Germany has continuously received criticism for its policy toward Ukraine and Russia. And with good reason. Over the years, it nurtured the country’s energy dependence on cheap Russian gas flows, and refused to arm Kyiv when both the U.S. and the U.K. rang the alarm bells about Russia’s imminent full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
More than five months into the war, and under mounting pressure from both Germans and allies, Berlin has begun to change its approach toward Ukraine and Russia, even if incrementally.
Here are the three major signs that this is happening.
Reconsideration of energy imports
Over the course of 16 years, former Chancellor Angela Merkel heavily cemented Germany’s dependence on Russian energy resources.
In 2011, the country became the chief beneficiary of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which delivers gas directly to Germany, circumventing transit via Ukraine. Later, Merkel’s government pushed hard for the completion of the Nord Stream 2 project despite the annexation of Crimea by Russia and war in Donbas.
As a result of Merkel’s actions and industry’s appetites, Germany became almost fully dependent on the Kremlin’s whim – and many ordinary Germans were caught by surprise when they realized this.
While it took months for this to sink in among the German political elite and ordinary people, it’s obvious that early fruit is being borne.
Among the first high-profile figures who admitted to the gravity of mistakes made was Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Merkel’s ally was also regarded as a friend of Russia. Not only did he say that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a bad idea, but he also underscored that Germany must decouple its economy from authoritarian regimes like Russia.
The Federal Government headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz is likewise making steps in the right direction. On July 13, the country announced that it would stop purchasing Russian coal on August 1 and stop buying Russian oil on December 31.
It is also coming to terms with the fact that the aggravated Kremlin might cut off gas supplies to all European countries, with the EU already preparing for such a scenario and Russia halting supplies via Nord Stream 1.
“No peace talks” approach
Compared to the outset of the war the attitude to Russia and its actions in Ukraine has seen a profound change in Germany.
At the beginning, Berlin focused on expressing profound shock at the Kremlin’s incursion without offering concrete help, as noted by Ukraine’s Former Envoy to Germany, Andriy Melnyk.
The wording used in February to describe the war was also questionable, with Scholz dubbing the war as “Putin’s” and even sympathizing with the Russian soldiers who were sent to slaughter Ukrainians.
This approach, while still tangible in some respects, not least because of the heavy leftist influences in the country, has undergone a major shift.
In a fresh interview with Stern, German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock said she sees no possibility of resuming peace talks with Russia at the moment, asking the rhetorical question “What is there to discuss if the party [Russia, LD] doesn’t wish to strike a deal with the Red Cross Committee to open humanitarian corridors for evacuating civilians?”
Scholz has likewise emphasized several times that Russia will not win the war and that Ukraine will receive the support it needs.
These words are also being turned into action. At the end of June, the country finally delivered the first heavy weapons to Ukraine.
It has also published a list of weapons it is planning to send.
While it is well appropriate to doubt these intentions given Berlin’s track record of churning out promises, it seems like this time the state is serious about them.
Welcoming Ukraine to the EU family
Germany has always been highly skeptical of Ukraine’s EU aspirations. Although Scholz and his coalition partners were more supportive of Kyiv’s European intentions than Merkel, who reportedly ensured that the Association Agreement did not contain any mention of membership and dashed the country’s EU aspirations on multiple occasions, Berlin had remained frosty on the subject.
A real breakthrough took place after Russia launched an all-out war on Ukraine that resulted in Scholz President Emmanuel Macron, Italian PM Mario Draghi, and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis traveling to Kyiv to announce their support of granting Ukraine the EU candidate status.
The importance of this act is enormous as Berlin’s stance on just about every subject in the EU is paramount for the Union. Had it not given the green light to this decision, skeptical member states like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and others would have obstructed Ukraine’s EU aspirations, rendering a significant blow to its morale in times of war.
Promising as these signs appear, there are still plenty of other factors that show how difficult it is for Germany to part with its old ways.
The main one is Berlin’s pride. The country has for years portrayed itself as having a superior economy compared to most EU member states, especially those in southern Europe, which took a heavy hit after the 2008 eurozone meltdown. That feeling of superiority was indeed there, yet it also came at the expense of many other EU member states and Ukraine.
Neither is it prepared to discard cheap Russian gas and seems to have (at least in part) conceded to Putin’s ruble-for-gas demand, the aim of which is to help the Russian economy skirt the sanctions, despite Scholz’s promises not to do so.
Other instances include Germany blocking the allocation of financial assistance to Ukraine for EUR 9 billion, according to Corriere della Sera and a recent survey, which shows that 47% of Germans believe that Ukraine should cede its territory to Russia.
There is no doubt Germany has a long way ahead as Russia’s war on Ukraine has, in effect, made the country question its decades-long political, social, and economic setup. Rigid as it is, there is, nonetheless, plenty of room for changes and adjustments.
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