By Conor Gallagher
With outside pressure from the US and other European states growing, on Sunday German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his new defense minister Boris Pistorius continued to slow-walk the decision on allowing German-made Leopard tanks to be sent to Ukraine.
But then foreign minister Annalena Baerbock during an interview with French television station LCI, said that “if we were asked, we would not stand in the way.” The interviewer double checked, to which Baerbock confidently replied, “you understood me well.”
Now Berlin is trying to walk back Baerbock’s statement with government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit saying that any Polish request regarding the re-export of tanks would be subject to “standard procedure” and would go through Germany’s Federal Security Council, a body that deals with arms exports.
By saying Germany won’t block Poland from sending Leopard tanks, Baerbock is basically daring Scholz to overrule her.
If he does—and blocks other countries from sending Leopards—it will show that Scholz is isolated not only from Ukraine & German allies, but in his own coalition. https://t.co/iYkJTRlk4r
— Aaron Gasch Burnett (@AaronGBurnett) January 22, 2023
Poland is already following Baerbock’s lead and seeking Berlin’s permission to send the German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
“We will seek this approval,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters on Monday. “Even if we didn’t get such an approval in the end, we will give our tanks to Ukraine anyway — within a small coalition of countries, even if Germany isn’t in that coalition”, Morawiecki said.
Baerbock’s comments also opened up divisions in the German coalition:
That senior figures in the FDP are backing Baerbock’s statement on not standing in the way of tank deliveries while Hofreiter for Greens and Strack-Zimmermann for the FDP are essentially coordinating statements should be a warning to the SPD leadership about coalition dynamics
— Alexander Clarkson (@APHClarkson) January 23, 2023
Scholz is facing heavy pressure from the US and others to relent on the tanks:
According to Ukrainian Defense Ministry they have received assurances from 12 Countries that they will provide a total of 100 Leopard 2 Main Battle Tanks if or when Germany approves the transfer. pic.twitter.com/tWlBFsZFSr
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) January 24, 2023
But the German government had wanted the US to send its Abram tanks before it sends any German ones. This led to a meltdown in the empire’s capital. The Washington Post editorial board, in a piece titled Germany is refusing to send tanks to Ukraine. Biden cannot let this stand, advised Biden to bring the vassal state to heel:
[Olaf] Scholz is sacrificing sound strategy on the altar of political calculation by wavering in the face of opposition from some political allies and a segment of the German electorate. It is a misjudgment that cannot stand.
Pesky German electorate. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin apparently had a big blow up in Berlin:
Interesting report from SZ on the Leopards 2 debacle and the discussions between the US and Germany
“The refusal from Berlin led to violent reactions in Washington”
— Faytuks News Δ (@Faytuks) January 22, 2023
Austin is one of the main opponents of sending Abrams to Ukraine. According to NBC News:
But both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have recommended against sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the three U.S. officials said.
Milley and Austin have cited how long it takes to train personnel to operate the tanks and how difficult the tanks are to maintain. They also have argued they are not the right vehicles for the fight in Ukraine right now, according to the officials.
One U.S. official said Austin has argued the training to operate and maintain the tanks would take months, and even though the Ukrainians have proven adept at learning many new platforms, he continues to resist sending the Abrams.
Poland already announced earlier this month that it was ready to deliver 14 Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but Warsaw was waiting for a clear statement from Berlin authorizing the transfer. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also said Ukrainian forces were moving ahead with training in Poland to use Leopard 2 battle tanks.
Berlin’s hesitance is understandable. It has already sent advanced air-defense systems, anti-aircraft, multiple-rocket launchers, and plans to send dozens of Marder infantry fighting vehicles. But while the tanks likely won’t make a big difference on the battlefield, there look to be other forces at work:
🇨🇭🇺🇸🇩🇪🪖🇺🇦🇷🇺”If Germany gives other countries the go-ahead to re-export “Leopards” to Ukraine, then they can later be replaced by American “Abrams”,that is, Germany will lose its current markets.” Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung
— AZ 🛰🌏🌍🌎 (@AZgeopolitics) January 23, 2023
While the US was frustrated with Scholz dragging his feet, Washington’s woman in Berlin came through. Some background:
One year ago, Olaf Scholz was elected as the ninth German chancellor since World War II, and leads a “traffic-light coalition” of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) — named after the three parties’ signature colors of red, green and yellow.
Scholz, from the SPD, hails from the politics of Wandel durch Handel (“transformation through trade”). It relied on cheap Russian gas imports and exports to its largest trading partner, China. Scholz started his term with attempts (if we take them at face value) to achieve a diplomatic solution with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also defended the Nord Stream 2 pipeline until its demise.
The Greens, on the other hand, are the war-mongering party in Germany, who along with the Americans, have dragged Scholz further into the Ukraine morass. Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck from the Greens already said earlier this month that Germany should not stand in the way if Poland decides to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. Baerbock went a step further, which is nothing new for her.
She was the only chancellor candidate during the 2021 election who campaigned against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and she’s consistently been one of the louder voices calling for Berlin to send more heavy weaponry to Kiev. Baerbock is also now calling for the establishment of a special tribunal to bring Putin and his government to trial over the war.
