Sunday May 1, Treptow Park, East Berlin, Soviet Memorial honoring the victory of the Red Army over Hitler-Germany. Not so many visitors. A Swiss family, on bicycles, gets an explanation. Hitler was like Putin, but different, declares the father in the vernacular of the Valais mountains. The kids don’t seem to get it, so the dad takes another stab: Russia at the time was communist, which was not all good, but the Russians together with the Americans and the British won the war against Hitler. Had this not happened, Germany would be different today.

The father in Treptow Park negotiated the same historical hairpin curve in which the victors of the World War found themselves after 1945. Russia, yesterday’s main ally, mutated overnight into the new danger to the European continent, a voracious predator ready to hunt down all and everything that chose their own way behind the «iron curtain” (Winston Churchill). In front of that curtain, a conflict between «rollback» and «containment» was set off – i.e., «rolling back» the Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe vs. «containing» its further spread. The containers won, as very soon both sides disposed of nuclear weapons capable of «mutual assured destruction». Wherever Moscow stamped out rebellions in its «sphere of influence», Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the West held still, only to arm and rearm at home on all fronts, militarily, politically, ideologically. Anti-communism became the central Western tenet. Whatever atrocities governments committed in its name was sacrosanct, whoever piped up in opposition was put under general suspicion and politically out on bail. Our own neutral Switzerland was no exception to the rest of the West. The army rehearsed the advances of the Red Army through Germany, the school the director lectured on the urgency to purchase nuclear weapons and the Greek teacher used the Saturday morning lessons to watch the 16th infantry regiment parading through town.


Will that past return? Surely, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has set us back. Again, Russia has become (more precisely: made itself) a source of fear and loathing, understandably so and with each utterance out of Moscow more clearly so. On 24 February, Russia not only attacked its neighbor, but also overthrew what had become an ascertained “never again” further west. War, the “conventional” one of army against army with all that goes with it, rape, robbery, arson, torture, hunger, murder, denigration – the war which never disappeared outside of Europe is present on our continent, too. The reaction is daze and confusion, reinforced by the ubiquitous urge to making himself heard on all available channels. A tsunami of experts, standup-artists, desk strategists is rolling 24/7 over a hapless public, with no added value whatsoever. If you talk Ukraine in a bar, you get about the same sense of what is at stake as by consuming «the news».


After the chaff is blown away, more or less the same parameters as in the 1950s emerge:

  • Moscow’s action violates international law, the behavior of its army is criminal, the explanations put forward (the gangster was “provoked,” NATO overstretched) are worthless. Outrage is justified. Resistance is legitimate.
  • Intervention on the side of resistance has its limits in the realities of nuclear military technology. After the end of the cold war (in the US they call it “victory”) there was no disarmament, let alone a worldwide ban of nuclear arsenals. The opposite took place, namely, a modernization and miniaturization which lowers the threshold of putting the nukes to use. But the strategic calculation remains the same: He who shoots, will be shot at, as long as neither one is standing.
  • When to start this game of escalation is a matter of definition, today more than before. The margin of discretion to define “attack” or “attack that warrants a nuclear response” has grown as the arsenals are ever more finely tuned to the “battlefield.” This means: Putin can decide when he feels attacked by NATO. And vice versa.
  • The fallout for political decision-making is ambivalence, constant weighing of risks and an increased need for democratic explanation – in short: unsatisfactory at the least.

It is rollback against containment again. Rollback means supporting Ukraine as long and as massively as needed to win the war against Russia – at all costs. Containment means limiting the support to Ukraine in such a way that the war will not escalate to the unfathomable but arming ourselves to such an extent that Russia won’t dare another attack.


At the moment, the rollbackers have the upper hand. The media are oozing compassion, the politicians practice the rhetoric of outrage. To make the A-list you have to visit the sufficiently calm Kiev and profess “solidarity” (and probably also stealing defenders’ valuable time). A hysteria is budding, the horror of Russia’s war is engulfing all things Russian. Russian conductors are dismissed, Russian sopranos disinvited, Russian tennis players banned (unlike Djokovic, the unvaccinated Serb) The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung,” herald of Switzerland’s version of the nomenklatura has hired an artillery colonel to explain the frontlines and the finer points of the weaponry used, sometimes by applying the insights of Swiss tank handbooks to the goings-on in faraway Donbas.


