Posted by on January 23, 2023 5:46 pm
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Germany’s tank battle raises doubts about whether Scholz wants Russia to lose

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Germany’s tank battle raises doubts about whether Scholz wants Russia to lose

Joel Gehrke January 23, 05:13 PMJanuary 23, 05:13 PM Video Embed

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s hesitance to give main battle tanks to Ukraine has provoked open doubts about whether the European heavyweight wants Russia “to lose this war,” as a top NATO ally diplomat put it.

“The thing that hinders us going forward is a fear [of] what will happen if Russia actually loses this war,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Brussels on Monday. “If we manage that fear — if we accept the fact that Russia can lose and actually has to lose in order to avoid future wars — then I believe all the other questions will be much easier answered.”

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Germany has drawn sharp criticism from other Central and Eastern European members of NATO throughout the war due to lingering frustration over Berlin’s policy of dependence on Russian natural gas and persistent dissatisfaction with the level of military aid provided to Ukraine. That anger intensified over the last week when Scholz stiff-armed a multinational plan to send German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, leading some allies to contemplate sending the tanks in defiance of German objections.

“We will apply for such consent from Germany, but this is a secondary topic,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters. “Even if we do not get this consent in the end, as part of a small coalition — even if the Germans would not be in this coalition — we will still hand over our tanks together with others to Ukraine. The condition for us at the moment is to build at least such a small coalition of states.”

That overt display of disrespect for Berlin’s authority to prevent states that have purchased German-made weapons from sending them to other countries continues a pattern of public pressure on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The recalcitrant chancellor spent much of the last year withholding the Leopard tanks on the grounds that no other Western power had provided tanks of NATO design, but British officials undercut that argument last week by offering a squadron of Challenger 2s, just as Polish officials announced that they would send Leopards.

Scholz continues to hesitate, despite intensifying disputes even from the other parties in his coalition government, renewing suspicions that his Social Democratic Party (SPD) remains wedded to a policy of softness with Russia.

“Every single time there [has been] a debate about meeting the request of the Ukrainians for so-called ‘heavy’ military equipment, the Social Democrats came up with all type of arguments [for] why this was not feasible, not prudent,” former NATO chief strategic policy analyst Stefanie Babst, a German citizen, told the BBC on Monday. “Large parts of the Social Democrats still seek to bring Russia back to the table, still pursue a policy of appeasing Russia, still are trying to see that there may be an opportunity out there for bringing Russia back to the more or less status quo” before the war.

That assessment points to deep distrust of the SPD among Russia hawks. Their suspicion often has been justified by reference to former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, the former SPD chief who embarked on a second career as a lobbyist for Russian state-controlled energy companies just weeks after finalizing the political agreement to build the first Nord Stream pipeline between Russia and Germany.

Morawiecki invoked Scholz while expressing doubts about Schroder’s decision to tap one of his SPD allies, Boris Pistorius, as defense minister last week.

“I don’t know much about Germany’s new defense minister,” Morawiecki told Polish media last week. “What I do know gives me some anxiety. I know he’s a close associate of Gerhard Schroder, a symbol of disgrace, someone who keeps chit-chatting with Putin as if nothing had happened.”

Leaders of Germany’s Green Party, the junior members of the coalition government, have signaled their disagreement with Scholz’s hesitation. “I have understood just how important these tanks are,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Sunday.

Baerbock claimed that Berlin “would not stand in the way” of other countries that want to send their own Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but that statement drew a rebuff from Scholz’s party.

“I don’t know why the foreign minister said something public,” German lawmaker Ralf Stegner told a German media outlet on Monday.

President Joe Biden’s team praised the United Kingdom for donating tanks to Ukraine, but Stegner, an SPD member, suggested that Scholz has hesitated to authorize the transfers due to a lack of unanimity within NATO.

“If you compare the government of Poland, for instance, or what the government of France says, there are different sides to that,” he told Deutsche Welle. “We want to make those decisions with our allies together, not as a loan decision from Germany.”

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Such caviling by German officials suggests that “in Europe, we have not grasped the concept of Russia losing to the fullest,” according to Landsbergis.

“It’s imperative to send all the weaponry that Ukraine needs in order to push the front forward, to reclaim the territories,” the Lithuanian foreign minister said. “Russia has to understand — and the sooner the better — that this war will end badly [for] Russia. There’s no way out of it. There’s no negotiating your way out of it. There’s no tearing Europe apart. There’s only losing — that what they started is a losing war and they will lose it.”

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