Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Perché i tank Leopard e Abrams non bastano all’Ucraina (e cosa non abbiamo capito)

La decisione presa da Stati Uniti e Germania di fornire carriarmati all’Ucraina è positiva perché – ancora una volta – delude la speranza di Putin di dividere l’Occidente e ridurre il suo sostegno a Kiev. Però i tank in arrivo sono poche decine contro le migliaia di tank russi; trasportano un bagaglio di problemi (manutenzione, carburante, munizioni); lasciano irrisolte molte altre debolezze dell’esercito ucraino come i vistosi buchi nella difesa aerea. Inoltre le reticenze di Berlino continuano a rivelare un ritardo di fondo: culturale oltre che politico.

Molti tedeschi continuano a credere alla favola per cui la prima guerra fredda 1947-1989 fu vinta dalla cooperazione con Mosca, anziché dalla determinazione di Ronald Reagan. Perfino gli Stati Uniti hanno creduto a tal punto di vivere in un’era di pace, che oggi hanno un’industria della difesa sottodimensionata, e spesso inefficiente. Anche l’Italia avrebbe bisogno di un sano confronto con il «principio di realtà», invece dei dibattiti tragicomici su Zelensky al festival di Sanremo.

Ucraina, le ultime notizie in diretta

Sul via libera ai tank Abrams americani e ai Leopard 2 tedeschi viene in mente una celebre battuta attribuita da alcune fonti a Winston Churchill, il premier britannico protagonista della resistenza contro i nazifascismi nella seconda guerra mondiale (una versione alternativa l’attribuisce a un premier israeliano, Abba Eban). «Potete essere sicuri – avrebbe detto Churchill – che gli americani faranno sempre la cosa giusta, dopo aver provato tutte le altre». In questo caso la battuta si può estendere alla Nato o all’Occidente. È dall’inizio di questo conflitto che il nostro appoggio all’Ucraina procede con il contagocce, tra resistenze e ritardi, e ogni decisione arriva dopo estenuanti esitazioni. Un giudizio severo sulla vicenda dei Leopard lo dà The Economist ricordandoci che la richieste di carriarmati da parte di Zelensky – per poter resistere alle enormi colonne blindate russe – arrivò al settimo giorno dell’invasione, cioè undici mesi fa. Era la cosa giusta da fare subito, ci abbiamo messo quasi un anno per ammetterlo.

La giustificazione principale per le nostre esitazioni – anche da parte di Joe Biden – è sempre stata quella di non provocare Putin, di non fare nulla che legittimi la sua narrazione di uno scontro diretto Russia-Nato. Per questo Biden continua a costringere gli ucraini a difendersi con un braccio legato dietro alla schiena, per esempio negandogli missili adeguati a colpire le basi di lancio da cui partono i missili russi.

Ma Putin quella narrazione sull’aggressione della Nato l’ha usata dal 2007 ed è con quella che ha giustificato l’aggressione di una nazione sovrana e indipendente fin dal 2008 (Georgie) e dal 2014 (Crimea). Qualsiasi forma di aiuto occidentale all’Ucraina, per la propaganda di Mosca è la conferma del teorema. I tank non cambiano nulla, Putin ha già accusato cento volte la Nato di combattere direttamente contro la Russia. Per lui è anche un comodo alibi verso l’opinione pubblica russa: per giustificare i rovesci subiti dalle sue forze armate, è utile sostenere che stanno combattendo contro un nemico molto più grande.

Nella realtà Putin sa bene la differenza fondamentale che c’è tra fornire armi ed entrare direttamente in un conflitto. Negli anni 1965-75, durante la guerra del Vietnam, l’Unione sovietica e la Cina di Mao fornirono la stragrande maggioranza delle armi, l’addestramento e l’intelligence ai comunisti del Nord-Vietnam. Non per questo si può sostenere che l’America stesse combattendo contro Urss e Cina. Se allora la propaganda americana avesse usato questo argomento per giustificare le proprie difficoltà, di sicuro non sarebbe stata presa sul serio dai veterani dello «pseudo-pacifismo» che oggi contestano Zelensky a Sanremo. Gli stessi che invece accettano la propaganda di Putin quando descrive gli aiuti della Nato come una partecipazione diretta alla guerra.