I confess that I don’t like this. I smell a rat. It maybe just me, but I cannot see what good is done to the Ukrainians by taking away the baton from a Russian opera conductor. And a newspaper using the perspective of let’s say a bandsman to explain the war is more appealing than the one relying on the services of an artillery colonel.

Germany too is balancing rollback and containment. It is doing it in a complicated way, burdened by the past as World War enemy of the Russians, by its own East-West division and by the role as strongest member of the European Union (not militarily, but in everything else: the first cow in the herd, but not the steer). The dispute takes place across party lines, and also below the political water line. Besides those who argue about the «how» of supporting Ukraine, rollback against containment, there is a murmuring mass of understanding friends of Russia: The Putin-trolls populating social media, left-wing old-timers, those who sense American perfidy behind every ill, the New Right, those concerned about economic hardships after a breakup with the Russians (example: Jens Koeppen, Christian-democratic member of parliament, who represents the city of Schwedt where the Russian Rosneft conglomerate runs an oil refinery). A lot is currently made of an «open letter» of feminist journalist Alice Schwarzer who demands that the government forgoes providing heavy weapons («attack weapons») to Ukraine. The government has decided to allow such support, but speed and shape of the German contribution to the fight in Ukraine have been contested in the socialist-green-liberal coalition. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, declared immediately after the Russian invasion a Zeitenwende («change of times») and proposed one hundred billion additional Euros for the military which according to newer reports was left in disarray by his predecessors. But Scholz is a partisan of containment who in interviews insists that sheltering the country from nuclear annihilation is a legitimate national interest, and that his goal was not only to help Ukraine but also to prevent an expansion of the war. For this, he finds himself between the rock of the non-interventionist Alice Schwarzers and the hard place of the partisans of gung-ho Ukraine support. Among them also the Greens who turn out to be the most flexible. Until very recently the party was moved by pacifist reflexes, strong human rights concerns and even stronger Umweltbewusstsein (“ecological consciousness”). But after the Russian invasion the green ministers were the first to propose helping Ukraine with German tanks while Scholz was hesitating, and the green economics minister was visiting Arab despots with questionable human rights records to ask for oil and gas. Not many winced. The massive German dependence of oil and gas from Siberia, promoted for decades by the industry and changing coalitions in government, is now criticized to an equally massive degree.


Berlin, April 25, «Ständige Vertretung», Schiffbauerdamm. The Kneipe (pub) celebrating Westdeutschland during the decades of divided Germany was created after the move of the German capital from Bonn to Berlin and is a well-frequented watering hole for tourists and Bonn nostalgics. On tap is Kölsch. The walls covered top to bottom with photos of yesteryear’s headliners, Adenauer, Schmidt, Kohl. In a corner there is a picture of Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor from 1998 to 2005. The only one, perhaps overlooked. For «StäV» is purging itself from all things Schröder, including his picture on the menu where he was set in close relation to the currywurst , an alleged favorite offered as Altkanzler-Filet. («Ex-Chancellor’s filet»). No longer. The picture is deleted and the wurst will stay on the menu, but as regular currywurst. Which is a shame. Currywurst is by far the most horrible product of German cuisine (think of a really bad ballpark frank doused with curried tomato sauce – available mit and ohne , i.e. with or without casing). The wurst should go along with Schröder.



