How can memorials powerfully remind us of past horrors? How can they keep the atrocities of the past alive and relevant? “The Empty Library,” Micha Ullmann’s Berlin memorial commemorating the fascist book blaze—when on May 10, 1933, some 20,000 works by a great number of German and international authors were devoured by the flames before an ecstatic crowd—fulfils these requirements.
Ullmann’s memorial is located on Berlin’s Bebelplatz, underneath it, to be precise. It is not visible from the street by day, but by dark, an eternal light illuminates it. The memorial is a seven-square-meter space, a good five meters high, plastered white, with empty white wooden shelves lining its sides. They could accommodate 20,000 books. Ullmann demonstrates loss—loss of knowledge, experience, art, pleasure. The emptiness reflects a cultural void.
The space can be viewed through a 1.20-square-meter pane set into the paving of the square. During the day, the sun, clouds and people, too, are reflected in the pane and it takes a certain effort and concentration to perceive the empty shelves through the small pane. However, this is part of the artistic concept. To approach history, to fully grasp it, takes effort.
The pane becomes an intersection of the present and the past—the Now is reflected in this glass plate, which at the same time becomes a transparent grave slab, allowing access to the past. The viewer almost feels dizzy/ faint, as the window appears fragile—could one fall into the past here?
This interface between history and the present also represents an interplay between the private sphere of a library and the public sphere of Berlin’s historic center, between inside and outside, between reality and the imagined, evoked by the memorial. Along with a grave, the empty library also associates a protected space. Apart from the obvious loss, the imagination refills the shelves with the burnt books and keeps them in a safe place, like a bunker, in the exact place where the inconceivable happened.
The eternal light functions doubly: It is the eternal light of remembrance, as well as a source of energy where shock can turn into insight and resistance.
Micha Ullmann’s family fled from Dorndorf in Thuringia to Palestine in 1933, where he was born in Tel Aviv in 1939. His basic idea for the Berlin memorial is grounded in a symbolism that is a leitmotif in the artist’s work. Another memorial based on the excavation of a pit is his first important work “Messer/Metzer” from 1972.
Together with young Palestinians and Israelis, Ullmann symbolically exchanged soil between the Arab village of Messer and the Jewish Kibbutz Metzer, neighboring villages whose names both mean the same thing in Arabic and Hebrew: Border. In both locations, pits of the same size were dug and filled with the soil of the other village. Here, too, there was hardly anything visible on the surface. Here, too, the viewers are challenged: They have to approach, see, and want to understand what is being presented.
The Berlin memorial importantly emphases the beginnings of fascism in the weeks after Hitler took power. The torching of books heralded the unimaginable. Very close to the memorial is a plaque, also set in the square’s plaster stones, with Heinrich Heine’s prophetic 1820 words from his tragedy, Almansor: “This was a prelude only, where you burn books, you will, in the end, burn people.”
It should not be forgotten that it was precisely the so-called intelligentsia that carried out the book burning—students and their professors, also librarians and the book trade. This act of book burning contributed significantly to preparing the intellectual ground for fascism. How quickly supposedly cultured and educated people lose their facade and reveal their true stripes.
This phenomenon is very evident again today. The fascist concept of Gleichschaltung (enforced conformity) may well be underway, where thinking independent of the establishment is suppressed and made punishable by law.
As fascism grew, almost all German writers left their home country—a step not taken lightly by those whose art lies in their native language. Very few authors stayed. The vast majority continued writing in exile, and German literature during the Nazi regime is a literature of exile.
Erich Kästner was one of the few who remained in Germany; Hans Fallada was another. Kästner was also the only author who witnessed the book burning in Berlin which engulfed his own work, including his novel Fabian (1931, The Story of a Moralist, in English translation).
Kästner’s Fabian is not actively involved in the political struggle. This novel, written before the Nazis seized power, is set during the last years of the Weimar Republic. Although Fabian distances himself from the rising German fascists and sees himself as a friend of the Communists, he counts on “decency” prevailing.
In his 1950 preface to a new edition of the novel, Kästner described his aim as pointing to the abyss towards which Germany was moving. The novel criticizes above all the passivity of those who recognize the dangerous deterioration in society but do nothing about it. This theme is of the greatest relevance today.
Dr. Jenny Farrell is a lecturer at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology in Galway, Ireland. Her main fields of interest are Irish and English poetry and the work of William Shakespeare. She is the associate editor of Culture Matters and also writes for Socialist Voice, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Ireland.
Seymour Hersh speaking at the Molly Awards banquet on June 10, 2010. (Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc / Getty Images)
Originally published in Jacobin on February 15, 2023
Last week, renowned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published an article claiming that the US was responsible for the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline transporting natural gas to Germany from Russia. He spoke to Jacobin about the allegations.
On September 26, 2022, the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany was largely destroyed by several explosions in the Baltic Sea. Last week, the award-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published an article, based on information from a single anonymous source, arguing that the Biden administration and the CIA were responsible.
Hersh won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for the role he played in breaking the story of the Mỹ Lai massacre, an incident in which US soldiers killed between three and five hundred unarmed civilians. He spoke to Fabian Scheidler for Jacobin about the allegations he made in his most recent article and the influence that the CIA and the national security state has on American foreign policy.
Please start to lay out your findings in detail. What happened precisely according to your source, who was involved, and what were the motives behind it?
What I’ve done is simply explain the obvious. It was just a story that was begging to be told. In late September of 2022, eight bombs were supposed to go off; six went off under the water near the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, in the area where it is rather shallow. They destroyed three of the four major pipelines in the Nord Stream 1 and 2.
Nord Stream 1 has been feeding gas fuel [to Germany] for many years at very low prices. And then both pipelines were blown up, and the question was why, and who did it. On February 7, 2022, in the buildup to the war in Ukraine, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, at a press conference at the White House with German chancellor Olaf Scholz, said that we can stop Nord Stream.
The exact wording from Joe Biden was “If Russia invades, there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2, we will bring an end to it.” And when a reporter asked how exactly he intended to do it, given that the project was within the control of Germany, Biden just said, “I promise we will be able to do it.”
His under secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, who was deeply involved in what they call the Maidan Revolution in 2014, used similar language a couple of weeks earlier.
You say that the decision to take out the pipeline was taken even earlier by President Biden. You lay out the story from the beginning, chronologically from December 2021, when the national security advisor Jake Sullivan convened, according to your piece, a meeting of the newly formed task force from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, the State and the Treasury departments. You write, “Sullivan intended for the group to come up with a plan for the destruction of the two Nord Stream pipelines.”
This group initially was convened in December to study the problem. They brought in the CIA and so on; they were meeting in a very secret office. Right next door to the White House, there’s an office building that’s called the Executive Office Building. It is connected underground through a tunnel. And at the top of it is a meeting place for a secret group, an outside group of advisors called the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. I only reported that to let the people in the White House know that I do know something.
The meeting was convened to study the problem: What are we going to do if Russia is going to war? This is three months before the war, before Christmas of 2022. It was a high-level group; it probably had a different name, I just called it the “interagency group” — I don’t know the formal name, if there was one. It was the CIA and the National Security Agency, which monitors and intercepts communications; the State Department and the Treasury Department, which supplies money; and probably a few other groups that were involved. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had representation as well.
The big task they had was to give recommendations about what to do about stopping Russia, measures that are either reversible, like more sanctions and economic pressure, or irreversible, kinetic things — exploding things, for example. I don’t want to talk specifically about any particular meeting because I have to protect my source. I don’t know how many people were at the meeting, do you understand what I mean?
In the article, you wrote that, in early 2022, the CIA working group reported back to Sullivan’s interagency group and they said, “We have a way to blow up the pipelines.”
They did have a way. There were people there who understood what we call in America “mine warfare.” In the United States Navy, there are groups that go into submarines — there’s also one command about nuclear engineering — and there is a mining command. Underground mining is very important, and we have skilled miners. Probably the most important place for training miners is in this little resort town called Panama City in the middle of nowhere in Florida.
We train very good people there and we use them. Miners are very important. You get clogged entries into ports; they can blow up things in the way. If we don’t like a certain country’s underwater pipelines for oil, we can blow them up too. It’s not always good things they do but they’re very secretive. For the group at the White House, it was clear they could blow up the pipelines. There’s an explosive called C-4, which is incredibly powerful, devastating particularly with the amount they use. You can control and operate it remotely with underwater sonar devices. They send very low-frequency signals.
So it was possible, and they told the White House that, by early January, because two or three weeks later, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said we can do it. I think this was January 20. And then the president as well, with Olaf Scholz, said on February 7 that we could do it. Scholz said nothing specific; he was vague. But a question that I would ask Scholz, if I had a parliamentary hearing, is this: Did President Biden tell you about this? Did he tell you at that time why he was so confident he could blow it up?
