As a Juso, Olaf Scholz railed against the double-track NATO decision in the early 1980s, which caused the then SPD Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to fail because of his own party. Today he is chancellor himself – and again there are problems with the party on a fundamental armaments issue. That puts Scholz in a precarious position.
He gave a remarkable interview to the “Spiegel”. Most interesting of all is the rigorous defense of his party. Scholz speaks of defamation and compares the criticism of their previous Russia policy with the agitation against social democracy in Adenauer’s time.
A refurbishment is not necessary – and that Nord Stream 2 was a mistake does not want to come across his lips. That goes down well with the comrades, Scholz deliberately closes the ranks inwards in order to retain a certain amount of legroom as chancellor.
In the SPD there are some major concerns about the delivery of heavy weapons from Germany, but this should not always be equated with a pro-Russian course. A Gerhard Schröder, who has now once again defended his Russian lobbying activities in the New York Times and once again has not distanced himself from Vladimir Putin, is largely isolated in the party.
In the Chancellery, when it comes to the delivery of heavy weapons, they don’t just keep an eye on the mood in the SPD, but above all on the people. And that is by no means as clear as it appears in political Berlin. The fact that Scholz is now receiving special applause from the AfD should give him food for thought. He himself says that in a situation for which there is no textbook, he cannot take any account of poll numbers. That’s correct.
The fact that he is not acting more resolutely is being noticed in Ukraine and by his western partners, sometimes to the detriment of foreign policy: a chancellor from the largest nation in Europe who hesitates, puts the brakes on – especially since the government, for good reasons, is doing so immediately stops Russian gas and oil supplies not feasible.
But if you take a closer look at the Sacher, Germany is also doing a lot when it comes to arms deliveries and is acting in harmony with its NATO partners. But has the problem that the Bundeswehr reserves are very low.
Ring exchange works, but no German tanks for Ukraine?
Scholz indirectly argues that Germany should rather not supply German tanks in order not to increase the risk of a nuclear war with Russia. However, this seems like an advanced fear-mongering argument, and the military historian Sönke Neitzel even calls it “nonsense”. According to this logic, no NATO state should deliver heavy weapons – but this is now being planned jointly on a larger scale. Slovenia, for example, wants to deliver T-72 tanks to the Ukraine and is supposed to get the Marder infantry fighting vehicle and the Fuchs wheeled armored vehicle from Germany. One of Olaf Scholz’s unsolved mysteries is why this ring exchange works, but there are no tanks for the Ukraine so far because the Bundeswehr is blank.
What Scholz does not say publicly, and what may be the main motives: In the Chancellery, the belief lives on that a kind of “cold peace” could perhaps be negotiated with the Russian President despite his war, which means that Ukrainians and Russians, among other things, German mediation can conclude an agreement. The code word circulating in Berlin is “Minsk minus”: Ukraine would probably lose the eastern areas in the Donbass, and there could be a Russian land connection to the annexed Crimea.
Are you striving for a kind of “Minsk minus”?
So, in the tradition of the Minsk negotiations, does Scholz want to keep some leeway to influence Putin so that an agreement can be brokered that stops the war and Ukraine could then perhaps be upgraded to avoid another attack? According to this logic, it would of course be counterproductive if, 77 years after the Second World War, German tanks rolled against Russian tanks in Ukraine.
But Scholz is wrong here, it is the continued fundamental error of German Russia policy. Putin will not stop unless he is stopped with military might. No party in Germany understood this as well as the Greens, who were the only ones who repeatedly warned about Putin and the concept of “change through integration”, which culminated in Nord Stream 2 when Crimea was already annexed.
Scholz and his foreign policy adviser Jens Plötner are deeply influenced by the belief that there can always be a negotiated solution, even with criminals. But Putin’s true colors actually rule that out.
The freedom of Europe is being defended by Ukraine right now. It’s not just about moral responsibility here, but about the security interests of everyone, so that the borders are not forcibly pushed back by a neo-imperialist.
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The red line defines Putin, not the chancellor
Ultimately, there is no point in wasting too much thought on where Putin’s (nuclear) red line is. He defines it himself anyway.
Although FDP leader Christian Lindner is demonstratively behind Scholz’s deliberative course, an application by the Union for the delivery of its own tanks in the Bundestag is to be countered by an application by the traffic light coalition. But the chair of the defense committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), intensified her criticism of the chancellor – and the great applause for her at the FDP party conference should be a warning to Scholz and the SPD.
“You still have to do the chancellorship. I regret that because there is no more time,” she told the ZDF program “Berlin direct”. Indirectly, she questions Scholz’s chancellor skills: A country as large as Germany must lead in this situation. Anyone who does not want to take on this role may be in the wrong place at the wrong moment.
The driving force behind the delivery of heavy weapons in the federal government is Economics Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens). Scholz is moving – also because of the pressure from the Greens and the FDP – recently bit by bit, even before Easter the exchange of rings was hardly conceivable. But is it enough – and above all, is it fast enough?
The Ukraine is applying for 100 Marder tanks, what now, Mr. Scholz?
It is clear that the eastern NATO partners can only deliver tanks like the T-72 model of Soviet design to Ukraine to a limited extent. If a Marder training period of six to eight weeks is estimated for the Slovenian soldiers, the question arises: why not train Ukrainian soldiers in Germany or Poland now on Marder tanks and at the same time try to get Marders that are not in use as quickly as possible to get fit again?
The Rheinmetall Group has around 100 discarded Marder tanks in Lower Saxony. An application has now been made for delivery to Ukraine. The Federal Security Council must decide on this.
And that’s what really gets Scholz into trouble: At this point at the latest, Scholz will have to admit whether he’s ready for more than the ring exchange. The whole thing is highly complex and there are no easy answers. It starts with the fact that it is unclear whether the martens can be made fit for use again quickly.
However, if the chancellor rejects Ukraine’s wish for a marten, it could also tear his coalition apart. As Scholz rightly says: There is no textbook for this war and the resulting crises.