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Story Publication logo August 4, 2022

Ukrainian Soldiers Have a Legal Right To Capture Putin in Moscow: An Interview With a Bundestag Member

Explosions in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 24, 2022

Image courtesy of ТСН.ua.

Germany supports Ukraine's membership in the EU. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Annalena Baerbock, confirmed it during her visit to Kyiv.

Moreover, several politicians from the Social Democratic Party (which is a supporter of friendship with Russia) of Chancellor Olaf Scholz are in favor of an accelerated procedure for Ukraine's accession to the EU. It’s hard to believe. Because just a few days after the full-scale Russian invasion started, Germany was weighing whether it was really necessary to cut off Russian banks from SWIFT.

Today, Berlin, unlike Budapest, Vienna and others, supports the embargo on the export of Russian oil. Germany's first Gepard Tanks and Panzerhaubitzen 2000 finally reached Ukraine. But the decision to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons was not easy for Berlin.

From February 24, Germany made a 180-degree turn in its policy towards Russia. But it doesn’t remove misunderstandings between Kyiv and Berlin. In order to understand what prevents Germany from making decisions quickly, without looking back at Moscow, we met for an interview with a Bundestag MP from the Christian Democratic Union (this is also Merkel's party - ed.) Thomas Heilmann.

By the way, after the scandalous article "What Russia should do with Ukraine" was published in "RIA-Novosti", where in black and white it was about the call for genocide and the destruction of Ukraine, Heilman appealed to the German Prosecutor's office with a complaint. met with Mr Heilman in a large conference hall with a beautiful view of Reichstag. And, as Heilman said, in fact this hall was given for meetings for the pro-Russian Alternative for Germany party. Despite this, he told us how to get Putin to The Hague tribunal, what Merkel told him about Putin, and whether Germany believes in Ukraine’s victory. 

As a nonprofit journalism organization, we depend on your support to fund coverage of global conflicts. Help us continue funding the hard costs of in-depth coverage of the Ukraine invasion—including travel, hostile environment safety training, and the increased security expenses that arise from reporting in war zones.

- You filed a complaint against Sergeytsev's article in Russian media "RIA-Novosti" to the prosecutor's office in Berlin.

- When I first heard about this article, I was shocked. And maybe it’s because of the German history which had, in the mid of the last century, occupied the part of Russia, specifically the Ukrainian territory, [and] murdered people. Therefore, there is a kind of sensibility in our political thinking that it has to be prevented in future. This article itself is a shame which was published at the state platform. And I thought I should do something. As I’m a lawyer and was a Senator für Justiz in Germany, I know that this is a crime everywhere in the world. Therefore, I was convinced that it should be considered by the prosecutor. That’s why, after I read this article, I made an appeal to the prosecutor's office.

- Are there any results of your appeal?

- Yes. The Berlin based prosecutor has agreed that this is potentially a crime and have concentrated this on the highest prosecutor in Germany. I also gave it to the prosecutor in Moscow and they have already confirmed that my appeal has been received. But I’m afraid that they won’t punish anyone because it’s the official Russian politics. But nevertheless they have to formally handle it. Back in 1953 the Soviet Union had agreed that genocide is the crime. It’s not easy to formally find a reason why not handling it as a crime. And this hopefully will give them a small idea why this is a completely awful what they are going to do in Ukraine. And I’ve already talked to some colleagues in other parliaments whether we should do so in more countries in the world to force a discussion that there is a UN law in force that has been agreed by Russia which forbids such actions.

- What results do you expect? What could it be?  

- It could have been three results. If the prosecutor agrees that it’s a crime, they are usually asking for the arrest warrant by the public judge. And then it can be integrated in the Interpol system which is an international arrest warrant. It would mean that those persons can’t travel outside Russia because even in Dubai or India they can be arrested. It’s a demonstration that this is an awful article and for those people who wrote this article there will be consequences.

