Probably the hottest international news about Ukraine in the last week is Germany’s refusal – for now – to provide its own tanks or allow other countries to provide them to Ukraine. For now – because already in several situations the chancellor refuses to do something, but under pressure – from inside and outside – he does it.
Why is Germany giving up its tanks?
In order to have a somewhat clearer picture, we need to know not only the historical, but also the political, geopolitical, economic and personal aspect of such a decision in the age of Zeitenwende – tectonic changes – as Chancellor Scholz himself calls them.
Here are some of the most important reasons:
Germany has only since last year returned to the military scene as a factor – it changed its Constitution to give weapons to Ukraine and began a massive rearmament of its army.
On the one hand, it is normal to assume that since Germany bears heavy historical guilt for its aggression against the USSR and the tens of millions of casualties, it would not want to provide heavy weapons such as tanks that would be decisive in a Ukrainian offensive and thus become number 1 factor in Ukraine’s victory over Russia. At the same time, it is equally true that history becomes a very convenient cover for the German chancellor not to take such a decision.
Historically, the (West) German left has always been sympathetic to the USSR and Russia and averse to opposing the US and the role of NATO. The chancellor himself has participated in such anti-Western rallies in the past. It is normal that his solidarity within NATO now has clear limits and that aid does not go so far as to become the number 1 factor in the war. Therefore, Scholz’s last justification is that Germany will send tanks only if the US does so – despite the US’s clear explanations for the unsuitability of its tanks – such as cost, logistics and relevance – for the war in Ukraine.
Germany has always seen itself as a great power in its own right and has never felt comfortable playing second fiddle to alliances like NATO where the US and Britain dominate. Historically, it has sought to expand its influence in the East.
Therefore, it is very careful not to use its help to shift important balances that would endanger its influence not only in the East, but also in the EU itself. On the one hand, it already supported an initiative at the beginning of the war to provide its tanks to countries such as Poland, which in turn gave its Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine. Ironically, it is now Poland that is offering the sharpest criticism of Germany’s indecision, threatening to give up its German tanks without Germany’s required consent.
It is quite possible that the German elite is aware of the implications of the intentions of a military ￼union between Poland and a victorious Ukraine and the influence of this union with a population larger than its own in Europe. And how would this affect its future relations with Eastern Europe, already separated from Russia geographically by this anti-Russian alliance.
In any case – despite breaking dependence on Russian gas – Germany envisions a post-war scenario in which it will once again rely on cheap Russian resources for its economy. And that is why he does not want to break his political with an effect on economic relations with Russia.
Germany, together with France, are in the camp of the West, which would most quickly welcome any peace, no matter what the price, even if it is at the expense of Ukraine. Russia is also a major market for German goods and investment and the shortest air route to one of its two largest markets, China.
The very prospect of losing China and being drawn into a bloc confrontation terrifies Germany. The chancellor wrote a detailed article for Foreign Affairs on the occasion after his visit to China – in an attempt to counter the already dominant attitudes of a second world cold war, this time between the US and China.
5. Personal characteristics
The profile of the German chancellor is that of a left-wing politician known for anti-Western rhetoric and never anti-Russian. In the 1980s, the East German Communist Party identified him as an “important ally against the US and NATO”, and he visited East Germany more than 8 times with special permission from the GKP. He is described as a Marxist. In practice, he is not much different from Rumen Radev in terms of inner convictions, not rhetoric.
Now imagine how he feels as an ally with those he loathed and against his former allies. The term scholzing even appeared as a joke – constantly talking about how something should be done, but not doing it.