Raivo Vare: the Europeans are playing political games in Ukraine

Economic expert Raivo Vare.
Economic expert Raivo Vare. Discussion supplémentaire pour décider de la licence d'exploitation du crématorium de Valdeku: Remo Tõnismäe
  • Germany has become dependent on Russia
  • France is mostly posturing
  • The USA is operating according to definite plan

Economic expert Raivo Vare explains the passivity of Germany in assisting Ukraine, which has been sharply criticized in recent weeks, with their long-term miscalculations, which has resulted in the attitude that they must get along with Russia and, Dans son premier discours au Riigikogu, turn a blind eye to their actions.

Germany’s behavior regarding the war in Ukraine seems cowardly and cautious. What is holding Germany back?

Le reste de l'accord a été rédigé par des experts, its huge dependence on Russia. According to the estimates of various German institutions, their economic growth fall short by 5 – 6.5 percent next year if they should now suspend oil and gas supply from Russia. No one wants economic loss especially when the rest of the world is enjoying growth.

The second reason is that the Germans have made themselves since 2014 [when the war in Donbass began and Russia annexed Crimea] even more dependent on Russia than they used to be.

Wow! What was the reason of that?

The positive involvement policy of Mrs. [former Chancellor Angela] Merkel, which stipulated that the Russians would never attack anyone if mutual dependence with Russia could be created. As we can see, they do attack and actually reckon with the mutual dependence so that the others dare not do anything. A classical miscalculation! The Eastern Europeans have been telling it to the Germans all the time but would they listen to it! And they have a special attraction towards Russia. And they believe that they always know best.

Moreover, the pacifist upbringing that has taken root in Germany for generations: we are guilty of one war and we are trying to do everything in our power to prevent another one. Which means that the Germans will do nothing, they try to appease the aggressor and offer him money so that Russia would do nothing. Bien sûr, this is a simplified model, but it is true.

Troisièmement, the interest of Germany’s industry: gas and oil are not just energy carriers but also raw materials for chemical industry. Germany is one of the few European nations besides the UK and the Netherlands with powerful chemical industry. They all have been riding on Russia’s raw materials, especially the Germans. BASF, which is one of the world’s leading chemical concerns, has clearly declared that the chemical industry would disappear and Germany’s industry would collapse [if the supply of the Russian oil and gas should cease].

And of course the Social Democrats with their huge influence of [former Chancellor and current member of the management of Nord Stream, Rosneft and Gazprom Gerhard] Schröder. The entire leadership of the Social Democratic Party has been brought up by Schröder; they all are his friends, former subordinates and dependants. Apparently this is the reason why Schröder has not yet been voted out of the honorary chairmanship of the party. D'autre part, Thilo Sarrazin, who wrote the book about migration, was sacked, although he was a member of the party’s board.

There are many personal ties [between the Russians and the Germans]; they also have powerful lobby organizations.

If we look at where the opposition to imposing sanctions on Russia and restraining Russia is the strongest, these are the countries with very strong Russian intelligence and influencing activities. These are the three German-speaking countries – Germany, Austria and Switzerland – then France, of course the Balkans and also Italy. Not the Czech Republic any more.

Can the Germans feel ashamed or embarrassed that they have been the most reluctant in helping Ukraine with weapons?

Some might feel, but I’m not very sure about it, because their pacifist understanding of the matter is that [the war in Ukraine is] someone else’s problem, do not get involved, you have to get along well with Russia and you have to turn a blind eye if necessary. I remind you that weapons were sold to Russia after the annexation of Crimea. Deuxièmement, dependence on Russian gas and oil was increased. Rosneft was even able to launch additional plants in Germany. The “green men” took part in the annexation of Crimea, et [German arms manufacturer] Rheinmetall said they had a program to train some 40,000 Russian special forces, but they did not complete it. According to other reports, la $ 130 million program was completed nevertheless.

