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BERLIN — Love or hate Germany, few would argue that it is a country of pessimists, a country where the glasses are half empty and every silver lining comes with a dark cloud. There is, of course, a German word for this phenomenon: Schwarzmalereipainting black.
In normal times, the gloomy nature of the Germans provides a source of mirth for its neighbors and allies. Now that the tide seems to be turning in the war in Ukraine, no one is amused.Read:EU targets €140bn from windfall taxes on energy companies
On Monday, Christine Lambrecht, the latest in a long line of German defense ministers with little or no military experience, made it clear that Ukraine’s victory on the battlefield would not change Berlin’s refusal to supply the country with much-needed battle tanks. .
Delivering what was billed as a “landmark” address in Berlin, Lambrecht denounced Russia for its “terrible invasion war” and said it was time for Germany to take on a “leading role” in European security. Helping Ukraine win doesn’t seem to be part of that strategy.
Germany’s refusal to supply battle tanks is a classic example of policy driven by Schwarzmalerei. Rooted in fear, German reluctance not only threatens Ukrainian security; it undermines the stability and cohesion of the European Union and NATO.Read:Vladimir Putin warns that all world infrastructure at risk of ‘terror attacks’
“Berlin’s hesitation, its passivity, seriously questions its value and its alliance with Germany,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Der Spiegel in an interview published in the current edition of the weekly. The Polish leader, whose country has been one of the most generous arms suppliers to Ukraine, added that “many other heads of government in Europe” shared his view.
With Russian troops retreating to eastern Ukraine, if ever there was a time for Berlin to reconsider its stance on tanks, it’s now. Instead, the arduous debate continues.
The last few days the German black painters were in force. Despite all the progress Ukraine has made on the battlefield, it would be folly, they tirelessly argue, to assume that Kiev can retake its occupied territories, let alone win the war.
“It probably won’t go on like this,” Christian Mölling, an analyst at the German Council for Foreign Relations, a state-sponsored think tank, told ZDF, Germany’s public broadcaster, this weekend. The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition and fuel, he noted.
Johannes Varwick, a German political scientist who has been pouring cold water on Ukraine’s prospects in the country’s media for months, went even more gloomy.Read:The funny things women did in 1958 trying to find a husband
“Unpopular opinion,” he says wrote on Twitter. “In my opinion, the reports of Ukraine’s military success do not change the big picture: Russia (unfortunately) has escalation dominance and greater endurance in the medium term. There is no alternative to a political reconciliation of interests.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk offered his own candid review in response: “Unpopular opinion: fuck off.”
While not all of the country’s war commentators are convinced Ukraine will lose, the pessimism of the likes of Varwick is at the heart of Germany’s reluctance — despite widespread public sympathy for the Ukrainian cause — not to do more to help.
While a clear majority of Germans want to support Ukraine, only about a third are in favor of sending heavy weapons such as tanks.
Germany has in fact supplied Ukraine with heavy weapons, including 10 howitzers, anti-aircraft systems and other, mainly defensive, armaments. Critics say the amount of military aid, which totaled €1.2 billion in mid-August, according to data tracked by the Kiel-based Institute for the World Economy, is disproportionate to a country of its size and wealth. By comparison, the US has so far pledged some 25 billion euros in military aid to Ukraine.
Germany’s triple governing coalition is divided on the tank issue, with some voices in the Greens and liberal Free Democrats calling for tank deliveries. But practically the answer remains’no.’
During a visit to Kiev this weekend, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was pressured by her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba about his country’s need for battle tanks. She declined to make any commitments regarding the tanks, saying only that her government was deliberating “intensively” over the arms transfers.
Ultimately, the responsibility for the decision not to send tanks rests with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is happy to point out that neither the United States nor any other country has sent Western battle tanks to Ukraine.
Scholz’s argument is frustrating for those fighting in Ukraine. As the manufacturer of one of the world’s most effective battle tanks, known as the Leopard, no country in Europe is better placed to supply Ukraine than Germany. In addition, the country has hundreds of decommissioned leopards.
If Berlin’s prudence was easier for some to understand in the early days of the war, when the full extent of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s colonial ambitions were not yet apparent to all, it has become increasingly difficult to justify.
Even the administration of US President Joe Biden, which has generally treated Berlin with velvet gloves, is beginning to take a more forceful tone. “As much as I admire and applaud everything Germany is doing… we need to do more,” Amy Gutmann, the US ambassador to Germany, told German television on Sunday, adding that the West’s “own peace and prosperity” is game was on.
Much has been written about the causes of Berlin’s soft approach to Moscow: the country’s business interests, the legacy of Ostpolitik and the Russophilia of the German Left have all played a part.
But with Ukraine finally making significant strides on the battlefield, it’s hard not to think that Germany’s own history has nothing to do with continued intransigence.
Call it the ghost of Stalingrad. It is not Germany’s war guilt for the damage Hitler’s armies inflicted on Russia that is at play here (after all, Ukraine suffered more than Russia under the German occupation). Rather, the Germans, like the Ukrainians, were convinced that they could defeat Russia. But eventually they discovered they couldn’t.
If the Germans want to reflect on the lessons of history, they’d better ask themselves another question. Rather than worrying about the miscalculations that led to their loss during World War II, they should think about what Europe would look like today if they had been allowed to win.