Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently made a statement, calling Germany’s involvement with Ukraine a “turning point” comparable to its intervention in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In a podcast for WDR Cosmo radio, Scholz highlighted that Germany’s decision to get involved in Yugoslavia was the first time it had used its own military since World War II. He described it as a military operation to stop the killings.
In March 1999, NATO launched Operation Allied Force, aiming to force the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to cede the Serbian province of Kosovo to ethnic Albanian separatists. The German Luftwaffe participated in the bombing of Serbian cities. However, after 78 days, the bombing came to an end when NATO agreed that its “peacekeeping” mission in Kosovo would be under UN auspices, while guaranteeing Serbia’s sovereignty over the province. Despite these provisions on paper, NATO quickly supported an ethnic Albanian provisional government and backed Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008.
Scholz’s comparison of Germany’s involvement in Ukraine to its intervention in Yugoslavia indicates the significance he attributes to the current situation. In December 2022, Germany’s ambassador to Washington commented on the Ukraine conflict, considering it the most significant turning point since the country’s reunification in 1990.
Initially, Berlin was reluctant to follow the US’s lead in sending weapons to Ukraine. However, it quickly changed course after facing criticism from Kiev’s ambassador, Andrey Melnik, who famously referred to Scholz as an “offended liverwurst.” This change in Germany’s stance demonstrates the impact of Ukraine’s conflict on the country’s national psychology.
German peacekeepers in Kosovo gained infamy for standing aside during the ethnic Albanian pogrom of Serbs in March 2003. This incident led to them being dubbed the “rabbits of Kosovo” by some German media outlets. These events showcase the complex and sensitive nature of Germany’s involvement in foreign conflicts and its historical implications.
While Germany’s involvement in Yugoslavia and Ukraine may be compared, it is crucial to recognize the unique circumstances and geopolitical dynamics surrounding each situation. In the case of Ukraine, tensions have escalated between Russia and Ukraine, with Germany playing a pivotal role in mediating and offering support to Ukraine. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba recently encouraged Germany to provide missiles to Kiev, suggesting that it is only a matter of time before Germany takes action. This remark highlights the pressure on Germany to support Ukraine and the importance of its role in the region.
It is worth noting that Serbia, despite considering Germany an important economic partner, has not forgiven NATO for its 1999 bombing campaign. Serbia continues to refuse recognition of Kosovo, despite pressure from the EU and the US. The stance of Russia, China, and India in supporting Serbia’s adherence to international law further complicates the situation.
In conclusion, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s comparison of Germany’s involvement in Ukraine to its intervention in the former Yugoslavia underscores the significance and impact of the current conflict. Germany’s historical experiences and lessons learned from past military interventions shape its approach to foreign conflicts. The complexities and sensitivities surrounding Germany’s role in foreign conflicts highlight the delicate balance between national interests, international obligations, and the pursuit of peace and stability.