”A Third World War must be prevented.” These pacific words could be another repetition of the formula, “Ukraine can and must not be forced to give up any of its sovereign territory so the only possible conclusion of this war is the defeat of Russia, no matter how much of the Ukraine is destroyed and how many Ukrainians – and Russians – are killed or crippled. This position is full of contradictions, but basically ends up in accord with the mass media.
But while Klingbeil’s words clearly aimed at deflecting accusations that Germany has dragged its feet about sending Leopard tanks and giving Zelensky the bigger and faster weapons he wants, like jet planes or maybe submarines, they also reflect a certain division within the party. A few of its leaders (and many of its members) lack enthusiasm about more and more billions in the war budget and sending ever bigger, stronger weapons to Zelensky. Scholz, too, sometimes seemed to hear faintly the voices of those, much more numerous in former East German areas, who are unwilling to support a war which hits German working people hard and could explode in all Europe or the world.
This wobbly third position avoids analysis about any share of Washington and its NATO marionettes in responsibility for the war. It plays down or ignores any mention of the promise-breaking push of NATO (or its “east flank”) right up to Russian borders, rumbling its annihilation-weaponry to ever closer shooting distance from St. Petersburg and Moscow, tightening its noose around Russian trade routes in the Baltic and, with Georgia and Ukraine, in the Black Sea, while Kyiv, in battering all counterforces in the Donbas since 2014, was helping to create a trap for Russia. Its goal, sometimes expressed explicitly, was to repeat the pro-Western, pro-NATO, Washington-led putsch in Maidan Square in 2014 – but the next time in Moscow‘s Red Square – and finally concluded in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Even raising such tough questions was labeled “old-left Russophile” nostalgia or “Putin-love”. But, happily or not, Scholz, with or without inner reservations about expanding the war, seems to have bowed to the giant pressure for uniformity.
The fourth trend in German thought or action regarding the Ukraine opposes weapons shipments and calls for every possible effort to achieve a cease fire and then, finally, some peace agreement. Not all the voices in this group come from the left. Retired General Harald Kujat, from 2000 to 2002 top man in the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, and then chairman of the NATO Military Committee, offered some surprising conclusions in an interview for the little-known Swiss publication, Zeitgeschehen im Fokus (Jan. 18, 2023). Here are some of them:
“The longer the war lasts, the more difficult it becomes to achieve a negotiated peace. …. That is why I found it so regrettable that negotiations in Istanbul in March were broken off despite great progress and a thoroughly positive outcome for Ukraine. In the Istanbul negotiations, Russia had apparently agreed to withdraw its forces to the level of February 23, i.e. before the attack on Ukraine began. Now the complete withdrawal is repeatedly demanded as a prerequisite for negotiations… Ukraine had pledged to renounce NATO membership and not allow the stationing of any foreign troops or military installations. In return it would receive security guarantees from any states of its choice. The future of the occupied territories was to be resolved diplomatically within 15 years, with the explicit renunciation of military force. …
“According to reliable information, then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson intervened in Kiev on April 9th and prevented a signing. His reasoning was that the West was not ready for an end to the war…
“It is outrageous that the gullible citizen has no idea about what was being played here. The negotiations in Istanbul were well known publicly, also that an agreement was on the verge of signing; but from one day to the next not another word was heard about it…
“Ukraine is fighting for its freedom, for its sovereignty and for the territorial integrity of the country. But the two main actors in this war are Russia and the US. Ukraine is also fighting for US geopolitical interests, whose declared goal is to weaken Russia politically, economically and militarily to such an degree that they can then turn to their geopolitical rival, the only one capable of endangering their supremacy as a world power: China. ….
“No, this war is not about our freedom. The core problems causing the war to begin and still to continue today, although it could have ended long ago, are quite different… Russia wants to prevent its geopolitical rival USA from gaining a strategic superiority that threatens Russia’s security. Be it through Ukraine’s membership in US-led NATO, be it through the stationing of American troops, the relocation of military infrastructure or joint NATO maneuvers. The deployment of American systems of NATO’s ballistic missile defense system in Poland and Romania is also a thorn in Russia’s side, because Russia is convinced that the US could also eliminate Russian intercontinental strategic systems from these launch facilities and thus endanger the nuclear strategic balance.
“The longer the war lasts, the greater the risk of expansion or escalation… Both warring parties are currently in a stalemate again… So now would be the right time to resume the broken negotiations. But the arms shipments mean the opposite, namely that the war is senselessly prolonged, with even more deaths on both sides and the continuation of the destruction of the country. But also with the consequence that we are drawn even deeper into this war. Even the NATO Secretary General recently warned against an escalation of the fighting into a war between NATO and Russia. And according to the US Joint Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, Ukraine has achieved what it could achieve militarily. More is not possible. That is why diplomatic efforts should be made now to achieve a negotiated peace. I share this view….
“What Mrs. Merkel said in an interview is clear. The Minsk II agreement was negotiated only to buy time for Ukraine. And Ukraine also used the time to rearm militarily. … Russia understandably calls this fraud. And Merkel confirms that Russia was deliberately deceived. You can judge that any way you like, but it is a blatant breach of trust and a question of political predictability.
“It cannot be disputed that the refusal of the Ukrainian government – aware of this intended deception – to implement the agreement, just a few days before the start of the war, was one of the triggers for the war.
