“Travelling to the Russian Federation is not advised,” warns the website of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s patronage of the German-Russian theme year “Economy and Sustainable Development 2020-2022” has been suspended. The US and EU are cutting ties with Russia politically, economically, culturally – in the fields of sport, education and science. Even Switzerland, which was valued worldwide for its neutrality, has just abandoned this neutrality by adopting the imposed sanctions.
Russian stations are being switched off. An incendiary device was thrown at a German-Russian school in Berlin. A pupil was asked to think about whether it was still appropriate for him to wear a T-shirt marked “St. Petersburg”. A clinic in Munich declared that it would no longer treat Russian patients. In Milan, a university seminar on the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky was dropped from the curriculum. Universities, sports clubs, museums have been asked to “review” their contacts with the Russian side. The German-Russian Museum in Berlin – built to commemorate the 27 million Russian victims of the Second World War – has pulled down the Russian flag and crossed out the words “German-Russian”.
It is all about Ukraine. The Western world speaks of “Putin’s war” and a “Russian invasion”. Moscow, which gave its troops the order to march into Ukraine, speaks of a “special operation”. Anyone who has followed the history of the last 30 years knows that it is about more than Ukraine. It is about whether the Western US-led bloc of NATO, EU and partners respects other geopolitical centres on earth or whether this “Western bloc” submits to the US plan to rule the earth as the “sole world power”.
This claim has been enforced for decades in other parts of the world by means of wars and crises, through interventions, militarily and with “soft power”, by occupation, attacks, economic sanctions as well as other means. Now this war has arrived in Europe and is directed against the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation invaded Ukraine on 24 February to demilitarise the country and drive out the Nazi forces in military and politics.
You only see what you know
A fellow photographer once said to me that his working motto is: “You only see what you know.” This means that you have to prepare yourself before reporting, and this is especially true for wars, crises and conflicts, as these arise from many levels and complicated contexts. You have to find out about them in advance, you have to inform yourself about the relevant history, the actors. Only then can you truly see, in the sense of understanding, what is happening and only then can you report well on it.
So, what do we know about Ukraine? What is the history of this country, what has been the interaction between Russia and the US-led Western bloc there in Ukraine? To put it simply, what interests do East and West have there?
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in 1991, Moscow has demanded security guarantees and that NATO should not expand eastwards. For just as long, NATO has refused the demands and moved ever closer to Russia’s borders. Country after country along the Russian border was lured into joining either the EU or NATO. Western media reported on the development mostly in Western terms. According to those, the Eastern European states – which used to be part of the Warsaw Pact and were now all afraid of Russia – could not wait to join the Western alliances. After all, they were all afraid of Russia and only wanted freedom and democracy, which would be defended by the EU and NATO.
Today, NATO troops are deployed in all those places where, from Russia’s point of view, they should not be. Since 1999, NATO has been in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, since 2004 in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Albania and Croatia were added in 2009, followed by Montenegro in 2017 and Northern Macedonia in 2020. Ukraine and Georgia were to become the next new NATO members. Moscow continued to push for a security agreement and demanded Ukraine’s neutrality – which was also established in the Ukrainian constitution until 2014. After the Maidan coup in 2014 – in the West they call it a “revolution” – Russia resumed control of Crimea. Under international law, this was classified by the West as an annexation. The tone and actions between NATO and Russia were exacerbated. NATO began training Ukrainian troops and stockpiling weapons. Russian media were persecuted as “disinformation channels” and considered as dangerous to the “Western democracies” as were the media of the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (IS).
During this time, something also happened that we in Germany or in other European countries did not really notice: The cooperation between the EU and NATO became ever closer and eventually so close that today – beyond the EU Parliament – one can hardly distinguish NATO from the EU. The heads of both organisations, Ursula von der Leyen and Jens Stoltenberg, increasingly appear in a double act at events of each other’s organisations, and their statements are very similar.
The refusal by the West
For the year 2022, ten NATO manoeuvres along the Russian border between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea have been planned, and in these also Ukraine wanted to and was expected to participate. Soldiers and war material had already been transported to the east for the major manoeuvres “Defender 2020” and “Defender 2021”. In response, Moscow began a large manoeuvre along its external borders at the end of 2021. The USA warned of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, but no one met Moscow’s political demands to create a common security architecture for Europe. Concrete plans put forward by Moscow were rejected by the West. So enough was enough, and Moscow was no longer prepared to be subdued and humiliated. On 24 February, Russian troops invaded Ukraine.
