FDP defense politician Marcus Faber is traveling through Ukraine for a week. In an interview with ntv.de, he was impressed by the determination of the people in the country to win the war against Russia. He describes the brutal actions of the Russians and the benefits of German weapons such as the Panzerhaubitze 2000. Of the 15 systems supplied by Germany and the Netherlands, only a few are currently in use.
ntv.de: Herr Faber, you were the first German politician to be in Kharkiv since the beginning of the war. How did you experience the city?
Marcus Faber: It's scary. This is a city the size of Munich, in which only around 100,000 people lived at its lowest point. Now it's 300 to 400,000 again, no one knows for sure. The curfew is from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The city is bombarded daily and indiscriminately by Russia with rockets. Every day, every night, hospitals and residential areas are attacked with cluster bombs. One notices that the first impact occurs at about the same time as the alarm was triggered. It's not like in World War II, where you had half an hour from the alarm before the bombers arrived. There is no longer any way for the civilian population to protect themselves. I have to say that when the alarm system of a car goes off next to my accommodation because the pressure wave from the impact was so close, then that stays in my memory.
How do people deal with it?
It's an almost insane, serene determination. In the event of an alarm, no one goes into a cellar or shelter any more because they know that there is not enough time until the impact occurs. I was standing in a small town marketplace when an alarm went off. Nobody ran away, people went about their business as normal. They said a rocket would land somewhere, but no one knew where. The people I've met just accept this extra risk in life and try to be optimistic about it. They are very sure that Ukraine will win and accept that. They try to avoid unnecessary risks, not to be in public places that may be bombed more often. I saw near Sloviansk how peasants were still bringing in the harvest between the Ukrainian positions, while there were fires to the right and left because Russian fire had set the fields on fire. Trenches are being dug in downtown Kramatorsk, 50 meters away people are sitting on a park bench, smoking and talking to each other.
What traces does the war leave behind?
The composure also comes with a bitterness about Russian warfare. You have to call it terrorism when neighborhoods and hospitals are attacked. Or when you double-shoot an administration building. First to destroy it and then again an hour later to kill the rescue workers as well.
What did you learn on the trip that you didn't realize before?
Opposition MP Inna Sovsun told me how she was summoned to a special session of parliament in Kyiv at 7 a.m. on the day the war broke out. Martial law was declared and then arms were handed over to the deputies to defend their city. I was also new to how determined and to what extent civil society supported the army. How people try to bring material together in large, large numbers, trucks, drones, jeeps. I've never experienced anything like it anywhere, I couldn't have imagined it.
How does that go?
For example, I was with the Pyrtula Foundation, which raises money and then tries to buy small drones all over Europe and the world to use in their armed forces. They also just successfully bought old French jeeps and brought them to Ukraine. There are quite a few of these foundations and voluntary organizations. This contributes to the fact that the logistics and also the reconnaissance work much better with the Ukrainians. In Kramatorsk and Sloviansk I saw how important it was that the US provided the HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, the added value that the German Panzerhaubitzen 2000 had already provided. The Ukrainians are sure that without them they would no longer be standing at the current positions, but rather on the Dnieper. And of course the reverse conclusion that they could throw the Russians back if we help even more.
There were reports that some of the German tank howitzers were broken and wearing out. Have you heard anything about this?
I learned from the Ministry of Defense that five out of fifteen self-propelled howitzers are still operational there.
Five out of fifteen?
Yes. They are used massively. Accordingly, spare parts are needed. Although spare parts packages have been supplied, they are obviously not always the right ones. It is not always enough to have the spare part. For larger repairs, you also need the right workshop for it. It's not always that easy at the front. The Ukrainians are optimistic that they can bring the operational readiness back up. But they also say that they need their own repair facility in Ukraine. Otherwise they would have to get the howitzers out of the country again. At the moment they can only do minor repairs themselves. None were destroyed by Russian fire.
The US self-propelled howitzers and HIMARS missile launchers have had a major impact, but the question now is whether these Western artillery systems will turn the tide of the war.
The multiple rocket launchers actually made a difference. One consequence of this is that occupied areas in the south near Cherson can now be recaptured. On the other hand, the Russians are still advancing in the Donbass. When I was there two days ago, they were moving towards Bakhmut. There it is still very difficult for the Ukrainians to hold their own positions. So: Yes, the systems make a difference, but you simply need more of them, including more ammunition. This is a very important point. We have a convention in Copenhagen on August 11, where the states that support Ukraine will meet. It has to be above all: What are the next packages? How do we get through autumn and winter? It's about ammunition production. It seems to me that so far too little attention has been paid to this.
What did your Ukrainian interlocutors say about German arms deliveries?
First of all they said thank you for what came. But they have also made it clear that they need more. With a front line 1000 kilometers long, it is nice that we are making ten of our 119 self-propelled howitzers available. 30 would be better though. The Ukrainians themselves have ordered 100 self-propelled howitzers, but they won't be ready until the end of next year at the earliest. Can't you now give more to the Ukraine and then replenish your own stocks from the Ukrainian order? This would result in more arriving more quickly on the battlefield. It's also about armored vehicles for logistics and troop transport, and battle tanks, where Ukraine is massively inferior. If you want to reconquer occupied territories and stop war crimes, you simply need tanks.
Is it also about the old Leopard 1? There are still dozens of them in the much-cited yard of the armaments industry. Some say they are hopelessly inferior to the Russian tanks anyway.
Well, if you look at what the Russians are bringing up, which is all that's left, the Leopard 1 is on par with a lot of old Soviet tanks. The Ukrainians say they'd rather take the Leopard 2, but a tank is better than no tank.
In Germany, people mainly learn about the war from the media. When you are there, you get much more direct impressions. Is there something that is not properly understood in Germany?
I believe this is indeed the brutality of the Russian side. How they try to break the will of the civilian population, intimidate them, terrorize them. The fact that the Russian side really lost all humanity here does not matter to us. We're talking about a war, and that's right. But the targeted bombing of apartment blocks and parks didn't just happen once. You see burnt-out cars in Kyiv with "Children" written on them. The Ukrainians say they have the impression that the Russians fired on it all the more.
How much longer can the Ukrainians hold out?
You have to understand: Ukrainians are angry. They are really determined to fight this fight to the end and defend their country. Every act of terrorism by Russia makes them even more determined. They know that it will take a long time and are also grateful for the help. But philosophical debates, like the ones we sometimes have in Germany, have nothing to do with reality.
You mean thoughts about an imminent armistice?
In 2015, Ukrainians experienced what happens when you negotiate a ceasefire that doesn't last. It only gives the Russians an opportunity to prepare for a new attack. If you made that mistake once, you won't make it a second time.
Volker Petersen spoke to Marcus Faber