The war in Ukraine has now lasted 100 days. The Greens politician Anton Hofreiter and CDU defense expert Roderich Kiesewetter are struggling to find the right way to help the attacked country to victory. Both welcome the announced delivery of rocket launchers, but demand more.
"IRIS-T systems that have now been announced would be helpful if they came in large numbers and immediately. But they don't," says Kiesewetter. He assumes that the Chancellor does not want "Ukraine to win the war within the defined borders of January 2022". Hofreiter says he hopes "that the chancellor will quickly implement his promise to deliver heavy weapons and that Mr. Kiesewetter's analysis that Scholz does not want Ukraine to win at all simply does not apply. I will say quite frankly, I really hope so."
ntv.de: When Russia invaded Ukraine 100 days ago: how did you expect the war to go and where is the conflict today?
Anton Hofreiter: I confess that at the beginning of the conflict I thought that Russia would be able to advance much faster. I was fundamentally wrong about that, fortunately. Then, despite all the horror, I was really very optimistic that Ukraine could hold out stronger with the support of the West. At the moment I am very worried about what we are experiencing in Donbass. I therefore believe that we need to do even more to support Ukraine's defense capabilities.
Roderich Kiesewetter: In January, when information became public about mobile crematoria for the Russian troops and 100,000 blood bags, I said war was coming. I said that publicly on February 4th. But I didn't expect it to happen 20 days later with such drasticness and brutality, air strikes against the whole of Ukraine and the scale of war crimes. I was very impressed by how professionally Ukraine defended in the first few weeks. Ever since February 27, when Olaf Scholz gave his speech on the turn of the era in the Bundestag, when it was said that we would do everything to ensure that Ukraine could also defend our freedom, I thought that we would do more.
And how do you see the current situation?
Kiesewetter: Today, after a hundred days of war, in addition to the excellent humanitarian support, the trauma help and the promised reconstruction, I am massively missing three areas: First, a commitment to Ukraine within the borders of January of this year, that's how you could define a victory . Secondly, that Ukraine should already be granted candidate status for EU membership this year, which - even if it takes another 20 years - gives the Ukrainian population confidence. And thirdly, credible support with long-range weapons that are delivered immediately and effective sanctions. IRIS-T systems that have now been announced would be helpful if they came in large numbers and immediately. But they don't. However, we have long-range weapons that can be delivered immediately. We Europeans are gambling away credibility in the competition for other states. When countries like Egypt and Morocco realize that the EU will drop their partners when in doubt, they can immediately orient themselves towards Russia or China, which also interfere less in internal issues.
Do you feel the same way, Mr. Hofreiter, that the position that Germany is communicating to the outside world about how far they want to support Ukraine in achieving their goals is not enough for you?
Hofreiter: I absolutely believe that Ukraine should be given candidate status. I also understand that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock supports this. Their trip to Kyiv was a clear signal of support. I put a lot of pressure on us to pass a motion in the Bundestag for support for Ukraine, including arms deliveries. This request has been approved and must now be implemented. If you look at what's happening in Ukraine, I wish things would go faster.
Wer bremst too?
Hofreiter: I wouldn't assume any reluctance. I think that some things are difficult for us. As Germans, we take everything very seriously and discuss everything for ages, but there is war in Ukraine every day and that's why more has to happen more quickly there, including when it comes to the delivery of weapons. What makes the help difficult is more German bureaucracy and problems with implementation in the Ministry of Defense. But we also have huge problems in the Bundeswehr. We've got three days' worth of ammunition. These are catastrophic omissions.
Kiesewetter: We don't just have the Bundeswehr, which is in bad shape. The German armaments industry is the fourth largest in the world. We deliver to Saudi Arabia or Egypt with clenched teeth because we don't want these countries to drift towards China or Russia. But the federal government could now say stop and see which of these orders can be reallocated in favor of Ukraine, so that the original orderers have to wait. The defense industry said very early on that it would be able to supply the Leopard 1 main battle tank and the Marder infantry fighting vehicle. But she didn't get the export license. The Foreign Ministry and the Economics Ministry agreed, but the Federal Security Council, chaired by the Chancellor, did not. I don't want to drive a wedge into the coalition, but the joint motion by the Union and the traffic light groups should have given tailwind. I don't think the suddenly announced exchange of rings with Greece is helpful at all.
Where are the mentioned martens? Do you know that, Herr Hofreiter?
Hofreiter: I hope that the martens will move quickly. The martens have to be worked up. The defense industry has over 200, of which around 100 can be made operational, some in weeks, some in months. To be honest, one has to say that while the Central and Eastern European countries - Poland, Slovakia, the Baltic countries - support Ukraine very strongly, one can also put a question mark over France and Italy as to whether they are helping enough. But that shouldn't be an excuse.
