Does Germany wish some prophet or seer – had warned them – just them?
John ‘The Seer’
You wake up in the morning and realise: there is war in Europe. Yesterday the army held a ‘Day of Values’. The core question was ‘what do we serve for?’ It has never been easier to explain this to the generation that did not live through the Cold War. In my 41st year of peacetime service I would not have believed that I would have to experience another war.
And the Bundeswehr, the army that I am privileged to lead, is more or less empty handed. The policy options we can offer in support of the alliance are extremely limited. We all saw it coming and we were not able to get through with our arguments, to draw the conclusions from the Crimean annexation and implement them.
This does not feel good! I’m pissed off! Nato territory is not yet under direct threat, even if our partners in the East feel the constantly growing pressure. When, if not now, is the time to put the Afghanistan mission behind us structurally and materially and to reposition ourselves? If we don’t, we will not be able to implement our constitutional mandate and our alliance obligations with any prospect of success.
- Donald Trump said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine wouldn’t have happened if he were still president.
- Trump was impeached in 2019 after freezing nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine.
- He previously said Crimea was part of Russia and praised Vladimir Putin’s actions as “genius.”
Former US President Donald Trump, who was impeached for withholding nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine, said the country’s current crisis “would never have happened” if he were still in office.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine early Thursday, with Russian troops swarming into the country from its northern, eastern, and southern borders. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Thursday-evening address that 137 Ukrainians had died and 306 had been wounded as a result of the invasion.
Trump released a statement Thursday, saying, “If I were in Office, this deadly Ukraine situation would never have happened!”
Trump earlier this week praised Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine as “genius” and “savvy.”
“I went in yesterday, and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump said when asked about the news. “I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper.”
His comments stood in contrast to those of US officials, who warned that Putin’s recognition of two Kremlin-backed separatist regions in Ukraine was part of an effort to create a false pretext and invade the country.
Trump was impeached in 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The articles of impeachment were related, in part, to Trump’s efforts to strong-arm Zelensky into launching politically motivated investigations against the Bidens ahead of the 2020 election and withholding vital military aid while doing so.
In 2018, Trump again shocked American allies by eschewing years of US foreign policy and telling G7 leaders that the territory of Crimea was part of Russia. His remarks were especially jarring to the leaders of other member states given that it was Russia’s decision to annex Crimea in 2014 that led to its expulsion from the G8.
But Trump told reporters before that year’s G7 summit that he believed Russia should be admitted back into the alliance, and he also reportedly wondered aloud at the summit why world leaders sided with Ukraine over Russia.
Before Trump’s statement Thursday, he made similar remarks during a Fox News interview. Just as the Russian offensive in Ukraine was beginning to unfold, he blamed the situation on the 2020 US election, which he called “rigged.”
“Well, what went wrong was a rigged election and what went wrong is a candidate that shouldn’t be there and a man that has no concept of what he’s doing,” Trump said on Fox News, adding that the invasion “never would have happened with us — had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Thursday that Russia should not yet be cut off from the SWIFT global payments system, because it is “very important” to keep such drastic measures “for a situation where it may be necessary.” Italy is also reported to have opposed the measure in order to maintain some leverage over Russia’s dictatorial President Vladimir Putin
Both Germany and Italy are highly dependent on Russian natural gas, which would be difficult to pay for if Russia really were to be cut off from SWIFT; Austria has the same dilemma, and is taking a similar approach. All three of these countries also have other extensive business ties with Russia, with Italian and Austrian banks being highly exposed right now. French banks also do a lot of business in Russia, and France has also declared a SWIFT cutoff to be “the very last resort.”
And then there’s Hungary, whose hard-right leader Viktor Orban has long had a friendly relationship with fellow culture warrior Putin. As with President Milos Zeman of the neighboring Czech Republic, Orban appears to have changed tack in the last couple days, condemning Russia’s invasion and professing to stand with Ukraine—however, he is yet to follow Zeman in calling for the SWIFT option, which the Czech leader says is “needed to isolate a madman.”
Again, energy likely plays a part—Hungary signed a deal with Moscow just a few weeks ago that will allow it to buy Russian gas far below market prices.
European signoff would be essential for cutting Russia off from SWIFT, because the payment network is based in Brussels, Belgium. Now, ahead of a mid-afternoon meeting at which the measures will be finalized, the pressure is on to change minds.
“In this war everything is real: Putin’s madness and cruelty, Ukrainian victims, bombs falling on Kyiv. Only your sanctions are pretended,” tweeted former Polish prime minister and European Council president Donald Tusk on Friday morning. “Those EU governments, which blocked tough decisions ([among them] Germany, Hungary, Italy) have disgraced themselves.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Thursday said that “everyone who now doubts whether Russia should be banned from SWIFT has to understand that the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children will be on their hands too.” And on Friday morning, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov urged people to share the realities of the invasion “in the Italian, German and Hungarian media space” and among European officials.
There is general agreement that cutting Russia off from SWIFT would make life much harder for the country, but some argue that it wouldn’t have as stark an effect as it might have in the past, because Russia could partially fall back on alternatives developed domestically and in China.
Whatever the strength of its impact, though, it remains unclear what sort of action Russia would have to take to convince SWIFT skeptics that the time has come to shut it out. After all, Putin’s actions so far have given no indication that sanctions of any sort will change his mind, and his assault on Ukraine has been anything but partial.
“Russia has gone for total war and there is no follow on,” said Dutch lawmaker Ruben Brekelmans, describing the last-resort argument as “nonsense.”