Foto: Max Kukurudziak / Unsplash

Russia is deploying troops on the border with eastern Ukraine, and the Kremlin is blatantly threatening war against its neighbors. Therefore, Libe­reco – Part­ners­hip for Human Rights demands: Germany, together with the EU and NATO, must stand with Ukraine immediately.

Ukraine is under existential threat. For weeks, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has once again been on the brink of escalation. While Russia is encircling Ukraine with more than 127,000 troops and heavy artillery, the new German coalition, barely in office, has already lost some of its international trustworthiness, both in Ukraine and among international allies such as NATO. Russia’s demands on the USA and NATO are impossible:

    • The demand that Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO
    • For the Russian political leadership, Ukraine’s right to self-determination and independence do not even exist on paper.

The fact that the Ukrainian leadership itself is not taken into consideration for the formulation of these demands reveals the true understanding of Russia’s political apparatus: In its world view, Ukraine, which is larger in area than Germany or France, remains purely a geopolitical bargaining chip; an object rather than a subject of political negotiations.

Yevhen Vasyliev, a board member of the Ukrainian human rights and aid organization Vostok SOS, like many civil society representatives in Ukraine, is following the situation very closely,  and also the debate on it in Western countries. “I would like to believe that this is all just a bluff by Russia, in which they want to end the debates about North Stream 2 and NATO membership once and for all,” says Vasyliev. “Unfortunately, the risk remains that the tense situation will escalate after all, for example through parallel, small- to medium-sized hybrid provocations in various places in Ukraine.”

What Hybrid Provocations Against Ukraine Might Look Like

”Hybrid Provocations” could mean increased gunfire along the line of contact and in Ukraine’s border regions, as well as bomb threats, cyber attacks and other form of sabotage against critical infrastructure and administrative buildings. All this would be accompanied by disinformation campaigns.

A Russian attack would exacerbate the already difficult humanitarian situation and energy shortages in eastern Ukraine. Vasyliev therefore hopes for a more resolute and stringent German position vis-à-vis Moscow. This is a perfectly legitimate expectation.

Be it the statements of the Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, who publicly ruled out Ukraine’s membership in NATO, or the now controversial head of the Navy Kay-Achim Schönbach, who simply dismissed the fear of a Russian attack as “nonsense”: The unclear and contradictory reports that have been emanating from German political actors for weeks are causing uncertainty in Ukraine. Partners there in civil society and politics are puzzled over Germany’s attitude.

The fact that the Federal Republic of Germany, on the one hand, is blocking deliveries of defense weapons, and those of NATO partners, to Ukraine, while the SPD continues to claim that North Stream 2 is a purely private economic project, sounds like pure mockery to Ukrainian ears. Claiming that Germany, due to its history, does not supply weapons to war zones, seems like a perfidious bogus argument, particularly when 2021 was a record year for Germany’s arms industry exports. The “pacifist” argument is made weaker since those exports included sales to countries with a questionable human rights record, such as Egypt.

Moscow Wants to Restructure Europe’s Security Agency

However, Ukraine is currently about much more than just weapons: The Russian government is aiming for a new European security agency. Moscow is pushing all the former states of the Soviet Union back into the Russian sphere of interest 30 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union. A glimpse of what such a form of “order” could look like for Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion can already be seen in the annexed Crimea and in the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Independent voices, activists and journalists there have been deported, imprisoned or otherwise silenced.

What it means to belong to a “Russian sphere of interest” in reality is also still very present in the collective memory of the Baltic states. It means violations of human rights, repressions and occupation. For this reason, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, together with the United States, have been the most prominent supporters of Ukraine, both in terms of aid and diplomacy at the EU level.

This is because both Ukraine and the Baltic states are aware that giving in to the allegedly Russian “security guarantees” would be an open disaster. A disaster that would not only affect the future of Ukraine, but would endanger the entire European value order. For Russia’s neighbors, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, which borders on Belarus, the most secure protection of this order is currently provided above all by their NATO and EU membership. The fact that Ukraine wants to feel just as secure should not be denied.

Standing Together for Freedom and Democracy

At present, Ukraine’s security is also at stake due to the volatile situation in its northern neighbor state Belarus. Russian troops have been deployed on the Belarus-Ukraine border for weeks. Belarusians, who have had to flee to Ukraine in the context of the wave of repression against civil society since the rigged elections in August 2020, are now afraid of losing everything again in the event of a Belarusian-Russian invasion.

“If Russia launches a large-scale offensive, the Belarusian government could become an ally of the aggressor,” says Palina Brodik, co-director of the Belarusian NGO Free Belarus Center in Kyiv. In contrast to the Belarusian government, “the diaspora in Ukraine shares the Ukrainian pain over their current loss of territory,” Brodik said. “We understand that we must stand together in our commitment to freedom and democracy.”

Germany Must Stand by Ukraine – And Increase Pressure On Russia

A trustworthy commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine requires not only the support of dialogue formats with the Russian government. These dialogues have not been lacking in the last years. The commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine also requires the concrete support of Ukraine with defensive weapons, as well as the following announcements in the event of a Russian attack:

    • Immediately disconnecting Russian banks from the SWIFT system,
    • Imposing massive diplomatic and financial sanctions against Russian actors who are close to the Russian leadership and who are demonstrably involved in the Russian aggression against Ukraine,
    • Introducing sanctions against the Russian energy sector, with which the Russian government is currently blackmailing the whole of Europe, and ultimately
    • Not putting North Stream 2 into operation at all.

Germany should not only talk to the Russian government about the vague prospect of stronger sanctions, but also specify them in concrete terms in the event that Russia’s aggression on the Ukrainian border is extended. In order to support the people of this country, which is closely and inextricably linked to German and European history, a resolute stance is needed in support of Ukraine. This applies to both the German government and the democratic opposition.

The article was first published “Ukraine verstehen”.