“It was … a breach of international law, that is clear. The damage is immense. You have to imagine the situation today. The people who wanted to wage war from the beginning and still want to do so have taken the view that you cannot negotiate with Putin. No matter what, he does not comply with agreements. But now it turns out that we are the ones who do not comply with international agreements…
“As far as I know, the Russians are keeping to their treaties… I have had many negotiations with Russia … They are tough negotiating partners, but if you come to a common result, then that stands and applies. “
Kujat’s views, despite his top-notch resumé, were either ignored by the mass media or buried with a few ambiguous words.
In Germany, as elsewhere, leftists have been divided, even split, about the Ukraine war, and this includes the LINKE party. Its ”reform” wing, with about a 60-40 majority at its June congress, joins the official main stream in angrily denouncing Putin, accusing Russia of imperialism and, if at all, only weakly criticizing USA, NATO or European Union policies leading up to the war. Some in the LINKE support weapons sales to Zelensky and use terms like “Putin-lovers” to condemn their opponents. Do they fit into the analogy comparing foreign minister Baerbock’s policy to defensive buffalos against a ravening lion? Or have they joined in a kind of the lemming crowd?
Others in the LINKE would prefer a picture of a large bear defending itself against a pack of attacking wolves – and hitting out hard against whichever wolf gets closest. Bears can also be very brutal, and many in this party wing avoid expressing any love for it. But they see it, all the same, as being on the defensive – even if it is the first to hit out and draw blood. Or are such analogies too flippant in the face of the terrible events now taking place.
At the moment the split in the LINKE seems briefly on hold; elections are due in Berlin next Sunday and I cannot imagine any genuine leftist who wants right-wing politicians to gain strength. In fact, even local “reformer” leaders who had grown less enthusiastic about the campaign to confiscate huge real estate ownings in Berlin, which won over a million-votes (56.4%) in a referendum in 2021, have now recovered their one-time militancy, making them the only member of the three-party city-state coalition to support this demand, while Greens and the Social Democratic mayor have discovered new tolerance for the big realtors.
Foreign policy questions are not so visible in a city election, but it seems as if the “reformer” Berlin LINKE leaders are refraining, at least until Sunday, from sharp words against the popular, always highly controversial Sahra Wagenknecht, who sticks by her slogans of “No weapons export” and “Home heating, bread, peace!” With the party now down to a measly 11% in the Berlin polls, a patched-up unity is viewed as a chance, with a militant, fighting posture, to save it from a Humpty-Dumpty fate after all! With a small hope for a good surprise on February 12th, many in the LINKE are holding their breath.
Truth to tell, following the news these days provides anything but pure pleasure. Recently, however, I was given a rare chance for a smile.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, after bowing – or kneeling – to belligerent pressures and trying to rejuvenate fading laurels for himself and Germany, flew off on his first official trip to Latin America. After brief, uneventful courtesy visits to Chile and Argentina he landed in Brasilia, hoping to wean the Latin giant into the NATO and European cradle – and away from those Russian and Chinese rivals.
The closing press conference with Lula was full of smiles and back-slapping . At first! “We are all happy that Brazil is back on the world stage,” Scholz assured. But then, suddenly, he got the happiness kicked out from under him. No, Brazil would not send over to Ukraine the desired parts of the German-made Gepard air defense tanks and no ammo either, Lula said: “Brazil has no interest in handing over munitions that can be used in the war between Ukraine and Russia. We are a country committed to peace.”
His next words asked almost heretical questions hitherto energetically smothered by western media:
“I think the reason for the war between Russia and Ukraine also needs to be clearer. Is it because of NATO? Is it because of territorial claims? Is it because of entry into Europe? The world has little information about that,” Lula added.
While he agreed with his German visitor that Russia committed “a classic mistake” by invading Ukraine’s territory, he criticized that neither side showed sufficient willingness to resolve the war via negotiation: “No one wants to back down a millimeter,” he said. That was definitely not what Scholz wanted to hear. And when, almost visibly nervous, he insisted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was not just a European problem, but “a blatant violation of international law” and that it undermined “the basis for our cooperation in the world and also for peace.” Lula , always smiling, insisted : “Until now, I sincerely haven’t heard very much about how to reach peace in this war.”
Then came Lula’s surprising proposal: a peace-oriented club of nonaligned countries like China, Brazil, India and Indonesia, which had none of them been included in discussions on the war. Such a club would mean down-playing Germany and all its European allies or underlings – basically the opposite of what Scholz’s whole southern tour had aimed at. It was very hard to “keep smiling”!
It was hardly surprising that the press conference and the whole visit were given little more attention in most German media than, say, a minor earth tremor in Minas Gerais. Until now, the only positive echo I have heard was from the co-chair of the LINKE, Martin Schirdewan. But while calls for an end to the fighting and for non-European mediation from him, from Wagenknecht or even from a retired top general could be minimized or ignored, this may prove not so easy when the voice is that of the president of the world’s fifth largest nation. Will his position on peace – or his proposal – shape world events more than many desire?
Watching Scholz‘ brave attempts to “keep smiling” despite his obvious anger gave me an all too rare chance to smile while watching the news. I admit it, it was largely based on Schadenfreude – that unfriendly joy at someone else’s discomfort. But also – perhaps – because it offered a new little ray of hope? Of new directions – even for lemmings?
This content originally appeared on CounterPunch.org and was authored by Victor Grossman.