"This is not a bluff," Putin announced in his speech on partial mobilization in Russia last week. The Kremlin dictator once again threatened to use nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine. But not all Russians are as determined to wage war on Ukraine as their head of state. While Germany is discussing further weapons for Ukraine, more and more Russians are leaving their country to avoid having to go to the front. For the Kremlin dictator, the war in Ukraine is no longer just a foreign policy risk, but increasingly a domestic one as well.
"How high is Putin's gamble?" Frank Plasberg asked his guests in the ARD talk "Hard but fair" on Monday evening. Invited was the former head of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, a German heavyweight in foreign and security policy. Also on the show were former Moscow correspondent Udo Lielischkies and military expert Claudia Major. Federal politics was represented by SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert and CDU member of the Bundestag Serap Güler.
Are Putin's nuclear threats just a bluff? Ischinger is currently assuming this. The reason: Putin's lack of reaction to the heavy attacks by Ukrainians in Crimea in the summer of this year. This has been Russian territory since 2014. "I am not aware that Russia took this as an opportunity to say: now we've finally had enough and now is enough," said the former diplomat.
"This constant threat of nuclear weapons is actually his greatest weapon," Güler said. However, Putin's war strategy also includes threatening mass migration in the wake of famine and causing an energy crisis in the West. Güler thus joined the majority of the evening's guests, who seemed largely unimpressed by Putin's nuclear threats.
Only the SPD general secretary fell out of line – almost as expected. "I would not assume that someone who, as an autocratic ruler, has been acting in a highly irrational way for months, has planned and acted regularly," warned Kühnert and defended the course taken by the federal government. They must also include Putin's nuclear threats in their deliberations.
"Until now, for many Russians, it was more of a big movie," said Ischinger, referring to the partial mobilization announced by Putin, "now it's suddenly getting serious in the truest sense." There are many indications that partial mobilization could result in much larger mobilization . “In principle, he links his career, his mission as President of Russia, with this course of the war. This is an escalation. That also makes it more dangerous for him personally," said the former head of the Munich Security Conference about Putin.
At a summit in Asia a week and a half ago, several heads of state made the Kremlin dictator wait a long time in front of the cameras. "It shows very clearly that he has become lonely," commented Ischinger. Even the Chinese leadership has now distanced itself from Putin. Güler sees more of a "loss of authority" on the part of Putin, after all the heads of state would have welcomed him anyway.
The CDU politician still sees reason for hope. The heads of state of Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan also left Putin alone for the time being. "That actually makes it clear again that he's losing authority there," said Güler.
The federal government is still putting the brakes on the delivery of Leopard I tanks. "Why?" the moderator wanted to know from Kühnert. The SPD general secretary found it not his job to discuss weapon categories. Instead, Kühnert complained to Plasberg's studio staff. Those who are not in favor of automatically supplying western tanks are "apparently already the pacifist outer wing".
Kühnert's failure had potential for foreign shame in view of Major's subsequent calm and well-founded explanations. The military expert explained that an enemy position could be "ready for an assault" with a self-propelled howitzer. But if you want to take over a city in eastern Ukraine, you would need different weapons. "This means that what we are currently providing in the majority allows Ukraine to hold areas," Major explained, "if Ukraine is to liberate these areas, then they need tanks and armored personnel carriers. Shouldn’t we give them to them then?”
Plasberg also invited the professor of international economic relations, Erdal Yalçin, to the show. The economist researches the effects of sanctions. Yalçin was not very confident that Putin could be defeated with economic weapons alone. In the past 70 years, sanctions have been used in 1,400 political conflicts. That alone did not end a major conflict. "You have to take sanctions as accompanying measures for political conflicts," said the scientist.
Nevertheless, Russia's war capability could also suffer from them. More and more income was lost for the state and the population. Russia's economic output will fall by nine percent by the end of the year. "That's a lot, even for an emerging country," explained the economist, "I assume that the economic situation in Russia will continue to get worse."
The problem is that countries like India or China are not participating in the sanctions. However, Russia continues to be very dependent on the European sales market. “In the medium to long term, there will be a reorientation of the gas import networks. Russia has made a serious mistake economically,” said Yalçin.
Europe could therefore recover from the sanctions much faster than Russia. In the short term, however, hard times would come to Europe. Conflicts have had a negative impact on the economy worldwide: “We are world export champions. That will hit us hard.”