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Germany's losing credibility

Portrait of a man with blue eyes in a shirt and jacket, Majdan Square in the Ukrainian capital Kiev can be seen in the background
Frank Hofmann
July 27, 2022

Governments in central and eastern Europe are disappointed that Berlin went back on its word regarding tanks for Poland. For DW's Frank Hofmann, it is the Social Democrats that are most damaging to Germany's reputation.

Rubble of a school in Kramatorsk, Ukraine
Ukraine needs tanks and weapons to defend itself against more destructionImage: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Here we have it again: The German government's inability, and in particular that of the chancellor's Social Democrat Party (SDP), to deal in a sensitive way with the interests of the countries of eastern and central Europe. As part of a so-called circular exchange mechanism, Poland was supposed to receive replacements for the 200 Soviet-designed tanks that it has sent to Ukraine from its NATO partner Germany. However, behind-the-scenes talks apparently broke down. It was Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek who made this public to the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel last weekend.

Not long before, the German Ministry of Defense had admitted to Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily that there still was no agreement for the delivery of replacement tanks to other countries earmarked for a similar circular exchange, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet, it has been more than three months since German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht and Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced it would happen. For reasons of secrecy, it will surely be some time before all the details of this failure are laid bare to the public.

Social Democrats have failed

Just the way that the failure was made known in Warsaw already gives a clear indication of what has gone wrong politically: The SPD in particular seems to have a deep-seated inability to take into account the perspective of EU and NATO partners east of the Oder River and to act in an appropriately sensitive manner. And this, despite the resounding failure not only of the Russia policy cultivated by the party for decades, but above all of its energy policy, which was also pursued by the long-serving Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel.

DW correspondent Frank Hofmann
DW's Frank HofmannImage: DW

Germany has a history of damaging its own reputation in eastern and central Europe, and now it is doing so at a time of utmost sensitivity in the relationship with its eastern neighbors. According to Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, the democratically-elected government of Ukraine has a right to use force to defend itself against the armed attack by Russia. Moreover, due to bitter historical experience, the Baltic states (first and foremost Lithuania), as well as Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have perhaps a more expansive understanding of the right to self-defense, interpreting this also to mean that those who do not help a country under attack are guilty of failing to provide help, even as part of a peaceful community of peoples. This is why Poland sent 200 Soviet-made tanks to Ukraine as fast as possible.

German hesitation is 'absurd'

In Germany, however, there seems to be more hesitation than drive for action. In military circles, there is apparently a feeling that the Ukrainian military is unable to handle Western weapons systems, and this is why the circular exchange mechanism was thought to be the best solution. Yet, that same army is achieving major successes with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) supplied by the US. It claims to have destroyed 50 enemy ammunition depots in parts of Russian-occupied Ukraine in recent weeks.

Against this backdrop, the restraint shown by Germany's Social Democrats with regard to supplying Western weapons to Ukraine seems absurd. The freedom of Europe is currently being defended in the continent's east, militarily in Ukraine. It is in the interest of all European nations, above all Germany, that Russia — the aggressor — does not win this war.

Who started the war?

From a historical point of view, it is undeniable that one of the first questions posed when examining a war is: Who unleashed the violence? In September 1939, it was Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, that attacked Poland. The year before, the Third Reich had gone over the heads of the Czechs to force its annexation of the Sudetenland with the Munich Agreement and within months had occupied other parts of Czechoslovakia.

It was with this in mind that the global community signed Article 51 after World War II. For the countries of eastern and central Europe, torn apart by Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, this article of the UN Charter was meant to be a guarantee enshrined in international law, allowing them to live in freedom and democracy. And that is why some in that part of Europe are so irked by Germany's hesitation today. Poland, for one, is now turning to other NATO partners to replace the tanks it has supplied to Ukraine. Once again, Berlin has let down an ally. Such policy is harming Germany's position in Europe.

This piece was originally written in German.


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