Berlin, Germany (Weltexpress). We all remember it well: we Europeans considered ourselves fortunate to live in an era of peace, the likes of which the continent had never known in its history. Wars seemed to be abolished and almost unthinkable here; they used to take place in faraway Africa and Asia. And the annexation of Crimea and the Donbas in 2014 was only seriously analyzed by experts, but perceived by the wider population as a distant and therefore harmless weather glow on the horizon. After all, “U-Kraine” translates as “land on the edge” – and this was true not only from a Russian but also from a Western European perspective. On 24 Feb 0430h everything suddenly changed: the beginning of the Russian invasion against Ukraine. Overnight, the TV comedy actor Zelensky became a hero of the nation, indeed of world politics, to whom state leaders (whose popularity among their own people has skyrocketed from 30 to over 90 per cent) pilgrimage and queue up so that a particle of his heroic splendour might also flake off on their shoulders at the joint photo opportunity. In 2014, the Ukrainian army was a desperate, demoralized bunch – proven in the fight against the Russian giant, it is now considered one of the best in the world.
Russia’s invasion, for Putin and his military superiority, a little Sunday stroll – as he thought and with him probably most in the West – is miserable. The Russian strongman is fighting elaborate rearguard action. Earlier, he had made it clear that the status of Ukraine, with its nine million Russian-speaking inhabitants, was non-negotiable for Russia: with Ukraine, Russia is a world power – without it, only a regional power. Ukraine is the “red line” for Russia. Putin recalls the Western powers’ alleged assurance that Nato would not expand eastwards in exchange for recognition of German reunification. He reluctantly accepted Nato accession of former Warsaw Pact states: From his point of view, the West had not kept to that deal.
A year ago, Ukraine’s EU membership seemed a long way off – now the country is on the fast track. And 86 percent of Ukrainians want to join NATO. Their military capability has “increased exponentially” since the Russian invasion, claims General Sir Tim Radford, Deputy Commander of SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe).
One wonders, however, how this is supposed to work: France, traditionally pro-Russian since Voltaire and Catherine the Great, is only hesitantly joining the front against Russia. And the British, Ukraine’s most uncompromising supporters, are just now sending their ultra-modern and sinfully expensive aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on a long voyage with almost no fighter planes or ammunition.