We didn’t have a plan yet, but we knew we had the capability to do it.
What role did Norway play in the operation?
Well, Norway is a great seaman nation, and they have underground energy. They’re also very anxious to increase the amount of natural gas they can sell to Western Europe and Germany. And they have done that, they’ve increased their export. So, for economic reasons, why not join with the United States? They also have a residual dislike of Russia.
In your article, you write that the Secret Service and the navy of Norway were involved, and you say that Sweden and Denmark were sort of briefed but not told everything.
The way it was put to me is: if you didn’t tell them, you didn’t need to tell them. In other words, you were doing what you were doing, and they knew what you were doing and they understood what was going on, but maybe nobody ever said yes. I worked on that issue very much with the people I was talking to. The bottom line is, to do this mission, the Norwegians had to find the right place. The divers that were being trained in Panama City could go to three hundred feet underwater without a heavy diving tank, only a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen and helium.
The Norwegians found us a place off Bornholm island in the Baltic that was only 260-feet deep so they could operate. They would have to return slowly. There was a decompression chamber, and we used the Norwegian submarine hunter. Only two divers were used for the four pipelines.
One problem was how to deal with those people who monitor the Baltic Sea. It is very thoroughly monitored, and there’s a great deal of openly available information, so we took care of this; there were three or four different people for that. And what we then did is really simple. Every summer for twenty-one years, our navy Sixth Fleet, which has control of the Mediterranean and also the Baltic Sea, has an exercise for NATO navies in the Baltic (BALTOPS). And we’d bring a navy carrier or large ships around. It was a very open thing. The Russians certainly knew about it. We did publicity. And in this one, for the first time in history, the Baltic Sea NATO operation had a new program. It was going to have an exercise in dropping mines and finding mines for ten or twelve days.
Several nations sent out mining teams, and one group would drop the mine and another mining group from their country would go hunt and blow it up. So you had a period where there are things blowing up, and in that time the Norwegians could recover deep-sea divers. The two pipelines run about a mile apart; they’re under the dirt a little but they’re not hard to get to, and they had practiced this. It didn’t take more than a few hours to plant the bombs.
So this was in June 2022?
Yes, they did it around ten days into June, at the end of the exercise, but at the last minute the White House got nervous. The president said he’s afraid of doing it. He changed his mind and gave them the order that he wanted the right to bomb anytime, to set the bombs off anytime remotely by us. You do it with just a regular sonar, actually a Raytheon build. You fly over and drop a cylinder down. It sends a low-frequency signal — you can describe it as a flute sound tone, you can make different frequencies. But the worry was that one of the bombs, if left in the water too long, would not work, and two did not — they only got three of the four pipelines. So there was a panic inside the group to find the right means, and we actually had to go to other intelligence agencies that I didn’t write about.I don’t think that Blinken and some others in the administration are deep thinkers.
And so what happened then? They placed it, they found a way to control it remotely . . .
Joe Biden decided not to blow them up. It was in early June, five months into the war, but then, in September, he decided to do it.
I’ll tell you something. The operational people, the people who do kinetic things for the United States, they do what the president says, and they initially thought this was a useful weapon that he could use in negotiations.
But at some point, once the Russians went in, and then when the operation was done, this became increasingly odious to the people who did it. These are well-trained people; they are in the highest level of secret intelligence agencies. They turned on the project. They thought this was an insane thing to do. And within a week, or three or four days after the bombing, after they did what they were ordered to, there was a lot of anger and hostility. This is obviously reflected in the fact that I’m learning so much about it.
And I’ll tell you something else. The people in America and Europe who build pipelines know what happened. I’m telling you something important. The people who own companies that build pipelines know the story. I didn’t get the story from them but I learned quickly they know.
Let’s go back to this situation in June last year. President Joe Biden decided not to do it directly and postponed it. So why did they do it then in September?
The secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, said a few days after the pipeline was blown up, at a news conference, that a major economic and almost military force was taken away from Vladimir Putin. He said this was a tremendous opportunity, as Russia could no longer weaponize the pipelines — meaning that it was not able to force Western Europe not to support the United States in the war. The fear was that Western Europe would not go along any longer in the war. I think that the reason they decided to do it then was that the war wasn’t going well for the West, and they were afraid with winter coming. The Nord Stream 2 has been sanctioned by Germany, and the United States was afraid that Germany would lift the sanctions because of a bad winter.
According to you, what were the motives when you look behind the scenes? The US government was opposed to the pipeline for many reasons. Some say they were opposed to it because they wanted to weaken Russia, to weaken the ties between Russia and Western Europe, Germany especially. But maybe also to weaken the German economy, which, after all, is a competitor to the US economy. With the high gas prices, enterprises have started to move to the United States. So what’s your sense of the motives of the US government, if they blew up the pipeline?
I don’t think they thought it through. I know this sounds strange. I don’t think that Blinken and some others in the administration are deep thinkers. There certainly are people in the American economy who like the idea of us being more competitive. We’re selling LNG, liquefied gas, at extremely big profits; we’re making a lot of money on it. I’m sure there were some people thinking, boy, this is going to be a long-time boost for the American economy.
But in that White House, I think the obsession was always reelection, and they wanted to win the war, they wanted to get a victory, they want Ukraine to somehow magically win.
There could be some people who think maybe it’ll be better for our economy if the German economy is weak, but that’s crazy thinking. I think, basically, that we’ve bitten deep into something that’s not going to work. The war is not going to turn out well for this government.
How do you think this war could end?
It doesn’t matter what I think. What I know is there’s no way this war is going to turn out the way we want, and I don’t know what we’re going to do as we go further down the line. It scares me if the president was willing to do this.
And the people who did this mission believed that the president did realize what he was doing to the people of Germany, that he was punishing them for a war that wasn’t going well. And in the long run, this is going to be very detrimental not only to his reputation as the president but politically too. It’s going to be a stigma for America.
So what you have is a White House that thought it may have a losing card: Germany and Western Europe may stop giving the arms we want and the German chancellor could turn the pipeline on — that was always a fear. I would be asking a lot of questions to Chancellor Scholz. I would ask him what he learned in February when he was with the president. The operation was a big secret, and the president wasn’t supposed to tell anybody about this capability. But he does talk. He says things that he doesn’t want to.
Your story was reported in Western media with some restraint and criticism. Some attacked your reputation or said that you have only one anonymous source, and that’s not reliable.
How could I possibly talk about a source? I’ve written many stories based on unnamed sources. If I named somebody, they’d be fired, or, worse, jailed. The law is so strict. I’ve never had anybody exposed, and of course when I write I say, as I did in this article, it’s a source, period. And over the years, the stories I’ve written have always been accepted. I have used for this story the same caliber of skilled fact-checkers as had worked with me at the New Yorker magazine. Of course, there are many ways to verify obscure information told to me.
And, you know, a personal attack on me doesn’t get to the point. The point is that Biden chose to keep Germany cold this winter. The president of the United States would rather see Germany cold [because of energy shortages] than Germany possibly not supportive in the Ukraine war, and that, to me, is going to be a devastating thing for this White House. For me, and I think also for the people on the mission, it was appalling.
The point is also that it can be perceived as an act of war not only against Russia but against Western allies, especially Germany.
Let’s keep it simple. I can tell you that the people involved in the operation saw the president as choosing to keep Germany cold for his short-range political goals, and that horrified them. I’m talking about American people that are intensely loyal to the United States. In the CIA, it’s understood that, as I put it in my article, they work for the Crown, they don’t work for the Constitution.
The one virtue of the CIA is that a president, who can’t get his agenda through Congress and nobody listens to him, can take a walk in the backyard of the Rose Garden of the White House with the CIA director and somebody can get hurt eight thousand miles away. That’s always been the selling point of the CIA, which I have problems with. But even that community is appalled that he chose to keep Europe cold in support of a war that he’s not going to win. And that, to me, is heinous.
You said in your article that the planning of the attack was not reported to Congress, as is necessary with other covert operations.
It also wasn’t reported to many places inside the military. There were other people in other institutions that should have known but were not informed. The operation was very secret.
There was some critique of your article by people who are engaged in evaluating open-source intelligence (OSINT) on ships and airplanes in the Baltic Sea region, saying that no Norwegian plane was detected directly at the spot of the explosions on September 26 or the days before.
Any serious covert operation takes OSINT into account and works around it. As I said, there were people on the mission who took care of this issue.
What role does courage play for you in your profession?
