An article mentioning “NATO’s Eastern Front” in a headline got Germany’s Die Welt newspaper in hot water, with furious readers accusing it of warmongering. The term Eastern Front is associated with the 1941 Nazi invasion of USSR.
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Entitled ‘The Bundeswehr lacks winter clothing for NATO’s Eastern Front’, the article was first published by the German dpa news agency and then reprinted by other German media outlets, including Die Welt, which eventually bore the brunt of the headline wording. The piece tells of shortages of winter uniforms and basic equipment required by Germany’s military to lead the bloc’s rapid deployment force known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).

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FILE PHOTO © Axel Schmidt

The VJTF is officially described as a “spearhead force” within the Alliance’s Response Force. It was designed to be able to “move immediately, following the first warnings and indicators of potential threats, before a crisis begins, to act as a potential deterrent to further escalation.”

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The unit was not officially created to counter a particular threat. The controversial article, however, says the VJTF was established in 2014 in the light of what the West called “Russia’s aggression” in Ukraine and particularly Russia’s reunification with Crimea.

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Ample reference to ‘winter warfare’ – bitterly recalled since the 1941 Battle of Moscow and the 1942 Siege of Stalingrad – and the mention of war in the east, were apparently way too much for German readers. The notion of ‘Eastern Front’ (Ostfront in German) has been a traumatizing buzzword for several generations there. As a result, people unleashed their fury on Die Welt, apparently overlooking the fact that the story was initially published by dpa.

“So, so, the ‘winter clothing’ and ‘Eastern Front’,” Michael Maurer, a Facebook user, wrote. “Seems familiar to me. I think it’s time to set up a winter relief organization so that something like [the situation that occurred] back in 1941 near Moscow, can no longer happen [again].”

Others accused the establishment of “dreaming about a new crusade against Russia.” One person asked: “Who is that author with his war fantasies? I would like the desktop hero to personally experience the Stalingrad II. But as we have learnt from history, the criminals also came from behind the desks of newspaper offices.

Some attacked Axel Springer, whose West Berlin-based publishing house – Die Welt and Bild tabloid are part of it – have become notorious for conservative and nationalist narratives.

“The Springer’s press speaks of the Eastern Front. Oh, really?” another person wrote on Facebook. “Is it back again? Is the German army defending its Fatherland against the devious Bolsheviks on the Eastern Front?” he added that “it’s maybe not so bad that the Bundeswehr is poorly equipped.”

German army exposed as lacking basic equipment for NATO missions

The German military, which will assume the lead in NATO’s 5,000-strong high-readiness force by 2019, is ill-prepared for the mission as troops lack bulletproof vests, winter uniforms and even tents, a local newspaper report says.

“The land forces are facing a capability gap in the area of mobile accommodation items until at least 2021,” states an internal Defense Ministry paper quoted by Rheinische Post newspaper. The document also says the Bundeswehr will need 10,282 “housing units” to contribute to NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Response Force (VJTF), but only 2,500 are available – much of which are also unsuitable for foreign deployments.

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FILE PHOTO © Hannibal Hanschke

 

Going further, the document admits that even providing a sufficient number of bulletproof vests and winter clothing for overseas missions “is not possible” because of an “equipment gap.”

Commenting on the Rheinische Post’s report, some parliamentarians voiced unease over the situation. “[The fact] that even basic equipment such as protective vests and winter clothing is missing, shows the wretched condition the Bundeswehr finds itself in,” Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, Free Democratic Party MP in charge of defense, told the newspaper. She promised to discuss “this scandalous situation” during an upcoming parliamentary hearing.

Earlier, other media reports suggested that the German military had trouble preparing for the mission. Only last week, Die Welt newspaper revealed the German army’s 9th armor brigade only has nine operational Leopard 2 tanks, whereas 44 are required for the VJTF.

The same unit, said to be the backbone of the NATO force, has only three out of 14 Marder armored infantry vehicles. The reason for the shortfall was a lack of spare parts and the high cost of maintaining the vehicles.

The VJTF, which is posited to serve as the military bloc’s vanguard force, comprises a 5,000-strong multinational brigadesupported by air, maritime and special forces. It is expected to be able to deploy at short notice “following the first warnings and indicators of potential threats, before a crisis begins.”

The VJTF was created in 2014, when NATO launched a massive military buildup near Russia’s borders following the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine.

Moscow has consistently criticized NATO’s military assets being moved closer to Russia’s frontiers. Some Russian – and Western – officials maintained the buildup has more to do with justification of the alliance’s existence rather than countering real security threats.

“A very real deployment of heavy artillery and additional large contingents takes place on the NATO-Russia border,”Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Munich Security Conference earlier this week, referring to the Baltic states and Poland. “With an imagined Russian threat,” Washington is ensuring its dominance in Europe through NATO, the top diplomat stated.

People who left comments on Die Welt’s page urged the newspaper to be careful with using belligerent rhetoric. “What should the word ‘front’ mean in the headline? Is the war already going on in the east?” a reader asked, before adding: “Please pay attention to your choice of words, or do you want to get us into a war with Russia?”

precisely and same in Britain too.

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