As heavy fighting between Ukraine and Russia continues, Scholz’s coalition, the Greens and Free Democrats, have called on him to remove his doubts over supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons.

When German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made a thinly-veiled attack on Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier this month, it did not come as a surprise to many. “Now is not the time for excuses; now is the time for creativity and pragmatism,” she said in a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Luxembourg, a reference to Scholz’s volte-face on supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Over the past few weeks, Chancellor Scholz has come under increasing attack, from his own coalition partners and the German press, for backing out of the commitment to help Ukraine with the required firepower—especially  Marder and Leopard tanks—to take on the powerful Russian army. 

This has also put Germany’s standing in the European Union under a cloud, given that more Western countries such as the US and the Czech Republic are delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine. The Netherlands was the last country that agreed to dispatch German-built heavy weaponry to Ukraine which is desperately seeking military aid to combat Russian attacks. 

Under a plan pushed by Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck and Baerbock from the Greens, Germany was supposed to send up to 100 Marder armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine. However, Berlin said it needed the tanks for its own defence. Germany has provided Kiev with “defensive” weapons but not heavy weapons.

The turnaround was complete for the man who had boldly declared “Zeitenwende” – meaning a turning point in German foreign policy—just three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Scholz had previously scrapped the Nord Stream 2 project, which was set to double the gas flow from Russia to Germany.

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point in history. It threatens our entire post-War order," said Scholz as the German government affirmed to set aside a special budget of $113 billion (€100 billion) to bolster the armed forces and pump more than 2 percent of its GDP into the defence sector on an annual basis. 

Uli Brueckner, Jean Monnet Professor for European Studies at Stanford University in Berlin, tells TRT World: “Zeitenwende means that we have to return to hard power, because soft power alone is not credible. We have to strengthen NATO, do more for European security.”

EU leaders have pointed out inherent flaws in Germany’s relationship with Russia over the years. Earlier this month, Polish deputy prime minister, Jarosław Kaczyński, accused Germany of “a strong inclination” towards Moscow. “But it wasn’t difficult to foresee that this would happen. But Germany always thought it knew better,” he said.

The reference was unmistakable. For decades, in a policy followed by a succession of Scholz’s predecessors, Germany had made trade and commerce the focal point of its ties with Russia, hoping they were enough to maintain peace in Europe. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder still has close relations with Moscow, in line with the policy of “Wandel durch Handel” or change through trade.

In a hard-hitting editorial, the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt wrote, “The country that proudly proclaims that Europe will ‘never again’ see the likes of Auschwitz is pumping 200 million euros each day into Putin’s war chest. All of a sudden, the discussion in Germany about whether our economy would grow by 6 percent or just 3 percent in the event of an energy embargo seems petty and insignificant. We resemble a hostage to the Kremlin.”

Germany’s dependence on Russia for its energy needs is as much the talking point as anything else in Scholz’s dilemma.

“We must do everything possible to avoid a direct military confrontation between NATO and a highly armed superpower like Russia, a nuclear power, ” Scholz told  Der Spiegel on his refusal to supply heavy weapons to Kiev.

Besides that, he also stands by his stance to not abruptly halt gas imports from Russia, reiterating that he absolutely does not perceive “how a gas embargo would end the war”. 

His statement sounds reasonable considering the energy vulnerability of Europe’s largest economy. Currently, Germany imports almost 40 percent of its gas and 25 percent of its oil from Russia. Amid mounting pressure, Germany announced it would halt importing oil from Russia by the end of the year. Ukraine's top envoy to Germany expressed doubt about Germany’s support to Kiev after Berlin transferred a hefty sum of $35 billion (€32 billion) to Russia for oil and gas in 2022 alone.  

The shutdown of Russian gas imports can spark tough consequences for the Moscow-energy-dependent Germany and plunge the country into a “sharp recession”, with a 2.2 percent reduction in output next year, according to top economic institutes in the country. 

A protest was held on April 22 in front of the headquarters of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's party, the Social Democrats, SPD, demanding an energy emabargo to Russia and the stop of the war in Ukraine, in Berlin,
A protest was held on April 22 in front of the headquarters of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's party, the Social Democrats, SPD, demanding an energy emabargo to Russia and the stop of the war in Ukraine, in Berlin, (AP)

Is the coalition under threat? 

As heavy fighting between Ukraine and Russia continues, Scholz’s coalition, the Greens and Free Democrats, have called on him to remove his doubts over supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons. 

Anton Hofreiter, the Green’s chairman of the German parliament's Europe committee, said on ZDF Television that the problem with Germany’s approach is that “as we slow down on piling sanctions, and weapon deliveries, so the risk of the war taking longer shows up”. Hofreiter also added that the support of allied countries regarding arms sales to Kiev is an extra step forward in the right direction. 

Asked about whether the German coalition is under threat due to the conflicting views between the partners regarding the Ukraine crisis, Brueckner says: “This is a new coalition of very different partners that has to learn the hard way what it means to be in power. The SPD sacrificed the myth of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik – East Policy –, the Greens, who partly stem from the peace movement, send weapons to a warzone and the Liberals (FDP) with the ideal of a slim state and austerity policy become the biggest spenders in history.”

Need for extensive training

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, sitting in a hot seat over its government's wavering position on heavy weapons, said on Thursday that there are no taboos for them concerning armoured vehicles and other weaponry. However, she added that they would give priority to making sure that Ukraine quickly receives Soviet-era kits that Ukraine’s army can use without any need for training, and they will backfill the stocks of the allied countries that have weaponry with German-made material. 

There are some doubts about the requirement of the Ukrainian army’s training.  Ex-German army General Hans-Lothar Domroese told WDR television that he sees no problem in quick training of Ukrainian soldiers given their experience.

Lack of source

Germany claims it cannot deliver the armoured howitzer 2000 artillery systems itself as its military "does not have the stocks". However, it has expressed its readiness to pay for the training of the Ukrainian army on using the artillery that it may obtain from some eastern European countries. Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht underpinned the chancellor’s statement, saying delivering heavy weapons from Germany’s army is out of the question "if I want to continue to guarantee national and allied defence". Germany has already unleashed $1,083 billion (€1 billion) of military aid for Ukraine.

Ukraine's Ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk, who outspokenly and sharply criticises the politicians and politics in his host country, however, said that Germany has almost 120 armoured howitzers, and, while the Netherlands delivers the same weapon, Germany has failed to position itself to take the same action.

On Tuesday, Scholz announced that Berlin would keep supporting Ukraine by working with its armaments industry but would not deliver armoured vehicles from its own stocks as it wants to avoid Russian aggression.

“It is one thing to announce a Zeitenwende and another to face the consequences. Maybe Scholz believes that sending heavy weapons from the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) to Ukraine weakens the country's ability for self-defence if the war escalates and NATO territory comes under attack,” says Brueckner.

Ukraine’s turning down of German President Steinmeier’s solidarity visit to Kiev speaks volumes about Berlin's role in the crisis. Although it was ostensibly due to Steinmeier’s past embrace of detente with Moscow, Kiev pointed out that there had been no official approach to Zelenskyy over the former Social Democrat foreign minister’s visit to the country.

Source: TRT World