What’s courageous about telling the truth? Our job isn’t to be afraid. And sometimes it gets ugly. There have been times in my life, when — you know, I don’t talk about it. Threats aren’t made to people like me; they’re made to children of people like me. There’s been awful stuff. But you don’t worry about it — you can’t. You have to just do what you do.
Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize–winning American investigative journalist.
The West’s recent approval of more military assistance for Kyiv could lead to rapid and irreversible escalation.
Early on the morning of May 2, 1945, General Vasily Chuikov, the commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, accepted the surrender of the German garrison of Berlin.
Two days prior, soldiers from the 150th Rifle Division, part of the Soviet 5th Shock Army, had raised the victory banner of the Red Army over the Reichstag. An hour after the banner went up, Adolf Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, committed suicide in his study inside the Furhrerbunker.
Chuikov, the hero of Stalingrad whose battered 62nd Army was renamed the 8th Guards Army in honor of their victory in holding that city in the face of a massive German onslaught, had led his troops into the heart of the Nazi capital, battling stubborn Nazi resistance in the Tiergarten district of Berlin, where the den of the Nazi beast was located. The Soviet general was rewarded for the courage and sacrifice of his soldiers by being in position to accept the German surrender.
In honour of this accomplishment, and the sacrifice it entailed, the Soviet Army inaugurated, in November 1945, a commemorative monument along the Tiergarten. Constructed from red marble and granite stripped away from the ruins of Adolf Hitler’s Neue Reichskanzlei (New Imperial Chancellery), the monument, consisting of a concave colonnade of six joined axes flanked by Red Army artillery and a pair of T-34 tanks, with a giant bronze statue of a victorious Red Army soldier standing watch from the center pylon.
From 1945 until 1993, when the Russian Army withdrew from Berlin, Soviet guards stood guard over the monument. Since that time, the monument has been maintained according to the terms of the German Reunification Treaty of 1990, which brought West and East Germany together in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Carved into the granite of the monument, in Cyrillic letters, is an inscription that reads “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in battle with the German fascist occupiers for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union.”
In a turn of events which must have Vasily Chuikov and the Soviet heroes to whom the Tiergarten war memorial was dedicated turning in their graves, the forces of fascism have once again reared their odious heads, this time manifested in a Ukrainian government motivated by the neo-Nazi ultra-nationalistic ideology of Stepan Bandera and his ilk.
Bandera and his murderous movement had been physically defeated by Soviet forces in the decade following the end of the Second World War. However, its ideology survived in a western Ukrainian diaspora formed from the survivors of that movement who found safe haven in West Germany (where Bandera himself settled until assassinated by the Soviet KGB in 1959); Canada (where Chrystia Freeland, the granddaughter of a former publisher of pro-Bandera propaganda, currently serves as deputy prime minister), and the United States (where the followers of Bandera have constructed a “heroes park” outside Ellenville, New York, including a bust of Bandera and other neo-Nazi Ukrainian ultra-nationalists).
The ideology also survived in the shadows of the western Ukrainian districts that had been absorbed by the Soviet Union following the dismemberment of Poland in 1939, and later, after the reoccupation of these territories by Soviet forces in 1945.
CIA-funded political underground
Here, beginning in 1956 (following the de-Stalinization policies instituted by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in the aftermath of his “secret speech” to members of the Communist Party), thousands of members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Bandera (OUN-B), who had been arrested and convicted by Soviet authorities, were released from the Gulag and returned to their homes, ostensibly to be reintegrated into Soviet society. This reintegration never materialized, however.
Instead, Ukrainian fascists, funded by the CIA, operated as a political underground, running sabotage operations and fomenting anti-Soviet ideology amongst a population where the precepts of Ukrainian nationalist ideology ran strong.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, at the end of 1991, these Ukrainian nationalists emerged from the shadows and began organizing into political parties backed by gangs of violence-prone extremists who promulgated, through physical intimidation, a cult of personality built around Bandera.
Political parties such as Svoboda (“Freedom”) and Right Sector came into being. Although lacking support among the majority of the Ukrainian population, these groups were able to leverage their penchant for organization and violence into a dominant role in the riots that broke out in Maidan Square in Kyiv, in early 2014, that led to the ouster of democratically-elected Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych and his replacement by a government of figures hand-picked by the United States, including the future prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
An intercepted phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, which took place in the days prior to the ouster of Yanukovych in February 2014, had Nuland positioning Yatsenyuk as the future leader of Ukraine and, in this context, was actively encouraging Yatsenyuk to coordinate with Oleh Tyahnybok, the head of Svoboda, who was being openly backed by armed radicals from the Right Sector.
The close coordination between the new post-Maidan government of Ukraine and the pro-Bandera Svoboda and Right Sector political parties manifested in these organizations having an oversized role in Ukrainian security affairs.
By way of example, Dmytro Yarosh, the former head of Right Sector, became an adviser to the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi. In that role, Yarosh oversaw the incorporation of numerous volunteer units of the Right Sector into the regular armed forces of Ukraine.
One of the units created because of this reorganization is the 67th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which since November 2022 has been undergoing training in the United Kingdom.
The fact that NATO members, such as the United Kingdom, are actively involved in the training of Ukrainian forces is well-established. In July 2022 the British Defense Ministry announced that it would begin training approximately 10,000 Ukrainian troops every four months.
That they are playing an active role in providing combat training to ardent neo-Nazi military formations is something Western media outlets appear to eschew.
Ukraine defense contact group
The issue, however, is far more complex—and controversial—than simply providing basic military training to a few thousand adherents of Bandera’s hate-filled ideology.
The 67th Separate Mechanized Brigade is likely to be one of three Ukrainian brigade-sized formations that will be trained and equipped using billions of dollars of military assistance recently approved during the eighth session of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
The contact group was first convened at the sprawling US Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany, in April 2022, and has served as the primary mechanism of coordination between the armed forces of Ukraine and NATO regarding the provision of training and material support to the Ukrainian military.
The most recent convocation of the Ramstein Contact Group took place in the shadow of an interview given by the commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, to The Economist, in December 2022. According to Zaluzhnyi, the primary problem facing Ukraine was the need “to hold this line [i.e., the Soledar-Bakhmut defensive belt] and not lose any more ground.”
Since that interview, Soledar has fallen to the Russians, and Bakhmut is threatened with being surrounded. Moreover, Russian forces are on the offensive north and south of the Bakhmut front, in some instances advancing up to seven kilometers per day.
Zaluzhnyi also stated that the second priority for Ukraine was:
to get ready for this war which can happen in February . To be able to wage a war with fresh forces and reserves. Our troops are all tied up in battles now, they are bleeding. They are bleeding and are being held together solely by courage, heroism, and the ability of their commanders to keep the situation under control.
The Ukrainian commander noted that the February “war” would have Ukraine resuming the attack:
We have made all the calculations—how many tanks, artillery we need and so on and so on. This is what everyone needs to concentrate on right now. May the soldiers in the trenches forgive me, it’s more important to focus on the accumulation of resources right now for the more protracted and heavier battles that may begin next year.
The goal of this offensive, Zaluzhnyi said, was to push Russia back to the borders that existed on February 23, 2022, the start of the Russian invasion. He also indicated that the liberation of Crimea was an objective.
“In order to reach the borders of Crimea, as of today we need to cover a distance of 84 kilometres to Melitopol [a strategic city in the south of the Donetsk Republic]. By the way, this is enough for us, because Melitopol would give us a full fire control of the land corridor, because from Melitopol we can already fire at the Crimean Isthmus.”
Zaluzhnyi exuded confidence. “I know that I can beat this enemy,” he said. “But I need resources. I need 300 tanks, 600-700 IFV’s [infantry fighting vehicles], 500 Howitzers. Then, I think it is completely realistic to get to the lines of February 23.”
Zaluzhnyi spoke of an upcoming meeting with US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “I will tell him [Milley] how much it is worth, how much it costs. If we don’t get it, of course we will fight to the end. But as a movie character said, ‘I don’t vouch for the consequences.’ The consequences are not hard to foresee. This is what we have to do.”
In short, Zaluzhnyi was saying he could win the war with Russia if he received the requested amount of military equipment. Otherwise, Ukraine would likely lose the conflict.
The eighth session
The eighth session of the Ramstein Contact Group convened on January 20 and the Ukrainians pressed hard for their Western allies to provide the material support Zaluzhnyi had requested.
Defense ministers from more than 50 countries participated, including Ukraine’s Oleksii Reznikov who, speaking at the Davos World Economic Forum a few days before the Ramstein meeting, declared that “We [Ukraine] are carrying out NATO’s mission today. They aren’t shedding their blood. We’re shedding ours. That’s why they’re required to supply us with weapons.”
