"Germany realizes that Ukraine will be a member of the EU, but this will cost dearly": Interview with Marieluise Beck

Sunday, 3 April 2022, 12:55

Serhiy Sydorenko

Originally appeared in Ukrainian @eurointegration.com.

Marieluise Beck is a former parliamentarian of the German Bundestag and one of its most experienced members. She was elected to parliament in 1987–1990, and served without interruption from 1994 to 2017, when she retired from politics and founded the think tank Zentrum Liberale Moderne (Center for Liberal Modernity). We met with her this week in Kyiv, together with other leading members of the center, the first German delegation to visit the capital of war-torn Ukraine.

Beck believes that there will be others.

We talked about this, about the change in Germans' attitude to Ukraine, and about the chances that Russia will attack member states of NATO. She thinks that this is a very real probability.

For the interview highlights, watch the Ukrainska Pravda video below (with Ukrainian voiceover.)

For those who prefer reading, the complete text of our conversation is below.

"It was like a U-turn"

What compelled you to come to Kyiv right now, during the war?

I had my first serious life lesson during the war in Bosnia. I made many trips delivering humanitarian aid to the enclaves. [Beck was already a member of the Bundestag — Ed.]

And that is precisely when I realized that humanitarian aid was not as important as the fact that people were coming there to them, and then these people were going back and recounting what they had seen. That is why now that nearly all international representatives have visited Kyiv, it was time to come and see what is happening here and then return to Germany.

Is there a chance that the German Chancellor will also go to Kyiv?

I will say more: I would even advise him to visit with other people.

My idea is that Johnson, Macron, and Scholz should come here; come together.

Such a step would be far more beneficial than calling Putin one after the other.

They are calling Putin too often, giving him the possibility to play with us. I know that there is a serious discussion in the government and the Chancellor's Office about the embargo on oil and gas. There is very strong pressure inside Germany, from the media and from the public. People are saying that we are financing Putin's war. At the same time, there is the fear that because we — through no fault but our own — are incredibly dependent on Russian gas, this [embargo] will lead to the collapse of our industry.

Germany is changing right now. Weapons are being delivered to Ukraine, although earlier Berlin had emphatically refused to do this. Nevertheless, I believe that we can do more, that the German government must do more.

How did this change come about?

It was like a U-turn! Yes, it was like a U-turn. You know that the head of the Social Democrats in parliament is a devout pacifist. And he is not just one of 200 deputies; he is the leader. And he really thinks that way. He is a sincere person, and he is genuinely convinced that you have to talk, talk, talk and not fight at all.

Many parliamentarians think the same way, including members of the Greens, especially young people, liberals, and the Christian Democratic Union of Germany.

Because for years, they have been repeating the phrase, "There can be no peace in Europe without Russia." They said that "NATO is encircling Russia," as though this were the cause of Putin's distrust.

There are even people who believe that Ukraine or Georgia should not have been invited to sign association agreements with the EU "because we knew that this would provoke Putin." And that thinking was very widespread.

The feeling of closeness with Russians is partly mixed with a sense of guilt for the Second World War. And even though during the war, Nazi Germany killed as many and probably more Ukrainians than Russians, for many decades, Russian (initially Soviet) propaganda has been pounding into the Germans' heads the idea that Germans should feel responsibility above all toward Russia.

Because of this, there is a crazy reluctance to believe what they see. Putin's aggression and decisiveness.

That is why the government continued to insist that Germany should not supply any weapons to Ukraine. But in February, Germany began to sense that it was isolated even among the Western states. And then it began to move. Finally, they changed their policies on supplying weapons to your state [even before the Russian invasion — Ed.]

Germany is changing now. Even the far-left pro-Putin party Die Linke has apologized for its policies.

The ultra-right are also changing their position.

"Democracy is forcing politicians to look at people"

How far-reaching will this change be? Will we finally see Germany supporting Ukraine's entry into the EU and NATO?

Debates in the EU are taking place around fast-track membership, which you do not have right now. Granting candidate status is a lengthy bureaucratic procedure. Germany and France are against announcing that we have approved a political decision and that you are now a candidate country.

But they have agreed that you should proceed toward membership by the normal procedure.

In your opinion, is Ukraine viewed as a European state that should become a member of the EU?

I think so. But democracy is forcing politicians to examine what people are thinking because they still have to be re-elected.

They see that Ukraine is a 40-million-strong country, a huge country. And right now, it is a country being destroyed by war. And that is why they are thinking about how much money will have to be poured into Ukraine from the EU budget.

However, this war has also led to immense changes in social consciousness. I have never seen so many Germans talking about their deep empathy and sympathy for the Ukrainian nation. People are taking refugees into their homes and the like. Thus, there is public support. But on the political level, there is also the realization that Ukraine will be a new member of the EU but that this will cost dearly.

Sociological surveys also confirm that Europeans support Ukraine's membership in the EU.

Yes, and both you and we [friends of Ukraine in the West — Ed.] have been fighting for this for a long time.

When Europe was divided, we barely knew anything about each other. For us, there was the Soviet Union, and when the USSR collapsed, it was difficult to understand that Ukraine was a single country. Then the Baltic states emerged, then others. It was simpler with Poland. We in Germany at least understood what it was, where it was, but Belarus? We had no clue where its borders lie.

