Tanks to Ukraine

Like many living in Germany, the Federal Government’s hesitancy in supplying weapons to Ukraine is not only puzzling to me, but frankly massively embarrassing. German profited massively from the Peace Dividend at the end of the cold war – and so reduced its spending on defence that the Bundeswehr is a shadow of its former self. Despite the clear threats to European stability, particularly after the Crimean annexation, previous governments, led by the Christian Democrats, had given little attention to active threats.

The “traffic light” coalition government is itself divided on the provision of tanks to Ukraine. Ministers from the Greens, traditionally pacifists, arguing strongly in favour despite opposition from activists in their own party. The Chair of the Bundestag’s Defence Committee from our German sister party FDP, Maria Strack-Zimmermann, has come out strongly in favour of providing tanks and other weapons. Chancellor Scholz seems to sit on the fence and talks about ongoing discussion with the NATO allies and the leader of the parliamentary group from the Social Democrats, Rolf Mützenich, expressed concerns on the public television station ZDF that this could lead to the deployment of NATO troops in the war.

A year ago, things seemed different. The Russian invasion led to a historic U-turn by the government – a Zeitwende as Chancellor Scholz said in a speech to members of the Bundestag. Best translated as “a new dawn”, this was often interpreted as Germany finally being prepared to take on more responsibility for collective security in Europe. The legacy of the Second World War – which included a brutal invasion of Ukraine – seemed to be surmounted. The government announced an additional EUR 100 million investment in defence and increased annual spending in the next few years on updating the Bundeswehr (German army).

A false start. Whilst Germany has provided immense amount of humanitarian support and taken in over one million refugees, supplies of military equipment have been lagging with the government having to be repeatedly cajoled into supporting the Ukrainian defence efforts.

Why is this?

A number of reasons stand out. A lack of clear political leadership played a role. The coalition agreement with the Free Democrats and the Greens allocated the defence ministry to the SPD. Their chosen minister, Christine Lambrecht had little experience in the field. She never seems to have made her mark in the ministry and finally resigned a week ago after an unfortunate social media post. Her successor, veteran SPD state politician, Boris Pistorius, has already made a better impression in his first week and has publicly suggested that a lot more planning should have been carried out.

German public opinion is split. An opinion poll at the beginning of January suggested that only 25% of the public did not think that support for Ukraine went far enough and 41% felt that support had been sufficient. The ARD television station reported a survey carried out in the past week showing a split country concerning the delivery of tanks with 46% in favour and 43% against. Most notably supporters of the right-wing AfD were against providing the tanks, with 85% objecting. There are two state elections in the next few months in the East German states of Saxony and Thuringia in which the AfD could well emerge as the largest party in the regional parliaments. One of the concerns of the federal government may well be the fear of encouraging more voters to switch to the AfD from the collation parties.

Internally the Social Democrats are also split. Many of their leading figures have over the years worked to improve relations with Moscow and regularly visited Russia. Most notoriously, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder worked for Gazprom as a lobbyist, and it was only after the start of the war that he announced that he would not be taking up a position as a non-executive director of the company.

Finally, the number of Russians living in German is significant. It is not only “oligarchs” who have purchased property in Berlin or in the Alpine regions. Many Russians with German ancestry – sometimes dating back to Catherine the Great – emigrated to the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has been comparatively easy for Russian citizens have to obtain work and study permits for the country. Current estimates for the number of German residents with Russian connections is between 2 million and 6 million. Many have also German citizenship and can vote in national elections. In some areas they form a significant electoral block which politicians cannot ignore.

So will Germany supply tanks?

At the end, probably. The pressure is intense from NATO allies and the government has run out of excuses. Economics minister, Robert Habeck, from the Greens has said that he sees no reason why countries, such as Poland, who have German-made tanks should not be able to supply them to Ukraine. The US government has pointed out that linking deployment of German tanks with US ones, as Chancellor Scholz argued, is ridiculous – the US has no suitable models currently stationed in Europe.

The “new dawn” promised a year ago when Germany seemed on the cusp of taking on more responsibility for collective European security has clouded. Politicians worried more about elections and personal relations, rather than thinking the long-term implications of the Russian attack. It’s been up to a few individual politicians, such as FDP deputy leader, Strack-Zimmermann, who have pushed the government. She noted, in a recent speech, that it was the job of politicians to lead and not to follow opinion polls. Politicians from other parties are showing their mettle and expressing support for sending more arms, even against their own party leadership. The tanks will come, but Germany has failed to live up to its potential.

* Robert Harrison is a German-UK dual national living in Munich. He was the Chair of the Liberal Democrats in Europe and is Secretary of the Liberal Democrat European Group. He has been a European parliamentary candidate for the FDP in Germany.