The Contact Group took the Ukrainian demand for material support under consideration, and by the end of the meeting had committed to providing Ukraine with a multi-billion dollar support package, including air defense weapons, artillery ammunition, support vehicle, and (perhaps most importantly) approximately 240 of the 500 infantry fighting vehicles it had requested, broken down roughly into one battalion (59 vehicles) of US-made M-2 Bradleys, two battalions (90 vehicles) of M-1126s, one battalion (40 vehicles) of German Marders and one battalion (approximately 50 vehicles) of Swedish-made CV90s.
The Ramstein Contact Group also promised delivery of four self-propelled artillery battalions, consisting of 19 Swedish-made Archer’s, 18 British-made AS-90’s, 18 US-made M-109 Paladin’s, and a dozen French-made CEASAR’s. When added to the 24 towed FH-70 pieces, the total of artillery pieces being sent to Ukraine amounts to just under 100 artillery pieces, a far cry from the 500 requested by Zaluzhnyi.
Missing from the Ramstein Contact Group list was anything remotely resembling the 300 tanks Zaluzhnyi had requested; the best Ukraine’s European allies could muster [until Tuesday] was a promise from the United Kingdom to supply a company’s worth (14) of Challenger 2 main battle tanks.
Zaluzhnyi, in his interview with The Economist, had indicated that he could not accomplish his planned offensive with anything less than the three armored and three mechanized brigade-equivalents he had requested.
The collective West had responded with barely two brigade’s worth of equipment.
These two, when added to a third mechanized brigade that had previously been formed and was undergoing training in Poland, gave the Ukrainian general half of what he claimed he needed to launch a successful offensive against Russia.
For US General Milley, the equipment shortfall wasn’t the issue—training was. Prior to arriving at Ramstein, Milley toured the sprawling Grafenwoehr training grounds in Germany. There the US Army is in the process of training some 600 Ukrainian soldiers to effectively move and coordinate their company-and battalion-size units in battle, using combined artillery, armor and ground forces.
Speaking to reporters, General Milley said such training was critical in helping Ukraine recapture territory lost to Russia last year. The goal of this training, Milley said, is for incoming weapons and equipment to be delivered to Ukraine so the newly trained forces will be able to use it “sometime before the spring rains show up. That would be ideal.”
What the West is giving
Operational training, no matter how competently delivered and absorbed, does not paint an accurate picture of the true combat capability being turned over to Ukraine by the West. The reality is most of this equipment won’t last a month under combat conditions; even if the Russians don’t destroy them, maintenance issues will.
Take, for instance, the 59 M-2 Bradley vehicles being supplied by the United States. According to anecdotal information obtained from Reddit, the Bradley is, to quote, “a maintenance NIGHTMARE.”
“I can’t even begin to commiserate how f***ing awful maintenance on a Bradley is,” the author, a self-described US Army veteran who served in a Bradley unit in Iraq, declared.
Two experienced crews MIGHT be able to change one Brad’s track in 3 or 4 hours, if nothing goes wrong (something always goes wrong). Then you got the track adjuster arms, the shock arms, the roadwheels, the sprocket itself, that all need maintained and replaced as needed. I haven’t even started talking about the engine/transmission pack yet. When you do services on that, it’s not like you just raise the engine deck lid. You got to take the armor OFF the Bradley so an M88 Wrecker vehicle can use its crane to LIFT the engine/tranny out of the hull.
The Stryker isn’t any better. According to a recent article in Responsible Statecraft, US soldiers who used the vehicle in both Iraq and Afghanistan called the Stryker “a very good combat vehicle, so long as it traveled on roads, it wasn’t raining—and didn’t have to fight.”
The Stryker is also a difficult system to maintain properly. One of the critical features of the Stryker is the “height management system,” or HMS. In short, it is what keeps the hull from riding on the tires. A failure to constantly maintain and monitor the HMS system will result in the hull rubbing up against the tires, causing tire failure and a non-operable vehicle.
The HMS is complex, and a failure to maintain or operate one component will result in the failure of the entire system. The likelihood of the future Ukrainian operators of the Stryker properly maintaining the HMS under combat conditions is near-zero—they will lack the training as well as the “logistical support” necessary (such as spare parts).
The German Marder IFV appears to represent a similar maintenance headache for the Ukrainians: according to a 2021 article in The National Interest, “The vehicle was considered unreliable from the outset: Tracks rapidly wore out, transmissions often failed, and soldiers could not easily remove the vehicle’s engine for field maintenance.”
While Germany is preparing to invest a significant amount of money to upgrade the Marder, this hasn’t yet been done. Ukraine is inheriting an old weapons system that brings with it a considerable maintenance problem Ukraine is not prepared to properly handle.
The Swedish CV 90 saw some limited combat in Afghanistan when deployed with the Norwegian Army. While there is not enough publicly available data about the maintainability of this system, one only needs to note that even if the SV 90 proves easy to maintain, it represents a completely different maintenance problem from that of the Bradly, Stryker, or Marder.
In short, to properly operate the five battalion-equivalents of infantry fighting vehicles being supplied their NATO partners, Ukraine will need to train its maintenance troops on four completely different systems, each with its own unique set of problems and separate logistical/spare part support requirements.
It is, literally, a logistical nightmare that will ultimately prove to be the Achilles heel of the Ramstein tranche of heavy equipment.
But even here, neither NATO nor Ukraine seems able to see the forest for the trees. Rather than acknowledging that the material being provided is inadequate to the task of empowering Ukraine to carry out large-scale offensive operations against Russia, the two sides began haranguing each other over the issue of tanks, namely the failure of Germany to step up to the plate in Ramstein and clear the way for the provision to Ukraine of hundreds of modern Leopard 2 main battle tanks.
This angst was perhaps best captured by Petr Bystron of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party. “German tanks [fighting] against Russia in Ukraine,” Bystron challenged his colleagues, “remember, your grandfathers tried to do the same trick, together with [Ukrainian nationalists] Melnik, Bandera and their supporters.
“The result was immense suffering, millions of casualties on both sides and, eventually, Russian tanks came here, to Berlin. Two of those tanks remain on permanent display nearby, and you must keep this in mind when you pass them by every morning,” Bystron said, referring to the two Soviet T-34 tanks at the Tiergarten memorial to fallen Soviet soldiers.
The issue of Leopard tanks, however, was more political than technical, with Poland threatening to ignore Germany’s refusal to allow the tanks to be sent to Ukraine, announcing that it was prepared to dispatch 14 of its own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in the near future. When combined with the 14 Challenger 2 tanks being promised by the British, Ukraine was getting 28 of the 300 tanks it said it needed for any future offensive (now roughly 58 with the US Abrams).
The numerical disparities and maintenance difficulties aside, NATO politicians seem quite pleased with what was accomplished at Ramstein. According to British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, in an address to Parliament:
The international community recognizes that equipping Ukraine to push Russia out of its territory is as important as equipping them to defend what they already have. Today’s package is an important increase in Ukraine’s capabilities. It means they can go from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil.
Wallace seems to ignore that by empowering Ukraine to expel Russian troops from what are—following the annexation of the four former Ukrainian territories (Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson) last September—permanently part of the Russian Federation, NATO would be potentially creating the conditions under which Russia would be able to doctrinally employ nuclear weapons. Those conditions would be to defend against the accumulation of conventional military power capable of threatening the existential survival of Russia.
Russia, however, has not ignored this. Speaking after the Ramstein Contact Group finished its meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “Potentially, this is extremely dangerous, it will mean bringing the conflict to a whole new level, which, of course, will not bode well from the point of view of global and pan-European security.”
It should be clear for everyone—we will destroy any weapons supplied to the Zelensky’s regime by either the United States or NATO. That is true now as it was true during the Great Patriotic War. The emergence of tanks, bearing Nazi insignia, on the former Soviet soil unequivocally makes us aim at toppling the neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine and creating normal conditions so that the neighboring peoples in the region could live peacefully like in the old days.
Dmitri Medvedev, a former Russian president and close adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, added on Twitter that those who promote a Russian defeat risk unleashing global ruin. “None of them gets it that a nuclear power’s loss of a conventional war can lead to a nuclear one. Nuclear powers haven’t been defeated in major conflicts crucial for their destiny.”
The consequences for Ukraine
The reality is, however, that the consequences of the Ramstein Contact Group’s work will be far more detrimental to Ukraine than Russia.
Under pressure from the West to carry out a major offensive designed to expel Russian forces from the territories captured last year, General Zaluzhnyi will be compelled to sacrifice whatever reserves he would be able to assemble in the aftermath of Ramstein for the purpose of engaging in fruitless attacks against a Russian opponent that is far different from the one Ukraine faced in September and October of last year.
