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Ignorant appeal

Ingo Mannteufel / dc
December 9, 2014

Sixty prominent Germans have issued a public appeal against war with Russia. Although honorable, the appeal overlooks certain key facts, writes DW’s Ingo Mannteufel.

The Kremlin in Moscow
Image: picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online

The petition titled "New war in Europe? Not in our name" was signed by 60 prominent, well-respected Germans intent on avoiding war in Europe and in favor of dialogue with Russia. And they're right: There should not be any more wars in Europe. Dialogue should always be the most important foreign policy tool in a democracy. That also applies to the current treatment of Russia. But this noble appeal from people who have no doubt achieved great things in the fields of politics, business, and culture, misses the mark when it comes to the current conflict.

Illusions, not facts

It is completely right to say that there should be no war in Europe, but the truth is that war started this past spring when Russian President Vladimir Putin used military means to annex Crimea, making it part of the Russian Federation. The only reason that it didn't turn into an all-out war between Russia and Ukraine is because an overwhelmed Kyiv shied away from mounting a military defense of Crimea. In eastern Ukraine, however, a war that has claimed thousands of lives and caused massive destruction is openly being waged. Without Russian shipments of troops and weapons, this war would hardly be possible. In this respect, the German appeal sidesteps reality.

Ingo Mannteufel
DW's Ingo MannteufelImage: DW

What's worse is that the appeal creates the impression that the West, Germany included, would launch a military campaign against Russia. Nothing could be more absurd. The German government and the heads of state of the European Union have unilaterally ruled out a military solution to the conflict. Despite all the difficulties, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have continued the necessary diplomatic dialogue with Moscow. It would be only right for the signatories of the petition to want to support these diplomatic efforts. But the petition is lacking an appeal to Russian policy makers to "do justice to the severity of the situation" and to live up to their duty to preserve peace.

The suggestion that journalists aren't aware of Russia's fear of NATO encroachment also verges on the creation of a myth. The signatories seem to have overlooked two important aspects. First: there are no concrete plans by NATO to accept Georgia and Ukraine as members. In 2008, membership for both countries was rejected, and this decision was affirmed once again at this year's NATO summit in Wales. Second, the signatories should not forget that, in addition to Russian security interests, there is also the fear of Ukrainians and Georgians, who have seen parts of their national territory stripped away by Russia's military might.

Contradictory statements

The petition becomes contradictory in its conclusion. After reminding readers of the hope that prevailed in 1990 for the creation of a unified Europe in freedom and democracy, the petition ends by saying, "Until the Ukraine conflict, we believed we were on the right path in Europe." This is illogical in many respects.

To be part of a free and democratic Europe is precisely what Ukrainians want. That which rightfully applies to Russians should not be denied to Ukrainians. And if Russia really has been pushed out of Europe by European politics - as presumed in the petition - then Europe cannot have been on the right path over the past decades. Russian politicians would themselves reject this; Russian criticism of the European Neighborhood Policy is much older than the current conflict in Ukraine.

Russian leaders have not tired of complaining about NATO expansion and EU policy over the past 20 years. But the West has routinely ignored Russia's criticism. Whether that was such a clever move is something to be debated by historians. Western politicians of the 1990s and the first few years of the 21st century will, by some interpretations, be those who disrespected Russia's security interests. And it's more than a little ironic that some of the signatories of the petition belong to exactly that group of politicians.

In its selectiveness, the petition reveals a shocking degree of ignorance about Russia and Ukraine. These countries are not seen in terms of their history, current processes, peculiarities, and complexity, but rather as objects to reflect the image projected by (Western) Europe. The true challenges lie elsewhere: How do we concretely deal with a revisionist Russia that is increasingly autistic and in crisis? What does the right balance between threat neutralization, containment, and appeasement look like? This appeal with its lofty platitudes does little to answer such questions.

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