Berlin rejects Putin’s talk of denazification of Ukraine as ‘abuse of history’

War memorial events across Germany overshadowed by Russia’s brutal invasion

 German chancellor Olaf Scholz: “I cannot tell you today how Russia’s awful war against Ukraine will end, but one thing is clear: it will not be a peace based on a Russian diktat. Ukrainians won’t accept that – nor will we.” Photograph: Andreas Gora

German chancellor Olaf Scholz: “I cannot tell you today how Russia’s awful war against Ukraine will end, but one thing is clear: it will not be a peace based on a Russian diktat. Ukrainians won’t accept that – nor will we.” Photograph: Andreas Gora

 

Germany has dismissed Russian president Vladimir Putin’s framing of his war in Ukraine – a battle to crush a Nazi revival in Europe – as a “falsification” and a “cynical abuse of history”.

Fears of a third World War left events on Sunday to mark the end of the second – and its 60 million victims – charged with emotion and symbolism like never before.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz used a Sunday evening television address to promise Germany’s full support for Ukraine, but warned that Berlin would “not do everything that one person or another demands”.

“I cannot tell you today how Russia’s awful war against Ukraine will end, but one thing is clear: it will not be a peace based on a Russian diktat. Ukrainians won’t accept that – nor will we,” he said. “In everything we do will be paying attention to maintain our ability to defend ourselves.”

Across Berlin on Sunday, police were out in force to keep the peace and avoid political provocations at memorial events, in particular at two Soviet war memorials. At one, near the Brandenburg Gate, Ukraine’s outspoken ambassador Andrij Melnik was cheered – and jeered – as he laid a wreath at a Soviet-era memorial recalling his country’s estimated four million war dead.

Among the signs carried by protesters: “We remember that Russians and Ukrainians and the Allies liberated from fascism.”

‘What barbarity!’

At a separate Berlin event, German president Frank Walter Steinmeier noted that for the first time in 77 years this anniversary was taking place during war in Europe.

“When Putin draws an equivalence between the battle against national socialism and his brutal war of aggression against Europe, then this is a perfidious and cynical abuse of history,” said Mr Steinmeier in a speech. “Under the cover of denazification, he is even allowing the killing of people who went through hell once already, including many Holocaust survivors. What barbarity!”

After shaping Berlin-Russian policy like few others in the last 24 years, Mr Steinmeier admitted the war had shattered his own illusions about working with Moscow – and rattled the foundations of peace, freedom and prosperity in Europe.

“Yes, even I didn’t think it possible that the Russian president would, in his imperial madness, risk the consequences of political, economic and moral ruin,” the president added.

Berlin’s hesitancy in the last 10 weeks of war has lead to tensions with Ukraine, with Kyiv declaring Mr Steinmeier unwelcome.

In an effort to defuse tensions, German Bundestag president Bärbel Bas – number two in Germany’s diplomatic order – met President Volodymr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Sunday.

‘Emotional debate’

Ms Bas described her visit as “a show of solidarity of Germany with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people”.

“For me this day is special because it isn’t just about remembering,” she said, “but also serves the cause of reconciliation.”

After weeks of emotional debate – about the rights and wrongs of Germany’s close ties with Russia, and over supplying Kyiv with heavy weapons – a deep ambivalence remains in Germany: solidarity with Ukrainians mixed with deep fear that the war will spread across Europe.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, expected in Kyiv in the coming days, said she shared this ambivalence.

The senior Green Party leader ran for election last year on a platform that rejected additional military spending and arms deliveries to war zones – positions she, and her party, dropped after the February 24th invasion.

“With everything I have, I wish we wouldn’t have to deliver weapons,” she told Der Spiegel. “But if we don’t help to stop the Russian advance – with weapons, because Putin doesn’t listen to words – then we share responsibility that further places in Ukraine are transformed into a Mariupol or Bucha.”

An open letter last week signed by leading German intellectuals and artists, demanding an end to weapons deliveries, was countered by another demanding Berlin stick to its new strategy of arms deliveries and higher defence spending.

German sociologist Harald Welzer has warned of parallels with how world powers in 1914 “sleepwalked” into a World War that no one wanted – but which soon developed its own dynamics.

He criticised those pressuring Germany to provide even more heavy weapons to Kyiv, “as if rash action is better than responsible action”.