Then, a reconstituted Ukrainian army, bolstered by tens of billions of dollars of NATO equipment, training and operational support, was able to take advantage of over-extended Russian forces to recapture large swaths of territory in Kharkov and Kherson.
Today, Russia’s military presence in Ukraine is a far cry from what it was in the autumn of 2022. In the aftermath of Putin’s September 2022 decision to mobilize 300,000 reservists, Russia has not only consolidated the frontline in eastern Ukraine, assuming a more defensible posture, but also reinforced its forces with some 80,000 mobilized troops, allowing for Russia to sustain offensive operations in the Donetsk regions while solidifying its defenses in Kherson and Luhansk.
From February 24 through the autumn of 2022, Russia deviated significantly from how it doctrinally prosecutes armed conflict. Moving forward, Russia will be waging war by the book. Defensive positions will be laid in a manner designed to defeat concerted NATO attack, both in terms of troop density along the frontline, but also in depth (something lacking in the Kharkov offensive in September 2022) and with sufficient dedicated fire support (again, lacking in September 2022).
By General Zaluzhnyi’s own admission, Ukraine has insufficient forces for the task. Even if Ukraine were able to concentrate all three brigades’ worth of men and material that are in the pipeline following the Ramstein Contact Group meeting at one place at the same time, the 20,000 or so troops this represents would be unable to breach a Russian defensive position laid out in doctrinal fashion.
Ukraine and NATO should heed the history lesson that Petr Bystron presented to his fellow German parliamentarians—German tanks do not historically fare well against Russian tanks on Ukrainian soil.
And Ben Wallace and Mark Milley should pay attention to the order of battle of the Russian forces opposing the Ukrainian Army, especially around the critical battlefields in and around the strategic city of Bakhmut. There, Russian soldiers belonging to the 8th Guards Army are poised to continue in the tradition of Vasily Chuikov’s heroes of Stalingrad and Berlin, destroying the forces of fascism on the field of battle.
While the modern-day soldiers of the 8th Guards Army may not be mounting a new generation of tanks on display in the Berlin Tiergarten, rest assured they know fully well their historical legacy and what is expected of them.
This, more than anything else, is the true expression of the Ramstein effect, a cause-effect relationship that the West does not seem either able or willing to discern before it is too late for the tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers whose lives are about to be sacrificed on an altar of national hubris and ignorance.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Canadian Dimension.
Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.
Excerpted from Lenin’s The Collapse of the Second International, Part II (1915) Find the the full text at marxists.org
“To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the “upper classes”, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth.
For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in “peace time”, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the “upper classes” themselves into independent historical action.
Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties but even of individual classes, a revolution, as a general rule, is impossible. The totality of all these objective changes is called a revolutionary situation. Such a situation existed in 1905 in Russia, and in all revolutionary periods in the West; it also existed in Germany in the sixties of the last century, and in Russia in 1859-61 and 1879-80, although no revolution occurred in these instances.
Why was that? It was because it is not every revolutionary situation that gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, “falls”, if it is not toppled over.”
Auschwitz-Birkenau | Photo credit: Marcin Czerniawski – Unsplash
THIS week, when atomic scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock 10 seconds closer to midnight, they were referring to the very real threat of nuclear war.
But as we mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2023, we must recognise that with nationalism, racism and Holocaust revisionism all on the rise, there are other senses in which Europe is edging closer to midnight.
January 27 marks Holocaust Memorial Day because it was the date of the liberation of the largest of the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz, by the Soviet Red Army in 1945.
But the Holocaust started well before the Nazis decided on industrialised mass murder in gas chambers. The slaughter began as the German war machine moved east in 1941.
Tsarist anti-semitism had confined Jews to a “pale of settlement” in the west of the Russian empire, precisely the areas — including Ukraine — that would be occupied by the Wehrmacht. More than a million Ukrainian Jews were killed in the second world war, most not gassed but shot by Einsatzgruppen SS paramilitary death squads that followed the German soldiers.
Ukraine is a battlefield again and accusations of fascist barbarism fly thick and fast.
For Western pundits like Simon Tisdall or Timothy Garton-Ash, Vladimir Putin is a fascist menace who, like Hitler, must be fought to the finish rather than appeased.
Western war propaganda has tended to portray every passing adversary as Hitler — any reluctance to wage war against Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gadaffi was derided as an echo of Munich — but the stakes when it comes to Russia, the world’s largest country and possessor of its largest stock of nuclear weapons, are immeasurably higher.
But it isn’t the only one. Drawing the battle lines against Russia involves sanitising far-right regimes across Europe.
Poland’s pressure on Berlin to supply tanks to Ukraine sees it rehabilitated as a state of the democratic “front line” — as, distressingly, did its standoff with Belarus over refugees last winter, when it protected “European democracy” by forcing freezing asylum-seekers back across a barbed-wire border in the forest.
Italy’s prime minister comes from a group directly descended from Mussolini’s Fascist Party — yet again, liberals are happy to ignore this.
The Putin threat means we should not trouble ourselves that “some Italians take a lenient view of the Mussolini era,” Garton-Ash assures us.
But Europe’s march right has grim consequences for refugees drowning in the Mediterranean and black communities facing rising racist violence.
Britain is no outlier here. As Holocaust survivor Joan Salter pointed out in a courageous confrontation with Home Secretary Suella Braverman this month, the government’s language on refugees and asylum-seekers drips poison: and those urging we turn the boats away today are the heirs to those who closed the door to Jewish refugees as Hitler’s armies occupied Europe.
As we remember the millions of Jews and Roma murdered by the Nazis, the words “never again” could barely be more poignant. The fight against fascism is not ancient history. It is our urgent task today.
That war, hidden behind the U.S. created Ukraine crisis, is designed to destroy Europe’s manufacturing advantage compared to the U.S. It is more likely though to strengthen the economic position of China and other Asian economies.
I have argued that Germany must open the Nord Stream II pipeline which can bring Russian natural gas to Germany without crossing other countries’ territory. It must also allow Siemens to repair the defect Nord Stream I compressors. It is in fact inevitable if German’s industry is to survive.
Others have come to similar conclusion and decided to sabotage the pipelines to make their re-opening impossible:
Three offshore lines of the Nord Stream gas pipeline system have sustained “unprecedented” damage in one day, Nord Stream AG, the operator of the network, said on Tuesday in what one German official has suggested is a “targeted attack”. Nord Stream 2 suffered a gas leak which was then followed by a drop of pressure on Nord Stream 1.The company also said that it was impossible to estimate when the gas network system’s working capability would be restored.
The simultaneous sub sea damage to three pipelines is obviously not an accident.
A German economy official told Tagesspiegel: “We can’t imagine a scenario that isn’t a targeted attack.”They added: “Everything speaks against a coincidence.”
Russian sabotage to gas supplies to Europe is feared after three offshore lines of the Nord Stream pipeline system suffered “unprecedented” damage in a single day. … Russia has withheld gas supplies to Europe as it seeks to hit back for Western sanctions imposed for the illegal invasion of Ukraine. German newspapers reported sources saying the leaks were as a result of a “targeted attack”.
As stated in yesterday’s piece the claim that Russia is withholding gas from Europe is outright false:
Nord Stream II was created to make Germany independent from pipelines running through Poland and the Ukraine. Blocking it was the most stupid thing for Germany to do and thus chancellor Scholz did it.In the following months Poland blocked the Yamal pipeline which also brought Russian gas to Germany. Ukraine followed up with cutting off two Russian pipelines. The main compressor stations of the Nord Stream I pipeline, which the German company Siemens had build and has the maintenance contract, failed one after the other. Sanction are prohibiting Siemens from repairing them.
It is not Russia that has blocked its gas and oil from European markets. It were the German, Polish and Ukrainian governments that did it.
Russia would in fact be happy to sell more. Putin has recently again offered to push as much Russian gas as possible through Nord Stream II to Germany: …
If Russia were to cut pipelines in the Baltic Sea it would damage those that bring Norwegian gas to Europe, not the pipelines it owns and which give it some leverage.
Russia thus surely has no plausible interest in sabotaging the Nord Stream system. Others though do have such interests. They likely want Germany to ‘stay in line’ with their war to Decolonize Russia. The major potential actors behind this are the U.S., the British, the Ukrainian and the Polish government or a mixture of those.
Geography, and the shallow depth of the Baltic Sea, seem to exclude that a U.S. or British submarines did the damage. Ukraine does not have access to the Baltic Sea. Poland, which had already tried to prevent or hinder the Nord Stream II construction, is the most likely actor behind this though I doubt that it would dare to act alone.
