The German Chancellor continues to drag his feet
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.