So, if the prosecutor agrees on my view that this is a crime, he’ll ask for the arrest warrant by judge. And if the judge agrees also for the arrest warrant, the next step will be the integration of this decision into Interpol. And if this would happen, the author of this article won’t practically travel because of the arrest warrant. He will be executed in Turkey or India. So it would be difficult for him to travel without the risk that he is going to be arrested.

- Germany believes in Ukrainian victory?

- We see this chance. But it’s hard to predict. I haven’t been to Ukraine since the war started. It's hard for me to say how the military operates, what weapons do you have. It’s a military secret. Therefore, it is difficult to say something in advance. But if you had asked me on these two months ago, I’d say Ukraine does not have any chance. But that was obviously a false prediction also by Putin, who saw that it is an easy way of getting Ukraine. And we have to consider that Ukraine right now is defending not only its own country, but also the freedom of the entire Western world. Therefore, Ukraine has to get every thinkable support.

- Has Germany's policy towards Russia been wrong all these years? Especially when Merkel was in office? As I see this discussion has already started in Germany.

- Not only in Germany. I mean the result is depressing. We tried to avoid the war. Now we have it. So it wasn’t the best action we’ve been taking as a Western world and basically Germany. I’ve spoken with Merkel. I know her for 20 years. And she was always saying that Putin lies. So she never believed Putin. She told me personally on one-on-one conversation that she doesn’t trust Putin at all. She said he lies. So we are not surprised he is a liar. On the other hand, German experience during the Cold War is that having intensive economic relations helps to calm down. And it was not only Merkel’s, but the common German belief of the German political class from the left to the right wing.

We don’t trust them in person and we know that they unfortunately lie to us, but if their economic interest is so dependent on us as we are dependent on them, that will prevent them from doing absolutely irrational actions. And it has been the case in the 1970-1980 when the Soviet Union was in place. Dramatically or catastrophically this is not in place anymore due to what Putin has done, on the one hand, given the number of victims in Ukraine, on the other hand is economically absolutely suicide for Russia. It will bring Russia back by 30-40 years. For sure. The economic decrease will be unbelievable and will be getting stronger. We already see how many people have already left Russia, how many relations was broken etc. So from the economic standpoint it’s absolutely illogical to start this criminal war in Ukraine.

And our belief, which was unfortunately wrong, is if we have more economic relations there will be less chance that they will start a war. But this prediction was wrong. It was wrong not only by Merkel but many German politicians. I’d say all of German politicians including me and many others from other countries.

- When we are talking about German energy policy towards Russia. The EU coal exports embargo will be in place from August. Also Berlin agreed on the EU oil embargo, right?

- Yes, it’ll be pretty soon. It was a statement made by the Minister of energy who said that we need only a few weeks to be able to do it.

- What does it mean for German economy?

- We try to prepare Germany for being independent from the Russian oil in the way that enables minimum significant damage on German economy. It prevents us on doing this immediately. There are some structural problems. For example, Poland is ready to help eastern Germany (providing the capacities of its refinery in Gdansk – ed.) which is completely dependent on Russian oil. So the average dependence is only 30%. But in the eastern part of Germany it’s 100%. So oil stations will be simply out of gas for some weeks. And further economic damage will be a big problem for people and industry. Therefore, we try to do it step by step.

To a higher degree, the same is with gas. Unfortunately, we are dependent on the Russian gas. It’s a very complex topic. Many German companies have long-term contracts with very low prices comparing to the market prices. For example, the biggest import company of gas Uniper (German energy company based in Dusseldorf – ed.) has 50% on the long-term basis till 2024. They still pay 20 euro per gas. It was the price before the crisis because it’s the long-term contract. If we now boycott the gas supplies from our side, Russia is free to take the same guys and sell those gas to them at a higher price on the markets. Therefore, economically it’s not that easy. Ok, if they sell only 50% of the gas to China on today’s prices, they will earn more money than if they continue delivering to Uniper.

