Global Review had the honor to conduct another interview with General ret. Domroese on relations between the West and Russia after the outbreak of the Ukraine war. General Hans-Lothar Domröse is a former army general of the Bundeswehr. He was Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (2012-2016). In 2011 General Domröse was appointed German military representative MC/NATO and EU in Brussels. He took command of the Eurocorps in Strasbourg (2009-2012). During a 2008 deployment to Afghanistan, he was Chief of Staff at ISAF Headquarters. General Domröse received a variety of awards and honors during his military career. He is a senior consultant in the consulting firm Friedrich 30, which also includes ex-BND President Schindler, and in the global network of the Agora Strategy Group of the Munich Security Conference.
Global Review: General Domroese, first of all we want to do a „failure analysis“ of Western or even German policy towards Russia. There are essentially 2 positions. One says that Russia’s wars against Georgia, in Syria, in Crimea and now in Ukraine have nothing to do with the actions of the West, whether it’s the Kosovo war, NATO’s eastward expansion, the Iraq war or the USA’s hegemonic strategy towards the American Supremacy as outlined by Brzezinski in his programmatic book „Chessboard“, in which Ukraine plays the central role, but only a long-cherished plan for hegemony by Putin or the imperial thinking of the Russian elites, which the West has been naivly ignored or suppressed. The other position, ala Mearsheimer’s offensive realism, says that great powers would always react like Russia did if they perceived an existential threat and the West was to blame for the Ukraine war. Which position do you tend towards. Or is it a dialectical interplay?
HLD: Well, I think it is still far too early to make a comprehensive error analysis with a view to “our” Russia policy. Nevertheless, some serious mistakes catch the eye: the extreme dependence on resources – especially gas – which has increased almost silently from under 30% to over 40%. Or our empty gas storage tanks that “nobody” noticed. However, it is also clear that there is actually an “existential threat” to the Kremlin: FREEDOM! Human rights, independence of the judiciary/separation of powers, freedom of expression, etc. are NOT threats in the classic sense. So Russia is NOT threatened in the sense of a „foreign takeover“, but the dictatorial rulers and structures are threatened by the citizens‘ will for freedom. A free and prosperous Ukraine is something of a nightmare for President Putin and his cliques. So he supported Lukashenko when he rigged the elections and bludgeoned and imprisoned his people. And that’s exactly why he invaded Ukraine. The well-known argument that he (Putin) had to act to protect his citizens and drive out the Nazis follows old Soviet logic. „Our mild reaction“ to the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 may have persuaded him to attack again according to the motto: it won’t be that bad. However, our „weakness“ is not the trigger for his invasion. In short: I see a whole melange of reasons – not just position a or b. Certainly, the common history of Russians and Ukrainians also played a special role. However, I see NO single reason that could justify this unprovoked war. This decision will still weigh on Moscow’s toes, with its long-term unexpected effects.
Global Review: Representatives of Western innocence point to international legal treaties that were signed under Yeltsin in the 1990s, such as the NATO-Russia Founding Act with free choice of alliance or the Budapest Memorandum, which was broken as a result of the Crimean annexation and the Ukraine War. Russia, on the other hand, points to breaches of international law by the USA and NATO with reference to the Kosovo war and the Iraq war and claims the same right. Didn’t the actual reorientation of Russian foreign policy already take place in the final phase under Yeltsin, when he sent Russian troops to Pristina during the Kosovo war, which the then US Commander-in-Chief Wesley Clark wanted to expel, while a British general didn´t execute the order with the reference that he didn´t want to start a world war with Russia? Especially since Yeltsin was furious after this event, traveled straight to China, had a new intercontinental ballistic missile tested b, the Topol and even threatened nuclear war against the West, which, however, was attributed to his excessive vodka consumption and was not taken seriously. Do we have to make a distinction between Yeltsin and Putin, whom he chose as his successor and who then successfully and brutally ended the Chechen war that Yeltsin had already begun?
HLD: There is no equality in injustice. There is a long history of violations of the law – on all sides. In this respect, it is always very important to me to point out such wrong decisions. In view of the most recent Russian attack on Ukraine, I see no „gain in knowledge“ in this regard – regardless of whether Putin resembles Yeltsin or not. It is clear that the Kremlin has broken all recent treaties. After almost 50 years, the entire „Helsinki process“ has burst like a soap bubble. We are facing a political-strategic shambles: the dream of a common security zone from Portugal to Vladivostock is history.
