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NV: Did you see Putin's speech today at the so-called victory parade? And if so, how do you assess it?
Reitschuster: He once said that a Chekist has a language not to express what he thinks, but to hide what he thinks. And there, of course, was a complete lie again. He used to say that he was liberating Ukraine from the Nazis, that Ukraine would attack, but now there were completely different goals here. The West was to blame for all this.
Everything is as usual, but it's very important that there is no mobilization and that he, I think, has already realized that something is wrong, and that he (needs some sort of) exit. I was afraid that (the speech) would be more militant, that it would be a full mobilization now, and we would come to a final victory. But maybe he somehow realized that it was worth leaving that out. I hope so, but of course we can't say that 100%.
NV: Did I understand correctly that, perhaps, he has prepared a way to retreat? That is, not to declare war, which (the Russians) are already beginning to suspect that they are losing?
Reitschuster: He no longer claimed that he would liberate the whole of Ukraine from the Nazis. And suddenly it's only about eastern Ukraine. That is, it's still a verbal step back. But we must keep in mind that Putin is a Chekist, as I say, and this may be another deception. Maybe he wants to blunt (Ukraine’s) vigilance.
That is, we must always take this into account. But still, most likely, he is preparing such a path to retreat, which does not mean that he will follow this path, but it's a fact that he's preparing the path for himself. We don't know yet whether this is another trick or a hoax. But let's agree, it's better than if he announced full mobilization, or said "we will press on," "we will reach Lviv." In this terrible situation, at least we have just heard not the worst option.
NV: The option that no public statements were made, but something could happen, could also be considered, given how Russian politics works?
Reitschuster: All his life his policy has been based on deception, so that no one would guess, and so that he could do otherwise than expected. And many in the West still do not understand this. They understand more than before, of course, … but if they had understood it earlier then this aggression might not have taken place.
NV: You have studied Russian politics for many years, and Putin in particular. So you've probably been asked this question many times. Does he really believe what he says? Or is it just life in some reality created by him? Do you think he is aware of what is happening?
Reitschuster: Partly. I think he lives in his reality, where the whole world, or at least the whole Western world, is just thinking from morning until night about how to harm Russia, where everyone is just thinking about him. He is offended, humiliated, the whole country is offended and humiliated. And I'm very scared that it reminds me of a German leader we had.
You know who I'm alluding to. I don't want to call him that, but, unfortunately, it reminds me a lot of him. And I'm sure he is deeply convinced of that. And even if he is put on a lie detector now, asked if the Nazis rule in Kyiv, I'm afraid that he already believes in it. This is the worst thing that he believes in it. At the same time, he understands that he's constantly fooling people, he is deeply convinced that everyone else is doing so.
If you tell Putin that there are politicians who are not so cynical, he will immediately give a hundred examples that this is not true. He lives in his world, and the worst thing is that in this world he acts rationally, because he lives in the world of the XIX century, where it is necessary to seize power, territory, blood, nations, etc.
In his world, he could now get Ukraine for cheap, as it seemed to him. Because the leaders in the West are very weak. (U.S. President Joe) Biden had already said in advance that he would not intervene militarily, and said that there would be sanctions. It is ridiculous for him that "I will get Ukraine for sanctions." In his opinion, it was rational from his inner world.
This must be very well highlighted. In my opinion, he has a distorted view of the world, so outdated. He lives according to the concepts of a certain Ivan the Terrible, maybe even an earlier (Russian ruler). This is not rational. But inside this world he lives rationally from his point of view.
And the West is largely to blame for this. I'm sure that under (U.S.) President (Donald) Trump, you can treat him as you wish, but he would not dare to do that under his presidency. Please note that Crimea was not (annexed) under Trump, part of Ukraine was not (occupied) under Trump. It's just that Trump is just like him. He realized that if Trump sits on the red button, it could end badly if he plays such games. And when Biden says in advance that "we will fight economically," this is a direct offer for him.
NV: So he understands only a conversation from a position of strength? Have all the statements of Western leaders lately been perceived as a weakness?
Reitschuster: Before – yes. He did not expect sanctions to be really painful. He did not expect it to be what it is now. But what happened after the Crimea, after eastern Ukraine, what happened before the invasion of Ukraine, he clearly perceived as a weakness. Now, I think … he can't even believe that there has been such a decisive reaction. The supply of weapons – he did not expect this. That knocked him out. And according to my information, even his friends in the West assured him what would happen, it would be like after Crimea – you will win in three days, there will be hype, there will be some sanctions, and then it will be like both with the Donbas and the Crimea. And that's what he expected.
Remember, the German finance minister even went to your (Ukrainian) ambassador and said "well, what are you talking about, let's better think about where this government-in-exile will be when Putin takes over all this." That was the mood. And if he seized Kyiv in three days, and set up a government there, then it could have been like that. But he miscalculated because he lives in his own world, he believes that there are fascists, he believes that people will throw flowers at tanks. In Kyiv and Kharkiv they did not throw flowers, but Molotov cocktails. I think it's a deep shock for him. And that's why he is angry, angry at his entourage. Therefore, we see this internal turmoil.
NV: Is he being informed now about the real situation at the front? Are the losses in the Russian army hidden from him? (Dies he know) how many planes were shot down there? For example, the aviation part of the parade was canceled, referring to weather conditions. Here, in Ukraine, we suspect that it's not about the weather.