And it’s only one aspect. If Russia stops gas delivery, then they have to pay the difference because they will still have contracts. If we disagree, the contracts that we have are saying "take or pay." That is, we are not obliged to take gas, but we still have to pay for it, even if we do not take it physically. So the Russians can bring us to the court. Therefore, I’m not too convinced how much it would help Ukraine. Specifically, as we get gas from Russia and deliver it back to Ukraine. This is the outcome on the Nord Stream-1 agreement. So we buy it in Russia and sell it back to Ukraine to make Ukraine more independent from Russia. The question is more complex than don’t pay to Putin what we really don’t like to do. But we have to work on it.

In the long-term we won’t buy any Russian gas for sure. And the long-term damage to the Russian economy is incredible. Russia will go bankrupt, that's for sure. I think it's inevitable. And President of the EU Commission said the same. If you calculate. the Russian business system will collapse. It will be an absolute outcome no matter how the Russian war against Ukraine ends. The collapse of Russia is unpreventable.

- Ok. When can Russia default?

- If we could predict the future, we would be billionaires. It is a combination of many factors. It’s not only a default of Russian liabilities to the international markets. Internally Russia will collapse. Russia doesn’t have an economic independence strategy and is trying to do everything right now with China, India and partly Turkey. So the world will be divided again between two powers as it has been before 1989. And the isolated Russian system can only survive if China would start to pay some of the Russian losses. And then Russia will be completely dependent on China. But internally it’s unfeasible if they not prepare to sell their energy to western countries in general. The entire business model of Russia will collapse.

- I hope so. As for energy, they have no gas pipes to China. So they simply won’t be able to redirect their gas supplies to China. There is no infrastructure for this.

- Yes. They have only one small route to China. And it will take them at least 10 years to build a new additional one. Strategically, Russia lost. That’s why we were so surprised when they’ve started this full-scale war. Because they have so many downsides. For example, 1 million people from the IT-industry have already left Russia. And this will have an effect. Not immediate, but it will be. I also see how many doctors left Russia. So they will have huge problems even in the health system.

So it’s completely irrational what Russia has done. And we know that some of the Russian oligarchs went to Putin and said: "It’s not in the Russian interests." And he answered: "You can be here twice. The first time is now, the second time you will be in jail." These were his answers to the oligarchs, who have historically been on his side.

- Do you know it for sure?

- It is a credible source. I wasn’t present at that meeting as you can imagine. But these are the reports of the Russian oligarchs, which western intelligence has.

- What are the Putin’s goals? Nobody knows what he has in mind…

- Neither do I.

- But this is not even the restoration of the USSR. In his articles and speeches, he appeals to the Russian Empire, which is much larger than the territory of Ukraine. 

- Yes. I don't know more than you. Because I can only listen at what he says. And I do think that he is a liar. But my impression is that he indeed wants to be in history as a Russian leader who has restored the Russian empire. But at least economically, he will fail even if he would win the war against Ukraine which will be then fully destroyed. So he won’t financially profit for the longtime to keep Ukraine. Because he will need to constantly have some forces on the ground in Ukraine. And it's not that easy for Russia. His belief obviously was that the majority of the Ukrainian people will welcome him. I don't know if Putin understood that it wasn't like this and will never be after Bucha and other war crimes. Russia didn’t succeed in the Afghanistan as a USSR at that time. Because it hasn’t been welcomed there. And at the end they went out of the country. So as for Ukraine one of the important issues is how the war will end in the eastern Ukraine in Luhansk and Donetsk which is hard for me to say from here.

- Has Germany already any preliminary calculations, perhaps in the Bundestag, regarding losses for the German GDP and economy if Putin cuts off gas supplies?

- There are some expert’s calculations who are arguing between themselves about the amount of damage. Even economic scientists argue publicly on this, will it be 6% or 9%. For sure it’ll have a significant damage. But you have to understand if Russia stops gas exporting tomorrow nothing will happen for the next first six months.

