Diplomat Rüdiger von Fritsch was the German Ambassador to Warsaw (2010-2014) and Moscow (2014-2019). During his diplomatic career, he prepared for EU enlargement to the east as a negotiator in Brussels, was head of the Federal President’s Planning Staff and vice president of the BND. The former ambassador is the author of several books on political Russia. His latest work, Times Are Turning: Putin’s War and Consequences, was recently released. We met Rüdiger von Fritsch in a café near Berlin Central Station.
Mr Ambassador, the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin is bad. Even experts who understand some of the Russian government’s complaints say so. Now the Russian president is de facto the only ruler and can tell his country whatever he wants through the controlled press. Why does Putin just end the war and not claim to have won?
Putin must continue this war for three reasons. First, its goal is to enslave Ukraine, not only to achieve territorial achievements, but also to determine the path Ukraine will take in the future. This is the essence of the conflict with Ukraine, which is why it is so difficult to resolve. Secondly, as he made very clear to us in December, he has broader geostrategic goals that he hoped to achieve through the very rapid enslavement of Ukraine, as was attempted in the attack on Kiev. So a quick, “clean” war and victory. Then, according to his plan, he will put pressure on the West again with these huge demands to change the European order of peace and weaken us as a whole. And now there is a third reason why the fighting in Ukraine continues, and that is why the war is so dramatic: Vladimir Putin is fighting for power in Ukraine. Because this war is so shameful for him, he is under pressure to have victories at home that would strengthen his legitimacy.
And how is Putin trying to achieve this after the failed capture of Kiev and the limping progress in the east of the country?
He is trying to put international pressure on the West by cynically blocking food supplies to Middle Eastern and North African countries by blocking Ukrainian exports. He hopes this will lead to waves of migration and put the West in a whole new decision-making situation.
Does that also mean that the West must look for a solution that has been put in the face of Putin, which has been talked about many times over? Is this the need to understand President Macrono and Chancellor Scholz’s recent calls to Putin?
Diplomacy never ends. Even in this, albeit difficult, situation, she should look at the question: “How can this war be ended so that Ukraine can remain an independent sovereign state and set its own path?
And what about the path of the Russian president?
To use the image, he knocked down a chessboard. But that makes neither the rules of chess nor the steps of our past wrong. Putin abruptly put an end to decades of successful attempts to shape security together in Europe, including with the Soviet Union and Russia. Instead of trying to reach the future together in dialogue, in exchange for networking, intertwining, he introduced a confrontation. Diplomacy did not go wrong in this regard, but Vladimir Putin pushed it to the best of his ability.
Do you see the potential for conflict between the goals of the Ukrainian government and its supporters in the West? Do the people of Paris and Berlin want a peace in which Ukraine should also accept Russia?
Only Ukrainians can decide on their future. It is their legitimate right to fight for the freedom and independence of their country, for their sovereignty, for the inviolability of their borders. It is unacceptable for an aggressive man in today’s Europe to be thrown here and there in a few territorial bites with all the terrible consequences just to calm down. Under no circumstances should this be forced by Western politics. Take Germany as an example. The last thing that Central and Eastern Europe needs is the proposals for the territorial redevelopment of Central and Eastern Europe agreed between the Germans and the Russians. It ended in 1945.
The Soviet Union lost the Cold War. Now Putin wants to …