by Ralph Schoellhammer
Thursday, 19
January 2023
Analysis
13:00

What’s behind Olaf Scholz’s Ukraine hesitancy?

The German Chancellor continues to drag his feet
by Ralph Schoellhammer
Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz cuts a lonely figure. Credit: Getty

Olaf Scholz has had a busy week. Not only did the Germany Chancellor present his new Secretary of Defence, Boris Pistorius, to the world, he also delivered a special address at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Understandably the focus was on Ukraine, where pressure is mounting on Germany to either deliver some of its Leopard 2 battle tanks directly to the Ukrainian armed forces or allow other nations to do so. Scholz has so far resisted the move, and other member states — like the Netherlands, for example — show no signs of going directly against the German stance when it comes to heavy weapons.


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The German government is now trying to shift responsibility to the United States, conditioning the delivery of German-made battle tanks on the delivery of American battle tanks — the Abrams — to Ukraine first. It is obvious that Scholz’s government is playing for time here (especially given that technical issues would prevent the tanks from appearing on the battlefield until 2024) but why is Germany so hesitant?

The answer to this question has several aspects, with one being a genuine fear of escalating the conflict into a confrontation between NATO and Russia. The other is a cold geopolitical calculation over which outcome of the war would best serve German interests.

It would be naive to assume that a decades-long policy of German-Russian reconciliation would be reversed within a year. There is no doubt that German outrage at the Russian invasion, and the country’s support for Ukraine, is genuine, but at the same time there is no long-term incentive for Berlin to support the emergence of new power centre within the EU and its neighbouring regions.

While all eyes are focused on Eastern Europe, shifts are taking place in other areas as well. Southern Europe, for example, could become a new energy hub thanks to its existing LNG terminals and pipeline network with North Africa. Italy in particular has the potential to play a huge role in a more diversified sourcing of European energy.

Although Italy is a more trustworthy ally than Russia, it remains questionable whether Germany really wants to trade one dependence for another. In a sense, the German-Russian energy relationship was about more than just gas, yet it was also a way for Berlin to power its industry independently of its European partners. This was demonstrated most clearly with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was designed to deliver energy to Germany while completely circumventing any other European nation. Having Europe depend on the German economy to a larger extent than the German economy depending on Europe was a powerful (although often expensive) way to ensure Berlin’s dominance of EU politics.

It seems likely that there is no appetite to empower a Southern European energy hub dominated by Italy or a Central-Eastern European military bloc under Polish leadership which includes Ukraine as both an EU and NATO member.

So while Berlin certainly does not want Ukraine to be annexed by Russia, an uncomfortable truth may be that a decisive victory for Kyiv would not be in its best interests. Indeed, a stalemate that could allow a return to the status quo before the invasion of last year may be the most desirable outcome. But that’s the quiet part Scholz won’t be saying out loud.

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Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
17 days ago

Not a fan of the German State, fair enough to look after oneself but I do think that they have taken this to extremes for years, certainly after reunification.
I have called them parasitic, which has lead to a few rows!
But; managing the Euro to make all those VW’s, Bosch, Mercs etc at least 25% cheaper to export than reasonable.
Screwing over the Greek population to stop Deutsche Bank needing a hug bailout.
Hypocrisy of digging huge quantities of coal out of the ground but berating Poland for digging up coal.
Arrogance over refusing to discuss with Cameron some ideas to make it more likely the UK would stay in the EU. But happy for the Bundestag to limit payments to non-German citizens.
Merkles madness of open borders for refugees and then demanding all other EU nations followed suit.
In what is supposed to be a Union the wealth of countries is just tilted far too much in favour of Germany over less wealthy countries.
This idea that there may be resistance in the German State to somehow Italy gaining an advantage really doesn’t surprise me.

Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
14 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Buckley

Yes to all the above. There’s talk of the new world order but it’s long overdue for there to be a new order in Europe and for the cozy relationship of France and Germany first and everyone else second needs to go.
I think the Poles are maybe onto a moral and meaningful leadership role yet and may yet do something about this. How Europe has been run to date is a travesty. Suitcases full of euros with vice presidents recently springs to mind.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
17 days ago

https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-strategic-timidity-olaf-scholz-us-washington-joe-biden/
Out of all EU countries, Poland has shown by far the most spine and principle in this conflict. That will stick in the craw of those in Brussels due to the whole rule of law drama, but Poland will come out of this crisis smelling of roses far more than Germany.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
17 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

A rather poor and simplistic article.

Northern Observer
Northern Observer
15 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Like the Ukrainians, the Poles are letting themselves be manipulated by outside forces. It’s enough to validate the hypothesis of permanent élite depletion, where the Second World War took so many of the best minds and characters out of the Polish national gene pool that they simply do not have the Human Resources necessary to guide their nation successfully in a competitive and changing World. They literally cannot perceive the best choices possible available to them and are stuck repeating and doubling down on old strategies and response patterns. It’s a tragedy.

Last edited 15 days ago by northernobserver331924
odd taff
odd taff
17 days ago

There are two possible explanations for the policies followed by the current Chancellor of Germany and his two immediate predecessors. The first possibility is that they have very short attention spans and govern to maximise temporary economic advantage. The second is that they are long term Soviet/Russian agents. I don’t know which is more likely.

Northern Observer
Northern Observer
15 days ago
Reply to  odd taff

Or Germans national interest rests in ending the Russo Ukrainian conflict as soon as possible and reconnecting Germany to Russian resources and customers.
Just a possibility.

Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
14 days ago

I agree I’m afraid