It was the same where you were concerned.

Ukraine is still an unfamiliar place for many Europeans.

It started with the Maidan in 2004 when closer ties began to appear. We in Germany began to realize how many modern, active, and educated people are in your country, that you are true Europeans, especially when we talk about cities. Since then, this perception has grown.

Now we can speak about deep empathy regarding the war that Ukraine is waging.

But the problem is that many ordinary people and politicians in our country still have not understood that you are fighting for our freedom.

They believe that Putin wants to take back Ukraine, and that's the end of it.

"Putin is seeking to restore the Russian Empire"

In other words, the Germans don't believe that he will go any farther.

They don't see the danger. Or they don't want to see. OK, besides Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia could be next, and the public will accept this too. But if you say that afterwards Putin will want a war against the West, which for him is NATO, then they will tell you "no."

But I expect that he will try to take the Baltic states.

The isthmus [between Kaliningrad oblast and Belarus — Ed.], where the border passes between Poland and Lithuania, is just 60 kilometers long. And when this happens, we will be faced once again with the very same question as now. There will be people who will ask, "And what if Putin uses nuclear weapons? Is it worth the risk?" Even though this would be an attack on a member state of NATO and would trigger Article 5. We will have to act. But I don't know what the Germans' response will be in that case.

Because in Germany, there is such a great inclination toward dialogue, to compromises, to negotiations. There is a belief that this leads to peace. But because of this, sometimes we forget that, in addition to the capacity for dialogue, you must have power. Deterrence is necessary. You have to give the signal, "You better not try." This understanding vanished after 1945.

Is it possible that Germany will finally comprehend what is happening?

Yes. In Bosnia, this understanding appeared. It happened after Srebrenica [the famous site of the genocide of Bosnia Muslims], after this horror that took place there became known. Yes, it was already too late. In Ukraine, too, it is already too late; all you have to do is look at Mariupol.

Right now, we are not seeing any new photographs from Mariupol [This interview took place before the liberation of Bucha and the publication of photographs and videos from there — Ed.], and to a certain extent, I feel that no one even wants to know exactly what is going on there because then this will force governments to act more decisively. Because when European look at these photos, they think that this could be me or my children. Аnd people are sensitive to this kind of feeling, and they can force the government to act.

That is why I (in Germany) am continuing to speak about Mariupol. The problem is that we lack information from there.

We have to speak and explain that, if the Ukrainian army is not better equipped, then Kharkiv may be next. And knowing Putin, what he did in Mariupol or Kharkiv, will he have a problem doing the same thing in Kyiv? In Odesa?

In your view, what is Putin's end goal? And what does German society think about this?

Germans think that the end goal is to acquire Ukraine.

What do you mean by "acquire"?

Remove Zelensky's government, cancel freedom of expression, freedom of the press.

If he takes Ukraine, he will establish a regime along the lines of the one he set up in the Donbas and the one that is in Russia; that is, a totalitarian one. In order to hold onto your country, he will simply have to be very totalitarian because people who have tasted freedom live in your country! That is why he will have to keep your state under a huge boot, under military rule, like Kadyrov is doing in Chechnya.

So, German society believes that once Putin does this, he will calm down.

But I think that Putin seeks to restore the Russian Empire. And to him, this means being stronger than the West! Putin is always talking about the "decline of the West." Therefore, his life-long dream has been to attack the Baltic states, for example, and the West will be unable to mount a response.

What can Ukraine do in order to convince the West?

For example, all those speeches that Zelensky has delivered before many parliaments, they were so impressive! Do you know why the German Bundestag refused to hold debates after Zelensky's speech? Because they were afraid of those movements that could emerge within the party fractions!

In addition, your women who have gone abroad are also working. We know about the so-called "women's battalions" (composed of female parliamentarians, female experts, etc.) that are traveling the world speaking to governments and politicians.

But I don't know of a recipe that will work. And my heart is breaking because I think that there are two things that we should do. The first is no more money for Putin, which includes complete exclusion from SWIFT and an embargo. And the second: we must deliver the weapons that the Ukrainians need. Full stop. But it is not up to us to decide about the kinds of weapons that are being discussed. It is the Ukrainians who are supposed to say what is indispensable to them. Our governments know about this need. Ukraine has been giving them a list of requirements.

Look at what is happening in Ukraine and do it!

Is there a chance this will happen?

I hope so. But I don't know how much time this will take. I realize that time is against you. The regrouping of the Russian army may mean that Putin is planning to encircle your armies in the east. And I am very much afraid of this. It will be a Debaltseve on an incredible scale. It is horrible even to think about something like that.

But the problem is that during wartime, democracies always function too slowly, and they wake up too late.

We should have understood this after the bombing of Grozny.

We should have begun to act back in 2008, after Georgia. At the time, the Georgians warned us that this was not the last time we would be seeing this.

We should have seen this in Syria when Putin became the ally of one of the most brutal dictators. Even at that time, we could see pictures from those places. They were coming in every day, everywhere on television. But the reaction was…weak.

That is why I hope that the West finally wakes up and that finally, this will have an impact not just on people's feelings; that informed policies based on the understanding that this war is already a European war will finally emerge.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.