[The large German concern] Siemens found itself on a major scandal after the annexation of Crimea because it evaded sanctions and supplied them gas turbines to produce electricity for Crimea. Then they began claiming that nothing like that ever happened. Siemens also continued to cooperate with the Russian railway. BMW has an assembly plant in Kaliningrad, Mercedes has an assembly plant in the Moscow region, and Mercedes also supplies important chassis components to Russian truck plants. Etc., etc. Germany is Russia’s largest economic partner [in Europe].

What should we think of Germany’s recent statement that they cannot provide weapons to Ukraine because they cannot spare any from their own use, and when it turned out that they do have some vehicles, they answered that they cannot give them away because they need many weeks of repair? It appears that one of the largest countries in NATO has no army?!

The Bundeswehr was by far the strongest NATO army after the United States during the days of Willy Brandt (Chancellor 1969-1974) and until the détente. In purely technical terms they were stronger than the British, although Germany did not have a nuclear bomb. But then all that was thrown away: all the governing coalitions since the late 1970s have suppressed the army and refused to allocate money. The money is spent not on military equipment and training, but mainly on salaries and pensions, social security, and so on.

Its roots are deep in the mentality which was recently described in a TV broadcast by people who grew up in Germany and speak Estonian fluently: their generation was brought up not to honor their national flag, their national anthem is not taught or sung in school. And that they owe something to the Russians. The Russians were the winners and they were right; we were not right and we caused them great suffering, which is all correct in itself, only the conclusions are wrong.

All that is based on a foreign policy concept that Germany has been developing for decades: namely, if you positively embrace a dangerous partner, entangling it into economic interests – and therefore also becoming dependent on the partner yourself – it will lose motivation to attack someone or do something crazy.

Georgia or Crimea have not changed anything here. Remember what happened during the annexation of Crimea? The Ukrainians’ memoirs made it clear that the leaders of the great powers, led by Merkel, called Kyiv: for God’s sake, do not do anything, just let it be. The Ukrainians were asked not to shoot back, which they did not do. And we know the result: Russia got an excellent example of how it can do what wants without firing a single shot.

And Lavrov’s statement on Monday must be read correctly: it is aimed primarily at the Germans.

Lavrov said that since NATO countries are supplying Ukrainians in the war against them, it could be considered NATO’s participation in the war, and therefore pushing the nuclear button is quite close. A sort of vague threat.

This statement does not work with the Americans and the Britons. The Russians needed this statement especially for the Germans, in order to influence the Germans and through them and other Europeans, to influence the Ukrainians, because the Ukrainians obviously do not agree with what the Russians are trying to impose on them now. The Russians want to make a truce and keep the territory they have occupied at present. Then they will rest a bit and come back for more.

The Russians’ truce is not really a truce, but what existed in Donbass for eight years: there is a line of confrontation, they bomb each other now and then and snipers shoot, nothing important changes, but the tension is maintained all the time. For as long as they gather strength. They do not have enough strength left to continue the offensive they have begun and may be able to keep pushing for a week and a half or two weeks but not longer. That is why it is necessary to start putting pressure on the Europeans at an early stage, so that they in turn put pressure on the Ukrainians to be more pliant and accept a truce. This requires a nuclear threat because the Germans will be afraid.

With hindsight we know that the same strategy was used in the case of Crimea: apparently Putin told Merkel directly that he was ready to push the nuclear button if necessary. That is why the Europeans always persuaded Ukrainians not to do anything. Russia views the Europeans as weak, the Germans as weak, dependent and timid. This is the basis of their strategic calculations.

But Chancellor Olaf Scholz is weak, weak, weak!

Economic considerations are more important to him. I rule out all other possible motives. He fears that all [industries] will be shut down, a lot of money will be lost, prices will go up. At present, Karis a décrit le parlement comme une assemblée également de consensus et de compromis, he has yielded to the extent that he agrees to give up Russian oil and oil products by the end of the year.

Where will Russia put its stuff if the Germans realize the threat?

