Germany is receiving increasingly sharp criticism of acting in the Ukraine war, or what some call a lack of action. Because where the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a Zeitenwende just after the Russian army set foot on Ukrainian soil at the end of February, there is little to notice.
The message was the message that German defence policy would change radically. The country would not be on the sidelines, but would be leading the way in defending Ukraine. Three months later, arms deliveries are slow to get underway and there is a lot of disagreement internally about whether that should change. “Scholz is ruining the face of German politics,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ruled last weekend.
“You get the idea that Germans are not reliable. That they want to stay out of it and not do everything possible,” says Sönke Neitzel, professor of military history at Potsdam University. “That is a fatal image that causes great damage, because trust is very important in terms of safety.”
That image does not come out of the blue. For example, Germany, which at first did not want to supply weapons at all for pacifist reasons, only seems to make commitments if there is no other option. The order in which promises are made is telling, says Neitzel, who follows the deliveries closely.
Take the Armored Howitzer 2000, of which Germany promised seven after the Netherlands pledged five. “That was also the determining reason that Germany will deliver them: because the Netherlands announced it,” says Neitzel.
It doesn‘t last, he thinks, and it’s painful. “Because you can expect Germany as a large state to lead, and the smaller countries follow.” Especially after Scholz announced a new era in which Germany would shake off the pacifist trepidation to take responsibility for defending Europe and thus Ukraine. Military, too.
Germany also puts forward varying arguments as to why weapons cannot be supplied. Arguments that later do not turn out to be insurmountable.
This is how the German arms company KMW had reported itself. It was able to supply heavy duty Gepard armored vehicles. But Russia would see the delivery of heavy artillery as more direct German involvement in the war. A Third World War must be avoided at all costs, Scholz emphasized. And the Ukrainians wouldn‘t be able to operate western tanks anyway.
After two months, the pressure to deliver heavy weapons was so great that the government tacked. Ukrainian soldiers were able to operate the vehicles, with the right training. This has yet to begin, according to inquiries by the German newspaper Die Welt. Whether there will be enough ammunition available to actually use the Gepards remains the question.
Do not weaken yourself
The argument that poorly equipped Germany itself would have little to offer did not hold for long either. The German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall announced that it has discarded tanks in the storage. These are Leopard and Marder tanks that the German army itself disposed of a few years ago. The company says it can patch them up and send them in within three weeks.
Only after that did the German government say that it did not want to deliver it, because it would have been agreed with other NATO countries. Unlike older Soviet models, partner countries would not be able to miss more modern western tanks, so as not to weaken themselves.
But what about the seven Armored Howitzer 2000, which the government has now announced that it will deliver? Neitzel: “No person in this world understands why you don’t deliver a Marder, but an Armored Howitzer.”
Meanwhile, Poland and the Czech Republic also complain. They agreed with Germany to give old Soviet tanks to Ukraine, after which they can order modern replacement weapons from German suppliers at the expense of the German government. But the countries are not yet able to agree on that order.
None of it is good for trust, and that is very worrying, says Neitzel. “All NATO is built on trust.” An attack on one is an attack on all. “Then, in an extreme case, German soldiers would also die for Poland. Putin has to believe that, and so should Poland.”
You can assume that delivery is also delivered in secret, says Neitzel, but the visible part does not leave a good impression. The German newspaper Die Welt looked for what has actually been delivered on behalf of Germany since the end of March. And concluded: even of the light weapons, virtually nothing.