Quegli aiuti arriveranno – pochi e tardi – con un carico di problemi. Le truppe ucraine vanno addestrate all’uso di tank diversi dai loro. Questi mezzi blindati hanno bisogno di essere riforniti costantemente di carburante, pezzi di ricambio, e soprattutto munizioni. Qui si tocca un tasto dolente. La produzione di munizioni è uno specchio del disarmo avvenuto per decenni in Occidente. Inclusi gli Stati Uniti, come documenta un recente rapporto del Congresso di Washington. Alla fine della seconda guerra mondiale gli Usa avevano 85 fabbriche di munizioni. Oggi ne sono rimaste sei, che spesso operano con macchinari e impianti ultra-ottantenni. La Russia pur essendo molto più povera degli Stati Uniti, ha però una «economia di guerra» dove la produzione bellica riceve una porzione enorme delle risorse nazionali. E può avvalersi di forniture militari da parte di altre «economie di guerra» come Iran e Corea del Nord (quest’ultima essendo con ogni probabilità anche il canale clandestino attraverso cui la Cina aiuta Putin).

L’America ha smantellato o ridimensionato la sua industria militare soprattutto dopo la fine della prima guerra fredda, convinta di potersi godere finlmente i «dividendi della pace». Né vanno sottovalutate le inefficienze interne al Pentagono e al complesso militar-industriale. A parte qualche caso sporadico di corruzione (sì, quella non esiste solo a Kiev), i generali Usa si sono spesso innamorati delle loro «cattedrali», grandi opere della tecnologia bellica come le costosissime portaerei o i cacciabombardieri F-35, relegando a un ruolo minore le nuove tecnologie ultraleggere come i droni, o le produzioni banali e per nulla glamour come le munizioni.

Un recente esercizio virtuale di wargames condotto dal Center for Strategic & International Studies ha dimostrato che nel caso la Cina invadesse Taiwan, gli Stati Uniti esaurirebbero in meno di una settimana le munizioni essenziali per aiutare l’isola a difendersi. La Cina sta investendo nella sua capacità di produrre munizioni cinque volte più degli Stati Uniti. Se nella seconda guerra mondiale fu proprio la capacità produttiva della sua industria l’arma decisiva dell’America, ora questo vantaggio rischia di non esistere più. La deindustrializzazione che ha colpito gli Stati Uniti da almeno tre decenni non ha risparmiato il settore della difesa: alcune sue produzioni sono dipendenti da materiali e componenti made in China, proprio come i telefonini o le auto elettriche. L’America conserva – per ora – una superiorità tecnologica, spesso affidata ai privati, e la si è vista all’opera con il ruolo dei satelliti Starlink (Elon Musk) o di Microsoft nell’aiutare l’Ucraina. Ma poiché l’aggressione russa usa tattiche e tecniche che evocano la prima e la seconda guerra mondiale, il software non basta, ci vogliono gli scarponi sul terreno, i tank, le munizioni.

La Germania, e l’Europa, sono un caso a parte in quanto a cultura del disarmo. Dietro le reticenze del cancelliere Olaf Scholz sui Leopard c’è una sorta di visione alternativa della storia. Molti tedeschi si sono costruiti una rappresentazione confortante sulla fine della guerra fredda, la caduta del Muro di Berlino, la dissoluzione dell’Urss. Gran parte del merito sarebbe loro: delle loro politiche di cooperazione e commercio che avrebbero ammorbidito il blocco comunista. Il ruolo di Ronald Reagan e della sua fermezza, o di papa Wojtyla e del suo sostegno alla rivolta polacca, viene opportunamente oscurato in questa ricostruzione. Gran parte del merito andrebbe invece ai leader socialdemocratici come Willy Brandt, artefice della Ostpolitik o «politica orientale» (la cui carriera politica fu stroncata perché i suoi uffici pullulavano di spie sovietiche). Gerhard Schroeder, anche lui ex cancelliere socialdemocratico, ha potuto farsi assumere da Putin come amministratore di un ente energetico russo in nome della «pace e fratellanza» tra i popoli. La stessa democristiana Angela Merkel ha sostenuto fino all’ultimo Nord Stream 2, il gasdotto con cui Putin voleva perpetuare la dipendenza tedesco-europea dal gas russo. L’idea che la Russia sarebbe diventata più buona a furia di commerciare con noi ha anestetizzato ogni lucidità della classe dirigente tedesca. Scholz fatica ancora oggi a liberarsene, lo fa lentamente e puntando i piedi. 

Sunday, 22 January 2023

 

Ukraine is fighting for all of us. Now Europe must fight Putin too

Simon Tisdall

As Russia threatens another offensive, this is the moment of maximum danger. Ukraine’s allies must move fast and decisively

Members of the military walk on a tank in Bratislava, Slovakia, as Germany delivers its first Leopard tanks for Ukraine, on 19 December 2022.

Europe must fight. The realisation has been slow in coming. Yet almost one year after Russia invaded Ukraine, most western governments finally understand Kyiv’s war for survival is their war, too. It’s a fight to the death for Ukraine, but also for European democracy, rights and values. It’s a fight against the historical evils of fascism and imperialism embodied by Vladimir Putin, a dictator for our age.

