Due to the continued Russian missile rain on Ukraine, calls are growing louder in Germany to supply Kyiv Taurus cruise missiles. Bundestag members from opposition and coalition parties are urging Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) to do this, as is former Federal President Joachim Gauck.

Historian Martin Schulze Wessel is one of Germany’s most renowned Eastern Europe experts and last year published a critically acclaimed book on the region’s modern history. Schulze Wessel already took the initiative in December an open letter to the German government with the call to do more for Ukraine. Previous week he pleaded in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for the delivery of the Taurus.

The government in Berlin delivered more than 5 billion euros worth of equipment to Ukraine in 2023 – tanks, anti-aircraft systems, ammunition and so on. Yet you wrote that the Scholz government is at a crossroads with a view to the delivery of the Taurus cruise missile. Why do you see Taurus as so decisive?

“Taurus is an important weapon, but even more important is an adequate amount of ammunition. Two things about the Taurus: the cruise missile would be ideally suited to hit Russian supply routes, for example the Crimean Bridge, and I really don’t understand why the government is reluctant to deliver something that could weaken Russian logistics. Secondly, I find it significant that the government is so hesitant. It shows a certain departure from the course taken with the ‘Zeitenwende’. Scholz said: ‘We are not delivering them now, but maybe at a later time.’ In doing so, Scholz is trying to send a signal to Russia that they must back down. But in doing so, Germany overestimates itself, and moreover, the government takes a position between the war parties.”

There is something in your December call that also sounded from Ukraine: Germany supplies enough to Kyiv to continue the war but not enough to win it. Do you really think that is the cynical calculation in Berlin?

“Olaf Scholz says that Ukraine should not lose the war, but he does not say that Ukraine should win the war. There is a reluctance to support Ukraine in such a way that it can actually win the war. Far too much time has passed to increase ammunition production, or for the tanks to be delivered, and again time is being wasted. Politicians are so cautious because they only look at the possible danger from Moscow, for fear of an escalation. But it is not seen that this endless war also has major humanitarian consequences. People are thinking about it worst case scenario from Moscow, but not what it worst case scenario for Ukraine, or for the security of Europe.”

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A man in Kyiv looks at the damage from a house bombed by Russia on Friday. ” class=”dmt-article-suggestion__image” src=”https://images.nrc.nl/fde1Ce2ypki-Sx-5yef5TV6Z0TI=/160×96/smart/filters:no_upscale()/s3/static.nrc.nl/images/gn4/stripped/data109990665-47febe.jpg”/>

On Monday, Sahra Wagenknecht founded her new party, praising Gerhard Schröder’s foreign policy. You can also say: for Olaf Scholz, as an SPD member, the Zeitenwende is an achievement.

“Supplying weapons to a war zone was taboo in Germany for a long time, so a lot has indeed happened in that respect. But: Gerhard Schröder cannot be a benchmark. Schröder has betrayed German and Western interests with his policies. You have to say that so hard. He achieved financial gain by preparing the pipeline deal with Russia as chancellor and then profiting from it as a former chancellor.”

Do you think Scholz is making things too easy for himself?

“Scholz does not take charge. He communicates extremely sparingly and leaves it to others from his government or from the opposition to point out what is needed. Scholz very carefully follows the mainstream.”

Taurus cruise missiles which Germany does not yet want to supply to Ukraine.
Photo Abaca Press/ANP

In your book you describe how Prussia historically sought cooperation with Russia. Why did Prussia see a partner in Russia?

“At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Prussia was a small state with a large army, a medium-sized power. And Prussia could only rise within Europe as a kind of junior partner of Russia, which grew into a hegemonic power in Eastern Europe under Peter the Great. Russia and Prussia both had an interest in controlling Poland from the early eighteenth century. All treaties concluded between Russia and Prussia concerned Poland, for example to thwart constitutional reform in Poland or to prohibit the formation of a standing army. Finally, towards the end of the eighteenth century, Poland was annexed and divided between Prussia, Russia and Austria.”

You also write that the first East-West conflict in modern Europe arose around the same time. What did that conflict consist of?

“From 1716 onwards, England wanted to push back Russia’s ever-increasing power with a kind of containment policy, and also tried to get Prussia on its side. But Prussia sided with Russia because of common interests in Poland. In the nineteenth century, this cooperation increasingly formed a counterpoint to the increasingly liberal Western Europe.”

Was that first East-West conflict also an ideological conflict?

“In any case, it was about autocracy: Russia did not allow a constitution at all, and saw itself as the guarantor of the monarchy, which stood firm against all tendencies for a constitution. Poland strongly supported the nation state, while Prussia, Austria-Hungary and Russia wanted to maintain the imperial status quo.”

To what extent do you consider it useful to highlight the relationship between Prussia and Russia today?

“If the term ‘Zeitenwende’ is to be meaningful, it should mean that the chapter that started in the eighteenth century is now really closed. That is the chapter about the special relationships between then Saint Petersburg and Berlin and now Moscow and Berlin. That special relationship continues to have an effect to this day: see Gerhard Schröder’s connections to Moscow. The Zeitenwende should mean a radical departure from those bilateral relations in which the interests of Eastern and Central Europe have always been ignored.”

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Martin Schulze Wessel: The Curse of the Empire. Ukraine, Poland and the wrong path in Russian history. CH Beck, 352 blz. €28,-


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