by Katja Hoyer
Friday, 22
April 2022
Explainer
10:46

Pressure mounts on Olaf Scholz to send weapons

The Chancellor is looking increasingly isolated in Germany
by Katja Hoyer
Credit: Getty

“We will not go it alone,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in defence of his refusal to send heavy weapons to Ukraine. He has drawn international criticism, but less reported has been the increasing domestic pressure. The public, the opposition and even his own coalition partners want Scholz to do more.

It is in fact the German Chancellor who is going it alone. At a press conference this week, Scholz argued that he was already doing as much as “many others who are taking the same course”. But his claim that sending heavy weapons to Ukraine would go against NATO agreements is a weak argument to rely on. The Belgians and the Dutch have already announced that they are sending more heavy weaponry, and talks are underway for Kyiv to receive MQ-9 Reaper armed drones from the US. The UK is set to deliver Stormer armoured vehicles.

While it is entirely possible that the Bundeswehr had been so underfunded that it simply can’t deliver immediately, the truth is that elements within Scholz’s party, the Social Democrats (SPD), are simply reluctant to give up their long-standing ties to Russia.

Scholz’s party comrade Ralf Stegner caused outrage in a TV interview on Wednesday when he argued that Ukraine was bound to lose the war anyway. The SPD Minister President of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Manuela Schwesig, has defied calls to resign amid allegations that her support of Nord Stream 2 involved dubious political ties with Russia. Former party leader Sigmar Gabriel visited the disgraced ex-Chancellor Gehrard Schröder on Wednesday without issuing a word of criticism about the latter’s personal friendship with Vladimir Putin and dealings with Russia while in office. The list of pro-Russian politicians in the SPD is long and Scholz has done little to distance himself from them.

If the Chancellor thinks he can ride out the international storm of criticism, he will find it much harder to resist pressure from his own coalition. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the Free Liberals (FDP), again demanded ‘leadership and clear lines’ from the Chancellor on Twitter yesterday. The Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock seemed to contradict Scholz directly when she said during a visit in Latvia on Wednesday: “Other partners are now supplying armoured vehicles. I would like to make it clear that this is not taboo for us either, even if it sometimes sounds that way in the German debate.”

Open dissent could become very dangerous indeed for Scholz. His party only gained a quarter of votes in the general election last year and had to form an unprecedented three-way coalition with the Greens and the Liberals. The opposition, former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), are tempted to test just how much control Scholz still exercises.

If Opposition leader Friedrich Merz were to table a motion in parliament on whether heavy weapons should be sent to Ukraine, there would likely be Green and Liberal politicians, perhaps even SPD members too, who would support it. If it gained a majority, in clear defiance of the Chancellor’s course, Scholz’s position would become untenable.

Thorsten Frei, who manages the CDU’s parliamentary strategy, has told Der Spiegel that such ‘a motion is one of several possibilities’ as ‘it is paramount that Germany give up its reluctance when it comes to arms shipments’. A recent survey has indicated that the majority of the German public agree with him and would support sending heavy weapons.

The German Chancellor has manoeuvred himself in a situation where it is uncertain whether he speaks for his coalition, let alone the country. It raises the possibility that the new German government could break apart while war rages in Europe.

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R S Foster
R S Foster
3 months ago

…meanwhile, in the UK, the PM has pretty much led the way in supporting Ukraine, and appears to be doing a fair job in India…having previously delivered Brexit, and a pretty decent vaccination programme in respect of C-19.
But the most important thing? A bit of cake and a glass of warm white wine on his Birthday, in his work-place next to his home, and amongst colleagues he was in daily contact with…and this is making us an international laughing-stock…at least according to the UK media, and the opposition (that is, the ones not enjoying an eighty-seat majority and not terribly likely to be in office for at least six years)
Not wholly sure, but I wonder if any laughter might be about the infantile behaviour of the PM’s innumerable enemies, as opposed to his conduct in office.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  R S Foster

Yup, our lot have no perspective at all, and I suspect they’ll finally get Boris out this summer because of cakes at work parties.
But at least he’s achieved Brexit, largely got past Covid, and ensured we properly supported Ukraine so that a new world war is prevented. Not a bad summary of achievements in 3 years in office, and better than any, ANY, other U.K. political leader could have achieved.

The rest (economic strategy, NI protocol, immigration) which winds up Unherd reader endlessly, is just noise compared to these achievements.

Last edited 3 months ago by Ian Stewart
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I think it is spite. A King’s Scholar at Eton, a Brackenbury Scholar at Balliol, an honours degree in Greats, speaks several languages fluently and has a rapport with manual workers. Boris never spent enough time massaging the ego of MPs with brittle egos. If one looks at MPs like Michael Foot or Peter Shore, they had the intellect to write important books after they left office. Foot could probably have held a chair in history specialising in the 17th and 18 th centuries.The problem is that most MPs lack the skills and expertise to undertake constructive work and the devil provides mischief for idle hands.

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
3 months ago

Always easy to read German policy. Just look for the money & you’ll find them there.

David McKee
David McKee
3 months ago

This is fascinating. I can’t think of the time when German _and_ French politics were so interesting. Very many thanks for the objective reportage, Frau Hoyer.

John Lee
John Lee
3 months ago

Complicated or what?
Germany is still buying Russian oil but may send weapons with which to defeat them.

David Simpson
David Simpson
3 months ago

but maybe he’s right: why add fuel to a blazing inferno?