Europe must fight. It really has no choice. As Russia doubles down, threatening a huge new offensive, a turning point approaches when tragedy turns to ruin – or triumph. This moment, when the war has become familiar and wearying, is the moment of maximum danger. From Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Poland and the Baltic republics, the flow of arms is turning into an urgent torrent.

The EU is toughening its stance, too. Council of ministers president Charles Michel urged Europe to be “very ambitious” in helping Kyiv withstand imminent attack. “The following weeks can be decisive because of the military situation. There is a risk of a massive assault,” he warned. It was an admission by a senior EU figure that economic sanctions, diplomatic ostracism and nonexistent peace talks cannot by themselves end this war.

Fears of an escalating, even nuclear conflict, most often expressed by Germany’s government, are daily trumped by the horror of Putin’s relentless butchery. Military escalation has become unavoidable, as shown by the ineluctable shift from providing light weapons last spring to advanced missile systems, state-of-the-art artillery, armoured fighting vehicles – and now, main battle tanks.

Every time a kindergarten, school or hospital is bombed; every time atrocious war crimes, rapes and hideous acts of torture are uncovered; every time a family weeps over the grave of a loved one, killed in a struggle waged on behalf of all, Europe’s obligation to resist such brutalism is reinforced.

In their hearts, Europeans know full well that defeat would be disastrous. Surveys show public opinion remains overwhelmingly hostile to Russia. While many people would back a negotiated settlement, they realise it’s unobtainable at present. Meanwhile, hesitant, unimaginative leaders such as Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, are pulled along by a tidal wave of disgust.

Europe, in order to prevail, must fight back with everything it’s got, even at the risk of national armed forces ultimately becoming directly engaged. Last week’s wrangling over sending hi-tech German Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv merely reprises previous, futile arguments about the level of weapons supplies. Ukrainians fight for all of us, so why tie their hands?

East and central European politicians have a clearer-eyed estimation of the physical Russian threat, rooted in history. They want Nato to send combat aircraft, too. How different things might be today, they suggest, had a less chary western alliance deployed such weapons last spring.

It’s a question Joe Biden, Nato’s de facto boss, should ask himself as he dithers anew, this time over Kyiv’s plea for long-range missiles that could hit bases in occupied Crimea and Russia itself. Emotionally, Biden gets it. Visiting Warsaw last March, he blurted out: “For God’s sake, this man [Putin] cannot remain in power.” Yet politically, his instinct is to play safe – even when safety is an illusion.

It’s pointless blaming the US, which provides the lion’s share of arms and aid – including $2.5bn last week alone. Europe must fight its own battles and not hide, as Scholz tries to do, behind America’s skirts. Even France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has abandoned his peace hotline to Moscow and is supplying heavy armour. Macron, too, realises Europe must fight.


By offering a squadron of Challenger tanks last week, the UK gave Europe an important nudge. “It will cost so much more in human lives and so much more in money if we allow this to be a long, drawn-out attritional war,” foreign secretary James Cleverly said. “We should look to bring it to a conclusion quickly, the conclusion has to be Ukrainian victory. And that dictates therefore that we need to intensify our support.”

Blundering Putin’s belief that he’s now in a fight to the finish feeds a growing sense of emergency. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Nato secretary general, said Kyiv should have all the tanks it needs. And it was time to “close the skies over Ukraine” to prevent more civilian deaths.

Rasmussen’s appeal recalled last summer’s arguments over whether Nato should create safe havens or a no-fly zone over all or part of Ukraine – suggestions dismissed as too dangerous. Thousands of Ukrainians have since paid in blood for that shameful reluctance while vital infrastructure and millions of homes have sustained incalculable damage.

If Europe is to win the fight it is in, it must revisit such military options and wean itself off the too careful half measures and incrementalism that have bedevilled its approach so far. Retired general Wesley Clark, a former Nato supreme allied commander for Europe, warned a crunch was fast approaching. “We’ve got to give Ukraine the weapons to eject Russia. Russia is not relenting on what it’s doing. Putin is mobilising more forces. He is planning for another offensive,” Clark said. Promised additional weaponry and assistance was still insufficient, he said. “We have got to get serious.”

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s president, spelled it out for the hard of hearing with passion and panache in Switzerland last week. The allies must move faster and more decisively, he said, because “tragedies are outpacing life [and] tyranny is outpacing democracy”.

Zelenskiy is right. Risk-averse Nato has been too slow and too cautious from the start. To outpace tyranny, Europe must fight – and fight to win. Our common future depends on it.

