‘Do you want war with Russia?’: Backlash at German newspaper over ‘NATO’s Eastern Front’ piece

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.

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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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.”

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.

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.”

Twitter users also blamed the escalation of conflicts on “the craft of Springer’s media” and blasted the “Stalingrad revanchists” in the newspaper’s ranks. “Die Welt sees us at war. NATO’s eastern border is NATO’s Eastern Front,” one person 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?”

Die Welt later removed the article from its website. As of Tuesday, any attempt to view the story fails, and the system redirects the search request to the home page.

Springer Group’s mission calls for Die Welt “to advance the unification of Europe” and “support the Transatlantic Alliance and the liberal community in solidarity with the United States of America.”

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