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30 Comments

  • I feel more sympathetic to Germany’s conundrum than yourself, Robert.
    Germany, France and indeed Russia were right to oppose the Iraq war and refuse to support a UN resolution. We all might have all been better off if the UK had joined that opposition, instead of Tony Blair deciding he had to lead and not to follow opinion polls.
    The German-Franco relationship was set by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenaur in the Elysee Treaty of 1963 Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron, signed a new Aachen Treaty in 2019 including a Franco-German Agreement on Defence export controls
    France and Macron are the key to opening the way for export of German Tanks to Ukraine. France can break the impasse by sending a squadron of Leclerc Tanks to Ukraine as the UK is doing with Challenger 2 tanks. Germany has also made it clear it will not oppose a request for reexport of Leopard tanks by Poland or others to Ukraine.

  • Mel Borthwaite 23rd Jan '23 - 1:27pm

    I understand the desire to provide military hardware to Ukraine to try to prevent its military defeat and accept the argument that achieving a military stalemate may enable Ukraine to enter peace negotiations in the strongest possible position. Unfortunately, with neither side willing to make the compromises necessary for a negotiation to achieve peace, and with it appearing that neither side will be able to achieve their minimum requirements on the battlefield, I fear this war will continue for decades.

  • Mel,

    the UN secretary general is certainly going to be faced with a seemingly impossible task in developing a peace treaty acceptable to both sides. We should not forget however, that the UK is party to the Budapest Memorandum
    “The Presidents of Ukraine, Russian Federation and United States of America, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom signed three memorandums (UN Document A/49/765) on December 5, 1994, with the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Through this agreement, these countries (later to include China and France in individual statements) gave national security assurances to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The Joint Declaration by the Russian Federation and the United States of America of December 4, 2009 confirmed their commitment.”
    The permanent members of the UN security have guaranteed the national security of these three countries. Belarus is in the Russian orbit and Kazakhstan has developed closer ties with China. China is hardly a reliable partner here and could actually partition Kazakhstan with Russia like Poland 1939. China used to rule some of Kazakh territories during the Tang and Qing dynasties, and like Russians, Chinese also have this mindset that “what was ours remains ours” While protection of Ukraine’s sovereignty remains the responsibility of the P5, it falls principally to the US, UK and France to deliver on their treaty obligations.

  • Firstly Germany has supplied more weaponry than anybody except the US. That includes Britain. The Americans are also refusing to send their Abrams tank because of the technology. Imagine if a technologically advanced piece of equipment fell into Russian hands. But that said I now believe we will have to escalate the war to finish it.

  • Tim Rogers 23rd Jan ’23 – 5:20pm:
    Firstly Germany has supplied more weaponry than anybody except the US. That includes Britain.

    Maybe to Russia, but not to Ukraine.

    ‘EU member states exported weapons to Russia after the 2014 embargo’ [March 2022]:
    https://www.investigate-europe.eu/en/2022/eu-states-exported-weapons-to-russia/

    According to information collected by Investigate Europe, Germany exported €121.8 million worth of military equipment to Russia. This represents 35% of all EU arms exports to Russia.

    According to this bar chart, Britain has pledged over twice as much military aid to Ukraine than Germany…

    ‘Where Military Aid to Ukraine Comes From’ [November 2022]:
    https://www.statista.com/chart/amp/27278/military-aid-to-ukraine-by-country/

    The IfW Kiel’s Ukraine Support Tracker systematically records the value of support that the governments of 37 mostly Western countries have pledged to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.

    While Germany, France and others were selling arms to Russia, the UK was in Ukraine providing training and advising on restructuring their military command into the effective force we see today…

    ‘Operation ORBITAL explained: Training Ukrainian Armed Forces’ [December 2020]:
    https://medium.com/voices-of-the-armed-forces/operation-orbital-explained-training-ukrainian-armed-forces-59405d32d604

    British troops have been providing training and capacity building to the Ukrainian Armed Forces since 2015.

  • Anthony Durham 23rd Jan '23 - 9:01pm

    What possible compromise can Ukraine offer? Anything less than a return to treaty-agreed borders is not a recipe for peace. Nearly 40 million Ukrainians would be deeply embittered, with many among them accustomed to killing Russians and to making innovative weapons.

  • Zachary Adam Barker 23rd Jan '23 - 9:08pm

    “Unfortunately, with neither side willing to make the compromises necessary for a negotiation to achieve peace, and with it appearing that neither side will be able to achieve their minimum requirements on the battlefield”

    The two sides are not comparable. One is clearly an imperialist invader and the other a victim. They should not be given false equivalence.

  • @Anthony Durham What possible compromise can Ukraine offer? Anything less than a return to treaty-agreed borders is not a recipe for peace.