The Western bloc in the UN Security Council condemned Russia and called Putin the aggressor. The majority of the UN General Assembly shared this view in a resolution “Condemning Aggression in Ukraine”. From the beginning, the Russian view of these developments was denounced to such an extent that it hardly appears in the European, especially the German-speaking public. This is also due to the fact that Russian media such as RT Deutsch or Sputnik News were switched off in Germany as in the other European countries.
And yet politicians and military leaders in East and West – especially in the USA – had been warning against this development for a long time. Ukraine, the heart of Europe, disputed for generations, could have been of advantage for East and West if had neutrality been granted to the country. But US foreign policy continues to be guided by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who said that Ukraine should never be a partner of Russia. Today, Ukraine is synonymous with war. It is the beginning of another, bigger war that will be about a new world order. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow a few days ago that Russia is the “last obstacle” for the West, before it can subdue China.
The Shock Strategy
For a long time, it had appeared to any observer as if the US was concentrating on its opposition to China and on preparing for a possible military confrontation in the South China Sea. But the war strategists in Washington had yet another plan that would first involve other competitors in war. The USA will not attack China directly, but via Russia, and uses the European states for this purpose. Washington hardly has to deploy any soldiers of its own, sells the Europeans US armaments and destabilises the competing European economy through an economic war that is supposed to be directed against Russia and China, but will cause massive damage to Europe.
Germany, which had profited more than any other country in Europe from cooperation with Russia, has capitulated. Not only since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the Clinton administration in 1993 has Washington worked to divide the Eurasian continent, where Russia and Germany have key economic and political functions. One can speculate whether the “new era” in Germany would also have been possible under the Merkel government. The fact is that it was the new coalition formed by Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats which orchestrated the “new era” and accomplished it through massive anti-Russian propaganda. This government had only been in office for three months when they yanked Germany’s foreign and peace policy around by 180 degrees, while the country’s peace-oriented population was virtually in shock after the start of the war in Ukraine. Not a word was said about their own political mistakes, which had provoked their long-time partner Russia to take this step. No pause, no dialogue, no talks, no diplomacy.
“Ready, because you are” was the election slogan of the Greens with their top candidates Baerbock and Habeck. The current Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Social Democrats campaigned with the slogan “Respect for you”. They would push, they claimed, for the ecological modernisation of the economy to save the world from climate collapse. More social justice and recognition, more cohesion in society and a strong Europe were promised.
Today we know that these politicians deceived the public with fine words and announcements. The new government is ready for war against Russia, not for friendship and international understanding, not for respect or justice.
Russia is facing a barrage of unilateral economic sanctions, which – because they are unilateral – do not comply with the UN Charter. Christian Democrat Member of the European Parliament Manfred Weber is not the only person demanding “weapons, weapons, weapons” for Ukraine. The self-commitment of previous federal governments not to supply weapons to war and crisis zones is now wastepaper. Germany is sending weapons to Ukraine, and fighters and mercenaries, also from Germany, are following right behind. As recently as in June 2020, the Greens submitted a motion to the Bundestag demanding the withdrawal of US nuclear missiles from Büchel in the Eifel and an end to Germany’s “nuclear participation”. However now the government is declaring its entitlement to “nuclear participation”, although the Bundestag (German parliament chamber) decided on the opposite claim years ago. New fighter jets are ordered from the USA so that nuclear bombs can also be transported to the target.
The German Foreign Minister does not talk about diplomatic initiatives to end the war. Baerbock wants to “ruin Russia” and also work out a new China strategy. For the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Foreign Ministry is working “in a leading role” on a “National Security Strategy”. Germany was “ready” for a stronger international commitment to peace, said the minister. “Foreign policy will be shaped with a clear compass of values in hand”. And everyone should join in: The parties, the Bundestag, experts as well as civil society actors are to work together with national and international partners. Then Berlin wants to link this new “security strategy” with the plans of EU and NATO.
The EU, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize only ten years ago, is supplying weapons using a fund called the EU Peace Facility. A simple way of borrowing for peace is being used for the first time for the war in Ukraine.
NATO is also supplying weapons. Thousands of fighters from NATO countries are moving as mercenaries to meet the flow of refugees from Ukraine. In the USA, 20,000 have already registered with the Ukrainian consulate. One of these volunteers tells the German radio station Deutsche Welle (DW) in New York: “I want to help the weak, defend the helpless and give them courage.” DW accompanied the man to a shop for combat equipment where he stocked up. He said he wanted to “take away people’s fear and help get refugees out of the country safely”.
