January 23, 2023
Germany, the country that ruined the 20th Century, is damaging the 21st. Berlin’s political decisions facilitated Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and now its politicians slow-walk the military assistance and sanctions needed to defeat Russia. The most recent example is Germany’s refusal to permit the acquisition by Ukraine of 300 German-made Leopard II battle tanks — unless and until America also sends M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Washington has declined to send the Abrams because the tank is inferior to the Leopard, costly and cumbersome. Even so, Germany insists. But this is not about tanks. It’s about guilt and optics. German politicians worry that it won’t go unnoticed that the last time German tanks moved eastward was in 1941 when Hitler’s “Barbarossa” armada invaded and swept toward Russia using 3,400 tanks that were, like the Leopard II, made by arms giant Krauss-Maffei Wegmann who was also Nazi Germany’s prime supplier. While eyebrow-raising, these inconvenient historical facts do not justify preventing Ukraine from deploying Leopard tanks to break through Russia’s “Maginot Line” of trenches, landmines, artillery, and cement barriers in its East. In this case, as in others, Germany’s mentality and hesitation have been unhelpful and disquieting.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also refused to lift re-export restrictions on the 15 countries that currently own 2,000 Leopards, many of whom are willing to ship tanks to Ukraine. He worries about Russian retaliation if Germany proceeds on its own, but even after the UK pledged 14 of its big battle tanks to break the deadlock last week, Scholz still refused to green light the Leopards. Pressure builds and Poland and other Leopard owners intend to defy restrictions. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted he was “tired of the show surrounding who is going to send tanks and when are they going to send them. To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine because they need them. It is in your own national interest that Putin loses in Ukraine. To the Biden Administration: Send American tanks so that others will follow our lead.”
Kyiv remains confident the Leopards will eventually arrive and has already started training operators. And on January 20, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin downplayed Germany’s tank “punt” and announced an impressive platform of smaller tanks, infantry fighting vehicles [IFVs], artillery and weaponry for Ukraine to mount its needed spring counter-offensive. “This is a very, very capable package. The U.S. package represents enough armor to liberate Ukraine or until Putin ends his war of choice.”
On January 22, a German official hinted that Poland could send its Leopards if it requests permission, but damage has been done. Once more Germany is a drag on the alliance at a crucial time. Putin cannot win on the battlefield and has decided to prolong the conflict to discourage allies. He now digs in, murders civilians, threatens nuclear attack, and throws tens of thousands of Russian conscripts into action as cannon fodder in order to freeze the war at a point in eastern Ukraine that is not far from where he began his second occupation on February 24, 2022. Not coincidentally, on January 17, Henry Kissinger issued a statement that recommended talks begin but fighting continue until the “pre-war line” is reached. At that point, a cease-fire can be negotiated, he suggested, along with the future ownership of the Donbas and Crimea. In return, he said he agreed that Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO. This was contemptible claptrap and read like a Kremlin wish list.
Ukraine is assembling an armored division of tanks and IFVs that will be capable of liberating all its territory including Crimea by this summer, said Ben Hodges on January 21, former Commanding General of US Army Europe. “Ukraine will continue building up an armored force – a division or more – that is trained and prepared to serve as the breakthrough formation for the next major offensive phase of the campaign. I’d anticipate that it’ll be at least three months before they’re able to do that. It will be built around Ukrainian armor that they already have or have captured, but Western tanks, IFVs, and artillery will be key to making it lethal. I can’t be confident of the delivery of tanks to complement the IFVs that are now being delivered, but it does seem that the dam is about to finally break on Western tanks.”
Ukraine also needs long-range missiles to isolate Crimea and neutralize Russia’s ability to kill civilians. “Ukraine will never be safe or secure or able to rebuild its economy so long as Russia retains Crimea. Therefore Kyiv cannot accept any negotiated settlement which gives up Crimea, nor should the West. If we are serious about the international rules-based order then we cannot allow the Kremlin to be rewarded for its illegal actions,” added Hodges.
The tank fiasco highlights a major impediment within the alliance as well as within the European Union which is Berlin’s proclivity to put parochial politics ahead of Europe’s or NATO’s best interests — a stance that disqualifies its standing as a leader. Germany has vetoed Ukrainian membership in NATO, hesitated to provide timely financial and military support as well as sanctions, and, worst of all, supported Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. That infrastructure, destroyed by Russian saboteurs recently to frighten Europe about its infrastructure vulnerability, was the center piece of Putin’s European conquest strategy. He intended to use his pipelines to control Europe’s energy, undermine its security, and bypass Ukraine’s gas delivery system to pave the way for an invasion. In essence, his first “attack” against Europe was to co-opt Germany, which he accomplished after decades of living in East Germany as a KGB agent, then courting German politicians from inside the Kremlin.
It’s also concerning that Chancellor Scholz is a Social Democratic Party colleague of Gerhard Schroder, a close friend of Putin’s, who served as Chancellor until 2005, then launched the Nord Stream 2 project for Russia in 2011. Schroder is a bon vivant who has become wealthy after serving for years as a director on Putin’s biggest energy corporations. Discredited over the link, Schroder was stripped of some of his Parliamentary privileges after the invasion. But he is close to Scholz’s new German Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, who reportedly also has a relationship with one of Schroder’s ex-wives.
It’s all very cozy at the top of German politics. Between Schroder’s stint as Chancellor, and Scholz’s, was Angela Merkel who also defended and pushed through Putin’s Nord Stream 2. While doing so, she and her government ignored fierce opposition from Brussels and Washington over the pipeline’s threat to European security, but she displayed the same high-handed behavior that is now underway concerning the tanks. The exasperated European Parliament last week demanded that Germany release the Leopards “without further delay” and its President Charles Michel said “the time is now. Ukraine needs more military equipment. I firmly support the delivery of tanks.”
America has also been guilty of heeding, and acceding to, German wishes. In spring 2021, President Joe Biden backed down from Nord Stream 2 sanctions imposed by Congress to stop the pipeline, at Merkel’s request, months before the invasion. In a powerful Foreign Affairs piece on January 20, chess champion and Putin foe Garry Kasparov urged Biden to “deliver the knockout punch” and ignore fears propagated by Germans and others that a destabilized, defeated Russia must be avoided at all costs. “The end of Putin’s tyrannical rule will indeed radically change Russia (and the rest of the world) — but not in the way the White House thinks. Rather than destabilizing Russia and its neighbors, a Ukrainian victory would eliminate a powerful revanchist force and boost the cause of democracy worldwide.”
Russia deserves no mercy, and Ukrainians cannot, and won’t, surrender to an evil government that’s abused them for centuries and now executes a genocidal, “scorched earth” armed catastrophe. Nor should the West. Putin must be forced to completely withdraw behind Ukraine’s 1991 borders and Russia forced to pay reparations. Kasparov also urged haste: “This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine. Biden can turn the tide in Kyiv’s favor by backing up his declarations of support with the delivery of tanks and long-range weaponry. He can also hasten the demise of Putin’s regime, opening up the possibility of a democratic future for Russia and demonstrating to the world the folly of military aggression.”
Once again in history, Germany is on thin ice. Instead of marching in lockstep with the alliance of civilized nations committed to defeating Putin, Berlin falters. It has already fallen for Putin’s dangerous pitches in the past but now retracts into timidity and self-absorption. It is a great nation with incredible talent, but must become a team player. Fooled once, shame on Moscow. Fooled twice, shame on Berlin.