Eberhard Zorn says Russia still has ‘uncommitted capacity’ and that it will not have ‘personnel problems’ if Kremlin orders mobilisation
By Jorg Luyken IN BERLIN 15 September 2022 • 5:07pm
Germany’s top military chief has been criticised for a “stunningly poor analysis” of the Ukraine war, after he claimed that Russia was capable of opening a second front against Nato.
General Eberhard Zorn cited the threat of a second Russian front as the reason for Germany’s reluctance to send more weapons to Kyiv.
“[Vladimir] Putin is capable of” opening a second front, Germany’s most senior military commander told Focus magazine, saying that Kaliningrad, the Baltic Sea, and the Finnish border were all possible points of attack.
He added that, “even though 60 per cent of Russian army forces are tied up in Ukraine, they still have uncommitted capacity.
“If Putin ordered a general mobilisation, he would not have personnel problems either,” he said.
General Ben Hodges, commander of US forces in Europe between 2014 and 2017, said the claim showed “stunningly poor analysis of Russian capabilities that unfortunately reflects much of the German ‘elite’ thinking”.
“Finland alone would crush Russian forces” while “Lithuania/Poland would smother Kaliningrad in a week,” General Hodges wrote on Twitter.
General Zorn’s comments have led to astonishment among military experts.
Gustav Gressel, a security expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Telegraph that they amounted to “an attempt to put a gloss on Germany’s own fears”.
“The Social Democrats don’t want to (deliver more weapons) and now they are pulling out every excuse,” he said, referring to Germany’s Social Democrat-led government’s insistence that its army had “hit a limit” in terms of what it can offer.
Rob Lee, a researcher at the War Studies department at King’s College London, described the comments as “bizarre”, pointing out that “Russia has depended on volunteers and reservists” since April.
One of the Kremlin’s elite units, the 11th Army Corps based in Kaliningrad, was just “heavily degraded in Kharkiv,” he added.
In the same interview General Zorn also appeared to question the significance of the territorial gains made by the Ukrainian army over the past week.
Saying that he “would be careful” to describe it as a counter-offensive, he described the Ukrainian advances as “counter attacks that can be used to win back places or individual sections of the front, but not to push Russia back on a broad front”.
He also expressed doubt that Ukraine could sustain a counter-offensive, saying that they lacked the manpower.
General Zorn further insisted that the German army could not give more weapons to Ukraine, saying that “all that we have given, we need it back”.
“For effective deterrence, we need the appropriate forces. Our partners are counting on us,” he insisted.
Berlin has faced sustained criticism both domestically and abroad over its hesitant approach to supplying Kyiv with military hardware, with Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, believed to be personally responsible for putting the brakes on arms deliveries.
On Wednesday, Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, tried to up the pressure on the chancellor, saying that western weapons deliveries were “saving lives” in liberated Ukrainian villages.
Whispers of criticism have also emerged from Washington, where an anonymous official told Die Welt newspaper on Thursday that the Biden administration “has its doubts” about German commitment to taking a leading military role.
Germany’s top military brass have consistently misjudged Russian intentions and capabilities since before the outbreak of the war.
In January, the head of the German navy, vice-admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, was forced to resign after he dismissed the threat of a Russian invasion as “nonsense” and said the West should give Mr Putin “the respect he deserves”.