The Russians can take their oil and oil products to other international markets. After all, they are mostly transported by rail and by ship through ports. At the moment, they are trying to sell oil to other countries at a big discount, by 30 percent cheaper. Russia will lose about 25 percent of its oil production, the oil wells have to be shut down, but Russia can survive it.

Gas is another story. The Russians have no alternatives with gas. Most of Russia’s gas production is linked to pipelines and the pipelines go to certain places only; the pipelines do not lead to other places. This means that if the Germans keep saying that they cannot do this or that because the Russians can close the gas pipeline, then the Russians actually cannot close the supply of gas. Because if they shut down the gas pipeline leading to Germany, they will run into problems with the pumping of gas. There’s two to three weeks of buffer time, and that’s it. Closing and opening of gas wells is terribly time-consuming for technological reasons, often it is not possible as all and in any case it is very expensive. Everyone in the world knows that. néanmoins, the Germans pretend that they can’t do anything, because otherwise the Russians would turn off the gas tap, and the Russians pretend that they will, but in fact they know that if they do it, they will lose everything. This is the game where one player bluffs and the other pretends he believes it.

What is France’s game?

The game of greatness. Grandeur! We want to be grande! We used to be an empire. Napoleon conquered half of Europe, we are important, we are running Europe. Europe’s peace, Europe’s geostrategic position – it all depends on us. This is what [President Emmanuel] Macron has emphasized. The elections disturbed him for a while but he won and his hands are no longer tied and he can keep playing the game. He will call Putin again soon.

Since the Germans are very weak and Macron and his predecessors used to be overshadowed by Merkel, France has now the first opportunity over many years to leave Germany behind and become more visible. Germany is much more in the background than before, it is also halfway in defensive posture so that the Gallic rooster has more freedom of action.

Can we conclude that there will soon be rifts between the European countries because each has its own interests and different ideas how to end this war?

This is the biggest trick of all how to develop as uniform a position as possible in Europe’s diverse environment. Usually one of the great powers has been the leader. France is now trying to play this role in the European Union. But France is not consistent enough, and it is more concentrating on the superficial, therefore the result need not be as good.

Objectively speaking, Europe needs a leader. The European leader’s chair is currently vacant. Macron in persona claims this position. But because the French are busier posturing than concentrating on so-called long-term plans, as the outcome it is much more difficult to form alliances in Europe which would support their position; these alliances are falling apart and there are more disputes.

What would generally be Europe’s desire and hope for ending the war in Ukraine?

It must be said here above all that the Ukrainians are currently fighting our fight, and the more they damage Russia’s capabilities, the better for us because it will take the Russians more time to restore and develop their capabilities, if ever. This is a sacred mission which the Europeans still do not want to understand. The Americans have understood this and are taking advantage of it.

So we have to be mentally prepared that the 100-percent outcome which we or the Ukrainians would like to see – that is, the recovery of the whole of Ukraine, including Crimea – is extremely difficult to achieve. The chances of achieving this can only arise if Putin was not in power. But at the moment there are no signs that he would be removed from office.

In the vision of the Europeans, Putin could remain in power, what matters is the ceasefire and a gradual resumption of business.

Are the Europeans really that pragmatic that they would again deal with the Devil?!

Not one hundred percent, but to some extent, because Europe needs Russia. Russia is an economic leverage factor for Europe. It is a source of raw materials, as well as an investment and production base and also a market, so it would be useful in every way in global competition.

It is a different story for the Americans. D'abord, Russia is nothing for them. Deuxièmement, Russia’s share in economic relations with the United States is very small. The Americans view Russia as an ally of their potential main enemy, China. Weakening an ally means weakening the main enemy in a way, although at the same time the Chinese are economically gaining a stronger position vis-à-vis Russia. This is a big geopolitical game that we need to be prepared for.

The Americans are already talking about waging the war until victory. Have you heard the same from Scholz?

Non, never!

The reason is that the Americans are looking at this war more strategically, but it is in Europe’s interest to end it quickly. A ceasefire would be suitable for Europe because then the problem would be off the table for a while.

