The Urgency of Avoiding Escalation in Ukraine

January 31, 2023

On January 25, Chancellor Scholz told the Bundestag that Germany will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. For some, the German government was bowing to growing “international pressure”. For Mr. Scholz and others, the German government was maintaining that its lockstep approach to weapons deliveries is the best way to support Ukraine, and the only way this can be done is by having the support of the German public opinion.

Since this “international pressure” came essentially from the US with Poland at the forefront, I asked, “Could it be that Washington orchestrated an effort to pressure Germany into providing Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks not only to counter a new Russian offensive but also to underline Washington’s incontestable leadership in the conflict with Russia, and to eliminate the prospect of any bilateral dialogue between Moscow and Berlin, and perhaps even Paris, and thus force Russia to look at Washington as its single Western interlocutor when peace talks become inevitable to end the bloodshed in Ukraine?” 

It seems that France and Germany, and the majority of European countries are uncomfortable with the prospect of a total decoupling of relations with Russia. Because, although German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was criticized for saying that NATO and Russia are at war, this is the reality, except for the presence of NATO troops fighting the Russians on Ukrainian territory.

A day after the announcement of the German decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Andrii Melnyk, called for the creation of a “fighter jet coalition” that would provide Ukraine with US F-16s and F-35s, Eurofighters, Tornados, French Rafales, and Swedish Gripen jets.

And on January 27, President Zelensky said he had sent a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron encouraging him to bar Russian athletes from competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The same day, “I will continue to speak to Russia,” President Macron said during a reception at the Elysée Palace on the occasion of the Lunar New Year, confirming what French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna had said earlier in the month, that France seeks to maintain existing contacts with Russia at all levels to allow an unhindered exchange of information on critical security topics.

And in an interview with Tagesspiegel on January 29, Chancellor Scholz reacted to the Ukrainian demand for fighter aircraft. He said his focus was on the delivery of German-made Leopard 2 tanks. This is what the BBC reported about the interview:

“The fact we’ve only just made a decision [on sending tanks] and the next debate is firing up in Germany, that just seems frivolous”, he said.

“He confirmed that he speaks regularly to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, with the most recent call between the two in December 2022.

“We need to talk to each other,” he said, but added that he was always clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was absolutely unacceptable and only the withdrawal of its troops would resolve the situation.” [i]

Though the response to a question on further arms deliveries, this was an obvious expression of frustration with the multiple economic, political, and security implications of the war.

On January 30, President Biden was asked if the US would provide F-16s to Ukraine. He said, “no”.  He did not add, “not for now”.

Western countries are supplying Ukraine with air defense systems and it is clear that delivery of fighter aircraft is not in the cards. Because Western capitals rightly believe that, this would turn support for Kyiv into a military confrontation with Russia. This could not be what President Zelensky is aiming at to deter Russia from pursuing its original invasion plans.

I believe that further expansion of the war would serve no party’s interests. And if the war continues with no end in sight but worsening economic negative implications not only for Europe but the whole world, the pressure for the launching of peace talks would increase. So, why wait? The launching of peace talks without any preconditions, preferably accompanied by a cease-fire, appears to be the best option under the current circumstances.




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