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Germany finally stands up to Putin

February 27, 2022

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's speech marks a new era in both Germany's relations with Russia and its defense policy. It was about time, says DW's Editor-in-Chief Manuela Kasper-Claridge.

German parliamentarians stand and applaud Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who stands behind the speaker's pulpit in the Bundestag
At times German parliamentarians stood to applaud Chancellor Olaf Scholz's speechImage: Michael Sohn/AP/picture alliance

It was a powerful speech on Ukraine that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered in the Bundestag. It was clear that it's the end of ifs and buts, as well as the politics of hesitant little steps. Germany is sending weapons to Ukraine and massively investing in the Bundeswehr. This marks the beginning of a new era, a reality the chancellor himself repeatedly referenced.

Germany's coalition government has taken a clear stance against Russia the aggressor. Finally, NATO allies, in particular the Baltic states, know where they stand with Germany. There is a fear there that Putin's Russia wants to force them into its sphere of influence, along with Ukraine. Scholz made it clear that Berlin will not tolerate that and that it stands firmly behind its NATO commitments.

Frankly: It's about time. For too long, Germany has only engaged in political maneuvering and discussions.

However — and this is important — reconciliation between Germany and Russia remains a historically important building block of German politics, as Scholz stressed. This was an important signal to the Russian people, who in no way stand united behind Putin's war in Ukraine. The demonstrations in numerous Russian cities prove this. 

It's going to get expensive

But let's not fool ourselves. This new era in Germany will be expensive, possibly even painful. The Bundeswehr is set to receive an extra €100 billion ($112.7 billion) in this year alone. Savings are going to have to be made elsewhere.

Russia is set to be isolated from the world economy. High energy prices, supply bottlenecks and a partial collapse in the trade of raw materials may well be the immediate consequences. 

Germans will have to prepare themselves. The government must quickly show how the country is supposed to deal with this and what the consequences will be — also in solidarity with the opposition. What's needed is togetherness, but without abandoning critical discussion.

It is right that Germany is finally supporting shutting Russian banks out of the SWIFT international payments system. But here too the consequences need to be clearly communicated. It's quite possible that the flow of Russian gas to Germany will stop, because without SWIFT it won't be possible to pay for it. Retaliation, as popular and as correct as it may be, comes at a price. Sanctions often take time to take effect.

Not just helmets, but clarity

For the Ukrainian people, holding their ground against the Russian aggressor, this complete change in German politics is meaningful. They can finally be assured that Berlin is ready to do more than just send them 5,000 helmets. It's an important message from the chancellor and his government of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats.

For far too long it has been entirely unclear where Germany stood. Now everyone knows. At last.

Scholz: Putin 'destroying the European security structure'

This text was originally written in German.