- So it’ll be no immediate damage?

- But then it’ll be a significant shortage of gas. So right now we are trying to figure out who will get gas and how if Russia stops gas exporting. Our industry is very dependent on gas. That’s why they are interested in loosing as little as possible. But we can’t really predict the weather factor. We don’t know precisely as the gas prices has already increased significantly how many people stopped using gas. Therefore, the impact of price fluctuations is very difficult to predict. Also we don’t know how much our neighbors can deliver. So there are many unsecured factors. And we still don’t know how flexible economy would be to adjust and find another ways of supplies. If for example our chemical industry can produce in Germany, using gas, will they have the same facilities in Turkey or other countries and deliver it to Germany. But the price for the final product will be higher than if you can produce it in Germany. Then their clients and customers don’t have the material and we will have to stop the productions. So it’s very hard to predict. And there is an ongoing discussion for two months between scientists on how big the damage can be. And it will continue as long as we don’t try it. But the later it comes, the better we’ll be prepared.

- Have you already calculated how much the tariff for the end consumer can increase?

- The price of gas on the market today already includes the risk of stopping supplies. Because today's market price is a speculation on the future. It’s easy to understand if you buy a currency, dollar, the impact of the difference in the interest rates in economic development is placed in today’s course. So the economic answer is that on the spot market we see that gas prices are ten times higher than they used to be. But this is more of a theoretical answer. I can't tell you more because I don't know. Nobody knows.

- Can you please explain to Ukrainians what is going on inside the governmental coalition? Because from one hand we’ve seen pretty strong speech by Chancellor Scholz just a few days after the Russian full-scale war started…

- On February 27.

- And right now we see some tensions inside the coalition. In addition, some of the German media spread the information even about the risk of Scholz resignation.

- It won't happen.

- Ok. But what is going on?

- The current government has done 180 degrees turn around since the war started. And that causes specifically in the Social-Democratic Party some bad feelings. The careers of many of their politicians started as so called "pacifists". And they have blocked any further money for defense historically. Exact the same individuals now don’t agree that we have at a high speed deliver weapons to Ukraine. That causes some difficulties internally and giving some slowness for political bosses in general. For Ukraine it’s hard to understand. The war has been going on for more than two months. But for politics it’s a very short term.

So step by step they have to agree on more. And Chancellor Olaf Scholz is in the slow part of his party. But people expect him as the leader of the nation to lead this transformation. Part of that is communication, which is honestly not very good. Even from his side. That has decreased the amount of trust from our allies, including Ukraine. The trust has been diminished. Therefore, I can’t promise that we will be quick enough. One solution has been solved.

- Yes, Bundestag adopted a resolution about heavy weapon deliveries to Ukraine.

- But the next problem is already there. We have decided to deliver heavy weapons. But we have chosen, for the reason that I can’t explain, the most complicated weapon you can think of which is called "Gepard." It’s a 60-year-old construction with two systems: one is to see where the airplane is; and then we have to switch into another one to follow and shoot it. The amount of trainings you need to learn how to do this process (which is not digital at all) is very complex. The "Gepard" [has been] out of production for 30-35 years. German military [hasn't used] it for 18 years. That’s why we have no ammunition for the "Gepard." The only country [that does] is Brazil.

So I honestly can’t explain why it was the best idea. We talked for long days and Ukraine asked if Germany could deliver some help quickly. And now we are delivering "Gepard." And that will cause the next complexity. So I’m not too optimistic. The good thing is that, first, we’ve taken a general decision; and, second, that the U.S. had started the Ramstein process where countries will be coordinating systematically. That will help Ukraine significantly. And, I hope, this will be enough to help Ukraine to end this war.

- Do you believe that Putin will one day answer for his war crimes in the international tribunal?