Roadmap in times of war
How can we stay in communication despite the cries of war? How can we position ourselves so as to resist propaganda, confusion and enemy images? Is there a roadmap in times of war?
It is important to understand the conflict, to analyse events. It is helpful to look at the different levels: international, regional, local. It is also important to look at the conflict from different perspectives. Since it is an international conflict between Russia and the US-led Western bloc with NATO and the EU, they and their respective interests are the actors on the international level. Another important actor is China, which has allied itself with Russia beyond the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Regionally, the interests and perspectives of affected states, i.e., Ukraine, Russia and their neighbouring states and regions, must be taken into account. In the north, these are the Baltic and Scandinavian states and alliances of the Baltic and Arctic regions. In the south, it is Turkey and the Black Sea region, including the Mediterranean.
Locally, we see a conflict in Ukraine between the Donbass and Kiev as well as the war that has been going on in the south-east of the country since 2014.
To understand different interests and perspectives, it is recommended to apply the “seven journalistic W-questions”. It should be noted that these questions must always be asked in at least two directions:
It is important to research the antecedents of the conflict politically, historically, socially. This also involves the question: who is allied with whom, who is at enmity with whom, etc.? And one will find that alliances and enmities can also change when the interests of the actors change.
In times of war, however, the journalistic rules are usually not observed by the media. Media become a party to the war and, at least in the states and alliances involved, report one-sidedly and spread propaganda. It is therefore advisable to look into the media of other countries and on other continents. This promotes understanding of their view of events. And we learn something about ourselves and our perspectives. Looking at the perspective of others is a good corrective.
Analysis, discussion about the war and its causes should take place in conversation, in exchange with as many others as possible. Newspaper articles, texts, books or lectures sharpen our view and we learn to look beyond what affects us daily through the media. In this way, we can find ways to overcome isolation and powerlessness in the face of the prevailing propaganda and hostility.
Widening our horizons
As Russia and the US/EU/NATO bloc are confronting each other also in other parts of the world, we should look to Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin and South America to investigate how what is happening around Ukraine is perceived there. The peoples on these other continents have come to know Europe and the USA as colonial powers and “empires”. They have experienced Western condescension and arrogance and often centuries of Western interference – an interference that prevented self-determination and social, economic and political development, exploited resources and people and left countries unstable and devastated. These countries were then haughtily classified as “failed states” and forced into financial dependence on international financial institutions – the “curse of the evil deed” of permanent interference, as Peter Scholl-Latour excellently described it in his book of the same name, “Der Fluch der bösen Tat” (The Curse of the Evil Deed).
Heard from other continents, many things sound different than in our daily news. There, opposition to war had already been stirring long before the Ukraine crisis, because war and the plundering of resources have been more than well-known there. As a representative of other voices in Africa, the Middle East or Asia, I would like to remind you of the book “Open Veins of Latin America”, in which the journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano from Uruguay describes the consequences of 400 years of colonial rule decades ago:
“They left us [...] gardens that became deserts, fallow fields, hollowed mountains, rotten water, long caravans of unfortunates condemned to an early death, and empty palaces full of ghosts. [...] We Latin Americans are poor because the ground we walk on is rich.”
Very recently, the opposition to Western policies has become louder. A representative example is a statement by the Mexican government, which rejects an EU Parliament resolution – directed against the Mexican government and President Lopez Obrador – with harsh words:
“[...]Mexico is a peaceful country that has chosen non-violence, we stand for dialogue, not war. Under no circumstances do we send weapons to any country, as you are doing now. [...] And do not forget that we are no longer anyone’s colony. Mexico is a free, independent and sovereign country. Evolve, leave behind your interventionist mania that you hide behind good intentions. You are not the world government; and do not forget what Benito Juárez said, that giant of the Americas: ‘Among men, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.’”
Looking at us
“Lay Down your Arms” – is the title of a book published in 1889 that made Bertha von Suttner – that campaigner for disarmament and peace – famous throughout Europe. A few years later, the German Peace Society (DFG) was founded in Berlin – which was at that time called the “citadel of militarism”. Peace movements have been in existence in Germany and Europe for more than 100 years, and yet these decades have been full of wars. Why so? Why were these wars not prevented? This question is important because
“there would be enough money, enough work, enough to eat if we distributed the world’s wealth properly instead of making ourselves slaves to rigid economic doctrines [...]. Above all, we must not allow our thoughts and efforts to be diverted from constructive work and misused for the preparation of a new war.”