Reitschuster: Of course, it's not about the weather. It's either some kind of sabotage, or they were afraid that there would be sabotage. I'm sure he wasn't told in detail, because I know his character. He is told that half of these paper airplanes have never flown at all, or they do not exist at all, because the money went to the United Arab Emirates or Switzerland, that there was total corruption. I'm sure he's only partially informed, and that's why he has such a distorted view of the world.
NV: Is there any force in Russia now that will oppose this policy, understanding where Putin and his entourage are leading the country?
Reitschuster: A lot. Look, there is even some General Ivashov, who is a legendary, a very big hater of the United States. And a few days before the offensive he resigned, when he said there would be a war, he was against it. This is a man who is loved in the army. Another thing is that the oligarchs are all scared. They need villas in Nice, they need villas in Switzerland, they need shopping weekends in London, their children want to study in the United States.
The dissatisfaction is enormous. And it looks like such a monolithic bloc from the outside, where nothing can change, but that's exactly what we thought about Stalin. Finally, Stalin was removed, no one helped him when he had a stroke. So I can't tell you that there will be a coup.
He, indeed, chose mostly people "with no cojones," I apologize for the expression, as his entourage. But I'm deeply convinced that it is not as stable as it looks. Yet, unfortunately, we cannot expect that there will be a palace coup. Still, I would not rule it out. No wonder he is terrified of even letting people near him, someone may strangle him. He lives in deep fear.
NV: I want to ask you about Germany's reaction to the war unleashed by Russia. You have already said that the strongest opposition now is the Ukrainian ambassador, with whom we are very lucky. And I also know that there are these letters and petitions from German intellectuals who ask not to arm Ukraine.
Reitschuster: This is terrible. First of all, I must say that they have not been interested in Ukraine at all for many years, and there was a great understanding of Russia. And after the war, we still have to pay tribute to it, society has not turned away from us. The majority supports Ukraine.
And I have to say, that's good. The Green Party strongly supports Ukraine, as does the opposition Christian Democrats. The Social Democrats, in my opinion, are playing a double game. (German Chancellor Olaf) Scholz constantly says that he helps, does his best. In fact, he’s doing the opposite. They slow everything down – I can give you many examples. Even now they said that they would supply heavy weapons, in fact, they’re not doing that. I don't know what pressure Moscow is putting on him. It's just a shame for me. The man is just two-faced – the cognitive dissonance is incredible.
And there has always been a very strong pacifist mood in society, which Putin has used very cleverly, and many of these pacifists are Putinists.
They have now issued this letter, which infuriates me deeply. This is extreme cynicism that people do not even understand – they no longer understand what the world is, what war is like, they live in their own world, where everyone is good. This is incredible infantilism.
This letter has already been signed by 250,000 people. But there is also a letter in response from intellectuals who say that it's necessary to help, unfortunately, only 55,000 people signed it. And public opinion returned. If four weeks ago the majority of Germans were in favor of supplying heavy weapons, now, according to the latest polls, the ratio is 40 against and 34 in favor, which is very sad.
The German government is playing a double game. This is terrible. Besides, not the whole government. The Greens are really honest, they want to help, but the Social Democrats, the party of Gerhard Schröder and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who are allies of the Putin regime, they are still playing a double game, it is a huge historical sin, and it's horrible, in my opinion. I hope that history will put it all in its place.
NV: What messages and explanations are currently lacking from Ukraine, from the Ukrainians, to change this public opinion?
Reitschuster: Your ambassador is really doing everything he can. … There are two approaches here: Some say we need to be quieter, we need to be more diplomatic, we can't criticize so openly. Others say that (Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andriy) Melnyk is doing the right thing, and that he is putting pressure, and I think that is true.
If he hadn't behaved like that, I think Germany would be even more neutral now. I think he's already doing a lot, and I take my hat off to him. And besides, I must say that you are very lucky to have such an ambassador to Germany at this time.
Even every child in our country already knows about him. And he is, in fact, the best advocate for his country imaginable. So all these overt or covert Putinists are terribly critical of him, and there are terrible attacks on him.
NV: I recently visited Berlin and I've noticed how many Ukrainian flags are hung just in houses, cafes, etc. And yet, if we scale these sentiments, how do the Germans feel about what is happening now?
Reitschuster: I think the majority supports Ukraine. Unfortunately, there are still Putinists, but I think this is a minority. There are people who wholeheartedly support Ukraine, indeed, from the bottom of their hearts, but at the same time they believe that if they give Ukraine weapons now, it will continue the suffering, that it will be worse for Ukraine with even greater danger. … Germany is deeply traumatized by World War II.
This pacifism is very deep. One of my friends, also well-known, has recently said: yes, I understand your position, yes, I agree with everything, but I remain a pacifist, we cannot supply weapons. He understands, loves, supports Ukraine, believes that it's necessary to help, but if it's about weapons, he's a pacifist. And it's really dangerous for you.
If the pro-Putin majority and the bad attitude toward Ukraine were the worst things for you, now it's those who love Ukraine, support it, but believe that it's impossible to help with weapons, because God forbid Putin will go further. The background of public opinion has changed.