The fact is: the Kremlin started a war with Ukraine eight years ago. He will not achieve his strategic goal of „disarming & denazification“ of Ukraine – possibly a division into eastern and western Ukraine; and thus a “frozen conflict”. With a „free, self-determined West“ and an „occupied, not liberated East“ as a vassal state or part of Russia.
Global Review: Was the German Ostpolitik just naive or not the hope of German circles like Schröder to create a Eurasian axis as a counterweight to the USA, like his proposal to expand the G7 to a G9 with Russia and China and in return their approval for a UN reform and a German Security Council seat? And weren’t there two factions in the US as well? The one who believed that China and Russia should be fought at the same time, while the other believed that Russia should be kept at a distance from China, at best kept neutral in a coming Sino-American conflict? The German head of the Navy, Schönbach, made a similar statement. Are these individual opinions or fundamental positions of broader elite circles?
HLD: With the term „Ostpolitik“ I associate the efforts of German governments, especially the SPD-led coalitions, to establish a „good neighborly relationship“ with Poland and Russia – as a clear sign of the turning away from Nazi Germany. Willy Brandt’s kneeling in Warsaw symbolizes this new policy. When, decades later, as NATO commander, I laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I experienced first-hand the great success of this policy: People told me you have changed. And they said: Germany has changed: from enemy to friend. From Nazi Germany to a democratic state. From aggressor to anchor of stability in the heart of Europe. Ever since Adenauer, the goal of German Ostpolitik has been to establish good, friendly relations with both “arch-rivals”: with France in the west and with Poland and Russia in the east.
However, Russia has NOT changed. And that makes the difference. Our Polish allies have always known what “we” didn’t want to believe or see. „Change through trade“ was our credo – and so we know today at the latest: that was a mistake. With the renewed attack on the Ukraine, with the return of war, misery and expulsion to Europe, European, German, even global foreign and security policy via-a-vis Russia will turn 180 degrees. At the same time, one will follow very closely how the communist regime in Beijing is developing. Our China policy will also be reoriented from the purely economic pursuit of profit to more value-based action. Key word: human rights are non-negotiable. Economic activity will be checked for political implications.
Global Review: To what extent is NATO’s eastward expansion an existential threat in terms of military and security policy, as postulated by Mearsheimer, even if Ukraine had become a NATO member? In fact, if the first NATO soldier crossed the Russian border on the eastern border or in Ukraine, would Russia respond massively with nuclear strikes? Or not? Or is the existential threat meant more in the sense of imperial thinking, which sees spheres of interest and anterooms and backyards that you want as buffer zones, i.e. more the so-called thinking of the 19th and 20th centuries? Russia claims that the international world order of the Pax Americana on the part of the USA declares the whole world as its sphere of interest and backyard, while Russia should not be allowed to do so?
HLD: In terms of power politics, Europe, which was divided up until the 1990s, has “gained” in freedom, prosperity, influence and cohesion – without a single shot having been fired, thanks in part to the peaceful Polish revolution led by Lech Walesa. The newly formed Russia has lost power and influence in the west and south. The Russian hegemon in the form of President Putin cannot and will not accept that. He is „threatened“ only by freedom – not by weapons! And this is exactly the main difference to the pax americana: the United States of America is (also) a soft power of the first degree. Russia, on the other hand, only military power; then nothing. This also clearly distinguishes it from China, which is an economic giant with enormous innovative power.
Where do young people want to live: in the USA or Russia? Nowhere is the guarantee of human rights clearer than in the US or Europe. Law enforcement and the limitation of state power/violence are the brand essence of the „West“ – and that makes the difference. In this respect, we are dealing more with a system competition between Russia & China on the one hand and the USA & Europe on the other. And exactly where both „life forms“ collide, it is extremely dangerous. The Ukraine as a “bridge” between “East” and “West” thus involuntarily came into the sights of the Russian rulers. And the Russian President is asking for even more: a “Europe of 1997”; in other words, an unfree Eastern Europe. The people who fought for their freedom rights, were arrested and persecuted will never allow this demand: once free – always free! We have been experiencing this unbroken will for freedom since February 24, 2022 in Ukraine. The resistance is so strong and ingrained that it can conventionally stop even a superior world power – at great and painful cost of its own.
