German government skeptical: the new war objective is “victory in Ukraine”

skeptical government
The new war objective is called “Victory of Ukraine”

The West wants to help Ukraine, but not everyone has the same goal in mind. Shortly after the attack, the focus was on defense, but now the US says kyiv must win the war. There are doubts within the federal government as to whether this is realistic.

When Emmanuel Macron travels to Berlin on Monday for his first visit after his re-election as French president, he has to clarify an important question with Olaf Scholz: what is the purpose of helping Ukraine? Because over the past few days the debate has shifted – raising a number of follow-up questions for military and civilian aid and the duration of sanctions. Whereas at the start of the Russian invasion the main concern was that Ukraine resist the Russian attackers for a few days, then a few weeks, the aims of the war have now changed. “It is now mainly the narrative of the Americans that the Russians must lose and must be expelled from Ukraine”, explains Stefan Meister, Russian expert at the German Council for Foreign Relations (DGAP).

The meeting of defense ministers of several dozen partisan states in Ramstein, initiated by the USA, served above all to help Ukraine in the medium term and to provide it with weapons for combat. In fact, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated a goal that goes far beyond Ukraine: “We want to see Russia weakened to the point where it is impossible for the country to do what he did in Ukraine with the invasion”.

Baerbock: All Russian soldiers must leave the country

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also underlined: “With the sanctions, we ensure that further military actions in other regions by Russian forces alone are not possible in the coming years.” The question is how long the sanctions should actually stay in place given Russia’s current record revenues from oil and gas sales with such a goal. Regarding Ukraine itself, Baerbock said all Russian soldiers should leave the country – including those from the Crimean peninsula annexed in 2014.

This does not meet with approval everywhere in the federal government. Chancellor Scholz, for example, sticks to a much more careful choice of words. “Putin must not win this criminal war of aggression against Ukraine – and he will not win this war either,” he said in a speech in Hamburg on Friday. Scholz differs significantly from statements by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who speak of a “victory” for Ukraine.

This fits with the new self-confidence in kyiv and obviously rubs off on German politicians: it is no longer a question of Ukraine not losing, but of being able to win the war, says the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag , Michael Roth of the SPD and CDU defense politician Roderich Kiesewetter agreed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is much more cautious. “The minimum is to get our territories back to where they were on February 23,” he said in a video link to the Chatham House think tank ahead of the February 24 invasion’s launch. This would exclude the Crimean peninsula, for example.

Unrealistic goals?

That’s why it’s generally completely unclear what is really meant when politicians talk about “winning” – and how realistic that is. In German government circles, it is considered rather utopian that the Russian nuclear superpower could finally return Crimea, where the Russian Navy’s central Black Sea base is located. DGAP expert Meister also does not see a complete victory for Ukraine as realistic. “There will be no end to war in the foreseeable future if you aim too high,” he warns.

Despite its successes, the Ukrainian army is a black box whose strength cannot be assessed in the West. The much larger Russia could also recruit large numbers of troops with partial mobilization. He warns against prolonged low-intensity warfare. Military experts also point out that simply recapturing areas occupied by Russian invaders will require different and, crucially, far more weapons from the West – and a new debate about whether one is ready for that.

Is the Kremlin reformulating its war objectives?

Also civil aid, which Poland says raised $6.5 billion at the Ukrainian donors’ conference, ultimately depends on what you want to achieve. Because humanitarian aid and financial injections to avoid a bankruptcy of the Ukrainian state must be provided quickly. But classic reconstruction aid only makes sense when Russia stops shooting at Ukrainian homes or infrastructure. “And nobody knows when the sanctions will be lifted if they are linked to the withdrawal of all Russian soldiers,” the federal government said.

But the rhetoric has also changed on the Russian side. While the Russian attackers were still marching towards kyiv, there was talk of denazification and disarmament of Ukraine. Then the Ministry of Defense put forward the conquest of Donbass. Cutting Ukraine off from the Black Sea is also seen as a possible goal – although all Western governments stress that they don’t know what President Vladimir Putin really wants. It is possible that the Kremlin will reformulate its own goals on May 9 for the big military parade commemorating the victory of the Second World War – just before the meeting between Macron and Scholz.

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