The offer from the industry came at the end of February. Does it start to tingle now that it's the beginning of June? Is there already a wedge in the coalition that Mr. Kiesewetter doesn't want to drive in?
Hofreiter: I would say there are intense debates. Before the application, I said very clear words to the Chancellery. Now the application has been decided and I hope that it will be filled with life. On Wednesday in the Bundestag, Olaf Scholz announced the delivery of the modern IRIS-T SLM air defense system, locating radars and rocket launchers. If these systems arrive in Ukraine in a timely manner, that will be a real support.
Is the reluctance to date due to the fact that the German government has different ideas about the outcome of the war than the government in Kyiv?
Kiesewetter: It would at least be helpful to listen to Selenskyj: Until the Russian war crimes became known - in Bucha, in Irpin, in Mariupol - he told his negotiating teams in Belarus and Istanbul that they were willing to renounce Crimea, to accept the Borders from January of this year, for renouncing NATO membership, for neutrality and a very clear EU perspective. The demands: secure borders with Russia, a review by the International Criminal Court and reparations as well as security guarantees. When I was there with Friedrich Merz, Selenskyj said that he can hardly say something like that in public anymore because there is criticism in his own ranks of pricing in the surrender of Crimea in the negotiations in view of the Russian war crimes. Everyone knows that liberating Crimea has little chance of success.
What does this mean for you, Mr. Kiesewetter?
Kiesewetter: On the Ukrainian side - and that should convince Olaf Scholz - there was every willingness to make concessions. Scholz could really say very clearly, 'We support this Ukrainian negotiating position.' - Ukraine within the borders of January 2022, renunciation of Crimea and a clear EU perspective. And we provide security guarantees that it will give up NATO membership. That's different than when he says 'Russia must not win and Ukraine stays'. It will remain even after it has shrunk to a core Ukraine and is run by a puppet government.
Hofreiter: There are two sides to peace negotiations. And Putin is not willing to negotiate because, in his view, it is more worthwhile to continue the war. In my eyes, he is not a madman, but an imperialist who in the past has told us relatively openly what he intends to do: the restoration of the Russian Empire. We have to make it clear that this is not at all acceptable to us. It is not the delivery of heavy weapons that is an escalation. Escalation becomes much more likely when Ukraine threatens to lose. If Russia manages to capture Odessa, Moldova, where Russian soldiers are already stationed, will most likely be the next to be attacked. That is why Ukraine's defense capability must be strengthened so that it can withstand.
Their weapon claims often counter opponents with the argument that more weapons always means more deaths. Is that true and do you have to accept it?
Hofreiter: Some people believe that Ukraine should simply surrender and then there will be fewer victims. But what would capitulation mean in view of the Russian actions? People who campaign for democracy would be arrested, tortured, and possibly murdered. LGBTQI activists would be arrested, possibly murdered, as we see it in Russia.
Over the past few years, Russia has turned into a dictatorship in which fundamental human rights no longer apply. And from what I saw in Ukraine, the people there are of the opinion that they want to fight for their freedom, for their self-determination, for their rights. It is not our decision to tell the people of Ukraine whether to fight or give up.
Does the chancellor lack the experience of a trip to Ukraine, which may have shaped your perspective?
Hofreiter: Everyone has to decide for themselves where to go. It's a war zone, after all. February 24th fundamentally changed my perspective, and the trip strengthened my position, especially the discussions with the MPs and with wounded soldiers.
How did they go?
Hofreiter: The wounded wanted us to talk to them. There was a young man of 21 who lost a leg. Then you think: 'Am I trying to impose myself on this man?' But they really wanted to talk to us. It was impressive for me to learn how extremely brutal the Russian army is, even towards its own soldiers. What struck me about MEPs was how clear they were about defending their freedom and their democracy. They were well aware of our debates here and found it inappropriate when we discussed whether they could use our devices. They say, 'We've been at war here for weeks, and of course our military understands that we need to practice on new equipment. So please deliver them all the faster so we have time to practice'.
Kiesewetter: The trip helped me a lot to see the war from the victim's perspective and also to realize that my attitude didn't fail because of this reality, but I was able to sharpen it again. My basic position has been confirmed, that Ukraine, as you said, Mr Hofreiter, defends freedom and democracy and wants to belong to the rule-based order. Although this is not a perfect state - Selenskyj, as Poroshenko's successor, has practically grown into his office through the war.
You also spoke to Poroshenko later.