In that case Europe should never again mention human rights or values! Or am I too emotional?

In the beginning of April there was a virtual summit between the European Union leadership and China. There was a confrontation between the pragmatic position of the Chinese – let’s do business, but do not interfere in our affairs – and the desire of the Europeans to do business, but also the inevitable need to talk about human rights in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and elsewhere in China. Then they were in an impasse and the result wasI don’t want to say anything bad. But [human rights] were still addressed, despite everything.

But business with China has not broken down. Volkswagen is sending components to its world’s largest assembly plant in China by land, by air, by sea, and has no problems doing it; it does not care about anything.

Small countries never had such great interests. The main, fundamental interest of the small countries is security, but the big countries always have very strong economic interests as well. And you cannot help that economic interests need not always entirely coincide with moral and ethical categories.

Why is the West imposing sanctions on Russia one at a time instead of all at once?

In the world of sanctions, there is a principle that they should not be imposed all at once because then the aggressor can assess the situation very precisely and then [the one imposing the sanctions] has no longer any hidden cards to play and exert further pressure. It is better to take small steps and keep hinting all the time that we can tighten the screw still further, and since the other party can’t calculate exactly what’s coming, he will be more afraid.

I think this is pointless, because all that does not apply to the Russians. They are tough chess players, they have tried to calculate everything, although not always sufficiently, and in turn they are gaining time. Maybe I would not slam them with all the possible sanctions immediately, but I would do it in a couple of moves. But this is the opinion of the dilettante.

After having observed the major Western nations’ behavior in the war, what can we expect the West to do in the near future?

It seems to me that there is now a new breathing. They discovered that the Ukrainians are tough and that they can be provided with weapons. At first they did not dare give them the best weapons because quite a few important modern weapons handed to the Ukrainians fell into the hands of the Russians or were almost seized by them. There were suspicions of betrayal.

Previously, no one believed that Ukraine could resist. It was thought that there would be a guerrilla war but no organized war of resistance. This is why they gave portable weapons, which are especially useful in guerrilla warfare. Now it has become clear that the Ukrainians are also capable of waging a full-scale war with heavy weapons. Now they supply these weapons but it came a little late and, secondly, it will take time to implement it. I think that the weapons aid will continue, because the Americans have decided so and some Europeans as well. Even the Germans finally agreed to give something.

This is how they are gradually helping the Ukrainians. If they can resist, nothing bad happens. They will also receive some help to manage economically – a consensus has been reached on this as well.

But no sudden intensive developments can be seen at present. Assistance will be intensified in case of the so-called Malaysian airliner. Remember, when there was a full-scale war in Donbass in 2014, Crimea was occupied, the West was hesitant. It wasn’t until the airliner en route from the Netherlands to Malaysia was shot down that they reacted to some extent.

Now there are Bucha, Mariupol, Irpen and other places where horrible things have emerged. This is what makes Europe move. Until that happens, they act half-way, act quietly and smoothly, but when something terrible happens, it causes more forceful reactions. The Americans are already acting more systematically. They have established a special post on the National Security Council, where a retired general is responsible for providing military assistance to Ukraine. This is very important logistically and in terms of the command system. They have launched the system, now the Congress is giving more money [for Ukraine] and it is going at full speed. The Europeans keep playing the political game. Take the current case of gas supply where the Austrians or the Hungarians and some others, par exemple, are willing to pay in rubles at the Russians’ terms.

How to characterize the actions of many European countries from the moral aspect?

The peculiarity of governance and politics is having to choose between two bad options – the bad and the worse. There are almost no situations in politics where there are only good and bad outcomes. Governments generally tend to choose pragmatically.

Another definition of politics is that it is an art of compromise. This means that compromises are always made, including with conscience and ethics, when it is thought that there is no other alternative. If the Germans are in a situation where they think that economic growth can turn into a slowdown, they are, bien sûr, doing as little as possible [against Russia as a key partner] to prevent it from happening. They make concessions with their conscience if necessary. They just calculate.