Interview for the weekly WELT am SONNTAG with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Wladimir Klitschko

16.07.2023 - Interview

Question: Ms Baerbock, in Saxony, one in three votes goes to the Alternative for Germany – a party that wants to end assistance for Ukraine and that does not want to deliver arms. For how long can you maintain support for Ukraine?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: We will support Ukraine for as long as the country needs us, so that it can return to a life in peace and freedom. This is not my first time in Saxony, not even in Chemnitz. I live in Brandenburg myself, and everywhere in our country, whether it be in the east or the west, the north or the south, I see that this war leaves no-one cold.

Question: Your critics might ask: why are there no negotiations?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: I’ve made it clear that the Federal Republic of Germany more than others, through the role it played, did everything it could, up to the last minute before this brutal war of annihilation was launched by Russia, to avoid further military escalation. From 2014 efforts had been made at the negotiating table to prevent yet another invasion. Russia’s President wanted the exact opposite – namely to wipe out Ukraine.

Our task at the Federal Foreign Office is nothing other than to attempt, through diplomatic efforts, to bring to an end these brutal attacks by Russia. But for as long as we do not succeed, we must help Ukraine to protect its people.

Question: Wladimir Klitschko, on your way to this interview you passed by a demonstration at which people were carrying Russian flags. What goes through your mind when you see something like that?

Wladimir Klitschko: When I see the Russian flags here, I think of the war crimes Russia’s soldiers are committing in Ukraine. Unfortunately, every day and every night in Ukraine lives are being destroyed – not only infrastructure, which can be rebuilt; civilians, children, women and men are dying in the attacks.

Question: Does it make you angry to see Germans holding Russian flags?

Wladimir Klitschko: To me, it’s only proof that people holding up Russian flags today in Germany do not understand where they are living. It would be best for them to travel to Kyiv. There, they would understand that this flag today stands for the destruction of life.

Question: Ms Baerbock, inflation is high. People need to cut back spending, and they may not be able to afford going on holiday. At the same time, the German Government is putting together a weapons package worth 700 million euro. How do you explain this to people in Germany?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: On the one hand, inflation in our country would not be so grotesquely high – and it is at far more dramatic levels in other places in the world – if there were no brutal Russian war of aggression. This Russian war of aggression is, after all, not only what’s behind the catastrophic situation in Ukraine – behind people dying in Ukraine; it is also the reason why the global economy was thrown into another crisis after the pandemic, why hunger around the world has increased and why we in Europe are also in an economic recession, because we cut our dependence on Russian gas and oil. That is why I say to everyone who insists we do something about inflation that for this reason, too, this brutal Russian war of aggression must stop.

Question: What do you tell families that are not able to go on a summer holiday this year?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: I say it pains me of course to hear that. I say this as a mother of daughters myself who, like many in this country, is looking forward to the summer holidays. And I say – in this situation, when we’re talking about holidays, but when we’re also feeling the impact the war in Ukraine has had on us – that we must be careful not to lose sight of what is going on in Ukraine. These two things have nothing to do with one another. It is well known that, in Germany, and this is something my party has a position on, specifically regarding child poverty, we have a situation where the welfare state must do more.

But this is in no way related to the war in Ukraine; rather, we are currently introducing a basic child security benefit to address the issue. Moreover, we last year made a special effort to increase social benefits. To now juxtapose social benefits in Germany with the suffering in Ukraine does no good at all for anyone in this country who is struggling financially. And it would be an insult to the people in Ukraine.

Question: Mr Klitschko, do you feel that support for Ukraine is letting up?

Wladimir Klitschko: One thing is certain: the free world knows that it is the Russian side that is responsible for this evil, for this war of annihilation. We’re all in the same boat. We did not start this war. Russia attacked Ukraine. We must defend ourselves. If we do not defend ourselves, we will not be the last to be attacked by Russia.

Question: Are you getting enough support to do so?

Wladimir Klitschko: We are very grateful to our partners, but we do not yet have enough support. How can we say it’s enough while this war is still going on? It’s never enough! Staying power is what is needed. I do not think that Russia is strong, as many believe. We’ve proven this in Ukraine. We do not know how long the war will last – but please do support us, and please do not let up.

Question: Ms Baerbock, Mr Klitschko says that Russia is not strong. Do you share that view?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: What we saw happen was that the Russian President obviously assumed he could wipe out Ukraine in a mere matter of weeks. What he did not expect was an entire country doing everything in its power, including making the ultimate sacrifice, to make sure that Ukraine and the children of Ukraine can live their future lives in democracy and in freedom.

Question: Is Russia weak?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: Obviously the Russian President completely miscalculated; otherwise this war would not have lasted 500 days so far. Yet it also shows that he thought he was so much stronger than Ukraine’s desire for freedom, and when things did not go to plan he employed more and more means that each day violate not only international law, but are an attack on all of the very rules of civilisation and humanity.