In an interview with Black Agenda Report back before the German election Diana Johnstone, who was press secretary of the Green Group in the European Parliament from 1989 to 1996, had this to say about Baerbock and the Greens:
Frankly, I hope they don’t [win] because they are the most dangerous when it comes to foreign relations. … People who are really on the left in Germany consider [Baerbock] and the German Green Party extremely dangerous. They’re most likely to stumble us into a major war between world powers.
Baerbock, whose introduction to transatlantic governance began with membership in the German Marshall Fund, the World Economic Forum’s Young Leaders Program and the Europe/Transatlantic Board of the Green Party’s Heinrich Böll Foundation, delivered an August speech at the New School in New York that provides insight into her vision for Germany. She describes February 24 (the date Russia began its special military operation) as a date that changed the world and uses it to justify her plans for a rearmed Germany to take on a much more aggressive foreign policy as an equal partner to the US:
For a long time after 1989, security was not an issue of concern for many Europeans and particularly Germans – after the end of the Cold War, my country considered itself finally “surrounded only by friends”. But that perception has definitely changed. Children are asking their parents now at breakfast: Mom, what exactly is a nuclear weapon? Others are saying: I really like NATO. In the mid-1980s, when I was born, millions of Germans who are the grandparents of these children took to the streets to protest against armament. Now, these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children are sitting at the kitchen table debating about armament, or they are marching in the streets in support of Ukraine’s freedom.
And the same holds true for other European countries: Sweden and Finland are leaving behind long traditions of neutrality to join NATO.
In Berlin, Russia’s war has prompted us in the new German Government to re-examine some long-held views on security – and to fundamentally change track in many fields. Thinking without a banister means for us:
Germany has set up a special fund of 100 billion euro to strengthen our military. We have reversed a decades-old arms export paradigm, with Germany now being one of Ukraine’s strongest military and financial backers. And we have expanded our contributions to NATO: We are leading the NATO battle group in Lithuania and are assigning a brigade with up to 800 troops which can be deployed there if required. We are helping to secure the airspace over the Baltic States with our fighter jets – and to protect Slovakia with Patriot air defense.
But we know that we cannot stop here: Our aim is to further strengthen the European pillar of NATO, because we want to have a leadership in European and US partnership. Europe matters – also security-wise, that’s what we saw after February 24th. If that premise is to hold, we have to prove it and see it through in the long term. That means building a more strategic European Union – a Union able to approach the United States at eye level: in a partnership in leadership.
Baerbock is the frequent recipient of glowing media reviews in both the US and Germany like this from the Washington Post, “Germany’s Green foreign minister is taking the lead on Ukraine:”
She did promise more weapons — which, she said, would help Ukraine “free its citizens who are still suffering under the terror of Russian occupation.” That was far more forceful than anything Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said in recent weeks. The war in Ukraine, it turns out, is Baerbock’s fight too — for the chance to become the next German chancellor.
The surprise visit to Kharkiv was Baerbock’s fifth to Ukraine since she took office at the end of 2021. She traveled there for the first time in January 2022. Scholz, by contrast, needed five more months to make it to Kyiv, and only in response to considerable internal and external pressure.
Baerbock has made her intentions clear. Where Scholz is all reluctance and realpolitik, she is positioning herself as a can-do politician with strong principles.
Still, it’s somewhat shocking to see her with the highest approval rating of any of Germany’s main politicians, especially after she told German voters she doesn’t care about the toll her support for Ukraine takes on their lives and the country, which sure enough, it is doing:
🇩🇪📉”The conflict in Ukraine and its consequences will cost Germany €175 billion in 2023, that is, about 4.5% of GDP.”- Institute of German Economics (IW)
— AZ 🛰🌏🌍🌎 (@AZgeopolitics) January 23, 2023
This also wouldn’t be the first time that Baerbock undermined Scholz. Ahead of a November trip to China, which had suddenly become controversial in the West, Scholz received public advice from the China hawk Baerbock. Comparing China to Russia, she added that Germany should “no longer be so fundamentally dependent on a country that does not share our values that we can be blackmailed in the end.”
Then, as Scholz was en route to Beijing, Germany’s foreign office released a photo op of a gathering of Baerbock and her G-7 counterparts. Baerbock sits at the head of the table next to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with Under Secretary of State Victoria “F**k the EU” Nuland behind them. According to former India diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar:
Quintessentially, Baerbock has highlighted her discontent with Scholz’s China visit by assembling around her the like-minded G7 counterparts. Even by norms of coalition politics, this is an excessive gesture. When a country’s top leader is on a visit abroad, a display of dissonance undercuts the diplomacy.
Equally, Baerbock’s G7 counterparts chose not to wait for Scholz’s return home. Apparently, they have a closed mind and the tidings of Scholz’s discussions in Beijing will not change that.
First thing on Monday, Scholz should ask for Baerbeck’s resignation. Better still, [the] latter should submit her resignation.
Neither happened, and Scholz may pay the price. Despite her unsuccessful run in 2021, Baerbock still wants to be chancellor, an outcome the US would no doubt welcome. Elections are not scheduled until 2025, but with the traffic light coalition increasingly on thin ice, she might get her chance sooner rather than later.