February 2, 2023 - 11:04am

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches its first anniversary later this month, it remains unclear how this conflict is supposed to end. Nowhere is this more evident than in Germany’s foreign policy, where Olaf Scholz is proving to be something of an enigma. While it is true that Germany has not been Kyiv’s loudest cheerleader, the reality is that military equipment has been delivered continuously. Only the United Kingdom and the United States have provided more provisions to the Ukrainian armed forces.

There could be good reasons why Chancellor Scholz’s rhetoric is more careful than that of, for example, his Green Foreign Secretary Annalena Baerbock, who “accidentally” declared a state of war between Russia and Germany. Polling shows that the German public supports Ukraine’s right to self-defence, but it also shows a strong desire to end the conflict as soon as possible. Towards the end of last month, a Forsa Poll revealed that over 80% believe that it is more important to end the war with negotiations than for Ukraine to win, with only 18% disagreeing with that statement.

These results are supported by a series of Ipsos polls that track changes in public attitudes. Here the numbers are astounding: about 68% of Germans support accepting refugees from Ukraine (down from 82% in March 2022), while 56% say current economic problems make it impossible for Germany to financially support Ukraine — a position that was supported by only 47% in the previous poll. Another significant swing was recorded on the question of whether the problems of Ukraine matter for Germany and if the country should get involved. 43% agreed with this statement, an 11 percentage point swing in favour of Germany getting completely out of the conflict.

There is growing evidence of a public that is war-weary, and one that is slowly but surely becoming more concerned about their own economic condition. It is thus no surprise that one far-Left opponent of weapons deliveries has all of a sudden become a populist sensation. Sahra Wagenknecht, of the German party Die Linke (The Left) is currently reaching audiences across the spectrum with her anti-war rhetoric, fuelling rumours that she might start her own populist party.

Separate from her own political ambitions, she obviously struck a nerve with a significant part of the German public that see their interests as being subordinated by the political class’s focus on support for Ukraine.

For the moment this seems to be primarily a German phenomenon, but with the economic crisis deepening it is questionable if it will stay this way. Some countries like Hungary and Austria (for various reasons) have announced this week that they will under no circumstances supply weapons to Ukraine, and limit their support to humanitarian aid.

All of this does not bode well for the government in Kyiv, which has to make preparations for the growing possibility of a renewed Russian offensive in the spring, something that most likely can only be repelled with more, not fewer, weapons from the West.