Question: Is Putin weak?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: He has clearly been able to not only start an unbelievably brutal war of aggression, but also to wage it for more than 500 days. On the other hand, the Russian side completely overestimated what it can do. Now that is neither good nor bad – because the only important thing is that Ukraine must be able to return to a life in freedom. And for that, all Russian troops must be withdrawn from Ukraine and these attacks must end immediately. With every new day of the war, we are doing everything in our power to make sure that Ukraine can win this war.

Unfortunately, we can't do magic – otherwise, this war would be over. That is why we cannot simply conjure up additional equipment, such as urgently needed air defence systems. We have reactivated production facilities, so that we can provide what we’re still lacking to help Ukraine defend itself even better. And that is what we’ve made clear as the Federal Republic of Germany with the 700 million euro.

Question: Do you remain confident that Ukraine can win back all of its territory?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: Ukraine has the right, as does every country, to live in peace and freedom in all parts of its own territory. When and under what conditions this will happen is fully in the hands of Ukraine.

Question: Wladimir Klitschko, we have visited the front lines, and while we were there we heard many soldiers say: “What we have here is not enough.” What exactly does Ukraine need, and how quickly does it need it?

Wladimir Klitschko: We need it quickly. We need weapons. It is unacceptable to hear NATO members say that we have been provided with everything we need for the counteroffensive. That is not true. We have not received everything we need. We need fighter jets and helicopters, so that we can defend ourselves both against kamikaze drones and missiles and on the front lines. Our best people – men and women – are being killed. This is a ticking time bomb. In order to act quickly and dominate the battlefield, we need modern weaponry.

Question: Ms Baerbock, why is Germany not providing Taurus cruise missiles, for example?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: At this NATO Summit, we made clear that we will together in the European Union and together with our transatlantic partners always keep examining our options. In the beginning, we had to very much proceed on an ad hoc basis, because no one was prepared for this brutal war. We had to use a piecemeal approach. Then we went ahead with a multilateral exchange. Also, some of the decision-making took longer in Germany than in other countries.

As time went on, we strongly focused our efforts on how we can complement each other. Who can supply the items that are needed most? And that is why, looking at aircraft, an alliance of countries has emerged that are saying we will make available these aircraft that can now swiftly be employed. Germany has concentrated on air defence, because of all items this is what we could most rapidly supply, or what we could most swiftly get other countries to supply.

Question: Why is Europe still not manufacturing enough ammunition?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: Well, we have just established a new production site for precisely this purpose. Now, we need to make sure not to get caught up in a black-or-white debate.

Question: What is your assessment of the situation in those regions where Ukraine is currently attempting to win back territory?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: The extent to which the territory has been mined is unbelievable. This means we need material that can get past the mined strip, so that the people behind it can be liberated. What kind of equipment is needed to get past this mined strip? Those, too, are talks we are conducting jointly and confidentially so that together we can reach that objective.

Question: So are you in favour of providing the Taurus system?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: One of the major lessons of the last one and a half years has been that, when addressing such issues, it makes sense to liaise with your partners and allies, to see who can rapidly deliver what assets, as well as where and how this can happen, so that current demands can be met.

Question: Can the war really be won?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: If Ukraine were to lose this war, then all of Europe would lose, because this war is an attack on Europe’s peaceful order. Ukraine must win this war, and we will do everything in our power so that we can achieve this objective together.

Question: Wladimir Klitschko, what are you telling those who are sceptical of current developments on the front lines?

Wladimir Klitschko: Scepticism will not help anyone. This is a battle. The only thing we can do is focus on what lies ahead, and fight. We are defending our lives and those of our partners. Because without partnership, without others at our side, without further support – humanitarian and especially military support – this war will last longer. The people in Russia must understand that attacking Ukraine was a huge mistake.

Question: Can you imagine Vladimir Putin being overthrown in the near future?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: I have no idea. That's the thing, after all: we do not know when this war will end. We do not know what is going on in Russia. Because the country we’re dealing with is, unlike us, not in the same lucky position of being a democracy.

Question: Would you like see Putin toppled?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: This is not about what I wish would happen, but rather about doing everything we can to enable Ukraine to win back peace. If we say that Ukraine must not lose the war, that Ukraine must win the war, then that implies it must be able to bring back peace. And that can only work once this brutal Russian war of aggression is brought to an end. Once Russian soldiers leave Ukraine, and once these constant night-time drone, missile and bomb attacks on Ukraine end.

Question: Mr Klitschko, do you think that Annalena Baerbock would make a good chancellor?

Wladimir Klitschko: I do not know what will happen two years from now, but I can say that in Ms Baerbock, Germany has a true expert. I want to thank her and the entire German Government for their support. And please do not stop giving it! We do not know how long it will take. Please support us, do not let up.

Interview: Paul Ronzheimer



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