Kiesewetter: Yes, and it was clear from his statements that he represents a completely different Ukraine. That made me even more certain that if we let Zelenskyj drop or if he was told at some point in the course of a war of fatigue that we are now looking for someone new, then all these Poroshenkos, who have also come and gone from us, will come back.
Who are the Poroshenkos?
Kiesewetter: By that I mean the oligarchs, those who negotiate their profits with both sides, regardless of whether they deal in chocolates or weapons. I mean those who want a country where they call the shots and not a democratically elected leadership that takes on tremendous responsibilities there. The longer we hesitate and don't support enough there, the democratic forces will fail and the old ones will come back to power because of their money, because of their networks and because of their way of combining politics and business. We have the chance to show by actively supporting the Ukrainian people that their state leadership is the best possible at the moment. And that Zelenskyj, whom many initially ridiculed, has become someone who has demonstrated leadership and holds the country together.
Recently you publicly questioned whether Chancellor Scholz wanted Ukraine to win at all. What are your doubts based on?
Kiesewetter: I base my fears on the fact that he has been persistently saying for months that Russia must not win the war and Ukraine must remain in existence or it must not lose the war. That's not enough for a country that makes such sacrifices to become part of a rules-based order. In addition, he makes no statement about Ukraine's EU accession or the goal of restoring the borders of January 2022.
And in terms of his actions?
Kiesewetter: My fear is based on the fact that he will not take advantage of all the offers from the Bundeswehr - 30 martens that they could deliver within a short time, plus 100 martens from the armaments industry. If Scholz had released the first 20 Marders that Rheinmetall offered in March, they would have been delivered long ago. From this behavior I conclude that the Chancellor does not want Ukraine to win the war within the defined borders of January 2022.
Mr. Hofreiter, do you share this analysis? And would Scholz possibly want to create a space that would allow Putin the often-mentioned "face-saving" solution?
Hofreiter: That seems to me to be a skewed debate and very much intended from a German point of view. A face-saving solution is not a problem in a dictatorship where the media is completely controlled. If Putin determines there was no war, just a special operation, and that resulted in Ukraine not becoming a NATO member and Russia continuing to control Crimea, then he can sell that himself as a face-saving solution. I hope, however, that the chancellor will quickly implement his promise to deliver heavy weapons and that Mr. Kiesewetter's analysis that Scholz does not want Ukraine to win at all simply does not apply. I'll be honest, I really hope so.
They formulate softer and less demanding than a few weeks ago. Have you been punished for being so harsh on your government's policies?
Hofreiter: No. I'm too free for that. My main goal as a member of parliament, the passage of the joint motion, has been achieved. And I believe that it is good for every government to have a self-confident parliament. But now it is a question of government action.
Kiesewetter: I think it is also a lesson for the current opposition that Germany backed these negotiated solutions and Nord Stream 2 in 2015, when the war was still raging in the Donbass. That's perhaps why there was so much response to Mr Hofreiter's statement, because we foreign policymakers, who thought that was wrong back then, should have been louder.
The countries of the Global South are also loud at the moment, fearing a massive hunger crisis due to a lack of grain. If necessary, does the EU have to use robust means to force the Ukrainian Black Sea ports to open?
Kiesewetter: Russia is blocking the export of millions of tons of grain via the ports. Tens of millions of tons of grain are delivered annually to the African states alone, primarily to Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. So we have a hunger crisis provoked by Putin and migration towards Europe in the next few years. This justifies the emergency that we transport grain out of Ukraine as part of a ship convoy. Also with regard to Hungary, the EU would presumably not be willing to secure this transport militarily. But I believe that Russia would not act militarily if civilian ships were sailing there. I believe that it would be necessary to start such an initiative by autumn at the latest in order to make the food available for the winter period if no adequate solution can be found over land.
Hofreiter: I don't think that measures that lead us into a direct war with Russia would even remotely make sense. That would be the escalation of the war. I don't know if something like this proposal with civilian ships would be negotiable with Russia. But in view of the threat of food price increases, we in Europe have to think twice. In Germany, we use only 20 percent of the grain grown for human consumption, 58 percent is animal feed. I openly admit that I also like to eat meat and am not a vegetarian.
Kiesewetter: I'm a vegetarian.
Hofreiter: We simply have to reduce the number of animals. At the latest in such an emergency, in which we are currently, we need a larger proportion of the land directly for human nutrition. I would also be excited if the Union said, 'Guys, given what Russia is doing in Ukraine, the breadbasket of the world, we should eat less meat'. So if the Union would support that, I would find that interesting.
Kiesewetter: It shouldn't be my fault, but I'm also one of the few vegetarians in the group.
Frauke Niemeyer and Sebastian Huld spoke with Anton Hofreiter and Roderich Kiesewetter