No, as long as Ukraine doesn’t catch him or we have a revolution in Moscow.

- Can Ukraine figure on reparations?

- Legally obviously. The problem is that Russia doesn’t accept any International Hague court decisions. This might change, as in Serbia. For those people who have done those crimes including those military persons who have done the crimes in Bucha. You never know whether they end up on the court and for their lifetime imprisoned. That might happen after years and we have to document it carefully right now. Until they die they can’t be sure that they won't go to jail when they travel somewhere. I very much recommend to inform on that through the social media that Russian soldiers who have done and are doing those crimes may be responsible in the court for some years. And we have many examples. Specifically, the war in Serbia where it’d happened and those criminals had been taken to the court. And that can easily happen to the Russians. And legally Ukraine is allowed to imprison Putin and his soldiers. You can send someone to Moscow and legally you would be able to do it, to imprison them.

- So Ukrainian soldiers can do this?

- Yes. They are allowed to do so. But it’s not easy.  

- Was it a German and France mistake to block granting Ukraine a MAP in 2008 at the Bucharest Summit?

- It’s one of the most difficult questions. First, we have to see the historic circumstances that were before the Maidan in 2014. Second, maybe then Putin would have started a war against Ukraine much earlier to prevent it. And in that time it was impossible for Ukraine to defend itself, not having an army at all. And I don’t want to defend false decisions but time between 2014, the Minsk process, and today has given Ukraine the opportunity during those 8 years to form the army. Which is worth calling an army. If this war would have taken place right after the Bucharest Summit, Ukraine would lose it. So it’s really hard to decide on today’s knowledge and decisions that had been taken 14 years ago. Specifically, when this war would have started then and everyone would say how dare could you let them in to the NATO, that is the provocation to Putin and that would have caused to the war. How to decide? I’m sure that in a hundred years the scientists of history will debate on it.

- But maybe now it’s time for Germany to fix that mistake? If it really was a mistake from a German point of view. And what if Ukraine wins this war?

- If Ukraine wins this war the discussion will be on how quickly Ukraine can be the part of NATO and the EU. It can be if we see a standstill agreement. But unfortunately I don’t see a standstill agreement with Russia when Russia won’t stand on the condition that Ukraine can’t be a member of NATO. Imagine they will lose Luhansk and Donetsk, but would keep Crimea. And on that basis there will be a standstill agreement. Do you think Ukraine would not agree for a standstill agreement if the only condition is that Ukraine isn’t going to be a part of NATO?

- We’ll continue to fight for Crimea.

- Giving the entire country would be empty from Russian soldiers. Would you agree for a standstill agreement or not it is a Ukraine’s decision. When the only condition of Russia is Ukraine won’t become a member of NATO. And that will happen. So, therefore, you don’t know when this war ends, how it going to end, what the conditions are and whether it’s still possible for Ukraine to be a member of NATO. If it is possible, I would suggest that Ukraine becomes a member of NATO. And I will support it. But it has many conditions.

- So, if I understand you right, the condition of Ukraine’s joining to NATO is returning Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea?

- There are no such conditions. Ukraine can’t be a part of NATO as long as war is going on. War usually ends with a standstill agreement. The conditions of a standstill agreement will be negotiated by Ukraine. I do foresee that Russia will have a condition for any standstill agreement that Ukraine won’t become a NATO member.

- You mean a neutral status…

- Yes, it’ll be the Russian demand. And if Ukraine agrees than it can’t become a NATO member. But again it’s hard to predict when and under which circumstances it’s going to happen.

- But if not NATO, then Ukraine asks for security guarantees.

I know about security guarantees. Is it thinkable that Ukraine wins the war in the dimension that Russia will unconditionally agree on the end of the war? Germany has done so in 1945 after the start of the WWII. But that was once in history. That’s why I want to be conscious to predict if Ukraine will be a member of NATO. Not because we don’t want this. The first key is in Ukraine.


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