By STEPHEN BLANK
For some time, we have known that European weapons supplies to Ukraine have been insufficient for its task of surviving as an independent state. But since Ukraine is, as one writer observed in 1997, the “Keystone in the Arch” of European security, this war is hardly only about Ukraine.
The delays and excuses about sending Ukraine high-performance aircraft, tanks, missiles and other weapons represent a major reason the Russians had the time and freedom to build formidable defensive lines, whose potency we are now seeing. They also arguably facilitate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dreams of outlasting Kyiv, because they confirm his belief that the West is not solidly behind Ukraine and will eventually tire of supporting it.
This Western failure is pervasive, but Germany has been the most consistent equivocator of all. Apart from earlier dramas about not sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless America sent its tanks first, Germany is playing the same dangerous game with regard to its Taurus missiles. It now claims that it will not send those missiles to Ukraine unless they are programmed not to strike Russian territory. This condition is an insulting reflection of a lack of intelligent thinking about this war and a manifestation of what increasingly looks like cowardice.
With Russia systematically and brutally trying to destroy every aspect of Ukrainian civil infrastructure, it is nonsensical to deny Ukraine the ability to retaliate in kind. Certainly, this pettifogging approach also constitutes a dismissal of the fact that Ukraine is fighting not only for its existence but also for European security and international order more broadly. Like the Polish Solidarity movement in the 1980s, it is fighting for ”your freedom and ours.” Thus, to deny Ukraine the full possibility of self-defense shows a government that has unfortunately learned nothing since that movement emerged.
In similar fashion, the demand that the Taurus missiles and other weapons are not targeted at Russia betrays a shocking absence of strategic thinking in Berlin and an unmerited excessive fear of Russia. This combination justifies Putin’s contempt for Europe and the belief that time is on his side. It certainly speaks to the continuing success of Russian energy and influence operations in Germany that even now generate a cadre of so-called Putin-understanders, or “Putinversteher.”
Since Washington has provided considerably more to Ukraine than Europe in terms of military aid, one cannot describe American policy as harshly as German policy. But it is clear that delays in providing Ukraine with sufficient air defense capabilities such as the F-16, to thwart Moscow’s attempts to destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure, have exacted a grievous toll both in
fatalities and wounded and upon Ukraine’s economy. The longer we go without helping Ukraine obtain a decisive victory — the only thing that will ensure Ukrainian and European security — the longer Putin will be able to preserve his murderous fantasies and sacrifice more Russians and Ukrainians to them.
Furthermore, the longer we go without giving Ukraine the tools to finish this job, the more likely Putin’s escalations, such as the new threats against Poland that we now are seeing, will unnerve some members of the coalition to the point where they seek the easy way out through a negotiated settlement on favorable terms to Putin.
German behavior calls to mind former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s 1938 simile of Central and East European states that he said were appeasing a crocodile in the hope that it would eat their neighbors first and desist from eating them. That outlook is no more feasible today than it was in 1938. Indeed, German appeasement of Russia will only weaken its economic and political standing in Europe by proving that Germany’s government cannot assume the role called for by virtue of its economic power and capacities.
As it is, this war has already validated the proposition that America leads Europe in major matters of international security. But what does it say about Europe when its richest and possibly strongest power publicly displays its fear and incapacity to conduct a foreign and defense policy that conforms to its national security interests and those of Europe?
Today, Germany is trying to hide in plain sight, and Europe may soon pay a high price for it.
Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is a former professor of Russian national security studies and national security affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College and a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College. Blank is an independent consultant focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia.