By Chan Kung*
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been very busy recently to ensure the supply of natural gas. Of course, he is not busy to help Ukraine, but for the sake of Russia.
In response to Western sanctions, Russia has imposed its own counter-sanctions. Its approach though is unsophisticated, targeting countries that continue to use Russian gas, most notably Germany. President Vladimir Putin demanded Germany and Europe paying Russian gas in rubles. Because of the sanctions, Western countries have no rubles at all, which means they have to trade financial currency with Russia to obtain rubles so that they can pay for Russian gas. The West’s sanctions then will become practically fruitless. In order to make this approach effective, Putin also attached a deterrent condition. If Germany does not pay in rubles, Russia will cut off gas supplies to Germany and Europe starting on April 1.
To resolve the problem, Scholz has become rather preoccupied. He kept negotiating with Russia, and with President Putin. While reasoning, he also pleaded Putin not to use rubles, not to cut off natural gas, and that Germany is willing to pay large sums of euros to Russia, much more than to Ukraine.
Germany’s request is much more urgent than other European countries. Many countries such as Poland, Slovenia and others have directly rejected Putin’s demand, with much contempt at that, because Putin’s approach is actually an act of desperation that damages both sides. Russia’s natural gas is actually one of the few of its trade exchanges with the Western world; it is also one of the limited hard currency commodities that Russia can still obtain. In addition, even the gold of the Russian central bank has been frozen and seized by the West. By cutting off gas supplies to Europe, Russia is in fact accelerating its suicide. The problem is that Germany has more things to consider than other European countries. German politicians often think beyond domestic political support. If an economic crisis does occur, they are worried that they will have to step down. Moreover, the Germans tied themselves to the Russian gas pipeline very early on because of certain “special vision”, hence they use it much more than other European countries.
Putin certainly fully understands Germany’s desperation. He agreed that Scholz can continue to use euros to pay without interrupting the supply of natural gas. Of course, Germany will have to send a large amount of euros to a Russian company account that is not affected by sanctions, so that Russia can use it. This is not a small sum of money. According to the price of Russian natural gas imported by the EU every day, based on the price that has not increased in the past, it would be EUR 200 million to 800 million, of which 32% is the natural gas used by Germany. This is indeed an astronomical figure.
While Germany attempts to communicate with Russia and pays generously, it is also using various reasons and means to limit the aids for Ukraine. The reasons of this include legal issues, political concerns, inflation and others, among which it also appears to encompass a deeper German aspiration of future prosperity. These considerations haunt the Germans even as the Ukrainians are fighting bloody battles to ensure Europe’s future order and national borders remain intact.
In the beginning, the German government merely gave Ukraine 5,000 helmets, for this some Ukrainians sarcastically remarked that perhaps the Germans might send some pillows next time. With the emergence of the natural gas payment problem between Germany and Russia, Germany’s preparations for assistance to Ukraine are even more outrageous. This time, a batch of “tanks” was sent.
A spokesperson for the German Federal Ministry of Defense told CNN on Friday that Germany has approved the delivery of 56 infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine. The Germans also solemnly announced that the tanks were Pbv-501s, supposedly from the East German military during the Cold War. In fact, these so-called Pbv-501 “tanks” are the oldest BMP-1 armored vehicles in the former Soviet Union. They are from 1966 of the last century, produced 56 years and may be older than many officials in the German government. In Sweden, such armored vehicles are used in target shooting. The Russians could very well be amused that Germany, one of the countries with the strongest modern military industry in the world, provided these “tanks” to aid the Ukrainians.
Facing the ongoing war in Ukraine, Germany is stuck in a dilemma. It needs Russia and Putin badly, and this need probably stems from physical to physiological aspects. Yet on the other hand, it does consider the conflict in Ukraine to be a major issue as it is closely related to the security of NATO, to Germany’s trustworthiness and moral commitments in the international community.
What then, does Germany think about the war?
On April 2, German business media Handelsblatt reported that Economy Minister Robert Habeck rejected Ukraine’s request for more support in its fight against Russia. “It is important that we support Ukraine with all our strength; however, in everything we do, we are very careful not to take any ill-considered step that could make Germany the target of Russia’s attack”, says Habeck in an interview for the Rheinische Post. Of course, he also said that it is naturally difficult for Ukraine to understand this, “but there is no morally flawless position in politics”.
Martin Brudermüller, CEO of BASF, one of Germany’s largest chemical conglomerates, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Germany would face unprecedented economic losses in the event of a complete or prolonged cessation of gas and oil imports from Russia. Brudermüller believes that calling for a boycott of Russian energy resources imports is an “irresponsible experiment” that “could lead to Germany’s worst economic crisis since the end of the Second World War”. Commenting on Germany’s discussions about rejecting Russian oil and gas, Brudermüller asked, “Do we want to destroy our entire economy with our eyes wide open?” It’s not hard to see that this is from deep-seated frustration.
This of course does not apply to all Germans. Yet, the CDU government in Germany and these German corporate oligarchs are still hold on to things that have ceased to exist for decades, and they have been continuously supporting Putin’s Russia, the very threat to Europe. The technology and resources exported to Russia indeed, have strengthened Russia, and Germany itself is one of the root causes of the invasion of Ukraine. Now, they call the consequence of this as “economic crisis.”
The world can indeed understand the dilemma faced by Germany, and its deepest emotion. Germany might as well tear off the mask of pretension and directly make the following announcement:
1. Germany will quit NATO, as it does not exert its function. More importantly, Germany will make sure NATO will not really play its role; 2. Germany is unconcerned about which party is the invader or being invaded, hence when Germany is invaded, we pledged not to seek the aid and support from any nation, as we understand the invasion would be justified; 3. We in Germany promise to accept any condition for survival, therefore please put forward the conditions; 4. The values that we preached in the past, including fairness, justice, democracy, freedom, honesty, trust, God, and the United Nations Charter, are all nonsensical. Our focus should be achieving economic development; 5. Germany no longer respects any international agreements, territorial sovereignty, including our own, unless the Russians permit us to do so.
Of course, there is one last point: stop forcing us, else we will not be able to live.
There was once a Germany in the past, renowned worldwide for its scientific rationality and philosophical foresight. That Germany has long gone. Along with it, basic courage has left Germany as well. A steady stream of foreign volunteers, mostly men, usually veterans, head to Ukraine along lonely roads across the borders. At time, they might see hundreds of mothers and children fleeing their destroyed homeland. The sorrowful faces of these refuges would deeply imprint the mind of these volunteers. These volunteers are there to fight a war that takes place in Europe, and they know that their country’s military and perhaps government officials would not be there to support them.
“We just want to safeguard freedom, it’s just that simple”, a volunteer named Mike told the journalist at Poland’s Przemysl railway station. He was just one of the many foreign fighters heading to the border. This is not a classic and complicated rhetoric, but a reflection of the typical German schizophrenia of the moment. The German government and some Germans just want to protect their wealth and current way of life, for this they would do anything.
Such is the situation of Germany, and France is actually worse. It is just that according to credible tradition, the French are not concerned with what others say, so there is no need to spill the ink for France. What is left for Europe and NATO now? Perhaps only God, and the Ukrainians have the answer.
*Chan Kung, Founder of ANBOUND Think Tank (established in 1993), Mr. Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.