Interview | What’s happening in Ukraine is brutal; Putin is trying to justify the unjustifiable: German Ambassador Walter Lindner

Interview | What’s happening in Ukraine is brutal; Putin is trying to justify the unjustifiable: German Ambassador Walter Lindner

Walter Lindner also cautioned against rising fuel prices and inflation. ‘Democracy and freedom have a price, and we are ready to pay it,’ he said.

Usually diplomatic sessions are boring, filled with platitudes and full of words like “world peace, rule of law, and co-operation”. So here I was in Jaipur, trying to listen and process a panel discussion on “war and peace” (Ukraine-Russia mainly). And my interviewee, Walter Lindner, German Ambassador to India, was leading the discussion on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Perhaps also replying to Russian Ambassador-designate Denis Alipov’s recent Op-Ed, Walter was candid, and displeased with “Putin’s War”. That was expected.

What wasn’t expected was what he said next: “Diplomats should be outspoken.” Lindner’s words were a fresh breeze for the post-lunch session. As the session finished, we walked to the interview room exchanging notes on Kant and Hegel. Soon after I found out Walter was a “Biryani and “Butter-Naan” lover and was then busy reading Why I am a Hindu.

As we formally began the interview, my first question was an obvious one, in the backdrop of the Ukraine war: Has the US-led NATO breached the verbal agreement with the erstwhile Soviet Union when it extended east of Germany? Has Russia been wronged that way? “What’s happening now is so cruel and brutal that Putin needs justification for it. He has attacked a peaceful neighbour. How can he do this in 2022? He is bending history and trying to justify the unjustifiable,” Lindner said.

“Putin is trying to build his own narrative evoking the 2+4 treaty with the Soviet and the promise of no NATO expansion. Now, one would have to go very deep into this, because the majority of people and historians wouldn’t agree, because it was left to the free will of countries to decide,” he spoke and explained how former Soviet states were now democracies and freely choosing EU and NATO.

On civilian casualties in the Donbas region and the charges that heavy artillery and military guns were used by the Ukrainian forces against the civilian population, he said: “It’s the same bending of facts. This conflict in Donbas is on for seven years and there are reports from both sides, but as Putin says genocide, no UN report says genocide, no Nazi involvement. De-Nazification and demilitarisation are straight out of Putin’s PR book. He is bending all the arguments and creating his own narrative. Only North Korea, Belarus, Syria support Russia, and believe this,” Lindner reassured.

We discussed press freedom and civilian harassment. But before we switched topics, he emphatically said, “I don’t want to live in a world where press freedoms are curbed and friendly neighbouring countries are attacked.”

The Russian oil ban deeply affects Germany’s energy security. Were they still buying from the Russians and what was the realignment going to look like? Sans Russia what will happen to the German economy? “In order to stop Putin, and nobody wants a full scale war, we have to use our economic and financial power. SWIFT is hindering our trade massively. We feel it, of course. But also the discontinuation of the gas pipeline — NORD Stream 2,” said Lindner.

“We depend 30 per cent on Russian oil and 50 per cent on Russian gas, which is already reduced. Earlier we had more. Ever since Russia occupied Crimea seven years ago, we have reduced our dependence and we will reduce it massively now. We want to come to a point where we don’t import Russian gas or oil,” he explained.

But if Russia goes, who will fill in? “We will phase out by shifting to renewable energy and finding alternate oil and gas providers. Increasing the OPEC quota, importing liquid gas, etc, to substitute Russian oil and gas.”

He also cautioned against rising fuel prices and inflation. “Democracy and freedom have a price, and we are ready to pay it,” he said.

But isn’t Germany already bleeding a bit? “Of course, Germany is bleeding and not a little bit. We are feeling it, but our government tries to minimise its effects on us and to maximise the effect on Putin and target the people who are responsible for it,” Lindner emphasised. He, however, added: “German and Russian people were very close. Karl Marx was a German and we have a shared history of art, culture, philosophy, literature, et al. We are still very close to the Russian people.”

Will the sanctions affect India-German trade in any way? What if Indo-Russian trade continues despite sanctions? What if India gets sanctioned?

“No, no. These sanctions are against Putin and others responsible for this war – Duma, financiers of the regime, et al. We will see how repercussions of this (current sanctions) dents the Russian economy,” he said.

My mind quickly went to hundreds of media reports about the boycott of Russian goods, including Vodka. It appeared the sanctions aimed at targeting not just Putin and his close men. “See we tried to target as much as we can. But for the people that are suffering right now, one person can solve this — Putin. Countries putting the sanctions shouldn’t be criticised, but Putin should be for brutally attacking his neighbour. Let’s not forget who the aggressor here is. Nobody in Europe wanted war, violence, or sanctions. Putin planned to do this, because he can. And now that he faces sanctions, he cries foul,” Lindner said.

On military expenditure and possible re-armament of Germany and Ukraine, Lindner said: “As for our terrible experience of WW2, Nazi times, we were very reluctant to export weapons into conflict zones. But Putin leaves us no choice.”

To the question — was America right to blockade Cuba during the missile crisis? — he politely deflected the issue and said it happened “60 years ago”.

We spent the next few minutes talking about his “anti-Vietnam” and peace movement days and dislike for Ronald Reagan. He assured me that the Cuban crisis was older than Reagan and goes back to Kennedy’s, when Walter was not “politically active” and he didn’t want to comment.

Nevertheless, did he have a suggestion to resolve the crisis? “It will be wrong for me to comment on the negotiations as it’s a matter of life and death. I only want the violence to end,” he added.

The writer is an independent agri-policy analyst and the former director – Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India. Views expressed are personal.

Content Source –

No Comments

Post A Comment

fifteen − 7 =