Germany, scapegoat of the Ukraine war
Demand. Snub. Demand. Snub — that seems to be the pattern Ukraine is currently following in talks with and about Germany. That recently included making clear that German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was not welcome to visit Kyiv after Ukrainian leadership criticized his previous policies on Russia and after Steinmeier admitted having made mistakes.
The template has been very successful. German media are also jumping on the bandwagon. Not a day goes by when Berlin is not shamed publicly, without critical journalists asking members of the German government why we are not finally giving up Russian oil and gas, and why Germany is not supplying Ukraine with all the weapons the country has requested. It is an increasingly annoying and utterly superfluous spectacle.
Germany more supportive of Ukraine than most
For one thing, Germany, along with the US, has been Ukraine's largest donor since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Second, apart from Ukraine's immediate neighbors, Germany is one of the countries that takes in the most Ukrainian refugees.
Third, Germany is one of Ukraine's top financial backers for arms purchases. Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently announced Germany is shelling out up to €2 billion ($2.1 billion) in military aid. And he has left no doubt that we must stand by Ukraine in the war against Russia.
In that context, how clever is it of the Ukrainian government to constantly antagonize the German government with new, harshly worded demands? When Germany supplies desired weapons, Kyiv says: That's good, but it should be much more. When Germany announces nothing less than a paradigm shift by turning its back on Russian coal, oil and gas, it says: That's well and good, but it has to happen immediately.
Is a 180 degree turnabout not good enough?
People tend to forget that Germany has made a U-turn of unprecedented magnitude. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has been stopped and €100 billion have been earmarked for the German armed forces in a plan Scholz announced shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Germany is paying for arms deliveries to a war zone. The German government is starting to cut its close and extremely important ties with Russia regarding raw materials. The economy minister, a Green party politician, traveled to the Middle East to buy oil and gas while thinking out loud about letting German coal and nuclear power plants run longer than planned. These are all extreme course changes in an incredibly short period of time. What other European countries have changed their policies as drastically as Germany has — and at such high cost?
Scapegoat for other EU nations
Even more irritating than Kyiv's unfriendly attitude, however, is the behavior of other European countries. Those who take no action themselves but hide behind Germany or even point a finger at Berlin — one could get the impression that it is all about image.
French President Emmanuel Macron made several unsuccessful phone calls in an attempt to influence Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin. He also made sure the soccer Champions League final, which was supposed to take place in Russia, will be played in France. The country is not quite as decisive when it comes to bringing refugees to France.
Italy said, publicly and wholeheartedly, that it could immediately do without Russian gas. Meaning that if Europe fails to enact a gas embargo it is because of other member states — read: Germany. Poland, without first coordinating with allies, is publicly pushing to deliver airplanes to Ukraine — but only through the US via an airbase in Germany. If the planes are not delivered, says Warsaw, it is because of the US or Germany. Hungary gets off scot-free — at least in the eyes of the German public — with its Russia-friendly course. Budapest happily accepts cheap Russian gas and, if necessary, says it will foot the bill in rubles.
Discord only benefits Putin
People could get the impression that some EU member states would not mind seeing Germany lose face, or forfeit some of its economic strength and prosperity.
Schadenfreude? Perhaps. But the fact is it always takes two to play the blame game with all its demands and compliance — one party to make loud demands and point fingers and another party to take it lying down.
So why the superfluous spectacle? After all, everyone shares the same goal — ending Russia's war in Ukraine. So why sow discord? It only benefits one person: Vladimir Putin.
This article has been translated from German.