    Unfortunately, this is going to be a difficult one, remember the US et al support Israel and its failure over too many decades to return to treaty-agreed borders. Likewise China’s annexation of Tibet. Putin will look at these as see it as something in his favour…

  • Jeff. Germany has supplied 2.8 billion in weaponry to Ukraine with Marder APCs the most recent. UK is at 2.3 billion. However a lot of the hardware is former East German which I thought would have been junked or sold by now

  • Peter Martin 25th Jan '23 - 9:07am

    German tanks used to fight the Russian army in Ukraine?

    Not sure about this one! Putin will certainly make the most of it for propaganda purposes. It’s probably better to make sure that any German insignia are well covered with several coats of paint.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Jan '23 - 9:35am

    It is a great shame that neither side in this conflict can accept that eventually both sides will have to sit round a table at the peace conference to resolve the issues between them. How many more people have to die before this stage is reached?
    Escalating the war will not change the inevitability of an eventual peace conference and sadly, that’s what Nato and the Russians are doing.
    What should be happening is putting pressure on both sides to have an immediate cease-fire and peace talks. China and India could put pressure on Putin if they chose, so perhaps Nato and the US should be talking to them.
    Everyone knows that peace talks have to happen eventually, so why continue the killing?

  • We cannot pressure Ukraine to reach for a solution that we like but they do not like. If Russia gets even an inkling that we are pushing allies of Russia for a settlement they will dig their heels in. Russia has to be forced to negotiate.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Jan '23 - 5:48pm

    @Tim Rogers.
    If we want peace – and who doesn’t – then we have to use our diplomatic muscle to get Russia and Ukraine round the table for peace talks. Not to do that because Russia might not like it is tantamount to supporting the Russians.
    I have no idea what might eventually be agreed, so I’m not forcing, or even hinting at what the solution might be.
    What I am saying is that it’s only nationalistic pride that is stopping peace negotiations and that means that even more people will die to bolster the status or pride of the opposing leaders. Surely peace is better than war, so why are our leaders only focusing on escalating the war?

  • Peace yes but not peace at any price.

  • Phil Beesley 25th Jan '23 - 6:59pm

    Mick Taylor: ‘If we want peace – and who doesn’t…’

    Putin wants this war to go on. It’s the only thing he has politically, and it will go on until he is defeated or removed. Putin’s war in Ukraine started 10 years ago.

    Mick: ‘What I am saying is that it’s only nationalistic pride that is stopping peace negotiations…’

    I doubt whether Ukrainian people who have been occupied by Russians feel that way.

    Wikipedia’s commentary on Vlad Putin’s dad: ‘Putin’s mother was a factory worker and his father was a conscript in the Soviet Navy, serving in the submarine fleet in the early 1930s. During the Early stage of Nazi German invasion of Soviet Union, his father served in the destruction battalion of the NKVD.[30][31][32] Later, he was transferred to the regular army and was severely wounded in 1942.[33]’

    Cobblers, of course. Submarine sailors work on submarines, expensive training, and they do not serve with spooks or the army unless they have different jobs. Other reports about Putin’s dad suggest that he worked with army units enforcing ‘army discipline’.

    All cobblers, don’t believe a word.

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Jan '23 - 8:17pm

    @Mick Taylor
    The implication of getting Russia and Ukraine to agree some compromise implies Russia could be trusted to abide by any agreement arising.

    Excuse me while I fall about laughing.

  • Mick Taylor 26th Jan '23 - 9:31am

    Nonconformistradical. The implication of what you are saying is that Ukraine must be in a perpetual state of war, because any peace agreement with Russia will not hold.
    That is simply unacceptable.
    Peace talks are inevitable. The only question is how many people – on both sides – will die before they start.
    How many people do you think should die because you don’t trust Russia?

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Jan '23 - 10:53am

    @Mick Taylor
    What is the difference in principle between Hitler’s Greater Germany and the Greater Russia which Putin wants?

  • Mick Taylor. Appeasement in the 1930s should be a lesson here. If we give up on Ukraine then Russia will move on to Georgia and then the Baltic states. Remember Putin’s declared aim is to rebuild the Soviet Union whatever the cost

  • Peter Martin 26th Jan '23 - 1:39pm

    @ Nonconformistradical,

    The history of Europe is one of Empires and clashes between empires. The Roman Empire, The Holy Roman Empire, The Tsarist Russian Empire, The Ottoman Empire, The French Naploeonic Empire, the Austro Hungarian Empire, Then the Spanish, Portuguese and us Brits had largely overseas Empires.

    So us Europeans do seem to be particularly vulnerable to this affliction. Maybe if the EU is really the antidote to this, Russia should be invited to join too. Most of the population does live in Europe. But some Brexiteers would argue the EU is an empire too!