Global Review: Is it only about Ukraine or is it not about containing or pushing out the opposite sied between US and Russian and now also Chinese imperialism in Europe or the Indo-Pacific and establishing a new world order? In his so-called peace speech in the German Bundestag in 2001, Putin declared in the best and unmistakable German that Europe could only play a role in the world if it „united its economic and defense potential with that of Russia“. That means not only a Eurasian economic area, but also the creation of a Eurasian military alliance and the replacement of NATO. Likewise, there was a joint Sino-Russian strategy paper calling for a new multipolar world order. Lavrov also declared at the Munich Security Conference that a new multipolar world order and international security architecture had to be established before agreement could be reached on resolving regional conflicts – precisely in that order. To what extent can these opposites be brought into a kind of balance or peaceful coexistence, or is that an illusion?
HLD: With the UN Security Council, in particular the so-called “P5 veto powers”, we had or have a kind of multipolar world order – with the disadvantage that “one” can only do something against a nuclear power in extreme cases. So one will probably have to accept that the remaining three hegemons rule in their respective spheres of influence. This is the case with Ukraine. And so it was with Hong Kong. In the event of a crisis “on the verge” between two hegemons, it will be a question of coalition building and, above all, political will that will decide the outcome. This is what happened in Syria. Putin’s, Lavrov’s and all other proposals from the dictatorial house only want one thing: retention of power and suppression – and preferably with the consent of the „victims“. The American, most western, approach, however, places the right of peoples to self-determination at the heart of their strategy. Thus, EAST/WEST approaches resemble a zero-sum game; there are essentially no/hardly any overlapping principles. Maybe in business, in trade. But there must be no dependencies on this field either; win-win is the motto. The question today is: COMPETITION or/and COOPERATION. The political climate is becoming “rougher”.
Global Review: What role does China play? Do you believe that during the Winter Olympics, Xi gave Putin the green light for the Ukraine war, hoping to test the resilience of the West, he also assumed Blitzkrieg, the weakness of the West and the Ukrainians, to schockfreeze the West and to tie down US troops in Europe in order to clear the way in the Indo-Pacific and in Taiwan and after the calculation didn’t work out, is holding back for the time being? Would China, as suggested by some experts, be at all suitable for a mediating role?
HLD: During the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the two presidents apparently formed a far-reaching alliance that underscores the strategic cooperation between the two states in all areas. This is something special. I have my doubts as to whether this step can be seen as a “green light” for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In general, I would say – at least in retrospect – that none of the Russian dreams/goals came true – on the contrary. And with a view to a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, it can also be said that the USA is relying on the Taiwan Relations Act and would support the forces massively from day one, with many western states certainly joining this “coalition of the willing”. . In short: the shot backfired. With regard to China’s mediating role in the Ukraine war, I am not too optimistic: China can and will certainly have an influence – behind the scenes. On the surface, both sides stick together closely. Therefore, the Chinese fail as „fair, impartial mediators“. I could imagine a UN peacekeeping force after a ceasefire.
Global Review: Like China, India is reluctant to condemn and impose sanctions on Russia, is it also breaking through the sanctions front by buying Russian oil, and are you now also considering a Eurasian financial system that is decoupled from the US dollar? Do you think that such a Eurasian axis formation as already called for by Primakov in his RIC (Russia-India-China) model, or are now advocated by some Eurasians via the BRICS, do you think?
HLD: India has always had to see how it positions itself politically between China and Russia – regardless of developments in Ukraine. It is in constant conflict with China, as well as with Pakistan. Alongside the US, they are strong partners in the US-led QUAD to contain China. India has also been striving for good-neighborly relations with Russia for years so as not to one day get caught between the fronts. All of this has tradition and can be accepted, although more „distance“ would be desirable. I don’t see a financial commitment, as you envisaged. You make money with the West – not with Asia and certainly not with Russia. The Indians know that too. However, it is also clear that Russia is “decorating” itself with good relations with India and wants to demonstrate that we are not isolated. Pure diversionary tactics…
Global Review: At the Munich Security Conference, Timothy Snyder and Norbert Röttgen called for a New Ostpolitik that should have three pillars: 1) A strong European military to underpin diplomacy in terms of power politics and to make it credible in general. 2) A strengthening of the Eastern European states 3) A new Russia strategy on a new basis. But on what basis should this be done? With Putin, without Putin, with which possible successors, or should one see Russian nationalism and expansionism as a historical gene of the Russians, which one should fundamentally and always curb, i.e. no longer intend integration into the West or change through trade or rapprochement?