Gerhard Schröder, Social Democrat, personal friend of Putin and well-reimbursed chief honcho of the Russian gas- and oil industry, is in the crosshairs of current furor teutonicus. Contrary to other comrades (an example is President Frank-Walter Steinmeier) he refuses to acknowledge any miscalculations or errors in Germany’s dependence of Russian fossil energy, and he also refuses to step down from his Russian mandates or to disassociate himself from his pal Putin. Exponents of his party recommend that he leave, threats of expulsion are audible. In interviews with the New York Times Schröder last month provided some kind of an explanation of his position. Questions about his personal relationship to Putin had to be left off the table (he threatened to end the interview) but he sort of responded to the criticism of German gas/oil policies toward Russia. First, he pointed out that he was not alone. “They all went along with it for the last 30 years,” he said. “But suddenly everyone knows better.” Secondly, he said that Russia faithfully fulfilled the German contracts, even in times of crises, and this would be the case now, too. Schröder reiterated his belief that peace and prosperity in Europe would always remain tied to «dialogue» with Russia. “You can’t isolate a country like Russia in the long run, neither politically nor economically,” he said. “When this war is over, we will have to go back to dealing with Russia. We always do.” It would be interesting here to see what Schröder actually said. The interview was in German and translated in English. «Dealing with Russia» could have many nuances in German: «have a relationship with» or «trading» or «negotiating». The span is as wide as between rollback und containment.


The New York Times also mentions an alleged mediating effort. It was known that the Ex-Chancellor visited his friend Putin on 9 March in Moscow, resulting in no discernible result. In the Times interview Schröder said that two days before he met a Ukrainian emissary in Istanbul who assured him of President Zelensky’s support of his initiative, and that this contact was made “in early March” by Swiss publisher Ringier. This is as plausible as it is odd. Plausible because Schröder took a position as “consultant” with Ringier after his electoral defeat in 2005. But “early March”? On 1 March Ringier announced that Schröder’s mandate was sistiert (“put on hold”). Ever since, Ringier’s main outlet, the Swiss tabloid “Blick” is making a lot of efforts to showcase and mobilize solidarity with Ukraine. A politically insignificant trip of the Swiss Parliament President to Kyiv got more ink in “Blick” than Nancy Pelosi’s visit a few days later in the New York Times.


Ah yes, Switzerland. The country with the largest private equity industry in the world, and probably a proportionate share of Russian oligarch wealth, has adopted the sanctions of the European Union, but follows through rather discreetly. The finance minister of the canton of Zug, a preferred tax haven, declared on Swiss TV that he saw «no need to act». Perhaps the authorities are scared of the nationalists who already complain about violations of «neutrality» and feel as «party in the war». Maybe the discretion is due to a will to keep some goodwill among the good customers. Experts to the political left say that the sanctions against Russian assets are too narrow and not strictly enforced. Former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich and French economist Thomas Piketty propose to go a little further and freeze all Russian assets over 10 million (Francs, Euros, Dollars – whatever). Why no Swiss Finish in the sanctions business? When international banking regulations were stiffened after the crash of 2008, Switzerland proposed a Swiss Finish for the increase of minimal capital requirements: doing a little more than the rest.


Back to the war. It is a European matter. The idea of one happy realm “from Vancouver to Vladivostok” is dead. But in one aspect old Gerhard Schröder is right: Europe is condemned to some kind of working relationship with Russia. The United States are not, at least not in the same way. Above and beyond the defense of Ukraine, their goal is to make Russia, the Russian army, weaker. Europe’s goal cannot be to weaken Russia but to strengthen itself. To increase its capability of self-defense to a point where an attack like the one on Ukraine is too big a risk. Europe must arm, all together. This could be a simple political «message», but it is neither heard nor seen. The cannons and tanks for Ukraine are delivered on a national basis. In the flood of «news» a European view of the issue is as hard to find as a salmon in the Rhine. One exception came the other day from German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. At the end of a lengthy reflection, laced with manifold Germany-focused analyses , Habermas wrote: «Immerhin nicht zufällig sind die Autoren der „Zeitenwende“ jene Linken und Liberalen, die angesichts einer drastisch veränderten Konstellation der Großmächte – und im Schatten transatlantischer Ungewissheiten – mit einer überfälligen Einsicht Ernst machen wollen: Eine Europäische Union, die ihre gesellschaftliche und politische Lebensform weder von außen destabilisieren noch von innen aushöhlen lassen will, wird nur dann politisch handlungsfähig werden, wenn sie auch militärisch auf eigenen Beinen stehen kann.».

This is artful German, the academic variety of the King’s English. I refrain from translating because the meaning is clear. As mentioned above: Europe must arm, all together.