Merkur spoke to Professor Carlo Masala from the Bundeswehr University in Neubiberg about the situation in Ukraine and Baerbock’s visit to Kiev and Moscow.
Munich – The situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border remains tense. Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock traveled to the capitals of both countries for talks. One lies with Russia “miles apart on very, very many points,” said the Green politician in Kiev.
Russia expert Prof. Carlo Masala from the Bundeswehr University in Neubiberg spoke to the Munich Mercury on the situation in Ukraine, Moscow’s strategy and the prospects for Baerbock’s visit to Kiev and Moscow.
Merkur: Is Europe really facing a war in Ukraine or is Russia’s President Putin just threatening to achieve other goals?
Prof. Carlo Masala: Both is the case. We face war in Ukraine unless Putin feels that his demands are being met in some way. So it’s more than just a threat. It’s not just about Ukraine either. We see that Scandinavian countries are now also affected by his threats. It cannot be ruled out that we will see a military escalation.
Where exactly are the Russian troops stationed? What is the strategy behind it?
We have 100,000 Russian troops along the Ukrainian border, especially in the western districts. At the moment, however, the logistical support that would be necessary for a classic ground invasion of Ukraine is still missing. We also have cyber attacks, threats against Finland and movements of Nord Stream 2 supply vessels off the Swedish island of Gotland. So we see a ring of activity stretching from the northern flank of Europe to eastern Ukraine. The strategy behind it all is to put pressure on NATO, European states and especially the US to meet Russian demands for a new security treaty and a partial revision of developments since the 1990s.
Would Ukraine be militarily able to withstand a Russian attack?
That’s not an easy question to answer because there are a few unresolved issues. First: How good are the Russian troops? We do not know it. Secondly, we have reports of Turkey selling armed drones to Ukrainian troops. These have already prompted the Russians to develop countermeasures for their tanks. The Ukrainians are not as weak as they are always portrayed. There will be resistance. The Ukrainian chief of staff said two weeks ago that an attack could not be withstood for long. But here one can quote Clausewitz: Then there is “the fog of war”, which cannot be foreseen.
German arms deliveries to Ukraine? A possible measure for Russia expert Masala
Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is expecting the demand for arms deliveries to Ukraine in Kiev. Should Berlin give up the previous restraint?
In my opinion yes. It’s about signaling to the Russians that the price of an invasion will be higher than they think. I’m talking about human lives. That could be a measure that might change the Russian calculations after all.
Among other things, Berlin is demanding that Moscow return to dialogue in the so-called Normandy format. So far it hasn’t been very successful. How strong is Europe’s influence on Putin’s politics anyway?
I don’t think Europe has much influence on the Russians in this game. One of the reasons for this is that, from Moscow’s perspective, the United States is the opponent. From the Kremlin’s point of view, Europe is just an appendix of America. If agreements are reached with the US, the Europeans will follow suit.
If you talk about Ukraine, it’s always about gas. In Kiev, it is believed that the first Russian bombs in the event of an attack will be on the gas pipelines. For Moscow, does Nord Stream 2 have the sole purpose of shutting off Ukraine in gas transit from Russia, as is believed in Kiev?
That is not the sole purpose, but of course the purpose of Nord Stream 2 is to bypass Ukraine and make it vulnerable to blackmail. It was thanks to Angela Merkel’s government that the Russians agreed that Russian gas would continue to flow through Ukraine. The pipeline is certainly an important tool for Berlin to build up a potential threat to Moscow.
So does Baerbock have to make it clear in Moscow that an attack on Ukraine means the immediate end of the Nord Stream2 pipeline?
She can say that in Moscow as the position of the German foreign minister. But she is not the one who decides that alone. Different opinions prevail within the federal government – especially between the SPD and the Greens.
Ukraine conflict: “Don’t expect too much” from the Baerbock trip to Moscow
The second stop on Baerbock’s journey is Moscow. Formally, it is just an inaugural visit. But what can the Foreign Minister achieve in terms of content?
We shouldn’t expect too much. The Russians are expecting a written response from NATO. Ms. Baerbock will not achieve great success there. That’s not the purpose of the visit. The purpose of the trip is to make it clear to the Russian Federation that Germany not only supports the sovereignty of Ukraine, but of all European countries. And it doesn’t accept that Moscow puts countries under military pressure or even invades Ukraine.
Annalena Baerbock has only been in office for a few weeks and meets one of the world’s most savvy foreign ministers. Does it matter?
Well, nothing has to be agreed during the visit. In addition, Annalena Baerbock has a very experienced staff. If she listens to him and gets briefed accordingly, she will talk to Lavrov on an equal footing.
US President Biden is anything but strong, British Prime Minister Johnson is suffering from domestic politics, and French President Macron is stuck in the election campaign. Is the moment favorable for Putin to create facts in Ukraine?
More important for Putin than the current domestic political problems of the three gentlemen is the knowledge that none of these states will embark on military adventures in Ukraine. He plays this card. He can threaten an attack – knowing that NATO will not defend Ukraine militarily. This is a tremendous plus for Putin.
In the event of a Russian attack, the West has threatened tough sanctions against Moscow, such as excluding Russia from the Swift financial system. CDU boss Merz doesn’t think that’s a good idea because it would hit Germany as an export nation in particular. How credible is the western stance?
Friedrich Merz is the head of an opposition party, the federal government will decide that. More importantly, Russia has already priced in such reactions. A possible exclusion of Russia from the Swift is already taken into account in Moscow’s considerations. So this is a correct signal from the West. But one should not pretend that this is the key to deterring the Russians from invading Ukraine.
Interview: Alexander Weber