“If Russia uses nuclear weapons, it will lose its last ally”

Berlin Ms. Deitelhoff, at the G20 summit in Bali, a surprising number of countries condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine. Russia loses allies in the world. Could this persuade the commanders in Moscow to seriously offer negotiations or even to limit or end the war?
Certainly not in the short term and for this reason, but Putin still sees a chance of winning the war militarily. However, the longer this does not succeed, the withdrawal of support could have an effect, above all, of course, from important supporters such as China.

You recently put forward the thesis that there can only be security with Russia. They contradicted SPD leader Lars Klingbeil, who said that there could only be security from Russia. Do you feel confirmed or contradicted by the developments in Bali?
I only partially disagreed with him. In the current situation and in the coming years, the main concern is deterrence against Russia. In the medium and long term, however, this is not enough, since the Russian Federation will not disappear. Russia will continue to be a large country with significant military capabilities. That means that in the medium and long term we must think about how we can organize our security with Russia.

Why do you think restoring conversations is so important?
We know from history that regimes that rely solely on deterrence show considerable instability. Think of the Cold War order. In the early stages, it brought us quite often to the brink of nuclear annihilation. Because there was no cooperation and coordination. That only changed in the 1970s.

How are you supposed to get along with a power that, unlike the Soviet Union during the Cold War, lies, deceives and breaks international agreements?
You are right, we will be dealing with very difficult negotiating partners. But at the same time we cannot conjure up the negotiating partners that we would like to have. The level of communication that I have in mind is one that takes this into account, that adopts a policy of small steps, in which we drive by sight.

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Push appropriate initiatives in small areas and always be able to check whether it works: Is the other side adhering to the specifications? If she doesn’t, you haven’t invested much and you can cancel again. We have to gradually rebuild the reliability that we currently lack in relation to Russia. This will work if the other side has an interest in being perceived as a reliable partner. That is most definitely not the case at the moment.

What should persuade Russia to take these steps?
The cost of the war to Russia is enormous. We do not yet see the disadvantages that the Russian economy is suffering. It will set you back decades. I expect that in the future they will develop a great interest in being perceived as a reliable partner again.

Nicole Deitelhoff

Nicole Deitelhoff (48) is director of the Leibniz Institute Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research in Frankfurt am Main. In 2009 she was appointed professor of international relations and theories of global governance at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, also in Frankfurt.

(Photo: imago images/Political Moments)

Imagine the West negotiating directly with Russia – over Ukraine’s back?
Restoring cooperation with Russia, which we just talked about, is a project for the future. It would be helpful if, for example, agreements could be reached again in the area of ​​tactical nuclear weapons. At the moment, the chance that Russia and Ukraine will actually start serious negotiations is almost zero. But I’m not surprised that according to media reports, Jake Sullivan, the US President’s National Security Advisor, is holding talks with Vladimir Putin’s confidants to limit the risk of nuclear escalation.

How high do you think the risk of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine is?
It’s not the most likely scenario because the cost to Russia would be enormous. Then it would lose its last ally – and China urgently needs it. With North Korea and Iran, no state can be made in the long term.

What we had observed in the past few weeks was that the US and Russia had been teasing each other on nuclear threats. It’s a dangerous dynamic. The risk is that statements or actions are misinterpreted and then there can be a point of no return. The Cuban Missile Crisis is a prime example of this.

Before Bali, Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Beijing. He has been criticized for his trip to China. How important is it that he and Xi Jinping spoke out against the use of nuclear weapons?
I really didn’t understand the criticism of this trip. Why shouldn’t a German chancellor travel to China? Of course we want to keep in touch with China, the question is about what and how. Second point: I would have liked Xi Jinping to condemn Russia’s war of aggression as illegitimate under international law. But he has at least made it very clear that he considers the threat and use of nuclear weapons to be unacceptable. That was an important step.

Putin with Russian soldiers in training

“What we had observed in the past few weeks was that the US and Russia had been teasing each other on nuclear threats. This is a dangerous dynamic.”

(Photo: AP)

There was also criticism that Scholz should have driven together with other EU heads of state and government. Do you share that?
Honestly, the critical bubble that is developing in German foreign and security policy at the moment is ridiculous. All European states operate their own foreign and security policy and a European variant of it. Germany and China have a very complex, very close cooperation and coordination in many areas. So it goes without saying that a German chancellor should travel there.

Any communication with states where it is unclear how they feel about Russia’s war is initially welcome in this situation. We must give them arguments and incentives as to why there is a need to defend rules in the international order.

Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, defensiveness has been the big issue. Before that, many German politicians were proud of the “culture of military restraint” in Germany. Do you wish it would be strengthened again?
The culture of military restraint has not disappeared, but it needs to be renegotiated in times of crisis. We are experiencing that right now. It’s not like the whole public is calling for sending Leopard II tanks to Ukraine. Rather, there is a public struggle when you face such an aggressive opponent in Europe.

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The political elites are trying to make these necessary answers compatible with the culture of military restraint. I would only worry about them if a majority were to call for military operations to secure raw materials in other countries.

Xi Jinping and Olaf Scholz

“I really didn’t understand the criticism of this trip. Why shouldn’t a German chancellor travel to China?”

(Photo: AP)

Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?
That’s why courts have to decide and fortunately not peace and conflict researchers. There is evidence that he is one. I would call him a suspected war criminal, but only courts can determine that.

Do you think it likely that any institution will ever initiate such a procedure?
That’s a very difficult question. But even former politicians who have been accused of crimes have long seemed protected by the arm of the law. There are cases where such politicians lost their office and then ended up before an international court after a change of government.

Can Russia be obliged to pay reparations?
Just think of the Sudanese Omar al-Bashir or the Serb Slobodan Milosevic. An arrest warrant could also be issued for Putin by the International Criminal Court if the UN Security Council were to pass a corresponding resolution. It’s unlikely as long as he’s in office and this war is on.

The UN Security Council must agree to that, you said. Russia has a right of veto, so the country would have to turn completely to democracy for something like this to happen…
That’s why I said: The prerequisite is a change of power. A future government may have an interest in getting the former ruler out of the country.

This text first appeared in the Tagesspiegel.

More: All developments in the Ukraine war are available here in the live blog

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