HLD: I can only agree with the intention to formulate a new, different foreign policy. I think the above three elements of this new Russia policy are absolutely correct. We are disillusioned – and yet the huge Russia with its 140 million people remains a geo-strategic factor that we must and want to live with tomorrow. Best in peace and security. We should continue to support contacts in the scientific and cultural field. However, I lack the imagination to imagine how that should be possible in the future with President Putin. Our relationships have reached “zero point” since February 24th, 2022. Even if a ceasefire were agreed tomorrow, Putin would remain the aggressor. And what conclusion of peace do the Russians envisage? In other words: only a new president can facilitate talks, treaties and “fair coexistence”. Even then, it remains difficult to work out new political approaches together. The decisive question will be: what war guilt does Russia accept? What is the responsibility of the Kremlin? What can reconciliation look like? There is a long, arduous road ahead of us – a road full of suspicion. a path of fierce competition – not easy cooperation. President Putin is isolated in democracies – Assad, Lukashenko and Kim stand by him…China will realize that Putin is „a millstone“ – the economic slumps bear that out.
Global Review: It also remains to be seen what deterrence strategy NATO will choose at its June 2022 summit, especially since some strategists and ex-generals like Breedlove or Ben Hodges believe that the old deterrence strategy has become obsolete in the face of the Russian nuclear doctine of “escalate to deescalate Some U.S. generals also want to revive the Regan-era and Colin S. Gray limited nuclear and airland battle doctrines, with the frontline and space for limited nuclear war now moved east, right to Russia’s border and the question is whether these concepts would still be suitable at all. In addition, the question also arises as to whether the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 will now be revoked in order to permanently station permanent military bases, war equipment and NATO troops in Eastern Europe. Conversely, there are Russian agitators such as Putin advisor Karaganov, who even suggests a nuclear escalation against NATO states and even the USA, since he believes that the USA would not implement Article 5 of the NATO treaty and would cowardly back down. What do you expect from the new NATO strategy? And to what extent will there be a new deterrence doctrine beyond flexible response, perhaps in the sense of preemptive or offensive deterrence?
HLD: The work on the new NATO strategy started long BEFORE the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 – the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 was the trigger for the reorientation of the alliance. A NEW strategy is overdue. Deterrence will play a central role. Nuclear weapons retain their paramount importance. Pre-emptive actions are NOT being considered – in my opinion it remains the case that NATO, when attacked, chooses its own targets and decides how and when to react and where (…according to our choosing…). In the old concept, the third task of NATO was: cooperative security. That needs to be adjusted. The chapter on partnerships needs to be completely rewritten; what partnership means must be answered. And of course the numbers 33ff dealing with „Russia“ have to be taken out of the old concept. Russia is a threat ! It has to be phrased like this. I wish the NATO-Russia Founding Act would remain in place – at least with a view to „no nukes“ in 1997 countries like Poland. And finally, I expect a few clear sentences on our relationship with China. Overall, the Strategic Concept will follow our well-known principles – I don’t see any surprises. The core of the new strategy is adapted to reality – sober, strong and clear.
Global Review: Even if Putin’s troops are said to be „stalled“, what should the outcome of the negotiations be? On the one hand, the Ukrainian side is still talking about territorial integrity, but NATO membership has already been written off and concessions are being made on the Donbass. Putin might want Donbass with the Mariopoul-Crimea land bridge as his first target, and maybe Odessa to make Ukraine landlocked. Whether this will then still be part of Ukraine with the minority autonomy regulation is rather unlikely. Probably independent as eastern Ukraine or just part of Russia. And then? Selensky now wants security guarantees through the back door, but even if the US warmed to it, that would be as meaningless as the Budapest Memorandum and less so than the Taiwan Relations Act. Not even strategic ambiguity. And that Selensky wants to get military security guarantees from the EU through the back door via Article 42 is just as desperate. Can there be any effective or credible military security guarantees for Ukraine at all, even through the EU? Or will Putin take eastern Ukraine first, sell it as a face-saving victory and wait for his next chance in the future?