The developers of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline have accused foreign naval forces of “provocative” activity in the vicinity of construction work. The controversial pipeline is about 93 percent complete, and two Russian pipelay vessels are on station and working on the project in Danish waters. Andrei Minin, the branch director of Gazprom-run Nord Stream 2 AG, told TASS that “foreign warships and vessels were demonstrating higher activity” near the operation, and that “such actions are provocative and can lead to gas pipeline damage.” He also accused Poland of deploying a military M-28 patrol aircraft to survey the site.
“The Polish Navy is not conducting provocative operations and has been carrying out its statutory tasks in agreement with international laws,” responded the Polish Army’s central command in a social media post. “M-28B Bryza planes regularly conduct patrol flights in the Baltic Sea region.”
Poland strongly opposes the development of Nord Stream 2, which will give Gazprom a subsea alternative route for supplying natural gas to Western European customers. At present, that gas has to pass through overland pipeline networks in Poland and Ukraine, bringing in valuable transit fees and providing both nations—which do not always have cordial relations with Russia—a measure of energy security.
Poland has reacted angrily to President Joe Biden’s decision to waive U.S. sanctions on Nord Stream II, warning the move could threaten energy security across Central and Eastern Europe.“The information is definitely not positive from the security point of view, as we know perfectly that Nord Stream II is not only a business project—it is mostly a geopolitical project,” said Piotr Muller, a spokesman for the Polish government.
On February 7 Biden stated that he would decided if Nord Stream II opens:
After both leaders appeared to avoid mentioning the pipeline, under repeated questions from reporters at an afternoon press conference, Biden, standing next to the German chancellor said Nord Stream 2 would not move forward if Russia invades Ukraine, in a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin of potential economic consequences.”If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the—the border of Ukraine again, then there will be—there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2,” Biden said during the press conference with Scholz, who did not go as far as Biden, but insisted the U.S. and Germany remain “absolutely united.”
On February 27 Biden sanctioned the company owning the pipeline.
Under its current rightwing leadership Poland has been extremely hostile to Germany. This month it even renewed is demand for war reparations from Germany, an issue that had been settle decades ago:
Poland’s top politician said Thursday that the government will seek equivalent of some $1.3 trillion in reparations from Germany for the Nazis’ World War II invasion and occupation of his country.Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice party, announced the huge claim at the release of a long-awaited report on the cost to the country of years of Nazi German occupation as it marks 83 years since the start of World War II. … Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday the government’s position remains “unchanged” in that “the question of reparations is concluded.”
“Poland long ago, in 1953, waived further reparations and has repeatedly confirmed this waiver,” the ministry said in an emailed response to a Associated Press query about the new Polish report.
It is high time for the German government to wake up and to recognize that a war has been launched against its country.
The tide of public opinion in Germany is as overpowering–and changeable–as elsewhere: “Stop the Russian invasion!“–“Defend Ukraine!”–“Send money”–“More, bigger, further–reaching weapons!”–“Defeat Russia!” Sustaining this tide is an all–encompassing media campaign. No politician is exempt; even President Frank–Walter Steinmeier and ex–Chancellor Angela Merkel are pressured to make excuses for long–past efforts to achieve detente and decrease confrontation with Russia, now denounced as “appeasement”. (Steinmeier has abjectly apologized, Merkel stubbornly refuses to do so.) And the calls to defend Ukraine are expanding: now we are told to defend our “democratic rules of order” in a new crusade.
Every epoch has had its call to battle the Forces of Evil. Once it was Anarchism, then Bolshevism, Communism. After those menaces were defeated new ones were required; in 2001 it was Terrorism. With that frightening term eroding, it is being replaced by Authoritarianism. The gargoyle staring at us from magazine covers–after Stalin, Mao and Fidel have died and Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Gaddafi been eliminated–is now a scowling Putin. And with him Russia, which must be ostracized, sanctioned, wrecked, starved and, above all, defeated. I have not yet heard any direct use of the word “bombed,” but the weapons are ready, with $800 billion spent annually in the USA, about thirteen times Russia’s military budget, not counting the others in NATO. In Germany, on top of its already huge military outlay, a special €100 billion fund was added, after receiving the required 2/3 parliamentary majority to overrule constitutional limitations. Its use is restricted to strengthening and modernizing the Bundeswehr, for F–35 planes, capable of dropping atomic bombs on Moscow in record time, for warships capable of landing at any shore, for latest–model, deadliest tanks.
All this is “to achieve security”. German borders are nowhere threatened, but the Ukraine invasion, it’s said, proves Putin’s plans to regain the area of the USSR or the czarist empire. So who knows? And any call to reason, to push for a truce and negotiations instead of demands to defeat and “ruin” Russia, oust Putin and put him on trial, is denounced as appeasement, with allusions to the 1938 Munich Agreement, when Neville Chamberlain and French premier Daladier sold out Czechoslovakia.
I also see parallels, but very different ones. Hitler’s main aim, proclaimed in his Anti–Comintern Pact with Italy and Japan, was to invade and destroy the USSR, seizing the wealth of its giant expanse and moving closer toward hegemony, with Japan, of all Eurasia.
How did “the West” view such plans? In a secret meeting on November 19 1937, Lord Halifax, Britain’s representative, congratulated Hitler “that the Fuehrer had not only achieved great things in Germany, but that by destroying communism in his own country he had blocked its way to Europe and that therefore Germany can rightly be regarded as a bulwark against Bolshevism.”
The West, though not itself fascist, admired Hitler’s hatred of the USSR and hoped he might attack and destroy it, thus eliminating any nasty socialist threat. It demonstrated this by supporting Hitler, Mussolini and Franco in Spain, uttering hardly a whisper of disapproval of the Nazi takeover of Austria, agreeing to the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia which brought Germany to the Russian border, and rejecting calls by Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov in the League of Nations for “collective security” against German expansion. Litvinov’s hopes for unity against fascism died with the West’s speedy recognition of Franco’s victory on April 1 1939. Within a week Stalin drew the consequential conclusion, ousted Litvinov and set his successor, Molotov, to making a deal with Germany.
As Litvinov commented: British and French leaders…
had done everything they could to goad Hitler’s Germany against the Soviet Union by secret deals and provocative moves… The Soviet Government, in order to avoid an armed conflict with Germany in unfavorable circumstances and in a setting of complete isolation, was compelled to make the difficult choice and conclude a non–aggression treaty with Germany.
The two years it gained made the Red Army’s liberation of Berlin possible, but only after the death of over 50 million people, about 27 million of them Soviet citizens. The events following the West’s rejection of Litvinov’s “collective security” were bloody and devastating. So too are the events of 2022. Of course the world is very different and neither NATO, Putin nor Ukraine are Nazi Germany. But has it not been USA policy to push its NATO closer and closer to Russia, building up its neighbors militarily, with annually threatening border maneuvers, organizing provocations like the putsch against an elected Ukrainian president in 2014 for wanting trade with both Russia and the West? Has it not been trying to totally surround Russia, weaken it economically, aiming at a final goal of “regime change” with a pawn like Yeltsin providing full access to a giant region and a ramp for an attack on the last big barrier to world hegemony, China? Doesn’t current U.S. (hence NATO) policy recall eastward pressures of the past–called “cordon sanitaire,” “containment“ or “rollback”?
That ugly agreement of Stalin with Hitler was necessitated by an overwhelmingly existential threat. Did Putin view the present scene similarly? We cannot tell. Of course he saw how Ukraine was being steadily armed with Javelin antitank missiles, modern artillery, drones and howitzers that fire deadly Excalibur shells “with pinpoint accuracy”. He most certainly knew of deadly, joint U.S.–Ukrainian “biological research facilities,” as admitted by Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland (the same official who guided the 2014 putsch in Kyiv). And we needn’t simply guess at what steps Washington would take if China conducted heavily–armed maneuvers in Tijuana or Baja California; we can look up the Bay of Pigs invasion or the attacks against Guatemala, Grenada, Panama, Dominican Republic, not to mention Korea, Vietnam, Iraq , Libya, Afghanistan, all of them far distant from Washington or New York. Luckily, the toll in lives and damage in Ukraine has not approached that in some of those invasions. Of burning necessity today; those numbers must never be approached!
But even the most valid comparisons with past or present dangers cannot minimize the Putin government’s share in the guilt for present horror! Nor can they overcome worries that Putin may indeed be dreaming of Czar Peter, of a Greater Russia, denying Ukrainian rights to independence and sovereignty. Nor do accusations of Nazi rule justify the violation of international law, the wrecking of so many towns, cities and families, despite a very real Bandera cult and the strength of Azov thugs. It is more than likely that a massive attack against the Russian–speaking Donbas republics was planned and Putin moved to prevent it. But was invasion the only method of prevention? I cannot say.
