Germany’s president has warned of “tough years” ahead due to a Russian invasion of Ukraine that has turned the European security order “to ashes”, a day after the Kremlin said the world was entering its most dangerous decade since the second World War.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a national address that Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in February was an “epochal shift” that plunged Germany “into a different time, into an uncertainty that we thought we had left behind us, a time marked by war, violence and displacement, by concerns that war would spread across Europe like wildfire”.
Russian president Vladimir Putin had “reduced the European security order to ashes. In his imperial obsession [he] has broken international law, committed land grabs, called borders into question. The Russian attack is an attack on all of the lessons that the world had learned from two World Wars”, Mr Steinmeier said.
He acknowledged that the Kremlin’s full-scale war against Ukraine “marked the definitive, bitter failure of years of political efforts, including my efforts”, to build strong and stable ties with Moscow.
“But when we look at today’s Russia, there is no place for old dreams. Our countries are today opposed,” he warned. “Harder years, tough years are coming. The dividends of peace have run out. For Germany, an age is beginning in which we must brave the headwinds.”
Mr Steinmeier – formerly a strong supporter of major energy projects and other ventures to forge closer ties between Germany and Russia – said Berlin would help Ukraine “for as long as necessary” on everything from provision of air defence systems to aiding its “rapid recovery after Russia’s despicable attacks on power, heating, hot water, on all forms of vital infrastructure as winter approaches”.
Rolling blackouts continued in Ukraine after more Russia air strikes on its energy system, and officials warned that residents of Kyiv could be without electricity for up to six hours at a time as engineers sought to stabilise and repair the national grid.
Ukraine imported electricity from EU neighbour Slovakia for the first time to help mitigate power shortages, but Russia’s former president Dmitry Medvedev, who is now deputy head of its security council, said “the path to stable energy supply is a different one”.
“There must be recognition of the legitimacy of Russia’s demands in the framework of the ‘special military operation’ and its results, as reflected in our constitution. And then the power situation will improve,” he said.
In a breach of international law, Russia last month declared sovereignty over four partly occupied regions of Ukraine and threatened to use all weapons in its arsenal – which includes nuclear missiles – to stop Kyiv retaking them.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the “Kremlin stated directly through Medvedev: we will destroy Ukraine’s energy system and terrorise millions of people until Ukraine agrees to surrender. In fact, it is an official terrorism confession at state level”.
Mr Putin warned on Thursday that the world was facing “the most dangerous, unpredictable and … important decade since the end of the second World War,” but said it was the West and Ukraine and not Russia that were stoking fears of nuclear confrontation.
Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency are expected to visit two nuclear facilities in Ukraine in the coming days, after Kyiv invited inspectors to help disprove Russian allegations that it could be planning to detonate a so-called dirty bomb – a combination of conventional explosives and radioactive material.
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said the military had completed its plan to mobilise 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine, and that 82,000 were already in the combat zone. Hundreds of thousands of Russian men have fled their homeland to escape mobilisation in the last month.