Na Zapad vs. Drang Nach Osten*

(*To the West (Rus) vs. Urge to the East (Ger))

There has been much wringing of hands on both sides of the Ukraine war over the matter of the West supplying modern battle tanks to Ukraine. These are to offset the thousands of Soviet-era models that might be deployed en masse in a Russian Spring offensive. This all centres around the Leopard 2 tank. It is built by the Germans and supplied to many NATO members but with restrictions on its deployment.

Quite apart from any German reluctance to appear belligerent, there is an historic moral dimension, highlighted in the recent marking of Holocaust Memorial Day and the Nazi rule that led to it, which began exactly 90 years ago (January 30th 19330.

The Russians are understandably sensitive about this part of their history. The largest, and most horrific part of the global World War Two to which it led, was the invasion of the Soviet Union, in which some 23 million of its citizens died before the Wehrmacht was driven out. However, little mention is made these days of the brutality of Stalin’s regime that achieved victory in what Russians call “The Great Patriotic War”, nor as a result, the repression of half of Europe behind the Iron Curtain for the next 45 years.

Indeed, taking the longer view of the behaviour of these two great European nations, it is hard to see the Germans as the more belligerent. Early prototypes of the two powers can be discerned in their 8th century incarnations of Holy Roman Empire and Kievan Rus. Despite strenuous efforts by Teutonic Knights in what is now the Baltic States, it was Russia that first grew into a unified power in the late Middle Ages, particularly under Peter the Great, while what is now Germany remained a patchwork of principalities.

At this stage in history, it was not the fragmented Germans who threatened Russia’s emergence as a European power. It was the Swedes (whom they defeated at Poltava in 1709) the French (whom they defeated in their disastrous 1812 invasion) and the Ottomans, whose hold on the Black Sea coast denied Russia a warm water port and led to the Crimean War to halt “Russian aggression”. While the French may have briefly held Moscow, it was a Russian army that occupied Paris upon the fall of Napoleon.

Up to this point, the plains of Saxony and Pomerania had often echoed to the tramp of Russian army boots down the ages. So, when Bismarck glued a German Empire around a Prussian core in the 1860s, some paranoia on its eastern borders seems understandable.

When, at the outbreak of WW1, the Russians invaded East Prussia, their defeat and subsequent occupation of much of Western Russia upon the collapse of the Tsarist regime could be seen as a defensive move, allowing the transfer of troops to fight the Western Allies’ growing strength after the USA entered the war.

The subsequent humiliation of a defeated Germany goes a long way to explain the rise of the Nazis and all the evil they fomented, even if it does not excuse any of their heinous deeds. Given the shoddy, bully-boy behaviour of Russia since the millennium, the idea that a model member of the global community for three-quarters of a century like Germany should take any moral lectures from a serial aggressor with hands as blood-stained as Putin’s would be laughable, were the situation not so serious.

#1057—574 words

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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