There is much we do not know. But there can be only one answer to current escalation, with growing election–related American belligerency, ever more powerful weaponry which will cost ever more lives, mostly Ukrainian ones–and the constant menace of atomic war. The answer must be to pressure Biden and Johnson, Baerbock and Scholz to support negotiations and peace. Difficult as such a response may be, I think it must top the agenda, worldwide, of every progressive! And it also means welcoming similar conclusions by a very mixed crowd including Erdogan in Turkey, the Pope in Rome, courageous Lutheran leaders in Germany and even that old war hawk Kissinger.
The call for peace is also heard from inside Russia, despite attempts to silence it. I hope it bears fruit–but not for those Russians who yearn for a NATO victory–and one more regime take–over!
In Germany, weak attempts to avoid total confrontation and work for peace were heard from Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, who dared briefly to look to the future, when a Europe deprived of its Russian component, unalterably aligned against it, should be unthinkable. But timid words in this direction were soon shushed by his coalition partners: the right–wing Free Democrats, ready to spend billions for war and weapons but not tax the billionaires one more euro, and the Greens, once seen as progressive, now nicknamed “Olive–Greens”, with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock loudest in the ravenous pack, outdoing even European Union Commission boss Ursula von der Layen. Scholz knows that resisting either partner could sink his coalition ship and end his captaincy. Both of them (and his own party) have happily joined in many state–level coalitions with the rightist Christian Democrats and could try it again nationally. His fears of their desertion could explain his loud support for the €100 billion package for the military. But the trend is strong all over Europe, as seen in the efforts of Sweden and Finland to break long–held traditions and apply to join NATO. The bellicose “Atlanticists” have used the Ukraine war to please the Pentagon and the Raytheons and defeat the pragmatic, business–minded advocates of trade and rapprochement with Russia and China.
Olaf Scholz now plans to forget past insults from Kyiv and pay a visit, together with Emmanuel Macron and Italian premier Mario Draghi, all of them somewhat hesitant till now but all fearful of media accusations of being slouchers, the threesome will be listening favorably to Zelenskyy’s insistent demands for heavy weapons. They will undoubtedly be spared embarrassing encounters with the Nazi–like flags, insignia and tattoos of the Azov battalions or visits to giant Bandera statues.
Scholz has already paid a first–time state visit to Vilnius, where he assured the heads of state of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that Germany was thinking of them and would send more troops to their countries, near Russian St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. No mention was made of Hitler’s use of this Baltic area when attacking the USSR in 1941 and laying deathly siege to Leningrad for 2½ years, nor the eager participation of Baltic volunteers in SS units fighting for Hitler. During the visit none of the traditional, police–protected marches of SS veterans and supporters were held; their current accent has switched to support of Ukraine.
While the western winds were blowing stronger, partly out of sympathy and solidarity, partly tainted by the smell of nationalism and hatred, where in Germany was DIE LINKE, The Left, a party traditionally standing for peace and opposing the weapons race? Sadly said, it’s better not to ask!
After its disastrous results in the national election last September, where it sank to 4.9%, down from 9.9% in 2017 and only squeezed back into the Bundestag thanks to a rule by which, if three or more delegates were elected directly by their districts, proportional representation (PR) came into force. Just three won, two in Berlin, one in Leipzig, so the party stayed in the Bundestag, but no longer the largest opposition party with 69 seats but as the weakest, down to 39. Drastic changes were more than urgent! But they were not made, and in three state elections the Left again lost catastrophically.
Despite participation in four state coalitions, in Berlin, Bremen, Mecklenburg–West Pomerania and Thuringia, the party’s further existence was clearly endangered. A heavy blow hit in April, when the more “reformist” co–chair Susanne Hennig–Wellsow resigned, because of her “personal situation” as mother but with a veiled attack on her more militant co–chair, Janine Wissler, based on a nastily distorted article in the crafty magazine Der Spiegel, always an enemy of Die Linke, which falsely wrote of Wissler covering up a case of misogyny by her ex–partner. Almost certainly allied with its usual behind–the–scenes snoopers and manipulators, it wrote of Die Linke’s mishandling of “sexism.”
Because of the co–chair’s resignation, the many election defeats, and the charges of sexism flying around (although Die Linke has a female majority in its Bundestag delegation and in state legislatures), it was decided to elect an entire new leadership at the party congress in Erfurt on June 24–26. Defying the unjust media attacks, Janis Wissner will run again for the top office. Since she is a left–leaning female West German, a likely co–chair might be a reformist–leaning male East German.
But the party is sharply divided. The “reformers,” who based their disastrous campaign last year on hopes of joining a national coalition with the Greens and the Social Democrats, had to bury this dream (for now). Even if feasible, the party would have had to abandon opposition to NATO and the deployment of German troops in foreign wars and occupations, as in Afghanistan and Mali, and its resistance to big armament plans, or sending heavy weapons to Ukraine. The ”left wing” of Die Linke insists that this would mean giving up its position as a lone party of peace, thus becoming irrelevant: a slightly left–leaning Social Democratic sector of the establishment, forgetting its opposition to the capitalist system and its mighty billionaire potentates!
Such basic questions will likely be at the center of debate in Erfurt at the end of the month–and in the choice of co–chairs and all other positions. Will the party choose sides? Will it find some compromise? Could it split, forming two weak parts, leaving a peace position unstated in the Bundestag and the media? In two weeks we should know.
Despite the current catastrophe, about forty people, also calling the past to mind. met at a small square monument at Berlin’s Lustgarten park to commemorate a tragic failure.
In May 1942 the Nazi war machine, after all its Blitzkrieg victories and early gains in its attack on the USSR, had begun to bite on granite. Unexpected reverses and heavy losses meant flagging morale, so a big, multimedia exhibition, sarcastically named “Soviet Paradise,” was set up to show the desolate, poverty–stricken Soviet they were destroying–and regain enthusiasm for ”our boys in uniform”.
Two underground groups, young Communists, decided to set fire to the exhibition. Five from one group, seven from a second, Jewish group, severely restricted but not yet hit by the deportations, were led by Herbert Baum, 29, highly talented, in sports, musically, and in support of Marxist ideas–and dearly loved by all of them.
But on the date set, May 18th 1942, the combustible material secreted around the exhibition failed to ignite; the plot was discovered and nearly all members of both groups were caught, tortured, and sent to the guillotine. Baum was found hanged in his cell. The small monument in East Berlin was erected in 1981 and only slightly altered after unification, partially veiling references to the USSR.
On May 8th, to mark the anniversary of a great victory, many hundreds of Berliners resumed the traditional annual visit to the Soviet Memorial Monument in Treptow, one of three in Berlin, with its statue of a Red Army soldier holding a small child protectively in one arm, in the other a sword, smashing a swastika at his feet. The long green lawn below the statue contains the remains of 7000 soldiers who, after four terrible war years, died in the last fierce battle to defeat Hitler fascism.
Elon Musk has started production of his electric autos in a gigafactory complex in a previously wooded area southeast of Berlin, to be his biggest plant in Europe.
With prices here also soaring upwards, various schemes are constantly being debated, either to allay misery or blunt growing militancy, now seen in strikes by nurses, airline attendants, hospital personnel and others, with demands as high as 8% in raises.
In a curious experiment, a single €9 ticket in June, July and August will grant free transportation for one month each on all subway, elevated, streetcar, bus and railroad travel, except only the fancy international routes. From the start, trains to Baltic and North Sea beaches were jammed.
Victor Grossman, born in NYC, fled McCarthy-era menaces as a young draftee, landed in East Germany where he observed the rise and fall of its German Democratic Republic (GDR). He has described his own life in his autobiography Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), and analyzed the GDR and questions of capitalism and socialism in Germany and the USA, with his provocative conclusions, along with humor, irony and occasional sarcasm in all directions, in A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee (New York: Monthly Review Press). His address is wechsler_grossman [at] yahoo.de (also for a free sub to the Berlin Bulletins sent out by MR Online).
The US is willing to sacrifice countless lives to weaken Russia
The US is doing everything possible to extend the suffering of the Ukrainian people by creating conditions that appear to mandate an expansion of Russia’s military effort, and the subsequent destruction of the Ukrainian nation.
US President Joe Biden has approved the transfer of at least four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine. In a “guest essay” published in The New York Times, Biden declared that “[The United States has] moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table. That’s why I’ve decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.”
