A German-language sign demands an end to weapons deliveries to war zones during an anti-NATO protest near Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Feb. 26, 2023. The protest attracted a diverse crowd of activists, ranging from pro-Putin supporters to nuclear disarmament advocates. (Alexander Riedel/Stars and Stripes)
Germany — Drumbeats, cowbells, and chants of “Ami, go home!” echoed through the streets of the German village of Ramstein-Miesenbach on Sunday, as a large gathering of anti-war protesters took to the streets with Russian flags and handwritten placards.
Organized by a mix of German right-wing politicians and Russian expatriates, the protesters made their way from Ramstein’s small train station toward the main gate of Ramstein Air Base, the largest U.S. Air Force installation in Europe.
Focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, the protest attracted droves of people who share the organizers’ pro-Kremlin views. They also included nuclear disarmament advocates and anti-vaccine activists. German police estimated a crowd of 2,500 people at its peak, according to a statement Sunday.
The protest was also aimed at the U.S. presence in the country. “Ami” is a German abbreviated term for American, often used in a derogatory way.
Roads surrounding Ramstein and the base’s main gate were temporarily shut down to vehicle traffic to provide the protesters with safe passage.
The couple at the center of Sunday’s protest, Elena Kolbasnikova and Max Schlund, are known for organizing similar protests throughout Germany.
In January, a report from Reuters said that Schlund was a former Russian air force officer named Rostislav Teslyuk. A later Reuters report stated that the couple had donated 500 euros to a Russian rifle division and that they received tickets from the Berlin arm of a Russian state cultural promotion agency, Rossotrudnichestvo, to travel to Moscow for a conference addressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The couple has expressed their opposition to what they see as Western aggression against Russia. They chose Ramstein Air Base as the location of their protest because it is a hub for U.S. military operations in Europe, Kolbasnikova said.
The base is the site of the recurring Ukraine Defense Contact Group, where international defense leaders have repeatedly discussed military aid for Ukraine.
Kolbasnikova, who says she is a Russian who was born in Ukraine, said that stopping the delivery of weapons to Ukraine would force talks that would lead to peace. When asked about her contributions to the Russian war effort, as reported by Reuters, Kolbasnikova declined to comment and walked away.
Most Western security analysts disagree with her views. In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and supported separatists in the eastern part of the country in battles that left 14,000 dead through 2021, according to United Nations figures.
On Feb. 24 of last year, Russia launched a full-scale invasion, including a failed attempt to capture Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital The U.S. and its NATO allies have spent billions of dollars arming Ukraine so that it can defend itself against Russia, which has had some setbacks but still controls large parts of Ukraine.
Moscow’s gains have come at the cost of well over 140,000 soldiers killed, according to allied estimates.
The German government has backed Ukraine since Russia’s attack last year, though it has taken criticism from allies for slowly coming around on giving Kyiv offensive weaponry. Germany had been largely dependent on Russian energy purchases until last year’s invasion.
And while Cold War-era West Germany and the unified German state that followed has long been a U.S. ally, some across the political spectrum have long maintained links to Russia.
For example, the far-right Alternative for Germany party was represented at Sunday’s protest. But Gerhard Schroeder, a former German chancellor for the ruling center-left Social Democratic Party, has served on the boards of Russian companies and defended Putin. Schroeder narrowly survived an internal bid last year to oust him from the party he once led.
Ramstein Air Base has been a focus of anti-war activism in Germany for decades. Protesters generally have gathered annually in recent years to demonstrate against U.S. drone operations, among other activities.
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