“Young Russians cry when they are drafted into the army”

Ukrainians are defending themselves more successfully than Russia expected. The situation now becomes even more dangerous, especially for civilians, warns the historian Bastian Matteo Scianna. Because Russia does not respect international law.

t-online: Mr. Scianna, Russia’s advance into Ukraine is progressing successfully, but not as quickly as warlord Vladimir Putin hoped. What are the problems for the Russian army?

Bastiano Matteo Scianna: Vladimir Putin and his generals first tried to take Kiev quickly and overthrow the government without many casualties. A coup from the outside, so to speak, in which one wanted to be perceived as liberators. In the east and south of Ukraine, Russian units were likely deployed in a very disorderly fashion, causing many supply and refueling problems. It was all very bold, which in a sense also corresponds to Russian military doctrine.

Also, fight against highly motivated and well trained Ukrainians. However, a final judgment is difficult due to the limited information available. One thing is also certain: the Ukrainian army will struggle to maintain this combat intensity.

How should we generally imagine the Russian army? It should be very modern, but sometimes we also get images of outdated technology and soldiers looking overwhelmed.

The Russian army has been modernized in many areas, especially the air and naval forces. The ground forces are partly very modern, partly obsolete. In general, it is difficult to measure the real combat power of an army in numerical and material terms alone. It is terrifying to see how much your own soldiers are treated and voluntarily sacrificed. In peacetime, it’s shocking. Young Russians cry when they are drafted into the army. Because many conscripts are harassed and mistreated.

In addition to the large mass of soldiers, are there also elite organizations?

The Russian army has around 45,000 airborne units which served as the spearhead. Many of the modern weapon systems have not yet been widely used. There is also the threat of using thermobaric ammunition.

Does this mean it can get much worse?

Unfortunately yes. The Russian army is now beginning to advance more slowly and in a more orderly fashion. This way they will track supplies and you will be able to fight more closely with air support. At the same time, cities are being surrounded and attacked more and more directly with artillery or from the air. However, the Russian military had little precision ammunition and will increasingly rely on unguided ammunition.

Civilian casualties are now more and more consciously accepted. International law is of little interest to Russia. You have already seen it in Syria. The next few days will show how long the Ukrainian army can defend the east and south, as well as its capital.

Bastiano Matteo Scianna, born in 1987, has been an associate researcher at the Historical Institute of the University of Potsdam since 2016. The historian teaches and researches German foreign policy and European integration and is writing his thesis on the history of the Schengen Agreement. He is co-author of the book “Bloody abstention. The role of Germany in the Syrian conflict“, which was released in 2021.

The West could not and did not want to see Putin attacking. And the Ukrainians?

Hardly anyone in Kiev expected this. Even in the West, no one saw a war of this magnitude coming. Fighting for the Donbass territories, yes. But a ‘900-style campaign?

Now the federal government of Olaf Scholz has literally woken up and speaks of a “breakthrough”. The Bundeswehr will receive around € 100 billion to be ready for defense again.

I’m curious to see how far this “breakthrough in time” will go. When Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014, there were many similar statements. What happened? Very little.

So they were just empty words from the chancellor?

We’ll see. One thing is certain: in Germany something only happens when a tragedy has arrived. Finance Minister Christian Lindner partially backtracked and pointed out that the $ 100 billion would not be available all at once. Furthermore, the amount would likely have to be invested in the neglected promise of defending two percent of the gross national product. You have to remain optimistic, but watch carefully. The announcements must be made and the funds spent in a targeted way.

Bastian Matteo Scianna: The historian warns the West not to underestimate the threat posed by Vladimir Putin. (Source: private)

So if the federal government doesn’t keep its tough new course against Putin, what will happen then?

Let’s put the question differently: what else needs to happen for everyone to understand the danger that the Putin regime represents for the Western world? Does Russia first have to burn down a Ukrainian city or two before reaching Transnistria or attacking other states? I hope it doesn’t come to that.

A hypothetical question: Could Germany have prevented the attack by supporting Ukraine more?

It is difficult to answer. A lot of money went to Ukraine’s economic support and there was also a lot of good will. But over and over again, when the Ukrainians demanded modern weapons, Berlin’s answer was: no. Furthermore, Putin’s power politics have not been more strongly opposed in other regions of the world. Does “turning point” now also mean that the Federal Republic of Germany will remain in Mali and not leave the country to Russian influence?

Now the head of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, even suggests that Ukraine should be admitted to the EU as soon as possible. What do you think?

This is emotionally understandable, but extremely dangerous. According to Article 42 (7) of the Lisbon Treaty, this would also trigger an alliance, i.e. a war between the EU and Russia. Fortunately, a spokesperson for the president of the Commission has already corrected this reckless statement. The ultimate goal must be to keep Ukraine as an independent state.

But let’s go back to Germany. Has our society relied too much on the fact that all the potentates of the world will always play by the rules? And if necessary, can he be led to reason with money?

It’s a dangerous world out there and a lot of people didn’t want to see it. But neither is politics. Buying a cargo bike or CO2 emissions are not relevant to Putin: Russia should be a great power, if necessary by military means. He certainly does not perceive Germany as a serious obstacle.

Does this mean that the deterrent effect of the Bundeswehr is zero?

Enough. In fact, the 100 billion already mentioned are not even used for “armaments”, as is often misrepresented by the media. Money is much more used to equip the Bundeswehr so ​​that it can act as a credible deterrent alongside NATO. Fulfilling the commitments in the ammunition sector alone would swallow up a considerable part of the € 100 billion – estimates are around 20-30 per cent.

In my opinion, therefore, the debate on equipment has only just begun. I would also prefer that we could invest the military budget in kindergartens and schools and absolutely not have to adapt our liberal social order to dictators. German naivety and shirking responsibility, however, have been lamented for years. The confidence of many allies in the Federal Republic and its security policy promises therefore reached new lows.

Are you also referring to Israel, for example? Whose existence, according to former Chancellor Angela Merkel, is part of the German “reasons of state”?

For example. In the event of a conflict, the Israelis will certainly not rely on Germany. This should put us to shame.

Mr. Scianna, thank you very much for the interview.

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