Prior to the decision regarding HIMARS being announced, the president ppeared to be shying away from sending advanced artillery rockets to Ukraine. “We’re not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia,”he had announced, on May 30, in response to a reporter’s question. Biden, however, appears to have been speaking about the ATACMS missile. He clarified his position the next day, in his essay. “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.”
The fact is, the HIMARS system, if deployed close to the Russian frontier, would give Ukraine the ability to strike nearby Russian cities, such as the strategic logistics hub in Belgorod. Biden’s apparent reversal was in large part due to guarantees from Kiev. “The Ukrainians have given us assurances that they will not use these systems against targets on Russian territory,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared a day after Biden’s essay was published. “There is a strong trust bond between Ukraine and the United States.”
The Russian Presidential spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, decried the HIMARS decision as “deliberately and diligently pouring fuel on the fire,” while scoffing at the notion of Ukrainian assurances regarding the weapons systems’ future use. “In order to trust [someone], you need to have experience with situations when such promises were kept,” Peskov said. “Regretfully, there is no such experience whatsoever.”
According to President Biden, the purpose behind his decision to arm Ukraine with billions of dollars’ worth of advanced weaponry was motivated by pure intent. “America’s goal is straightforward: We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.” Recognizing the difficult situation Ukraine has found itself in militarily, he seems to understand the pressures being placed upon Kiev to negotiate an end to the fighting. “I will not,” Biden declared, “pressure the Ukrainian government…to make any territorial concessions. It would be wrong and contrary to well-settled principles to do so.”
Biden was making specific reference to the fact that any potential agreement with Russia to stop the fighting would, at a minimum, need to recognize Crimea as Russian and the Donbass republics as independent, as well as understand the probability that Kherson and other Russian-majority territories currently under Moscow’s control would probably undertake referenda regarding whether they would remain a part of Ukraine going forward.
Biden’s posture flies in the face of historical and practical reality. Russia will never give up Crimea, nor will it pressure the newly independent republics of Lugansk and Donetsk to rescind their hard-won liberation. Any other questions of territorial status are directly related to battlefield realities, and everything indicates that not only will Ukraine be unable to reverse Russia’s territorial gains but will more than likely lose additional swaths of territory, in the weeks to come. as the fighting continues.
Biden, by providing advanced weapons to Ukraine, is seeking to accomplish the impossible–a negotiated Ukrainian victory. This is reflected in his fanciful depiction of the current state of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. “Ukraine’s talks with Russia are not stalled because Ukraine has turned its back on diplomacy,” Biden states. “They are stalled because Russia continues to wage a war to take control of as much of Ukraine as it can. The United States will continue to work to strengthen Ukraine and support its efforts to achieve a negotiated end to the conflict.”
Biden’s words, like the American policy they ostensibly describe, are inherently contradictory and reek of hypocrisy. After declaring that “We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia,” Biden goes on to articulate a case for just that. “It is in our vital national interests to ensure a peaceful and stable Europe and to make it clear that might does not make right. If Russia does not pay a heavy price for its actions, it will send a message to other would-be aggressors that they too can seize territory and subjugate other countries.”
The ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict is one that should never have been fought and once started, should have been brought to a quick conclusion. The blame for both the initiation of the conflict, and the fact that is it still ongoing today, does not lie, as Biden suggests, with Russia.
A quick history lesson: The special military operation is a direct result of America’s ongoing efforts to use NATO expansion, including the desired incorporation of Ukraine, as a means of weakening Russia while undermining the viability of the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin so that he could be replaced with a modern-day clone of Boris Yeltsin—a Russian ‘leader’ in name only, who would once again cast the country prostrate at the feet of a domineering West.
The decade of the 1990s was good for those in the West seeking to punish Russians for the perceived Cold War sins of the Soviet Union. But it was a horrible time for the Russian people. Neither President Putin nor wider society appear to be willing to allow the US and NATO to reverse the hands of time and repeat that era of darkness. Any student of modern Russian history would know this. Unfortunately, Western leaders are informed not by Russian historians but by Russophobe propagandists, and the result is a conflict in Ukraine.
The special military operation, however, was not triggered by NATO’s expansion, but rather by the policies of Ukraine, promoted and facilitated by NATO, which subjected the ethnic-Russian population of Donbass to the eight-year horror of genocidal, ethnic-driven hatred inflicted on them at the hands of the most vile, odious ideology imaginable – the neo-Nazi extremism of the Ukrainian political far right, embodied in the form of the Azov Regiment and other organizations of its ilk.
Despite the existence of a negotiated framework for peace – the 2015 Minsk Accords – brokered as part of the Normandy Format mechanism that included France, Germany, and Ukraine, with Russia observing, the US and its NATO allies (including France and Germany) not only failed to pressure successive Ukrainian presidential administrations to fulfil their obligations under the accords, but actively conspired against any process that would have led to the peaceful conclusion of the Donbass conflict in a manner which not only ended the killing, but also ensured that the Donbass region would remain an integral part of the Ukrainian nation.
The result was an eight-year conflict which killed over 14,000 people, most of them ethnic Russians.
Russia’s military operation was initiated for the purpose of bringing the conflict in Donbass, and the suffering of the local population, Ukrainian and Russian alike, to an end. That it has taken this long is the direct result of miscalculations on the part of the Russian military in the initial phases of the operation, the unexpected resilience and determination of the Ukrainian armed forces, and the fact that the Ukrainians had eight years to construct some of the most complex defensive positions in modern history along the line of conflict in the Donbass regions. In the end, however, Russia’s determination to see the mission through to its completion, combined with the professionalism and competence of its military forces, are producing the very victory that is unfolding on the ground in eastern Ukraine today, and which Biden seeks to reverse through the provision of advanced weapons systems such as HIMARS.
An important reality which cannot be overlooked in the ongoing military struggle is that the Ukrainian military has been functioning as a de facto extension of NATO for some time now. Since 2015 the US and its NATO allies have been training Ukrainian officers and soldiers to NATO standards in terms of organization, tactics, communications, and leadership. While most of the Ukraine military’s pre-conflict inventory was composed of Soviet-era equipment, much of this had been upgraded so that it met or exceeded the capabilities of most NATO members. In short, if Ukraine had been a formal member of NATO, it would have possessed the third largest military in the organization, after the United States and Turkey, with greater capabilities and competency than most of its other would-be NATO partners.
In the years leading up to Russia’s special military operation, Ukraine was supplied with hundreds of millions of dollars of modern military equipment, including Javelin anti-tank weapons. These weapons, and the Ukrainian military, failed to defeat the Russians. Indeed, by the end of Phase One of Russia’s operation, announced on March 25, Russia had inflicted significant harm on the Ukrainian military, making a Russian victory in Phase Two–the liberation of the Donbass–all but inevitable.
The provision of tens of billions of dollars of military aid by the US, NATO, and the European Union has not been able to reverse this tide. What these weapons, when combined with the simultaneous provision of real-time intelligence about Russian force dispositions and an untouchable strategic depth in the form of military bases in Germany, Poland, and other NATO countries from where Ukraine can receive training and equipment without fear or Russian attack, have been able to allow is the ability for Ukraine to reconstitute many of the military formations that Russia had destroyed or degraded during Phase One.
The “HIMARS Effect” will not have any meaningful impact on the battlefield in Ukraine–Russia’s military superiority is assured across the board, regardless of the numbers and quality of the weapons the US and its allies provide Ukraine. However, the goal of the US in Ukraine, according to President Biden, is to inflict a heavy price on Russia for its actions. HIMARS, when employed, will inevitably kill and wound Russian soldiers, and damage and destroy Russian military equipment. The same is true for all the lethal weapons Ukraine has been provided by the West.
Russia is, in fact, paying a heavy price in Ukraine, not because of any aggressive act of territorial acquisition carried out by the Russian military, but rather as a direct result of the policies undertaken by both NATO and Ukraine to threaten the legitimate national security interests of the Russian nation, and the lives of the ethnic Russian population of the Donbass and other eastern Ukrainian territories. All HIMARS contributes to this process is an expanded death count without a change in the outcome. In this, the HIMARS Effect perfectly encapsulates Biden’s Ukraine policy as a whole, where he is willing to sacrifice the lives and viability of the Ukrainian people and nation for the purpose of inflicting harm on Russia with no hope of altering the outcome of events on the ground.
It is a policy of death, pure and simple, and as such epitomizes the role played by America in the world today.
Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and author of ‘SCORPION KING: America’s Suicidal Embrace of Nuclear Weapons from FDR to Trump.’ He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, in General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and from 1991-1998 as a UN weapons inspector.