  • @ Nonconformistradical, you say “What is the difference in principle between Hitler’s Greater Germany and the Greater Russia which Putin wants?”.

    It’s quite simple, Noncom. The difference is Putin has nuclear weapons. Modern politicians in the West will have to tiptoe through this crisis with the very greatest of care rather than with careless gung ho optimism as demonstrated by such as B.de Pf. Johnson.

    Historically, politicians (of all countries) seek foreign adventures as a distraction when things are difficult at home. I have much sympathy for Dr Mick Taylor’s comments – and no sympathy or confidence whatsoever in the current Tory government in the UK.

  • The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, endeavours to obfuscate Russia’s clear breach of the UN charter and its treaty obligations to respect and protect the territorial integrity Of Ukraine with the argument that the government of President Zelensky is responsible for committing genocide in the Donbas. Based on these patently false accusations, he argues that the UN Charter’s reference to the right of self-determination allows Russian speaking regions to secede and points to referendums conducted in those regions (while under military occupation) as evidence of the desire to exercise such a right.
    In his recent annual press conference he said the US and Europe are seeking a Hitler-style ‘final solution’ to the Russian question in trying to wipe out Russia by waging war via Ukraine America is not powerful enough to stand up to China and Russia
    These are not the words of a diplomat seeking peace negotiations. They are the flailing about of a collapsing empire armed with nuclear weapons.

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Jan '23 - 4:47pm

    @David Raw
    I agree with you about the need for extreme caution and have no more confidence than you in the current tory government.

    But that doesn’t give me any confidence whatsoever in the chance of Putin standing by any agreement over Ukraine were he to sign one.

  • Mick Taylor 27th Jan '23 - 7:02am

    @Tim Rogers. I am not suggesting appeasement. Every war ends only when the peace treaty is signed and that means negotiations between the two sides. I am simply suggesting that our aim as a country should be to get the two sides round that conference table.
    What far too many on this thread seems to saying is that the war should go on, regardless of the cost in both destruction and human lives until Ukraine wins.
    My view, as a Quaker and a pacifist is that everyone loses in war and that the world should always be striving for peace. I recognise all the difficulties, but this war is now a proxy war between NATO and Russia and even if I wasn’t a pacifist I would be calling for it to stop before it escalates further. If Putin thinks he is losing or that Russia is threatened, he will not hesitate to use the nuclear option and since there is no way anyone outside Russia can stop him, that is absolutely terrifying. That is why we should be asking China and India to seek to persuade Putin to back down.
    I am old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis, when the world was last on the brink of the use of nuclear weapons. I never want to be in that position again.

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Jan '23 - 7:58am

    @Mick Taylor
    I too remember the Cuban missile crisis – but someone – Kruschchev – rather more ratio9nal than Putin was in charge of Russia at that time.

  • Jenny Barnes 27th Jan '23 - 12:19pm

    It’s unwise to think your opponent is stupid, deluded, irrational etc. They may be, of course, but it’s best to proceed as if their moves and statements are perfectly rational. What may be obscure is their motives and values. If, for example, a Russian ruler wanted a peaceful and prosperous Russian in Europe they would happily sell their gas to the Germans, and not go around encouraging dictators and invading other countries. OTOH, if their objective was to enlarge the Russian state, push back the West, and claim to be a major geo-political player, Putin’s recent behaviour would be perfectly rational. Suppose the republicans win the US presidency in Nov 2024? Many republicans think that Putin should be supported. At the very least one could expect US support for Ukraine to be less whole-hearted. So – carry on with the war for at least another 2 years, throw more conscripts into the meat – grinder, and hope for a better strategic situation in 2025.
    If a peace deal were reached ceding the Donbas and Crimea to Russia – both areas already claimed by Russia as inalienably Russian, and with largely Russian sympathetic populations, that would be a win, if a small one. Then rebuild one’s weapon stocks and try again later….

  • Any country criticising Germany’s caution, while refusing to put their own troops, as well as equipment, into Ukraine to defend it, are just being hypocritical.

    It shouldn’t be forgotten that the countries in NATO that spend most time touting military adventures in other countries have a track record of abandoning their allies in those countries and leaving them to their fate (eg Afghanistan). Germany is understandably cautious about being pushed into the front line by those from other countries touting such adventures.

  • Jenny Barnes 28th Jan '23 - 9:32am

    PS: When playing Chicken, it’s best to convince the other player that you are indeed suicidally mad. Blindfold, lock the steering wheel. ….etc. You want the other to back down. It’s like the “prisoner dilemma” game. If both go for it, the outcome is very negative for both – if one does & one doesn’t, the doesn’t one loses out, and if neither does they are both a bit worse off.

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