 

Germany is refusing to send tanks to Ukraine. Biden cannot let this stand.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stands next to a Leopard 2 main battle tank while visiting an army training center in Ostenholz, Germany, in October 2022. (David Hecker/Getty Images)
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Vladimir Putin launched his illegal invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago not only believing he would quickly subjugate Ukraine but also on the assumption that the Western alliance was too weak and divided to put up a united front to thwart him. Both expectations proved disastrously wrong — until Friday, when Germany’s refusal to approve the transfer of dozens of heavy battle tanks to Ukraine opened the first serious crack in what had been NATO’s solid front.

That fissure needs to be quickly patched. Left unresolved, the Kremlin’s dictator is certain to try to exploit it, not only on the battlefield but also in the parallel conflict zone of European public opinion.

In addition to Western sanctions against Russia, which will take an increasing toll on the Russian economy and undercut its resupply of high-tech weapons over time, military aid for Ukraine has been key to Ukraine’s survival and ability to blunt Moscow’s superior numbers of troops on the battlefield. Germany has given Ukraine more military aid than any country but the United States and Britain.

The fact of Germany’s multibillion dollar commitment is testament to the remarkable recalibration in Berlin’s thinking that occurred immediately after Russia’s invasion. Having pursued one decades-long strategy toward Moscow — promoting economic partnerships and codependence based on the premise that such a policy would render a European war unthinkable — Chancellor Olaf Scholz executed an abrupt about-face days after Russian troops and armor flooded into Ukraine. He announced a major long-term increase in German military spending and made clear Berlin would stand with its NATO allies against an unprovoked war of aggression.

That was a credit to what appeared to be a clear-eyed assessment of the existential threat to the Western order posed by Mr. Putin’s brazen assault on a sovereign nation. Mr. Scholz understood clearly that Ukraine’s only “sin” was aspiring to be a fully European nation — democratic, pluralistic, tolerant and modern. And he understood that if Russia were granted impunity after invading a big European country such as Ukraine, smaller European countries were also at risk from Mr. Putin’s imperial fantasies.

But that message has apparently not been fully received by a portion of Germany’s coalition government and its public. Polls suggest that while German support generally for Ukraine remains relatively high — though less so than in other Western countries — it is split almost equally on the question of sending German-made main battle tanks to Ukraine.

Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks, several thousand of which are in the arsenals of its NATO allies around Europe, are the best such options for Ukraine’s use. They are far more numerous than British Challenger 2 tanks, about 14 of which are being delivered to Ukraine, and more suitable for Ukrainian terrain and maintenance abilities than the United States’ top-of-the-line battle tank, the M1 Abrams. Several European countries with Leopards in their arsenals have signaled they are ready to ship them immediately to Ukraine, including NATO members Poland and Denmark, as well as Finland, which has applied to join the alliance. But those shipments must first be approved by Germany, which insisted on a right-to-refusal in its arms sale contracts.

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Mr. Scholz is sacrificing sound strategy on the altar of political calculation by wavering in the face of opposition from some political allies and a segment of the German electorate. It is a misjudgment that cannot stand.

Some officials in Berlin have suggested they would send Leopards to Ukraine if the Biden administration goes first, and provides political cover, by sending some U.S.-made Abrams tanks to Kyiv. Washington has so far been reluctant to do that, regarding the gargantuan, gas-guzzling Abrams, which requires constant maintenance, as a poor fit with Ukraine’s terrain and capabilities. That might be an accurate technical assessment.

Yet if sending some Abrams tanks is the key to breaking the impasse on a potentially much greater shipment of Leopards, President Biden should give his assent. He should do so not only to add muscle to Ukraine’s arsenal at what is likely to be a decisive moment in the war, but also to maintain Western resolve and unity in the face of the gravest threat it has faced in more than a generation.

Ukraine, whose own supply of Soviet-made battle tanks has dwindled as the war has dragged on, is in an existential fight. Its struggle is also a crucible for Europe and an assault against the most basic precept on which the Western system rests: the impermissibility of unprovoked wars of aggression. Tanks alone will not win that war. Ukraine also needs large numbers of lighter fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, howitzers, modern air defense systems and a constant resupply of artillery shells, which it has been using at a rate of roughly 3,000 per day. Still, the top Ukrainian military commander has said Ukraine needs 300 Western-made battle tanks, which would be a formidable component in Kyiv’s ability not just to hold its own lines but also to push Russia back from territory it has occupied illegally.

Moscow is gearing up for a major spring offensive, expected to start in the next two months. Ukraine might launch one of its own. What is at stake is not only Ukraine’s survival, but also leadership and clear-eyed thinking in Washington and Berlin. Germany’s hesitation is a critical challenge to Western unity, and Mr. Biden cannot sit pat in the face of it.