Germany’s U-Turns: Ukraine War – OpEd


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited India from 25 to 26 February, the first time as German chancellor, a day after the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Scholz said that “All countries must state ‘Very Clearly’ where they stand on the Russian ‘Aggression” and stressed: “Above all, it is a disaster, a catastrophe…. thus, it is important that at the UN too, we time and again state very clearly where we stand on this matter.” He recalled PM Modi’s comment that “This was Not the Era of War”. Prime Minister Modi said “India stands ready to contribute to any peace process and has been pressing for resolving the Ukraine Dispute through dialogue and diplomacy since the beginning of the conflict”. 

Focus of the talks was on how India and Germany could together take steps to strengthen the “constituency of peace”. On the trade front, Scholz assured his “personal” involvement in finalising the India-EU free trade pact while PM Modi mentioned another pillar of bilateral ties to fight against terrorism and separatism. “Security and defence cooperation can also become an important pillar.” 

German Chancellor: With the West or with Russia?

German Chancellor Scholz, wants: “All countries must state ‘Very Clearly’ where they stand on the Russian ‘Aggression” meaning are they with the West or with Russia? Germany like India and France till the end of 2021 wanted to retain autonomy from the US, particularly with regard to Russia and the Ukraine crisis and on use of Russia gas and trade. Germany now finds India’s autonomous position on the Ukraine crisis valuable for creating a middle ground in which the possibility of diplomacy is revived.

At the Munich Security Conference, where India was absent, Scholz reiterated what External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has been saying: Europe’s problems cannot be imposed upon the rest of the world unless Europe is also willing to undertake responsibility for the latter’s problems. However, the US and NATO have forced these nations to fall behind the US and NATO on the Ukraine issue. Now Scholz is compelled to parrot the US-NATO policy line for others to follow and has softened their independent stand on a number of issues. 

Germany’s U-turns Since the Beginning of 2022

Germany’s U-turn on Energy Policies with Russia-Nord Stream 2. President Biden said at a joint press conference along with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Feb 2022; “Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany will not go forward if Russia invades Ukraine…then there will be no longer Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it…I promise you we will be able to do that.”

The Ukrainian crisis is less about Ukraine but more about gas supply. It’s about Germany and, in particular, a pipeline that connects Germany to Russia called Nord Stream 2. It was almost fully-operational and ready to pump. Germans would have got a reliable source of gas energy while Russia would have got a boost to their gas revenues. This win-win situation for both Parties was not liked by the US Foreign Policy establishment. The mysterious underwater explosion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline destroyed the pipeline and Germany finally suspended the Russian owned gas project Nord Stream 2.

Supplying of Leopard Tanks. German government reversed its ban on supplying weapons to conflict zones especiallyTanks. European and US defense leaders met at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and failed to reach an agreement to send German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Later some sort of agreement was arrived to supply tanks to Ukraine. Conference host, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz firmly asked his European partners to follow up on their pledges to deliver battle tanks to Ukraine without delay. German Chancellor earlier was critical of the idea; “Domestic political motives” and so has Croatia criticised Western nations for supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons. Berlin has agreed to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 stinger missiles to Ukraine to deter Russian military forces in Ukraine. It was ironic that he’s now having to urge others to deliver Leopard tanks to Ukraine after they’d put pressure on him to do the same in previous weeks. German Chancellor Scholz said Germany’s support for Kyiv is resolute but warned against hasty decisions and the dangers of escalation.

Trade with China. The Europeans, however, still regard China as “a partner for cooperation,” and do not fully support US to use European nations against China to avoid trade. German chancellor Scholz’s visited China, the first by a major Western leader after the elevation of Xi by the 20th Party Congress. France and Germany, opposed a confrontational attitude toward China, and believed that a more balanced strategy should be adopted, and more European interests must be taken care of. Despite the friction, the EU and China continue to remain strongly intertwined economically.

Sanctions on Russia. The US called for sanctions against Russia, and then reaped the benefits, making billions of dollars in gross profits off the sale of liquid natural gas to Europe. In the EU energy prices have risen 40%, contributing to inflation. Rising energy prices hit those on the lowest incomes and combined with higher food prices can lead to difficult choices for the most vulnerable households. Germany earlier was not happy on gas sanctions either as it effects their day to day life. Rising energy prices are a very visible sign of economic turmoil.

Beefing Up Defence Spending. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said that Germany would sharply increase its spending on defence to more than 2% of its economic output in one of a series of policy shifts prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is now a clear paradigm shift of German security policy with a boost in defence spending Moreover, being one of NATO’s strongest economies, Germany has also been criticised in the past by the US for investing less than 2 percent of its GDP in bolstering the alliance’s defence agreements. The new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius continued to push for higher military spending within Europe and NATO and called on the NATO alliance to agree on 2% as a minimum commitment. 

European security is linked to EU member states’ historical existences and the resultant threat perceptions. No matter how much NATO-US hypes up the Russian threat to Europe, it is impossible for many Western nations to sacrifice their own interest to become active participants in NATO’s plan to defeat Russia. France and Germany consider a future European security architecture involving Russia in some form. France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Spain don’t expect Ukraine to take back Crimea, and they see the inevitability of a negotiated solution and the durability of Russia as a neighbour. Speaking at a special session at the German Parliament in Berlin, Scholz said: “There was no other response possible to Putin’s aggression in attacking Ukraine, Putin doesn’t just want to eradicate a country from the world map, but he is destroying the European security structure.”

Despite all the propaganda around strategic autonomy, Europe failed to take steps toward it and the Ukraine war made Europe’s security dependence on the US even more obvious. Once again this emphasized the fact that without the presence and role of the US Europe cannot create any deterrence against Russia. This is what US wants Europe to believe and the Ukraine crisis has highlighted the inability of the EU to deal with Russian threats.

After being criticised for watching the crisis unfold from the sidelines, Scholz also highlighted how Germany is one of the EU’s major military nations that’s willing to act. The US-NATO pressures and the ongoing Ukraine warhas forced the German government to “Take U-Turns” in its foreign and security policy. This is in reversal to Germany’s traditionally cautious position. 

India’s Opportunity to be a Potential Peacemaker. 

India’s ambition is to use the G20 presidency to find a leadership role in global affairs and has maintained a neutral stance on the ongoing Ukraine wartill now. G 20 Finance Minister’s conclave in Bengaluru reflected the larger geopolitical level division in blocks between the West and Russia-China. A joint communiqué could not be issued as mention of the word ‘War’ with Ukraine was opposed by Moscow and Beijing jointly. 

The upcoming G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in March and the G20 summit in September will pressure India on the issue and on how to deal with Russia-Ukraine conflict. The G20 economic cooperation and global governance dialogue may turn into more of a security dialogue mechanism. However, this indirectly may also provide “India the Opportunity to be a Potential Peacemaker” in the background of the Prime Minister’s statement that “Today’s Era is Not an Era of War.” For this mission China has to be taken on board for its success as China will not like India to take a lead role to be known as a ‘Peacemaker’ in view of“China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis,” which has been rejected by US and NATO.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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