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Opinion: Watching the war from the sidelines will be bitter

  • March 06, 2022

If expressions of solidarity could be turned into tanks, rocket launchers or fighter jets, then perhaps the situation in Ukraine would be less desperate. As it is though, we see an abundance of big words and a lack of useful military assistance. Yet our politicians are telling us that the horror we see in Ukraine is just the beginning.

Following his recent phone call with Vladimir Putin, the French President put it almost exactly as the NATO Secretary General had said on Friday in Brussels: “It’s going to get worse.”

Military experts assume that the Russian army will soon intensify its bombardment and shelling of the civilian population. Pessimists fear that Vladimir Putin’s army will destroy the capital Kyiv, similar to the total destruction of Grozny. On the order of Putin, Russian troops turned the Chechen capital into a wasteland in 1999.

NATO cannot intervene

Faced with this horror, the Ukrainian President has again and again asked for a no-fly zone over Ukraine. NATO again and again has replied: “We can’t do that!” It would mean direct military confrontation with Russia and could trigger World War III.

Putin has already reminded us of his nuclear arsenal and hinted that he might take such extreme lengths to realize his delusion of a Greater Russian Empire that includes Ukraine. The apparent irrationality of the man in the Kremlin, his real or feigned insanity, is just another way to unsettle us.

Barbara Wesel

Barbara Wesel, Senior Europe Correspondent at DW

Some observers believe the western alliance should be even more cautious now in order to avoid a nuclear apocalypse. Even the arms deliveries could be interpreted by Putin as crossing a red line.

The United States, on the other hand, believes that Putin must be stopped now, so that he won’t “open a Pandora’s box” of more war and instability, as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken put it. Like many Europeans, he assumes that Putin also wants to attack other countries: Georgia, Moldova and the Baltic states.

Western countries have responded with the toughest economic sanctions they’ve ever imposed and they did so faster than ever before. But if we want to stop Putin’s invasion, we have to tighten the screws further. The EU has just announced it will cut ties with more banks Russian banks, and cease shipping and other imports at the beginning of next week.

After that, the last resort is to stop oil, gas and coal imports from Russia. But this would hit both our western economies and jeopardize our domestic social stability. Still, we might have to go there, as all other options would be worse.

We’re financing Putin’s war

By continuing to buy Russian oil and gas, we are funding Putin’s war. Even if the first round of sanctions has paralyzed the Russian central bank, Moscow still earns hundreds of millions of dollars each day doing business with us.

Only when we turn off this tap, when Putin is left with absolutely no income and can no longer access his reserves, he might come to the negotiating table. But even these most extreme sanctions would not help Ukraine in the short term.

Brüssel | Sitzung Europaparlament zur Ukraine

A banner with the flag of Ukraine during a special plenary session of the European Parliament focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Sanctions aside though, the often-divided EU is going beyond what might have been expected: It offers all refugees from Ukraine unbureaucratic protection, and the enormous willingness to help is touching and moving. The Europeans are giving money, weapons and extensive humanitarian aid to the people in their embattled neighboring country.

In the end, we are watching Ukraine die

The citizens of Europe are doing whatever they can, in part, because they feel that this war is an attack on all of us, and our liberal, democratic way of life. Because the incredible bravery of the Ukrainians also shocked into reality those who thought that ensuring a safe future could be done from the comfort of their own home.

But if it comes to the point where Putin actually wants to bomb the Ukrainian capital, with its golden domes, its government palace, its heroic President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and its more than three million citizens into the ground, then we will be able to only watch.

This sense of helplessness, with our hands tied as observers of Putin’s murderous campaign, is going to be terribly bitter.

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