These words are taken from an interview in which Albert Einstein talks about peace. It can be read in a 1933 letter from Albert Einstein to Sigmund Freud or – in German – in a little book published in 1972 by Diogenes entitled “Warum Krieg? (Why War?)”. The core of this booklet is an exchange of letters between Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud from the late summer of 1933. At that time, the League of Nations had asked Einstein to discuss a freely chosen issue in a free exchange of opinions with a person of his choice. Einstein turned to Siegmund Freud and chose what seemed to him at the time “the most important question of civilisation”: “Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war?”
The advances of technology made this an existential question, Einstein wrote to Freud; all efforts to solve it had “failed to a frightening degree”. At the time, Einstein posed this existential question against the background of the First World War and in view of the rising fascism in Europe. Soon after this correspondence – which, by the way, was only distributed in a print run of 2000 copies at the time – the Second World War began with the invasion of Poland by the German Wehrmacht, bringing terrible destruction and the use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
How can it be possible that the youth of Europe today know how to save the climate and yet know next to nothing about the causes of crises and wars! Why was the danger of war in Ukraine not seen? Because we were poorly informed? Because we did not take our neighbour Russia seriously? Because we ignored wars in other parts of the world? Because we think we are the “good guys” with the right values?
Is it not rather our war, which the West has fought in other countries with other actors in various ways – to secure wealth, raw materials, transport routes, control – that has returned to us?
What is to be done?
In times of war, one is expected to support “one’s own”, the others are the “aggressors”. When Germany declared war on Russia in 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II aligned the population with the words: “I know no more parties, I know only Germans.” US President George W. Bush said after 11 September 2001: “You are either with us or against us” and started the “war on terror” that has been continued to this day.
But what if you do not want to join “your own”? Because – as the writer Christa Wolf has Cassandra say – because you do not want to be “deceived by your own”? And what if you do not want to get in line at all? Or what if you understand the other side that has gone to war, even though nobody wants war at all? There is a difficult decision to be made that no one can take away from you. Which path can you take in times of war?
A very personal guide always accompanying me comes from a children’s book. It tells the story of the girl Nuni and her long journey home from the “fence at the end of the world”. On her way over mountains, lakes, through forests and the desert of everyday life, she is helped by the stars. She meets the calendar man and many animals whose wisdom, humour, timidity or confidence encourage her and show her that she must rely on her own courageous heart.
Our own courageous heart – what can it tell us?
Look closely and do not let yourself be misled. Question the media reports that try to tell us what is happening in Ukraine, what Russia is allegedly planning; seek other sources. Talk to family, friends, neighbours and colleagues about what you have found out about what is happening in Ukraine, but also about other theatres of war and injustices. Refuse to become an enemy and hold on to the friendship with Russia and its people that has been worked on for decades. Intervene, like the cargo workers at the airport in Pisa. They found out that weapons were being transported in crates and containers declared as humanitarian cargo for Ukraine.
In Germany, the situation is difficult, anyone not falling in line is denounced. In Switzerland, you will have to defend your neutrality. You will only be able to preserve it if you keep EU and NATO off your country. •
* The text reproduces a lecture given by Karin Leukefeld to a readership of Current Concerns in Switzerland on 19 March 2022.
ef. Independent journalist Karin Leukefeld was born in Stuttgart in 1954 and has studied ethnology, islamology and political sciences. She has been reporting from the Extended Middle East for daily and weekly journals as well as German state sponsored radio programmes since the year 2000. She was accredited in Syria in 2010 and has been reporting on the Syria conflict since then. Since the beginning of the war in 2011 she moves back and forth between Damasucs, Beirut, other places in the Arab world and her hometown Bonn. She has published several books, such as “Syrien zwischen Schatten und Licht – Geschichte und Geschichten von 1916-2016. Menschen erzählen von ihrem zerrissenen Land” (Syria Between Light and Shadow – History and Stories 1916–2016. People Narrate about their War-torn Country.) (2016, Rotpunkt edition Zurich); “Flächenbrand Syrien, Irak, die Arabische Welt und der Islamische Staat” (Surface Fire Syria, Iraq, the Arab World and the Islamic State.) (2015, 3rd edition 2017, PapyRossa edition, Cologne). Her new book will be released soon: “Im Auge des Orkans: Syrien, der Nahe Osten und die Entstehung einer neuen Weltordnung” (In the Eye of the Hurricane: Syria, the Middle East and the Rise of a New World Order).
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