HLD: That appears to be the $64,000 question… All of Ukraine was essentially neutral. From 2004 to 2013/14 when the people rebelled against the ruling regime. Supported by the west. At the same time, pro-Russian forces in Crimea and Donetsk/Luhansk insisted on “independence”. With the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the “rest of Ukraine” has been at war since 2014. Neutrality was only formal: the Kiev governments were essentially concerned with western ties (EU) and security guarantees through NATO. The Kremlin was horrified by this scenario – so on February 24, 2022 it invaded Ukraine from the north, east and south on a large scale in order to “denazify and disarm” it. The appealing idea of establishing Ukraine as a “bridge between West and East” has failed miserably. Unfortunately. After death and expulsion, after atrocities and destruction, the “towel between Ukraine and Russia” has been cut for the active generation. Whether and when there will ever be reconciliation between the two states is anyone’s guess. After the ceasefire, both sides will continue to demand „everything“ – and not achieve it. The Russians‘ strategic goal of disarming and denazifying all of Ukraine will not be achieved. President Zelensky will not get “all of Ukraine” either. So, for better or for worse, there will be a division into western and eastern Ukraine. Just like Germany back then. Western Ukraine will sooner or later join the EU and NATO, because only the alliance can guarantee freedom in security. And it will continue to maintain its claim to all of “Ukraine within the 2004 borders”. The Russian strategy „roll-back to 1997“ will challenge and at the same time strengthen trans-Atlantic relations – Russia cannot successfully withstand a conventional attack on, for example, the Baltic States or Poland in the next 5-10 years. The losses are too great, the operational and tactical skills too poor, and the morale too low. Nevertheless, the alliance will not fall asleep again. In the long run, Russia has hurt itself more than it has gained. It cannot be ruled out that the people of Belarus will rise up – as they have done before. A prosperous western Ukraine also radiates to Minsk. Lukashenko can go like Yanukovych… In my opinion, it is unlikely that Putin will stay in office. Only a new president can bring Russia out of isolation…
Global Review: If Putin stays in office, expect an invasion of the Baltics in the future, like the CSBA in its study “Rethinking Armageddon” or Michael O Hannon in his book The Senkaku Paradox- Great Power Wars on small stakes with a call for integrated deterrence is already coming. Or the conquest of the rest of Ukraine at the second attempt? Or a demonstration nuclear strike off the coast of Scandinavia if Sweden and Finland want to join NATO?
HLD: No, these are all scenarios that I cannot rule out, but that I consider unrealistic. Militarily – conventionally, the Kremlin cannot wish for a direct confrontation with NATO for the next 5-10 years; he shouldn’t look for her either. „Western Ukraine“ will receive security guarantees that are similar to an engagement under Art V (NATO treaty) – so it won’t be victorious for Russia either. What’s the point of a nuclear demonstration strike? Who did Russia want to prove something to? Look – I can? No, that’s no good. Shouldn’t Finland want to join NATO after this demo attack or, if already an ally, then leave again? On top of that, it would be a GAME CHANGE that even Beijing would not appreciate. You don’t „play“ with nukes! In short: Putin is not so desperate that he would have to use „the big cutlery“.
Global Review: Insofar as Putin does not come to a premature end after all through a Russian Stauffenberg or like the gang of four in China or ala Beria or Ceaucescu, his perspective should be that he can hold out for another 2 years and is counting on Trump being re-elected, especially since he, how also his supporters and Fox News together with Tucker Carlson are able to expel Putin’s propaganda in the USA and Biden, the Democrats, see liberalism as the main enemy and not Putin, whom he even publicly calls on to help him to take action against Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. Could an election by Le Pen the week after next herald the end of NATO and the EU and be the historic game changer that Putin can still count on?
HLD: The Kremlin’s financial support for Front National is well known; Madame le Pen would superficially be good for Putin. But not because le Pen is more supportive of Russian action than Macron, but because Europe is in danger of splitting. Nationalists like Orban, le Pen, PiS and Serbia are the rifts in the EU that the Russian regime relies on. However, I see neither FREXIT nor the end of NATO. The Kremlin may miscalculate here. However, I very much hope that our French friends will NOT turn „right“. The same applies to America: Trump has more than strained trans-Atlantic relations – and yet – thanks to Putin – the „turn of the era“ will inspire stronger European engagement in NATO. A main criticism of Trump’s would be obsolete. Europe and America come to a fair burden sharing. Finally. The murders in Ukraine, which violate international law, are condemned by the vast majority in the USA – Trump could not easily “forgive” that either. In short: Anything would have been possible – BEFORE the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now all of that no longer applies. Again „unintended effect“. Nevertheless, I am counting on strong presidents in both countries who are committed to the law and to the community of democracies.